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10 Fires That Changed Architecture Forever

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 history.

10 Fires That Changed Architecture Forever The Hagia Sophia. Image © Flickr CC User Collin Key The Reichstag. Image © Flickr CC User Sebastian Niedlich Chicago. Image © Flickr CC User Brad Wilke

The Humanitarian Works of Shigeru Ban

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. 

AD Editorial Round Up: Women in Architecture

There are few topics that stir up more controversy on ArchDaily than that of women in architecture. From those of you who vociferously advocate for women in the field to those who steadfastly purport that gender has no place in architecture at all, you, our readers, represent a wide spectrum of viewpoints and opinions on the subject. 

And so, in honor of International Women's Day, we've decided to take a look back at some of our past comment-stirring articles (even more after the break): 

  • Infographic: Women in Architecture by Megan Jett
  • The 10 Most Overlooked Women in Architecture History by Nicky Rackard
  • Why Do Women Really Leave Architecture" Is the Wrong Question by Vanessa Quirk
  • "When Will Architects Speak Up for Women's Rights?" by Carla Soto
  • Why 2013 was Denise Scott Brown's Year by Guy Horton
  • Norman Foster on Meeting Niemeyer

    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

    Practice 2.0: 10 Years of Smart Geometry

    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 architecture, 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.

    Without Architects, Smart Cities Just Aren't Smart

    Arguably the biggest buzzword in urbanism right now is the 'Smart City'. The idea, although certainly inclusive of eco-friendly practices, has even replaced “sustainability” as the major intent of cities planning for positive future development. Smart City thinking has been used successfully in countries as diverse as Brazil, the US, the UAE, South Korea, and Scotland (Glasgow just won a £24million grant to pioneer new schemes throughout the city).

    But what exactly are Smart Cities? What benefit do they bring us? And, more importantly, how can we best implement them to secure our future?

    The answer, in my opinion, lies in the hands of architects.

    More on the potential of Smart Cities after the break...

    Architecture by Robots, For Humanity

    Architecture is quickly adopting the popular technology of robots. Although it is slightly hard to define what “robot” really means, for architecture, it tends to refer to anything from robot 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?

    On Zombies and The Immortality of the Shopping Mall

    Image via Flickr User CC Gilderic Photography
    Image via Flickr User CC Gilderic Photography

    This article, which originally appeared on Bullett Media, is by writer Matthew Newton. Newton has written for The Atlantic, Esquire, Forbes, and Guernica, and is currently at work on No Place for Disgrace, a collection of nonfiction stories based on the faded promise of the American suburbs. You can follow him on Twitter @newtonmatthew.

    In November of 1977, filmmaker George A. Romero arrived with cast and crew at Monroeville Mall, a sprawling indoor shopping center located in the suburbs east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The young director, who by that time had established himself as a pioneer in the horror genre, was set to start production on his latest film, Dawn of the Dead, a sequel to his 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead. Once again Romero’s slow-shuffling ghouls — starved as always for brains and entrails, meaty thigh bones and plump jugulars — would be unleashed on bumbling humans ill-prepared for a world gone rotten.

    This time around, however, Romero, who in Night of the Living Dead touched on issues of race in the civil-rights era, had plans to skewer a new social dilemma: the rise of the American consumer. And to properly lampoon the nation’s burgeoning shop-till-you-drop culture, Romero needed the ideal backdrop.

    Read more of Matthew Newton's take on the immortality of the shopping mall, after the break...

    Non-Design: Architecture's (Counter-Intuitive) Future

    Quinta Monroy development after occupation. © Cristobal Palma
    Quinta Monroy development after occupation. © Cristobal Palma

    Global architecture underwent a seismic shift in the 20th Century. Governments, keen to mitigate the impoverishing effects of rapid urbanization and two world wars embarked on ambitious social housing programs, pairing with modernists who promised that design could be the solution to social inequality and poverty. Today, the problems inherent in these mid-century tower blocks are well documented and well known, and these modernist solutions to poverty are often seen as ill-conceived failures.

    If the 20th century was all about designing to solve social problems, then the 21st century has been about the exact opposite – not designing to solve social problems. These days, it is much more common to see architects praising the social order and even aesthetic of illegal slums, which in many cases provide their residents with a stronger community and higher quality of life than did many formal social housing projects of the past. The task of architects (both today's and tomorrow's) is to develop this construction logic: to use design and, rather counter-intuitively, non-design to lift these urban residents out of their impoverished conditions.

    More on the social potential of non-design after the break...

    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.
    © “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 architecture 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 architecture 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. 

    The Biggest Complaint of 2012: Insufficient Pay

    © Tulane Public Relations
    © 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 architecture 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 architecture as a profession has gained a reputation for exploiting recent graduates by hiring them as interns with little or no compensation. 2013 can be the year to turn this trend around.  Is the architectural profession willing to make this resolution? Follow us after the break for more.

    Rendering / CLOG

    Every month, the publication CLOG takes on “a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now.” It’s not a quick look at something trendy, but rather an in-depth look, from multiple perspectives, at the issues that are affecting - and will continue to affect (and even alter) - architecture as we know it today.

    CLOG: Rendering is, in my opinion, the best issue yet. Through dozens of fascinating, concise articles and a handful of illustrative, quirky images, it takes on an enormous question often over-looked in the architectural world: what is a rendering? An alluring device to win over a jury or public? A realistic depiction? Or perhaps it’s an entity unto itself...

    Rendering examines how the rendering has become a means of deception - not just for the public, but for ourselves - becoming an aesthetic end-product rather than the representation of an idea in-progress. But at the same time, the rendering is our best tool for entering into the “real” world, for communicating what we do to the public at large. 

    Is there a way to marry these opposing characteristics? What should the future of rendering be? CLOG takes these questions head-on. More after the break...

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

    Never is the value of architecture 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.

    Mill Brook School: Concord, NH / HMFH Architects; Photographs: © 2012 Ed Wonsek McAuliffe Elementary School: Concord, NH / HMFH Architects; Photographs: © 2012 Ed Wonsek McAuliffe Elementary School: Concord, NH / HMFH Architects; Photographs: © 2012 Ed Wonsek Abbot-Downing School: Concord, NH / HMFH Architects; Photographs: © 2012 Ed Wonsek

    The Dynamism of Zaha's Eli and Edythe Broad Museum

    © Paul Warchol
    © 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 East Lansing, 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…

    Architecture Decay / Andrew Hawkins

    Ruins in Angkor, Wat. Photo "Cambodia" via Flickr CC User Macorig Paolo
    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 architecture itself. More examples of #ArchitectureDecay, after the break…

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

    The Shard, by Renzo Piano, towers over the London skyline.
    The Shard, by Renzo Piano, towers over the London 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 9/11. 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.

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

    Venice Biennale 2012: The Most Political Biennale Yet

    © Nico Saieh. Russia's Pavilion "i-city"
    © 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 architecture, but rather about empty, conservative charged with feigned meaning.” Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Wolf D. Prix came under fire 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?