The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'architecture'
Architect Richard Rogers alleges that Prince Charles, our infallible future head of state and staunch traditionalist, has a veto over all major new developments in London and the UK, using his influence to scupper any ones which he does not approve of:
Developers must square projects with the heir to the throne first to avoid the financial risk of a major undertaking being scuppered by a direct intervention from the great opponent of architectural novelty, who has succeeded in blocking several building plans.
Architects given the Prince’s blessing for their incorporation of his favoured classical style would be attached to projects. Even when Charles did not succeed in getting a development dropped, his intervention could prompt expensive delays, sometimes for years.Prince Charles, of course, had Rogers' plans for the Chelsea Barracks site scuppered after petitioning one of his fellow royals, the Emir of Qatar, who was funding the project to intervene; the article enumerates a number of other instances in which the Prince saved the Realm from the spectre of architectural modernism:
Called plans for skyscraper by German-born modernist Mies van der Rohe at One Poultry, London a “glass stump” which would “ruin” the skyline. Plans were replaced by a Sir James Stirling design which Charles said “looks rather like an old 1930s wireless.”
Warned Cardiff Bay redevelopment against replicating London’s Docklands where warehouses were “wantonly destroyed”. Plans for an opera house in the Wales Millennium Centre area by modernist Zaha Hadid were scrapped.Clarence House, Prince Charles' office, has replied, saying that, while a charity funded by the Prince is “often approached for advice and works with local authorities”, Prince Charles has no formal planning approval powers.
Visual treat of the day: Endbahnhof; a collection of photographs of all of Berlin's splendidly varied U-Bahn stations, by Melbourne photographer Kate Seabrook, who moved to Berlin some years ago. The platform are all photographed empty, without passengers or extraneous distractions, capturing the variety of architectural styles: from baroque grandeur and Jugendstil fancy to explosions of psychedelic kitsch, crisp modernism, and various steps in between. (And, of course, the nondescriptly utilitarian stations, typically on the outer reaches of lines, sporting just the stock BVG signage haven't been omitted.)
Bob Stanley, one third of indie-dance Londonists Saint Etienne and occasional music journalist, writes in The Quietus about the ideology of modern architecture:
I live in High Point. It was built in 1935 by the Tecton Group. Berthold Lubetkin was the architect. It's the best modernist block of flats in Britain. He deliberately designed it so that anyone who was sniffy about modernism would walk in and instantly be impressed by the huge lobby. The flats are blank canvases, it's got underfloor heating and there's no clutter. I can't imagine living anywhere better. There's so much light, which is really important. The Victorians thought having too much light was wrong, they equated it with a liberal lifestyle. So in the 80s when you got that architecture coming back it made sense, this Thatcherite, self-flagellating idea that you shouldn't have too much light in the house. That seems to have stuck with the Barrett Homes style of building.
There was a GLC plan to have all cars at ground floor level, and all people at first floor level, all across London, but it was kept secret, which is something we want to make a film about. It was called the pedway, and the only place you can really see it now is the Barbican. I don't think I'd have wanted the whole of London to be like that, but the areas that were completely decimated in East London, that would have been really interesting if they'd persisted. Instead it's a mess, one massive tower block in the middle of an area of grass, and then a little old Victorian street that goes around like that, and stops with a couple of bollards at the end. What a mess.
A landmark of 20th-century Australian experimental architecture faces demolition: the Fairhaven pole house, which stands on a platform atop a 15-metre concrete pole near the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, is scheduled to be torn down this week, despite calls for it to be placed on the state heritage list:
''The Dixon pole house is one of the most striking and unusual examples of an 'experimental house' which takes risks and which may serve as a design prototype,'' Mr Lewis said. ''The design of a dwelling on a pole is unique in Victoria, and rare elsewhere,'' he said.
But the Heritage Council rejected the application, saying it was ''not of importance above a local level'' and should be included by the local Surf Coast Council in its heritage overlay.The house, built in the 1970s, will be replaced by a new house of roughly the same size, which is intended to remedy design flaws in the original, such as the fact that none of its windows would open, making it less than comfortable.
Through the four or so decades of its existence, the house has survived three bushfires, including 1983's devastating Ash Wednesday fire, and attracted considerable attention; some from tourists, and some less favourable attention from the common Australian feral bogan:
Mr Dixon, who conceived the house while recovering from a surfing accident, said it always attracted interest from passers-by. ''Even at 2 o'clock in the morning they'd walk around the balcony on the outside and make comments that wouldn't be printable.
British architect Lord Norman Foster has just posited plans for a huge new airport and transport development on an artificial island in the Thames Estuary. The development, to be named the Thames Hub, will include the aforementioned airport, high-speed and standard-speed rail links to London, the Channel Tunnel and the North, a container port, an industrial zone and a new Thames flood barrier and tidal energy generator.
Foster (who, among other commissions, worked on Hong Kong's decade-old airport, which is also built on an artificial island), chided Britain for having lost its taste for ambitious projects:
"We need to recapture the foresight and political courage of our 19th-century forebears, " said Foster on Wednesday, "if we are to establish a modern transport and energy infrastructure in Britain for this century and beyond."The plan has won a number of high-profile backers: industrial designer Sir James Dyson, of vacuum-cleaner fame, has backed it, and Boris Johnson (who proposed an island airport in the Thames to replace Heathrow) is in favour. However, not everyone is convinced; there are concerns that the Isle of Grain, which is to be subsumed beneath the artificial island, is both a fragile bird habitat (which would be annihilated by the airport), and a huge natural gas depot (which would pose a hazard), with additional threats posed by a sunken US warship, laden with high explosives. Also, while plans for a new airport are partly motivated by London's airports being close to capacity, some are saying that this can be better mitigated by replacing short-haul flights with high-speed rail; if there aren't all those flights departing from Heathrow for Manchester or Amsterdam, there'll be plenty of capacity for places like New York and Hong Kong. (Of course, high-speed rail suffers from all the Anglo-Saxon aversion to big projects even more than an airport would, given that one would have to placate or defeat the NIMBYs at every step of the way.)
One of the more unexpected products of the final days of the Soviet Union was an explosion of fantastic modernist architecture. With the iron chain of Communist totalitarianism crumbling and the velvet leash of the almighty market still in the future, the USSR's architects had a free hand to go wild, which they did, resulting in a wave of spectacular-looking government ministries, polytechnic institutes and other facilities scattered around the various peripheries of the empire, and looking like they were dropped from space:
These fascinating things, built in prominent locations, were cathedral-like in their ambitions as well as their size. Chaubin concocted a game around his photograph of the Palace of Weddings in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. He would show it to people and ask them what it could be: a monastery, a power station, maybe even a giant laboratory? "No one guessed it was a registry office for weddings built on a huge scale to encourage people away from getting married in churches."The buildings are catalogued in a new book by a French photographer, Frédéric Chaubin, who spent several years finding and recording them. The book may be the last chance to see many of them, which are likely to fall prey to the financial ambitions of oligarchs and property developers. There is a slideshow here.
Architect Gary Chang, like most Hong Kong residents, lives in a tiny (32m2) apartment. Unlike most residents, though, Chang has developed a way of transforming his apartment into any of 24 combinations of living space, using a system of sliding elements on rails. Each room is combined into the walls of two adjacent elements, and designed to be or fold flat. The bed folds against the wall, and the next element that slides out exposes the kitchen; a wall-sized CD shelf moves to expose a linen closet, which in turn conceals a bath and a guest bed. There's a 4-minute video here and a New York Times article here (warning: requires registration). Chang also has a book about the history of his apartment and its various transformations, though it's not clear whether it covers the current arrangement.
Wikipedia link of the day: Spite houses, or where malice and architecture intersect:
A spite house is a building (generally found in an urban environment) which was constructed or modified because the builder felt wronged by someone who did not want it there. Typically built to annoy someone, in most cases a neighbor, these buildings serve primarily as obstructions, blocking out light or access to neighboring buildings, or as flamboyant symbols of defiance. Because actually inhabiting such structures is usually a secondary goal at most, they often have strange and impractical layouts.
Controversy has erupted in Britain after it emerged that Prince Charles used his personal influence with Qatari royalty to sack modernist architect Lord Richard Rogers from a development in London. Charles has been an outspoken critic of modern architecture and advocate of neo-traditionalist styles, and even created a model village to showcase his ideas about "proper" architecture, and then designed (or perhaps art-directed) the fire station. Charles' preferred replacement for Rogers is Quinlan Terry, a peddler of honey-hued neo-classicist kitsch.
As worthy of comment as Charles' architectural preferences are, there is more at stake. For one, Britain's constitutional monarch is meant to refrain from exercising powers over the day-to-day business of government. (This is the flipside of the monarch being above the sort of probing criticism that politicians and policymakers should expect; in a modern society, hereditary authority should be at most purely ceremonial.) Charles is not the monarch, but is next in line to be, and this case is worrying. Whilst his preferences for chocolate-box architecture may be quaint or risible, he is also an advocate of potentially harmful pseudoscientific theories such as homeopathy. Were he to grow comfortable with using his influence to guide the system, could we expect to see, for example, NHS funds being diverted away from tested medical care and into the pockets of quacks and charlatans? And would the prospect of his interventions in, say, education or transport or finance, should he decide to have a hand at such, be any less troubling?
An argument has erupted between Italy's brusquely right-wing Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and archtitect Daniel Libeskind (best known for the Berlin Jewish Museum, New York's planned Freedom Tower and the Metropolitan University student union building in Holloway Road), after Berlusconi criticised Libeskind's design for a tower in Milan for not being straight enough, and emanating "a sense of impotence":
"In Fascist Italy, everything that was not 'straight' was considered 'perverse art'," said Libeskind. "My tower is inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci, and great Italian culture. [Mr Berlusconi] does not have the time or intellect to study these.
"As an American and Jew brought up in Poland, I find Berlusconi abominable. His concept of nationalism, of closing borders and denying what's different, is repugnant. He hates foreigners."Some are now speculating that Berlusconi will have planning permission for the project revoked. (Which suggests that in Italy, rule of law is sufficiently feeble to allow the prime minister to override local decision-makers out of pique.)
The Age has an article about how, thanks to some two decades of thoughtful urban planning, Melbourne has advanced ahead of Sydney in terms of creative culture:
Melburnians had gained more public open space and access to waterfront lost for decades and, since 1991, thousands had been to encouraged to live in the "central activities district", creating demand for bars, restaurants and footpath cafes. Melbourne's laneways had been protected through height regulations and, between 1983 and 2004, active arcade frontage had increased from 300 metres to 3 kilometres, Adams said. And only bluestone paving is now allowed in the city.
The City of Melbourne had also invested in public art to improve the public domain, determined by an independent artists' panel.
The Sydney envy at hearing of Melbourne's leadership in city planning, architecture and art spilled into newsprint. Sydney University adjunct associate professor of architecture Elizabeth Farrelly lamented Sydney's developers had erased a plethora of laneways and back streets with skyscrapers, while much of Sydney's character had been "Botoxed away".
Farrelly declared that the biggest difference between the two cities is Sydney's "sheer cultural timidity - from fashion to cafes and from public art to architecture - compared with Melbourne's cultural courage".A big part of the difference is in affordability, with Sydney's property prices, cost of living (Sydney is the fifth most "severely unaffordable" city in the affluent English-speaking countries, while Melbourne is the 23rd) and hypercompetitive, status-obsessed culture choking local creativity, putting pressure on artists to get a real job to keep up or otherwise leave for somewhere less sharky.
Of course, affluenza is hitting Melbourne as well; property prices are skyrocketing, and the young creative people who filled up the inner cities are being displaced further and further out, making room for moneyed yuppies with a taste for boutique lifestyles. Perhaps one of these days we will find that Springvale or Sunshine has become Melbourne's Neukölln, sufficiently populated with thrifty creatives and bohemians to have a vibrant local culture but insufficiently "funkified" (in the words of estate agents) to have attracted the yuppies?
Property developers in China have created an artificial English town. Located on the outskirts of Shanghai, "Thames Town" contains such quintessentially English essentials as Georgian- and Victorian-style terrace houses, a pub and fish and chip shop and a statue of Winston Churchill. The owner of the original fish and chip shop, in Lyme Regis, meanwhile, is quite annoyed with her business having been copied lock, stock and barrel without permission.
Of course, unless the high street is comprised entirely of chain stores, it's not a real English town but a vaguely Disneylandish (or perhaps Portmeirionesque) idealised one. In any case, it will soon be joined by other European-style developments, with an Italian and German town being planned. And apparently the entire town of Dorchester is being reconstructed in Chengdu, under the name "British Town".
In the 1930s, Henry Ford built two planned towns in Brazil, to support rubber plantations; the towns were modelled on Michigan, all white picket fences and neat, American-style suburban sidewalks (in fact, they looked not unlike some place in Queensland). As well as harnessing Brazil's rubber resources, the project attempted to instill Anglo-American/Fordian values in their residents; in return for better pay, the residents had to work US-style hours, eat American-style food in self-service cafeterias (the last point causing a riot at one stage) and attend compulsory square-dancing social events.
Fenced in by jungle, Fordlandia was transformed into a modern suburb with rows of snug bungalows fed by power lines running to a diesel generator. The main street was paved and its residents collected well water from spigots in front of their homes--except for the U.S. staff and white-collar Brazilians, who had running water in their homes. The North Americans splashed in their outdoor swimming pool and the Brazilians escaped the sun by sliding into another pool designated for their use.
Generally, the company-imposed routine met hit-and-miss compliance. Children wore uniforms to school and workers responded favorably to suggestions they grow their own vegetables. But most ignored Ford's no liquor rule and, on paydays, boats filled with potent cachaca--the local sugar-can brew--pulled up at the dock. Poetry readings, weekend dances and English sing-alongs were among the disputed cultural activities.
Former Kalamazoo sheriff Curtis Pringle, a manager at Belterra, boosted labor relations when he eased off the Dearborn-style routine and deferred to local customs, especially when it came to meals and entertainment. Under Pringle, Belterra buildings did not contain the glass that made the powerhouse at Fordlandia unbearably hot, and weekend square dancing was optional. Alexander said Henry Ford balked at building a Catholic church at Fordlandia--even though Catholicism was the predominant Christian religion in Brazil. The Catholic chapel was erected right away at Belterra.The project was unsuccessful; humidity and malaria made life there unpleasant, rubber yields were low, and for some reason, the locals didn't see the inherent superiority of Anglo-American culture and stubbornly stuck to their customs, in defiance of the local authorities' best efforts. Ultimately, the project was sold to the Brazilian government, which has been stuck with the burden of keeping it from falling down ever since, and struggled to find uses for a transplanted piece of Michigan on the Amazon.
(via Boing Boing)
The latest architectural fashion in America is building houses with secret rooms. Not so much out of fear of home invasion by terrorists/gangbangers/zombies, but out of the sheer fun of having a secret room behind a sliding bookcase (the usual cliché), retractable staircase or similarly cool (if expensive and cumbersome) alternative door:
Since March, when the Beghous moved into the house, Cami estimates that she has had about 30 friends over. Not one was able to detect the bookcase's secret without guidance. "Most people don't even recognize that it's there," said her father, Eric Beghou, who owns a consulting company with his wife, Beth. "When the home inspector came by to examine the house, our builder shut the bookcase, hiding the room. The inspector went up and down the stairs a couple times - he knew that something was unusual - but he couldn't figure out what was there."
One popular trick is to hide a room behind a bookcase that looks like a standard built-in but is equipped with hidden hinges, rollers and handles, as at the Beghous' house. Contractors can either build the bookcases themselves or buy a piece from a growing collection of companies, including Niche Doors, the Hidden Door Company, Hide a Door, Secret Doorways and Decora Doors. Prices range from about $800 for the most basic models to more than $10,000 for custom-made versions.
She remembered a woman in St. Paul who asked for a room hidden behind the rear wall of a closet. "She said she wanted a secret room for her art studio," Ms. Susanka said. "She was a very introverted person, and she had to hide in order to let this expressiveness out."
(via Boing Boing)
The BBC has a special feature on Battersea Power Station (you know, the upside-down-coffee-table-shaped structure in south London, best known from Pink Floyd and Orb cover artwork), including panoramic views (the Art Deco control room looks fantastic, like something from a retrofuturistic scifi film), photographs from its past and sketches of development plans (apparently it is set to become a shopping centre/restaurant complex; let's hope they redevelop it sensitively).
Brazil now leads the world in revolving apartment technology, with the first-ever such building, Suite Vollard, giving each of its 11 residents their choice of 360-degree views at the touch of a button. (via bOING bOING)
Eyesore of the Month. Each month, James Howard Kunstler presents a photograph of a different architectural or urban-planning blight, accompanied by a brief and entertaining rant about the decline and fall of American civilisation (references to obese children, Prozac usage and "Car Park Nation" abound):
When your building has no meaningful relation with the public realm, the solution is to "export" the cartoons played within the house to the exterior. The neighborhood is then "populated" with recognizable, non-threatening figures. Once the installation is complete, the homeowner is released from any further obligation to public life, except to mow and trim the grass. The homeowner is then "free" to pursue a life devoted to television viewing. Such is life in the Home of the Brave.
The shark's head portion of this ensemble is probably its best feature -- putting aside any considerations of kitsch or "camp," ( that is, the love of vulgarity for its own sake.) No, what gets me, really, is the quality of the pink building behind Sharky. In a perfect world its function would be a poodle euthenasia center.
Here we have the old courthouse in Biloxi, Mississippi, (left) and its 1970s replacement (right) -- the sublime and the ridiculous. The old building is garbed in the architectural vestments of authority in decorum. The new courthouse invokes arbitrary bureaucratic despotism. Note to political economists: the building on the left came from a far less affluent society than the one at right.(via jwz)
What could be better than living in an ecologically-sound hobbit hole? Living in an ecologically-sound hobbit hole designed by prog-rock album-cover artist Roger Dean. Wow, trippy... (via the Viridian newsletter)
A lot of Melbourne's Art Deco buildings are in danger of demolition, not being considered old enough to be worthy of protection: (The Age)
What the buildings have in common, however, is their place in the new conservation battleground, according to the president of the Society Art Deco, Robin Grow. Many people recognise the value of Victorian and Edwardian buildings, he says, but anything built after the First World War has not seemed quite old enough to be worth saving.
Houses in the style were built in "desirable" suburbs and the people likely to buy them have the financial resources to demolish and rebuild. Many simply don't like, or appreciate, old.
Unlike Victorian and Federation buildings, there is as yet not much business in producing the hardware of the Moderne period. "I was quite surprised at what we could not find - even down to furnishings. There's a lot of Art Deco couches and yet trying to find Art Deco upholstery fabrics ... it's just no show. Yet there was some beautiful stuff produced in that era and it was only 50 years ago."