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Oscar Niemeyer liked curves.
The Brazilian architect, who rose to prominence in the 1940s, and died this past week, pushed the limits of concrete. He took a material that had historically been used for slabs, beams and pillars and sculpted it into arches and curves of every kind. At a time when modernist architecture was characterized by ‘rational’ right angles, Niemeyer took his inspiration from Brazil’s beaches, rivers, ocean waves, and women. (He was always mentioning the women.)
Seen today, many of Niemeyer’s designs still feel like they come from the future, or at least the future that was promised by the space age. In tribute to the architect, Wired presents some of our favorites.
When London had a wobbly bridge, we did everything in our power to tame it.
The mildly thrilling sensation of the Millennium Bridge‘s metallic deck undulating beneath our feet was apparently too much to bear – it was closed, two days after opening. 20 months, 90 dampers and £5m later, it reopened, with the leaden stillness of a concrete road bridge.
The French, it seems, are a little more adventurous.
Plans unveiled by Atelier Zündel Cristea could see an inflatable trampoline bridge let you bounce all the way across the Seine.
In their response to an ideas competition for a new bridge in Paris, which called for “a new icon or landmark” to add to the 37 bridges that already span the Seine, the architects wrote:
“It appears to us that Paris already has the bridges and passages necessary for the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic across its waterways. Our intention is to invite its visitors and inhabitants to engage on a newer and more playful path across this same water.”
A sloping lawn lined with linden trees focuses attention on a niche carved in granite at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. It holds a bronze bust of the U.S. president who led the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. The 1933 sculpture is by Jo Davidson.
The four-acre Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park finally completes a memorial to the 32nd U.S. president — almost four decades after architect Louis Kahn finished the designs.
The park brings fantastic life to the long-neglected site at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, the narrow stretch of land in the East River that once housed lunatics and chronic- disease sufferers before luring others to chunky gray highrises with spectacular views.
“Art makes people better people,” says Renzo Piano, “and a place for art makes the city a better place to be.”
He is speaking at the opening of the Astrup Fearnley Museum on theOslo waterfront, a new £65m home for the private art collection of ashipping company, which he describes as “an open forum, where art meets life”.
Piano should know about such things. The 74-year-old has designed 17museums and art galleries across the world in his long career, ranging from the revolutionary vertical art factory of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, built with Richard Rogers in 1977, to the refined, low-slung shed of the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, constructed 10 years later, to the delicate lightbox of the Fondation Beyeler, erected outside Basel in 1997. Each decade brought a seminal new building that changed the way architects think about spaces for art, cementing Piano’s reputation as a global brand for big museums.
“I see Astrup Fearnley as completing the cycle, almost coming back to the beginning,” he tells me, as we sit in the upper gallery, looking out across the fjord – a picture-postcard view dotted with islands and sailing boats.
“The Pompidou was a rebellion against the idea of a monumental gallery. We were the bad boys then,” he grins. “We didn’t want to make a mausoleum to art. Instead, we created a big piazza for the people, and here in Oslo we have returned to that idea.”
Right on the waterfront, the museum takes the form of a vast glass sail that arcs over to envelop three timber buildings beneath, separated by a canal and terminating the dockside promenade in a consciously iconic swoop. Unlike many of his previous galleries, which take the form of finely tuned if somewhat anonymous containers, Astrup Fearnley is here to play the role of glamorous civic saviour – the cultural anchor for a whole new urban quarter.
The Pantheon’s Dome: Five thousand tons of concrete and the sun.(Photo: Vanni / Art Resource, NY)
Visitors to Rome overwhelmed by all it has to offer—”the abundance of its pasts” in the words of the poet Rilke—can find relief with a stop at the Pantheon. Embodying the city’s pagan and Christian identities, the Pantheon is Rome in microcosm.
Built in the second century by the Emperor Hadrian as a temple to all the Roman gods, it is the only major work of Roman Imperial architecture still intact. It owes its survival to having been consecrated a Christian church (Santa Maria ad Martyres) in the seventh century, which placed it under papal protection.
The architect? Candidates range from Anonymous to Apollodorus of Damascus, designer of Trajan’s Column. Whoever he was, he created a work of soaring beauty that epitomizes the Roman revolution in architecture.
Seen from its north-facing front, the concrete-and-brick Pantheon consists of a pedimented entrance porch, a domed rotunda and a boxlike intermediate structure joining them. Their forms—triangle, hemisphere and rectangle—announce the underlying theme of pure geometry.
Inside, rising from a circle-and-square-patterned floor, the hemispherical coffered dome rests on a drum. The drum’s bottom level is ringed with tabernacles alternating with recessed spaces screened with columns, its upper one with blind windows and framed marble panels.
But it is what’s overhead that draws the gasps: the largest masonry dome ever built—142 feet in diameter and weighing five thousand tons—it is the paterfamilias of every structure like it erected since. At the top is one of the most famous features in architecture, the oculus. It focuses a circle of light into the Pantheon that, tracking the transit of the sun, passes slowly across the interior surfaces as the day progresses. This moving disc—glowing, silent, inexorable—transforms the Pantheon from bricks-and-mortar house of worship into an almost living thing.
Wall Street Journal
The storm clouds have been gathering over the Shard ever since it was announced, 11 years ago. Now that the building has reached its full height, it has inevitably become a lightning rod. Few structures in Britain have so dominated the skyline or the architectural debate. To its opponents, it has stabbed London in the heart: it is too tall, it destroys the scale of the city, it disrupts historic views, it is in the wrong place, it is a waste of energy – a monument to greed, money, inequality, foreign influence and broken Britain. To its supporters, however, it is a jolt of the modern – the moment London truly joined the 21st century.
Appropriately, on the day its architect Renzo Piano meets me there, the clouds have all but engulfed the building. On a clear day, apparently, you can see 60 miles from the top. This isn’t one of them. Even from the eighth floor, the riverbank opposite is a blur, obscured by fog and a cascade of rainwater running all the way down the sloping windows from the 87th floor. But Piano seems impervious to both the weather and the lightning bolts of criticism. Tall, elegant, relaxed and mellifluously spoken, the 74-year-old Italian looks every bit the internationally renowned architect. Well, almost. Beneath his raincoat, he’s wearing a T-shirt with a pink slogan. “Trust me, I’m an architect,” it says.
“There’s a moment when you need to trust,” Piano smiles, pointing at his shirt. “Because you can’t predict everything. You cannot prove mathematically that what you’re doing is going to work. But you have to be bloody sure – because if you do something like this wrong, it’s wrong for centuries.” He told the judge the same thing during the public inquiry into its planning. “And I was keeping my fingers crossed in my pocket,” he says.
In a short hallway, somewhere inside the labyrinthine Basel HQ of Herzog & de Meuron, stands a small Chinese wooden table, shaped so that two of its legs rest on the floor and two on the wall. It’s an artwork by Ai Weiwei, a friend of the Swiss architects and a regular collaborator. Above it hangs a giant light fitting, designed for their most famous collaboration: Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium. This “shrine to Weiwei”, as the architects put it, says plenty about their practice: few architects have cultivated such close ties to artists and the art world in general, or benefited from them so handsomely.
In room after room of their vast studio, members of their 350-strong team labour on new art galleries and cultural buildings. Here’s one for Miami: an open concrete structure with an oversailing roof. Over there is a huge art gallery in Kolkata; elsewhere, there are buildings in New York, Hong Kong and São Paolo. Meanwhile, on an island in Hamburg, their stunning Elbphilharmonie concert hall has just had its topping-out ceremony.
And this summer the architects will be revisiting London, home of their Tate Modern. In July, we’ll see the first signs of their long-delayed extension to the gallery: a conversion of the old power station’s subterranean oil tanks. But before that, they’ll unveil the 12th in the Serpentine Gallery’s series of temporary summer pavilions, another collaboration with Ai.
ust as Basel is an art hub, so too is it home to pharmaceutical giants, who have regularly employed their local super-duo. In fact, the whole city is strewn with the architects’ early works, from industrial buildings to high-rise office towers to the local football stadium (plus, of course, galleries and museums). Not that you’d instantly recognise their work: what’s facilitated Herzog and De Meuron’s ascent has been their capacity to re-think architecture anew. Their nearby Central Signal Box, from 1999, wrapped a bog-standard piece of railway infrastructure in twisting bands of copper to create a sculptural landmark.
When Judge Stanley R. Ott ruled in 2004 that the Barnes Foundation’s collection of paintings and sculpture, worth billions, could be extracted from its Merion home and remounted in a new building downtown, the Barnes set out to replicate the original galleries, in scale and configuration, exactly.
This much now is an accomplished fact. And yet, as the new Barnes Foundation opens this weekend, everything is different.
Gone forever, of course, is any claim to authenticity. Whatever the Barnes of 2012 and beyond becomes, visitors will never again have the same fully prescribed experience, the powerful feeling of being led around the museum by the hand of its founder.
Current Barnes leaders are careful not to use that word: museum. They call the new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway a campus. The Barnes, however, is a collection of art that the general public may see, at generously set hours, in exchange for the payment of money. That is what is universally recognized as a museum — something different from what the Barnes started out being. McBarnes, its most indignant critics are calling it.
It was billed as an unprecedented cluster of cultural glory that would transform Abu Dhabi into the Paris of the Middle East: three centrepiece museums, including the world’s largest Guggenheim and a branch of the Louvre, designed by “starchitects” to rise up among a complex of five-star beach resorts and luxury villas on Saadiyat island in Abu Dhabi.
But six years after the project was unveiled, while several five-star resorts have opened, the only visible signs of the complex are an illuminated model in an exhibition centre near a windswept desert construction site.
Repeated delays and financial concerns have diminished the impact of the scheme, say project insiders and art experts, and some now believe the emirate has no option but to scale back its grandiose plans, possibly even scrapping the Guggenheim museum.
Those concerns have been compounded by reports of the mistreatment of migrant workers labouring on the £17bn Saadiyat island complex and worries about whether the art ultimately put on display will be subjected to censorship by the conservatives who hold sway in this part of the world.
Verena Formanek, senior project manager for the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim, admitted it was still a distant prospect. “The light’s on the horizon when the Louvre Abu Dhabi opens. I think that’s the first time I will really feel more secure because then I will see a museum is really open here and this will change a lot.”
But she added: “Really, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is far away.”
As Modernist buildings reach middle age, many of the stark structures that once represented the architectural vanguard are showing signs of wear, setting off debates around the country between preservationists, who see them as historic landmarks, and the many people who just see them as eyesores.
The conflict has come in recent months to this quaint village 60 miles north of New York City — with its historic harness-racing track, picturesque Main Street and Greek Revival, Federal and Victorian houses — where the blocky concrete county government center designed by the celebrated Modernist architect Paul Rudolph has always been something of a misfit.
“I just don’t think it fits with the character of the county seat and the village of Goshen,” said Leigh Benton, an Orange County legislator who grew up in the area. “I just thought it was a big ugly building.”
New York Times