Does Architectural “Excellence” Put Embassies at Risk?

The new US Embassy in London – designed by ’s KieranTimberlake. Image via US Department of State.

“Embassies and consulates serve as the front door for US diplomacy. The safety and security they provide to our personnel are the first priority, but they must also reflect our national values of openness and ingenuity. Embassies and consulates must exemplify the best of American architecture, environmental stewardship, and innovation.” – Secretary of State John Kerry on the US Department of State’s Design Excellence program, November 2013

As the meeting point for diplomacy, embassies serve as the face of America abroad. Embassy location and architectural design have the potential to promote inclusion and openness, but when tucked behind tall fences and bunker-style architecture they can convey exclusion and hostility.

While protecting diplomatic personnel is critical, conveying core American values such as transparency, openness and equality is also key. But how do you balance security and openness? Does a focus on design put safety at risk?

These questions are currently at the center of debate, as the State Department’s embassy Design Excellence program is facing criticism for being too costly and jeopardizing security.

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Designs Revealed of the Nordstrom Tower, the World’s Tallest Residential Building

Unofficial Rendering of Nordstrom Tower via YIMBY. Image © Otie O’Daniel

The designs of the Nordstrom Tower in New York, the world’s tallest residential building at 1,775 feet tall, have been revealed to New York YIMBY by an anonymous tipster close to the project. The project at 225 West 57th Street by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture will be one foot short of 1 World Trade Center, and with its 1,451 high roof will finally reclaim the title of United States’ tallest roof from Chicago‘s Willis Tower.

More on the Nordstrom Tower after the break

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Cullinan’s RMC Headquarters Saved by Grade II* Listing

© Richard Learoyd

English Heritage has announced that the RMC headquarters building designed by Edward Cullinan Architects in 1990 has been listed at grade II*, preventing a plan to demolish the building and replace it with a terraced housing scheme. The listing comes after a campaign to protect the building which was orchestrated by Cullinan Studio and the 20th Century Society, and supported by a a number of high profile architects including Nicholas Grimshaw, Richard Rogers, Peter Clegg (Feilden Clegg Bradley) and Sunand Prasad (Penoyre & Prasad).

Read more about the building and the listing decision after the break

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Vive la France: A Round-Up of French AD Classics

© Flavio Bragaia

In honor of Bastille Day, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite AD Classics built in France. From Bernard Tschumi‘s Parc de la Villette to our most popular classic project, Le Corbusier‘s Villa Savoye, take a moment to revisit these renowned works.

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Why Don’t Architects Sign Their Buildings?

Courtesy of Peter Knaup

It is a curious fact that architects do not put their signature on buildings. While even a novice architecture enthusiast can pick out a Frank Gehry building in any given city, there is no physical statement within that building identifying as the designer. But why not? This article by Planetizen asks explores this interesting question.

Kenneth Frampton: What is Architecture?

We caught up with Kenneth Frampton earlier this week at the event to announce the finalists of the (MCHAP) in Santiago, Chile. Beyond asking him about the MCHAP jury’s selection process, we took a moment to ask our classic ArchDaily question: what is architecture? Listen to his answer in the video above, or read the transcript of his answer after the break.

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Happy Birthday Buckminster Fuller! (1895-1983)

photo by Dan Lindsay via Wikimedia commons

Happy 118th birthday !

Today, July 12th is Buckminister Fuller’s birthday (1895-1983). Known as the father of sustainability, Fuller was driven by his intention “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Check out more Bucky, including a video of him singing his own original ode to a dome (really), after the break…

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Gehry Unveils Designs to Extend the Philadelphia Art Museum Downwards

The heart of the Museum will be opened up, creating a clear sight line through the ground-floor and first-floor galleries that will greatly simplify wayfinding. Image © Gehry Partners, LLP

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has revealed Frank Gehry‘s designs for a 169,000 square foot expansion that will see the museum dig down to create a new set of galleries underneath its existing footprint. Already an unusual choice for a project whose brief called to preserve the architectural integrity of the existing building, Gehry’s design is an unexpectedly muted intervention, focusing on interior rearrangement and additions that are in keeping with the 86 year-old building’s aesthetic.

Perhaps the most dramatic alteration proposed by Gehry is a plan to punch a hole through the museum’s famous ‘Rocky steps’, the iconic training location from the Rocky film series, creating a window into the new subterranean galleries; however as the $350 million project will by necessity by undertaken in stages, this intervention is likely to be a subject of discussion for some time.

More on the design after the break

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MCHAP Recognizes OMA, Holl, HdM as Finalists for Most Outstanding Projects in the Americas

The  (MCHAP) has just announced the seven finalists – drawn from a shortlist of 36 projects - at an event in Santiago, Chile.

To determine the finalists, the five jury members – Francisco Liernur, Sarah Whiting, Wiel Arets, Dominique Perrault, and Kenneth Frampton - spent the last twelve days visiting projects, speaking with the architects, users and owners of the spaces, and entering into intense debate among each other. 

As jury member Dominique Perrault noted, “There’s a lot of means by which to evaluate projects – models, drawings, images – but we took all opportunities to test the quality of the architecture. In the end, only by visiting can you sense the ‘touch of god’ – the presence of the building itself in the context.”

The resulting finalists show tremendous variety – in terms of scale, place, typology, program, , etc. – making the task of choosing a winner all the more challenging. See all seven finalists, as well as a video of Kenneth Frampton discussing the selection process, after the break.

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Foster + Partners Unveils New Images of 425 Park Avenue

Courtesy of

Foster + Partners has released new images of 425 Park Avenue in New York, the project which turned heads in 2012 when videos of the four competing architects presenting their proposals were released to Youtube. The new images show a slightly altered design for the glazed entrance, where a mezzanine on either side replaces what was originally a double height space in the entire lobby. The new images also give a glimpse into the building’s interiors, where curtain glass walls make the most of spectacular views across Manhattan and Central Park. Read on after the break for all the images.

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Zaha Hadid Architects Reveals Modified Tokyo National Stadium Designs

The updated design for the National Stadium. Image Courtesy of Sport Council

Update: The Japan Sport Council has now unveiled images of ZHA’s redesigned Tokyo National Stadium, which Zaha Hadid Architects say will make “make the stadium even more efficient, user-focussed, adaptable and sustainable.” The capacity of the stadium will remain at 80,000 seats.

After sustained protest from Japanese architects and citizens alike, Zaha Hadid Architects have confessed that they are modifying their designs for Tokyo’s National Stadium, the centerpiece for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. After repeated criticism, including a petition launched by Pritzker laureates Toyo Ito and Fumihiko Maki, the Japanese Government had already announced a plan to reduce the cost from its original budget of $3 billion to a more manageable $1.7 billion.

Now, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has added fuel to the fire by saying that it would support a scaled-back plan for the entire event: “We want to see more existing venues, we want to see the use of more temporary grandstands,” said Committee vice president John Coates.

More on Tokyo’s plan to dial down its Olympics after the break

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Aedas Announces Demerger Into Two Separate Companies

As of this week , which was recently ranked as the 5th largest and influential practice in the UK by the Architects’ Journal, has demerged into two separate practices. The thirteen offices in China, South-East , the Middle East and the US, will continue to operate under the Aedas brand whilst the eight UK offices and the offices in Russia, Poland and Kazakhstan will operate under a new name: AHR. According to the outgoing board, the demerger “will allow both companies to focus on their respective strengths and will enable them to grow the businesses in different directions.” The intention is that both groups will continue to work together on projects in the future.

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DIY Materials Concept Wins Troldtekt Award 2014

Courtesy of

115 entries from 39 countries! This was the number of architectural and design students who entered this year’s international concept competition – the Troldtekt Award 2014. The EUR 5,000 prize was won by three students from Escuela Superior de Arquitectura in Guadalajara (Mexico) for their project Troldtekt Raw. The jury was so impressed with the overall quality of the entries that three special prizes were also awarded, while a further four projects received honourable mentions.

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In The Real World: The Consequences of Modernity in Japan at the Venice Biennale

 “We were sensitive to the way in which society was becoming more consumption-oriented and gave serious thought to how we ought to respond to that change without simply accommodating ourselves to it.” -Toyo Ito
“I was entering a dead world, which would never see the light of the day. I wanted to treat that dead world as if it were alive, or to put it another way, to try to create a different reality.” - Terunobu Fujimori

Under the title of Fundamentals, Koolhaas’ Biennale asked national pavilions to focus on their respective countries’ relationships with modernity, the movement that has, for better or worse, shaped the contemporary city. In the case of , modernity was expressed in a unique way, as architecture was instrumental to the rapid industrialization and growth that the country experienced after World War II. This growth resulted in the first architectural avant-garde outside of the Western world. By the 70s, as this movement reached its peak, local architects, historians, artists and urbanists began to look at modernism in a critical way, questioning its impact.

In “The Real World,” the Japan exhibit at the Biennale, curator unearths how this critical movement expressed itself through Osamu Ishiyama, Toyo Ito, Terunobu Fujimori, and other Japanese masters whose works strove to connect to the human of “the real world” rather than contribute to the failed utopias of modernism. Interviews with this group of architects bring to light the desire that they had to positively impact society, and how they attempted to materialize that desire in their early works. The objects found inside the pavilion articulate the storytelling behind the process, leaving their interpretation open to visitors.

“You’ve got to try to make an impact on the times you live in, and you’ve got to do it through your work, not through words.” – Osamu Ushiyama
“Actual objects continue to possess tremendous energy – much more so than photographs or models.” – Tsutomu Ichiki

More about the “In the Real World” after the break:

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Amsterdam’s Glass Music Hall Faces Demolition, Seeks Home

Courtesy of Octatube

A mere twenty-five years after its inauguration, the Music Hall at the former Exchange of Berlage in Amsterdam is looking for a new home, where it will be relocated and reassembled for free. The innovative space, originally designed for the Dutch Chamber Music Orchestra, has garnered international attention and multiple awards, but sadly no longer meets the needs of the facility. 

Designed by architect Pieter Zaanen and structural designer Mick Eekhout, the Glass Music Hall sits in the center of an existing space, defying stereotypes about what glass can do. Being a hard material, the reverberation time in a blunt glass hall would be approximately 5 seconds. However, this number was brought down to 1 or 2 seconds in this instance, proving glass can be used to create a fantastical acoustical environment. 

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Ricardo Bofill’s Winning Proposal for the The Noble Qur’an Oasis Competition

Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura and Gerber Architekten have tied for first place in a competition to design a cultural and civic Islamic center in , beating several well known international competitors, including Zaha Hadid Architects and gmp Architekten. The ultimate winner will be announced at a later date.

Ricardo Bofill‘s proposal for the center, which is meant to foster the research, study and transmission of the Qur’an, takes geometric inspiration from traditional Islamic cities:

“The first Islamic city had a circular plan, with all spaces being enclosed in the circle representing the elemental symbol of unity and the ultimate source of diversity in creation. This traditional city, or rather the idea of this city, serves as the base and the essence for the creation of the Islamic modern city. Such a background has led us to choose a circular concept as the main representational shape of the project for The Noble Qur’an Oasis. This unique civic and cultural landmark, with its sleek, minimalist design, is a symbolic container where the Islamic science and culture will be displayed.”

Read the architect’s description of their design, after the break.  

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Happy Birthday Michael Graves

Courtesy of & Associates

Today is the 80th of renowned architect Michael Graves.  Famous for his bold, symbolic references to classical architecture and his use of geometry, Graves is also known as one of the New York Five. His work bridged the abstraction of Modernism and the Postmodernism of the current era.

Graves started his own practice in 1964 in Princeton, New Jersey, and has taught at Princeton’s school of architecture for more than 40 years.  A prolific architect, Graves has also met with considerable success as an industrial designer, producing products for companies such as Target and Black & Decker. He is highly decorated, having won such prestigious honors as the Nation Medal of the Arts (1999), the AIA Gold Medal (2001), and the Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture (2012).  On the anniversary of his birth, we invite you to look over our collection of some of his best work and check out our video interview with him, after the break.

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Assemble Architects and the Coming-of-Age of the Pop-Up Project

The Cineroleum, a temporary cinema in a disused petrol station. Image © Flickr CC User John Gordy

In his interesting profile of the young London-based practice Assemble, Rowan Moore of the Observer investigates the work of arguably the best collective of designers to emerge from 2010′s “Autumn of Pop-Ups” – examining how they have stayed true to the more noble aspects of pop-up architecture despite the concept’s increasing commercialization. From their first project, a temporary cinema in a petrol station, to their recent Yardhouse project in Stratford, Moore finds an architecture that values exuberance and fun, yet is mature and refined. You can read his article in full here.