10 Fires That Changed Architecture Forever

After being destroyed by fire and laying in ruins for 60 years, the Reichstag became a symbol of the new democracy in the 1990s with Norman Foster’s renovation. Image © Flickr CC User Werner Kunz

With no casualties, last week’s fire at the Glasgow School of Art, which caused significant damage to parts of the building and gutted Charles Rennie Mackintosh‘s canonical library room, will be remembered as a tragic event that robbed us of one of the best examples of Art Nouveau of its time. The intention of the Glasgow School of Art is to restore the building in the hope that in generations to come, the fire will be all but forgotten, a strategy which has been largely well received by the profession.

However, in the case of other fires things have not gone so smoothly: for millennia, fire has played a big role in determining the course of architectural history - by destroying precious artifacts, but often also by allowing something new to rise from the ashes. Read on after the break as we count down the top 10 fires that changed the course of architectural .

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The Humanitarian Works of Shigeru Ban

Cardboard Cathedral. Image © Stephen Goodenough

Pritzker Laureate Shigeru Ban may be as well known for his innovative use of materials as for his compassionate approach to design. For a little over three decades, Ban, the founder of the Voluntary Architects Network, has applied his extensive knowledge of recyclable materials, particularly paper and cardboard, to constructing high-quality, low-cost shelters for victims of disaster across the world – from Rwanda, to Haiti, to Turkey, Japan, and more. We’ve rounded up images of Ban’s humanitarian work – get inspired after the break.

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Norman Foster Talks Meeting Niemeyer

Oscar Niemeyer and Lord in 2011. “He was in wonderful spirits—charming and, notwithstanding his 104 years, his youthful energy and creativity were inspirational.”. Image Courtesy of

In this interview, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as “Q&A: Norman Foster on Niemeyer, Nature and Cities“, Paul Clemence talks with Lord Foster about his respect for Niemeyer, their meeting shortly before the great master’s death, and how Niemeyer’s work has influenced his own.

Last December, in the midst of a hectic schedule of events that have come to define Art Basel/Design Miami, I found myself attending a luncheon presentation of the plans for the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach, by Foster + Partners. While chatting with Lord Foster, I mentioned my Brazilian background and quickly the conversation turned to Oscar Niemeyer. Foster mentioned the talk he and Niemeyer had shortly before the Brazilian’s passing (coincidentally that same week in December marked the first anniversary of Niemeyer’s death). Curious to know more about the meeting and their chat, I asked Foster about that legendary encounter and some of the guiding ideas behind his design for the Norton.

Read on for the interview

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Practice 2.0: 10 Years of Smart Geometry

Members of the RoboticFOAMing group release a foam column stretched into shape by three robots. Photo courtesy of Bentley

by: Daniel Davis & David Fano of CASE

This year marks Smartgeometry’s tenth anniversary. For architects it’s been a decade of breathless innovation and listless stagnation. In this article we look back at the success of SmartGeometry and ask why the building industry isn’t keeping up.

The original instigators of Smartgeometry – Lars Hesselgren, J Parrish, and Hugh Whitehead – worked together at YRM (now part of RMJM) in the late 1980s. Together they helped shepherd parametric modeling and associative geometry into the field of , and witnessed how early-stage three-dimensional structural analysis and late-stage clash detection might change practice. Yet in 2003 they found themselves disillusioned and asking, “Why is it that ten years have passed, and we still cannot even get close to the kind of capability that we had then?” [1]. In other words, why is the building industry failing to keep up, or worse, falling behind. It was a question that would inspire the first Smartgeometry conference, and it is a question that still lingers a decade later.

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Architecture by Robots, For Humanity

Courtesy of blog.rhino3d.com – ROB/Arch Workshop, Rotterdam

is quickly adopting the popular technology of robots. Although it is slightly hard to define what “” really means, for architecture, it tends to refer to anything from arms to CNC mills to 3D printers. Basically, they are programmable, mechanical, and automated instruments that assist in processes of digital fabrication.

So, what might robots mean for architecture? A more precise architecture which could contribute to a more sustainable building life cycle? More innovative design derived from algorithmic processes? A more efficient prefabrication process that could reduce the time and cost of construction?

Probably a mix of all three. But more importantly, what might robots mean for humans? Robotic replacement for the construction worker? Loss of local craftsmanship and construction knowledge? Maybe. But I might reformulate the question. Asking what robots mean for humans implies passivity.

What I ask, then, is what can robots do for humans?

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The Indicator: The Responsibility of Beauty

“Beauty is nothing other than the promise of happiness.” –Stendhal. Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeos. Photograph by Andrew Meredith.

In his 2008 book, The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton argues that has an extraordinary power when it comes to influencing who we are. In giving shape to our living environments, it plugs into our emotional existence. I would take it a step further and say that as we reside in we so reside within ourselves, emplacing ourselves in both physical and psychological worlds.

But this is by no means a new argument. As de Botton explains in his most recent collection of essays, Religion for Atheists, the Catholics and Protestants have been elaborating on this theme for centuries. The world around us has a profound impact on how we think, feel, and perceive. Without this underlying logic there could be no architecture.

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The Biggest Complaint of 2012: Insufficient Pay

© Tulane Public Relations

For many young architects the biggest complaint of 2012 has been insufficient pay in exchange for hard work and long hours under the guise of an internship. As if graduating with a degree in is not grueling enough, NCARB, the US architectural licensing board also requires three years (amounting to thousands of hours) of training under a licensed architect, followed by a seven-part exam.  Becoming an architect takes an exceptional amount of commitment, time and money.  College graduates are already shaking under the weight of student loans and a stunted economy and job market; but what makes matters worse is that as a profession has gained a reputation for exploiting recent graduates by hiring them as interns with little or no .

2013 can be the year to turn this trend around.  Is the architectural profession willing to make this resolution?

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What Architecture Has to Say About Education: Three New Hampshire Schools by HMFH Architects

YouTube Preview Image

Never is the value of so poignant, as when it becomes a tool to facilitate learning, development and exploration. Inspired by this video, which presents three new schools in Concord, New Hampshire that physically embody the educational philosophies of independence, collaboration, and creativity, we spoke with HMFH Architects to delve further into this vital question: how can architecture help children develop the early skills, creativity and inquisitiveness needed to become the independent and inspired adults of future generations? Find out after the break.

   

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The Dynamism of Zaha’s Eli and Edythe Broad Museum

© Paul Warchol

Rio de Janeiro-based writer Robert Landon has shared with us his experience exploring Zaha Hadid’s newly completed Eli and Edythe Broad Museum in Michigan.

As you approach Zaha Hadid’s new Eli and Edythe Broad Museum in , Michigan, it is the complex, light-catching carapace that first reels in the eye — a fine shock after the brick, neo-Gothic buildings that define the rest of the Michigan State University campus. Draw closer and its undulating fins, opening and closing in rhythmic asymmetries, begin to seduce the mind. In some places scrunched up into sharp angles and in others allowed to breathe for longer stretches across the low-slung facade, the fins seem to be the expression of some higher, grid-bending equation.

In a half-conscious attempt to solve the math, you begin to circle the building. At certain points, the fins spread wide enough for generous glimpses inside, but as you move keep moving, the inner secrets vanish again behind the metal lattice. In the same way, the relentlessly kinetic carapace tantalizes with, but ultimately eludes, any logical or definitive summing up. What is certain, though, is that, by the time you’ve come full circle, you’ll have grown quite curious to see what is going on inside.

More after the break…

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Architecture Decay / Andrew Hawkins

Ruins in Angkor, Wat. Photo “Cambodia” via Flickr CC User Macorig Paolo

By Andrew Hawkins

From the author of the popular post, “So You Want to Own Your Own Architecture Firm,” Andrew Hawkins, we bring you his latest: “Architecture Decay.”

As an architect I am interested (and have always been) in the way in which buildings are put together. To me, at times, the actual process in which a building is constructed is more interesting than the final product. Not to say the final product is not interesting to me, after all that is the intent of my design, but I find much enjoyment in the process that follows the end of my designing and brings my creation into the physical world. At certain stages of the construction, the completed portion of work produces very visually appealing imagery. (At least to this architect)

With that in mind I also enjoy the opposite process: the deconstruction of buildings. And this main fascination stems from the photo above. My obsession really revolves around the slow decay and atrophy of buildings over time due to lack of care. Also the way in which nature can destroy a building over time or in an instant is a study of itself.

More examples of #ArchitectureDecay, after the break…

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The Shard: A Skyscraper For Our Post-9/11 World?

The Shard, by Renzo Piano, towers over the skyline.

When the Twin Towers came down 11 years ago (almost to the day), the world was struck numb. Even New Yorkers, who felt the trauma rumble through their veins, couldn’t get past the initial disbelief: how can this be happening? How can something so big, so invincible, actually be so vulnerable?

Hundreds of comments have been hurled at Renzo Piano’s “Shard,” the massive, reflective skyscraper that hulks over the London skyline – it’s big, no, huge; it’s out of the context of its Victorian neighborhood; its exclusive price tag could only be footed by Qatar royalty (as it is) – but few, beyond writing off the tower as a symbol of arrogance or hubris, have stopped to consider its impetus.

For that, we must look at the Shard in the context of . Only then can the Shard be understood for what it is: the amplification and perfection of the glass tower Piano began in post-9/11 New York, a utopian vision that stands defiantly in defense of the city itself.

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Was the Biennale Very Political? Or Not Political Enough?

The Torre de David Café by Urban Think Tank + Justin McGuirk + Iwan Baan. According to Kimmelman, the Biennale’s “coup de théâtre.” According to us, a flawed and yet important exhibit. © Nico Saieh

Yesterday, Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic for The New York Timesunleashed his anticipated take on this year’s Biennale. Usually, we find ourselves almost perfectly aligned with Kimmelman’s socially-oriented perspective (in fact, we lauded his approach in “The Architect Critic is Dead“); this time, however, we found ourselves almost entirely at his opposite.

In our Editorial, “The Most Political Biennale Yet,” we contend that “Common Ground” represented a stepping stone in the Biennale’s evolution: it revealed an unprecedented engagement with reality and reflected, for the first time in any substantial way, architecture’s movement away from “starchitecture” and towards urbanist solutions. Was it perfect? No. But it was engaged.

However, Kimmelman’s take suggests that all that progress simply wasn’t enough. In fact, the exhibits we cite as evidence of the Biennale’s progress, Kimmelman cites as exceptions in a festival still overly obsessed with architecture’s big names.

What do you think? Was this Biennale very political, or not political enough? Was Kimmelman too harsh? Were we too forgiving? Or are we both off-base? Read on for a few select quotes from our Op-Eds, and give us your opinion in the comments below.

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Venice Biennale 2012: The Most Political Biennale Yet

© Nico Saieh. Russia’s Pavilion “i-city”

Of all the critiques of this year’s Biennale, there was one that was particularly hard to miss: “This event is an expensive danse macabre. [...] In truth it is all hollow, arduous, exhausting, bleak and boring. It is no longer about lively discussion and criticism of topics in contemporary , but rather about empty, conservative [...shells] charged with feigned meaning.”

Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Wolf D. Prix came under for this attack (especially when it was realized he didn’t even set foot at this year’s Biennale). And yet, had he written this critique for any other Biennale, he wouldn’t have been so far off. The Biennale is, after all, an expensive affair of prosecco-filled parties and, often, inaccessibly esoteric exhibits.

Prix hedged his bets that this Biennale, with its fluffy-sounding name, “Common Ground,” would be just like its precedents. Unluckily for Prix, it wasn’t. In fact, it was probably the most politically-engaged Biennale yet. But its Gold Lion winners, including an informal settlement and post-Tsunami shelters, have made some architects ponder what has never been pondered of a Biennale before:

Was this year’s Biennale too political, after all?

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Why Spain’s Crisis Is the End of An Era

Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao inspired cities across to get their own “Guggenheim,” many of which now stand empty/unfinished in the light of the country’s economic crisis. Photo via Flickr User CC Txanoduna

The Recession’s ripples have reached far. We, in the midst of a veritable architecture meltdown, can attest to that. But even our situation can’t compare to Spain’s, a country where “the mother of all housing bubbles” meant the Recession didn’t just land – it tsunami-ed onto her shores.

The metaphor may seem overblown, but it’s not so far off. Spain, a country that once stuffed its cities with show-stopping cultural centers, airports, and municipal buildings, has been shocked still.The new Spain is populated with empty high-rises, half-finished “starchitecture,” and plans gathering dust. A quarter of its architects are out of work and about one half of its studios have closed their doors.

Spain, once a beacon for architects across the globe, has hit a standstill.  For the first time in decades, thousands of architects are fleeing its shores. So what does this mean for in Spain – and the world? Has the Recession signified the end of an era? Has the torch of architectural innovation been passed?

In a word? Yes.

Exclusive insight from some of Spain and Portugal’s acclaimed architects, after the break…

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A History of the Venice Architecture Biennale

The Corderie at the Arsenale © ArchDaily

For over a century, the Venice (La Biennale di Venezia) has been one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. The avant-garde institution has remained at the forefront in the research and promotion of new artistic trends, while leading international events in the field of contemporary arts that are amongst the most important of their kind. Over the past thirty years, the Biennale has given growing importance to the Exhibition, which is still a young component of the Biennale considering that its first exhibition was held in 1975. Today, the Venice Biennale captures a multitude of interest from around the globe and attracts over 370,000 international visitors.

Before the festivities of the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale begin tomorrow, read up on the origin of this highly acclaimed international exhibition.

A timeline history of the Venice Architecture Biennale:
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The Limits of Density

© kaysha
In an article published by The Wall Street Journal called For Creative Cities, the Sky Has Its Limit, Richard Florida discusses the development of urban environments and their relative successes.  As human migrations are trending towards big cities, the design and appropriation of space within these cities is increasingly important.  Florida cites that trends indicate that by 2050 cities will make up 70% of the global population.  With so many people, elevate density within cities will be unavoidable, but what Florida emphasizes is that it isn’t just density that makes a vibrant and thriving city.  Citing Shanghai and City as examples of dense urban environments, Florida explains the differences in their relative architectural and urban developments and the prosperity that follows. The fundamental difference? The prevalence of mixed-use neighborhoods in City that overpower the innovation of strictly financial districts of either or Shanghai.

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Batman & Architecture: The Dark Knight Rises and Gotham’s Buildings Fall

There is no other comic saga more influenced by than . Gotham, and the fictional architects that built the city, have been main characters since the first plots. Writer and architect Jimmy Stamp describes in these essay the fascinating architectural references and metaphors that have filled Batman stories for the last 60 years.

Batman, Gotham City, and an Overzealous Architecture Historian With a Working Knowledge of Explosives

By Jimmy Stamp

New York, Dubai, Tokyo, Moscow, Gotham. Every city in every atlas—real and fictional— has a unique character shaped by history and geography. More than a mere sense of place derived from architecture and planning, cities have a feeling that pervades the consciousness of those who live there until themselves become a a piece of the urban fabric, a fractional embodiment of the city itself. Perhaps more than any other person—real or fictional—Batman is integrally linked to his city, the city he has sworn to protect. In every sense of the word, he is a true avatar of Gotham. And Gotham City itself is an avatar, not only of the dreams of its fictional architects, but of our collective urban paranoia.

Read the full post after the break

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How (Not) to Host The Olympics (Part III)

The Olympic Agora, designed by Santiago Calatrava, in Athens. Photo via Flickr User CC John & Mel Kots.

Welcome back and congratulations for having made it to the final installation of the .

So far, in parts I and II, we’ve learned how to design for your post-Games legacy (No White Elephants please) and to revitalize -not demolish- your city’s most deprived “eye-sores” (Don’t Hate, Rejuvenate).

So what’s left? Well, in this post-Recession era of austerity, a huge part of your Olympic Strategy will be justifying the spending – the colossal spending – to your more than skeptical constituents. As I said in the last post, a good starting point is targeting urban renewal and being as transparent as possible, but another big element is how you market the Games – not just to the International Committee (IOC), but to your own city-dwellers.

So how can you get them both on your side? Simple - Go Green.

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