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Poland’s “Impossible Objects” exhibition at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. (Photo By Wojciech Wilczyk/Courtesy of Zachęta National Gallery of Art)

In the lead-up to the June 7 opening of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, director Rem Koolhaas sounded like he was planning a family therapy session for the architectural profession: “This retrospective will generate a fresh understanding of the richness of architecture’s fundamental repertoire, apparently so exhausted today,” he remarked upon the January 2013 announcement that he would curate this year’s edition. Koolhaas cited “the process of the erasure of national characteristics in favor of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language” as one source of architecture’s current predicament. Contemporary architecture, he noted, has become “flattened,” and though Koolhaas doesn’t necessarily see this as a negative quality, he requested that national pavilion curators redirect their attention away from contemporary architecture. Each participating country was asked to produce an exhibition on the influence of modernization in the 20th century on its architecture, as a means of inspiring reflection on the worldwide monotony of contemporary building. With the 2014 Biennale now underway, it’s clear that the combined efforts of the 66 exhibiting countries have produced more questions than answers.

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Anna Katz
Blouin ArtInfo

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Images: stpmj

If you’re looking to hide a barn in plain sight, here’s a fool-proof way to go about: cover it in mylar. That’s what New York City architecture firm stpmj did for a new conceptual project for the Architectural League’s Folly Competition.

The contest asks up and coming designers to create a 21st century architectural folly to be installed in the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, N.Y. Derived from the French word for “foolish,” a folly is a building or structure that’s created with no real purpose beyond looking cool.

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Liz Stinson
Wired

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The Gasometer complex in Vienna. (Photo: Getty Images)

On May 1, the de Blasio administration will roll out its plan to build (“or preserve,” that weaselly escape word) 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade, a number that has struck many as wishful to the point of deluded. I hope that, as the mayor’s planners buff their strategy in the coming weeks, they remember that what gets built is just as important as how much of it gets built. Housing the needy and the middle class is a wonderful and necessary urge, but handled sloppily, it could wind up blockading the waterfronts behind an unbroken wall of glass, clogging the skyline with high-rise clones, and sullying neighborhoods with quickie construction.

During the Bloomberg era, the mayor’s livability crew went idea-hunting in Copenhagen and returned with pedestrian plazas, sidewalk cafés, and bike lanes. If de Blasio is serious about making New York not just pleasant but just, he ought to go on a scouting trip to Vienna, where housing is considered a social good, not primarily a financial tool. In a sleekly modern home for Alzheimer’s patients, each apartment façade is color-coded to make it easier to locate, and hallways wrap around in a continuous circle to prevent dead ends from adding to the residents’ confusion. At the Gasometer complex, celebrity architects refitted a set of immense gas-storage silos with offices, shopping, and affordable apartments. Bike City, another elegantly designed building, is geared to residents who don’t own cars.

These projects emerge out of a 100-year history of high-design, low-cost housing and an apparatus that has placed nearly two-thirds of Vienna’s rapidly growing population in subsidized housing. The city government effectively controls the real-estate market and maintains a housing-research department that puts academic conjecture into practice. The model works because it combines generosity, rigor, and competition. The bidding process fixes construction costs around a modest $200 per square foot, yet teams of developers and architects vie for every project and the city evaluates their plans in terms of sustainability, design, and social justice. “You cannot win a project for housing in Vienna if you don’t meet a high planning and architectural level, and none of it is out of reach in terms of quality for New York City,” says William Menking, a Pratt professor who last year co-curated an exhibit on the subject called “The Vienna Model.” New York’s land and labor costs are higher, but even here, an ingenious design is no more expensive than a lazy one.

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Justin Davidson
New York Magazine

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Model of Memory Wound, a 3.5m gap cut into the Sørbråten peninsula by artist Jonas Dahlberg as a memorial for the victims of the 2011 massacre. Picture: Jonas Dahlberg Studio

A Swedish artist has been selected to create official memorials at the sites of the 2011 Norwegian massacres carried out by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik.

The competition, called Memorial Sites After 22 July, was won by Jonas Dahlberg, who will create three artworks at a cost of 27m Norwegian kroner (£2.7m) to the government in Oslo.

The most striking memorial is called Memory Wound. The 43-year-old artist has sliced a three-and-a-half-metre-wide slit into the Sørbråten peninsula, which faces the island of Utøya where Breivik killed 69 people. It marks a “symbolic wound” in the landscape.

One hundred cubic metres of the stone cut from Sørbråten will be transferred to the governmental quarter in Oslo, where another memorial will mark the spot where a car bomb was detonated by Breivik that resulted in eight deaths.

A temporary pathway in the capital, between Grubbegata and Deichmanske library, will also be made by Dahlberg, who will later take trees from Sørbråten to create a permanent amphitheatre in the government quarter called Time and Movement.

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Cameron Robertson
The Guardian

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The design for the proposed Maya Museum in Guatemala (via Harry Gugger Studio website)

“We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle, or zoos,” Maya human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú said in a 1992 interview shortly before she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. If she was speaking today, Menchú might have included “museum” among the list of things that Guatemala’s indigenous are not, after news of a proposed Maya museum in Guatemala City was announced last month.

Dezeen magazine reported on the plans to build Central America’s largest museum of Maya artifacts, Museo Maya de América (Maya Museum of America), in the Guatemalan capital. This comes less than two years after Mexico opened two new Maya museums, one in the resort town of Cancun, the other in touristy Merida. The $60 million construction of the new Guatemalan museum will begin in 2015 and will be completed through a public-private partnership, with the building scheduled to open in 2017.

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Laura C. Mallonee
Hyperallergic

The design for Qatar's Al-Wakrah 'vagina' stadium. Zaha Hadid says it is inspired by Arab dhows
The design for Qatar’s Al-Wakrah stadium. Zaha Hadid says it is inspired by the sails of Arab dhows – others say it just looks like a vagina. Photograph: AECOM

One looks like a futuristic bicycle helmet, stretched across its Tokyo site in an aerodynamic sweep. The other has been said to resemble a vagina, rising out of the Qatari desert in a great vulvic bulge.

Both are in fact sinuous sporting stadiums by the London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who is facing calls for her exuberant designs to be scaled back.

This week Japanese sports officials finally bowed to growing criticism that Hadid’s scheme for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium was too big and too expensive, saying they would shrink the design by a quarter.

The 80,000-seat venue, planned for the site of the current 48,000-seat national stadium, built in 1958, is described by Hadid as “light and cohesive”, its structure forming a dynamic bridge that “creates an exciting new journey for visitors”.

But the design has been met with fury by Japanese architects, who have complained that it is grossly insensitive to its context, looming 70 metres above the area of low-rise buildings and parks in the west of the city, close to the Meiji shrine, where a 15-metre height limit is in force.

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Oliver Wainwright
Guardian

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Sifang Art Museum, designed by Steven Holl Architects

The Sifang Art Museum, part of a $164m development in a national park outside Nanjing, opened its doors on 2 November with an exhibition of works by contemporary artists including Olafur Eliasson, Luc Tuymans, Zeng Fanzhi and Takashi Murakami.

The private museum, designed by the New York-based architect Steven Holl, is the centrepiece of a larger project: the Chinese International Practical Exhibition of Architecture (CIPEA), which is ten years in the making. The museum is just one of 20 buildings under construction in the 115-acre complex, each designed by a leading international architect, such as Arata Isozaki, David Adjaye and Wang Shu. The ambitious project is funded by the property developer Lu Jun and his son Lu Xun, who bought the land in 2002. So far, 11 buildings are nearly complete, and more are expected to be finished next year

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Sammi Liu
The Art Newspaper

The Serpentine Sackler gallery.
The Serpentine Sackler gallery. Photograph: Karen Robinson

The Zaha Hadid gallery contains a metropolis in miniature, a streetplan of fantastical scale models preserved under perspex. Hadid’s PR walks me down the aisles and points out the landmarks. Over here is the imposing MAXXI museum in Rome and over there the BMW plant in Leipzig, where translucent conveyor belts ferry the cars between the factory floors. Away in the corner, the gallery floorspace is occupied by what appears to be a white, frozen avalanche of futurist geometry. This, I am told, is the design for a building in Saudi Arabia.

I stare at the avalanche with mounting alarm. I’m looking for the windows, I’m looking for the door. Try as I might, I can’t see it as a building. “No, of course,” the PR says. “It’s a concept.”

Increasingly, it seems, Zaha Hadid’s concepts are becoming constructions. At the age of 62, she has blossomed into one of the world’s most celebrated and sought-after architects, with a staff of 350, a Pritzker prize on the shelf and around 40 buildings already dotting the globe. Her practice is putting the finishing touches to Japan’s national stadium, the principal venue for the 2020 Olympics. Her undulating Serpentine Sackler gallery, nestled in the heart of Hyde Park, opens for business this week. For fans of her work, Hadid is a bloody-minded genius, the woman who broke the mould, upturned the applecart and found fluid solutions to rectangular problems. For her detractors, however, she’s something else again: a showboating “starchitect” who trades in hubristic, convoluted fantasies. Many of her concepts, it’s claimed, would have been better off as drafts.

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Xan Brooks
The Guardian

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‘The Walkie-Talkie was cheerily waved through the planning process by London’s chief planner.’ Photograph: Andy Scofield/PA

It has been trumpeted as “the building with more up top”; a swollen pint glass of a tower that bulges out as it rises to pack in more offices at the lucrative higher levels, with a Babylonian sky-garden up above. What its developer might not have bargained for is that, like every Bond baddie lair, the Walkie-Talkie building would also come with its own death ray.

News this week that 20 Fenchurch Street, designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly, “melted” part of a Jaguar parked beneath its bulbous mass, only adds to the impression that the building is the ultimate symbol of everything that is wrong with the City of London – a physical monument to capitalism destroying itself.

Despite being bitterly opposed by Unesco and English Heritage – which described its “oppressive and overwhelming form” as a “brutally dominant expression of commercial floor space” – the Walkie-Talkie was cheerily waved through the planning process by Peter Rees, who since 1985 has presided over the wealth of novelty silhouettes that now choke the London skyline.

London’s chief planner has admitted that he thought the site on Fenchurch Street, a way to the south of the City’s cluster of towers, was the wrong place for a tall building. But he was soon convinced by the lure of a “public” garden at its 160m-high summit. “We came to think of it as the figurehead at the prow of our ship,” he told me last year. “A viewing platform where you could look back to the vibrancy of the City’s engine room behind you.”

It is a figurehead maybe, although one that is less svelte mermaid than bullying bouncer. Clad with vertical solar fins designed to protect the interior offices from glare, these silvery slats are stretched open as the building swells upwards, giving it the look of a broad-shouldered banker bursting out of his pin-striped suit – now with deadly laser beam eyes.

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Oliver Wainwright
The Guardian

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Alien arrival … the Galaxy Soho complex is accused of destroying Beijing’s historic streets. Photograph: /Zaha Hadid Architects

Beijing’s street names can be deceptive. Visitors to No 7A Small Arch hutong, just inside the city’s second ring road, might get a little more than they bargained for. Long gone is the stone gateway that once marked the entrance to this network of narrow streets. Now, it’s been replaced by a sinuous white arc, jacked 60m into the air, that loops and twists, connecting a cluster of vast egg-shaped buildings in an improbable acrobatic leap.

This alien arrival is Galaxy Soho, a 370,000 sq m complex of shops, offices and restaurants by Zaha Hadid Architects, recently bestowed with a top award by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The judges heaped praise on its flowing bands of white aluminium and glass that “give the development an almost geological solidity and presence”. They hailed it as “a welcome democratisation” of the architect’s work, asserting that the public space that weaves between the complex “demonstrates a rare generosity in a country determined to outdo the west in terms of commercialisation”.

But others in Beijing beg to differ. The city’s chief preservation watchdog has written an excoriating open letter to the RIBA accusing the project of “destroying” the city’s built heritage, claiming that it has “violated a number of heritage preservation laws and regulations”.

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Oliver Wainwright
The Guardian

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