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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.
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.
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”.
In 1916 Grand Army Plaza opened at the southeast corner of Central Park, designed by Carrère & Hastings as a grand outdoor room in the manner of a French garden — New York’s version of the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Designated a landmark in 1974 and considered by many to be one of the most formal public spaces in the city, the plaza has nonetheless fallen into disrepair — its bluestone surface cracked, the gilded statue of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman eroded.
Now the Central Park Conservancy is proposing a $2 million restoration of the plaza’s trees and pavement. The work planned is what that nonprofit organization says it can afford, having raised $1.5 million.
But preservationists and others say the plan does not go far enough, and that the plaza should undergo a complete overhaul that restores historical details like the original lights, benches, balustrades and columns, which have been changed or removed over the years.
New York Times
Munich’s standing as one of Germany’s major cultural centres has been consolidated this month with the reopening of the city’s renovated Lenbachhaus Museum. Dating from 1891, the building originally served as a studio and villa for the artist Franz von Lenbach and was gradually extended over the last century to become one of Bavaria’s most important galleries; it regularly drew an audience of 280,000 people per year, with its ‘Blue Rider’ collection of early twentieth-century Expressionist paintings among its best known works.
Having outgrown its origins, the building has just completed a four-year renovation plan overseen by Lord Norman Foster’s Foster + Partners architectural firm. As part of the project, the gallery’s original buildings have been restored and a new wing has been added to house Lenbachhaus’s growing art collection.
The newest space is composed of a series of small galleries which display the ‘Blue Rider’ collection, with the more intimate rooms intended to replicate the domestic scale of their original setting in villa Lenbach.
The New York City Planning Commission last week took a significant but fatally flawed step toward improving the lives of millions of New Yorkers and others who use Pennsylvania Station, the nation’s busiest transit hub.
The commission voted on Wednesday to limit to 15 years the permit that allows Madison Square Garden to operate atop the station. The commission urged the arena to seek a new home while the railroads using the station — Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — plan improvements for when the Garden is gone. The Dolan family, owners of the Garden, had asked that the permit, which expired this year, be renewed in perpetuity.
The City Council now has two months to vote on the ruling, or it becomes the law on its own. The Council should not let it stand.
New York Times
It is no coincidence that many of the buildings in the first exhibition on architecture in Antarctica, shaped like caterpillars or icebergs, on stilts or stubby legs, will look like science-fiction illustrations – the storms, blizzards, extremes of temperature, darkness and howling winds they have been designed to withstand are so extreme that conditions have been likened to those on Mars.
The British Council is to launch Ice Lab, the first major international touring exhibition on buildings designed to allow human beings live, work, and relax safely in the coldest place on earth.
Vicky Richardson, head of architecture and design at the council, said the new wave of Antarctic research stations showed great inventiveness in design and engineering. In the same way that scientists from around the world collaborate in Antarctica, these buildings are made possible by co-operation between nations, so it is highly appropriate that the British Council should be commissioning this exhibition.”
Beijing’s building boom has already spawned a wealth of novelty forms, with a stadium in the shape of a bird’s nest, a theatre nicknamed the egg, and a TV headquarters that has been likened to a giant pair of underpants. But the official People’s Daily newspaper might have trumped them all with its new office building, which appears to be modelled on a colossal phallus.
Photos of the scaffold-shrouded shaft have been circulating on Weibo, the Chinese micro-blogging site, to the authorities’ dismay, with censors working overtime to remove the offending images. “It seems the People’s Daily is going to rise up, there’s hope for the Chinese dream,” commented one user. “Of course the national mouthpiece should be imposing,” added another.
The 150m-tall tower, located in the city’s eastern business district, appropriately near OMA’s pants-shaped CCTV headquarters, is the work of architect Zhou Qi, a professor at Jiangsu’s Southeast University.
“Our way of expression is kind of extreme,” Zhou told the Modern Express newspaper, “different from the culture of moderation that Chinese people are accustomed to.” He explained the design was inspired not by part of his anatomy, but by the traditional Chinese philosophy of “round sky and square earth” – the tower tapers from a square base to a cylindrical top. He claimed that the elongated spherical form was designed to recall the Chinese character for “people” from above. The fact it might look like a male member from below was clearly a secondary concern.
Cleaner-minded commentators have compared the building to everything from a steel-framed penguin to an electric iron, a giant juicer and an aircraft carrier. But perhaps Zhou should take solace in the fact that his tower joins a long tradition in architecture – from the thrusting Dionysian columns of ancient Greece to the sturdy stone linga of Hindu temples.
After impassioned protests from prominent architects, preservationists and design critics, the Museum of Modern Art said on Thursday that it would reconsider its decision to demolish its next-door neighbor, the former home of the American Folk Art Museum, to make room for an expansion.
n a board meeting on Thursday morning, the directors were told that a board committee had selected the design firm Diller Scofidio & Renfro to handle the expansion and to help determine whether to keep any of the existing structure.
“We’re going to try to create the best building we can create,” Jerry I. Speyer, the real estate developer and MoMA chairman, said in an interview. “Whether we include Folk Art or not, as is, is an open question.”
That question, MoMA said, will be guided by the extension’s architects. “The principals of Diller Scofidio & Renfro have asked that they be given the time and latitude to carefully consider the entirety of the site, including the former American Folk Art Museum building, in devising an architectural solution to the inherent challenges of the project,” said Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA’s director, in a memo sent on Thursday to his trustees and staff. “We readily agreed to consider a range of options, and look forward to seeing their results.”
New York Times
No one could accuse Michael Govan of being unambitious. The director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) is launching a $650m capital campaign to fund the construction of an expansive new home for the institution along Wilshire Boulevard. The new museum, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, would require the demolition of much of Lacma’s main campus, including three 1965 buildings by William L. Pereira—the Ahmanson, Hammer and Bing wings—as well as the 1986 Art of the Americas addition by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates of New York, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Art Newspaper