"London is on the verge of being ruined for all future generations," says Alain de Botton – a Swiss philosopher, notable author and founder of The School of Life and Living Architecture. "With a whopping 260 towers in the pipeline no area is safe, as planners, property developers and the mayor's office commit crimes against beauty to create fun buildings." In a film for The Guardian De Botton explains why he believes we're right to be nervous – and how we can stop this "clear desecration" of the UK's capital city.
The UK is in the midst of a housing crisis, the intricacies of which were detailed by Rowan Moore earlier this year. For decades the typical British housing stock has been of relatively poor quality, proliferated by developer-led consortiums and characterised by ruthless cost-efficiency for maximum profit. From this formula comes nothing but a monotony of off-the-shelf constructions which have, over time, become a national benchmark. These houses – often built of brick, boxy in form, and using as little space in the facade for openings – are commonly dark, spatially inadequate, and far below the standards that should be being aimed for. It’s like living in a well-appointed cave.
In an article for The Guardian, Turner Prize winning ceramic artist Grayson Perry has written for the first time about his "plans for a Taj Mahal in Essex." The designs for the House for Essex, which have been realised over the last three years by FAT and led by Charles Holland, are of a "secular chapel" in the heart of the southern English countryside. The building was commissioned by the Living Architecture Project, which is headed by Alain de Botton and are the proprietors of property designed by the likes of Peter Zumthor, MVRDV, and David Kohn. This, their fifth foray into experimental collaborative architecture between architects and artists, is set to open its doors for holiday letting this year.
The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), named after the Queen and Her Consort, has its foundations in the Great Exhibition of 1851 amidst the wealth, innovation and squalor of the Industrial Revolution. Britain was flooded by prosperity which allowed for the development of major new institutions to collect and exhibit objects of cultural significance or artistic value. The institute’s first director, Henry Cole, declared that it should be “a schoolroom for everyone,” and a democratic approach to its relationship with public life has remained the cornerstone of the V&A. Not only has it always been free of charge but it was also the first to open late hours (made possible by gas lighting), allowing a more comprehensive demographic of visitor.
Their latest exhibition, which opens today, seeks to realign the museum’s vast collection and palatial exhibition spaces in South Kensington with these founding concepts. The interventions of All of This Belongs to You attempt to push the V&A’s position as an extension of London’s civic and cultural built environment to the fore, testing the museum’s ability to act as a 21st century public institution. To do this in London, a city where the notion of public and private is increasingly blurred, has resulted in a sequence of compelling installations which are tied together through their relevance either in subject matter, technique, or topicality.
A compilation of all posts in the "Urbanist's Guide to..." series from Guardian Cities, "The Urbanist's Guide to the World" takes readers to cities across the globe. Penned by local bloggers in cities from Manila to Sao Paulo, Tehran to New Orleans, the vignettes are supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and cover everything from "best" and "worst buildings" to cleanliness, soundscapes, and "the best place for a conversation." You can view the interactive guide here.
In an article for The Guardian, Rowan Moore explores the state and future of the Grade A listed Brutalist Seminary of St. Peter, "where the influence of Le Corbusier’s monastery of La Tourette combines with [...] Scottish inspirations." Although the building is often seen as wholly unique in the canon of religious buildings, it is still comprised of traditional elements - "cloister, chapel, refectory, cells - but rearranged over multiple levels in unexpected ways, alternately enclosing and opening up to its surroundings."
In the UK, urban issues are starting to see something of a renaissance, with problems such as the nation's housing shortage increasingly being subjected to scrutiny in ever more public arenas - in fact earlier this year housing overtook transport as the biggest concern among London voters. All of this means that 2015 will be "a golden opportunity to fix some of the worst city problems," according to the Guardian Cities, who have asked their architecture critic Oliver Wainwright to offer up a wishlist of positive changes that could benefit the nation's urban centres. From councils building more council housing to a tax on empty homes, Wainwright's four-point list offers straightforward policy advice that could truly transform the lives of British urbanites - and perhaps most promisingly, in three of these cases he explains how there are nascent movements already being made to bring his recommendations to fruition. You can read the full article here.
Guardian Cities have put together "the best of baked architecture" in a countdown of their favourite confectionary constructions. See London's Tate Modern rendered in precisely cut slabs of gingerbread alongside the curved shapes of New York City's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Alongside these, food artists have been more inventive by building Paris's Louvre from translucent crystallised sugar glass and Mexico City’s Museo Soumaya from hundreds of spherical treats.
In an article for The Guardian, Oliver Wainwright steps "inside Beijing's apocalypse": the poisonous, polluted atmosphere that often clings to the Chinese capital. He explores ways in which those who live in this metropolis have started to redefine the spaces they frequent and the ways in which they live. Schools, he notes, are now building inflatable domes over play areas in order to "simulate a normal environment." The dangers were made clear when "this year’s Beijing marathon [...] saw many drop out when their face-mask filters turned a shade of grey after just a few kilometres." Now, in an attempt to improve the living conditions in the city, ecologists and environmental scientists are proposing new methods to filter the air en masse. Read about some of the methods here.
In an article for The Guardian, Maryam Omidi explores Moscow's Door19, a place where "Damien Hirst and David LaChapelle artworks adorn the raw concrete walls," "flair bartenders serve up gem-coloured cocktails," and "a rotation of Michelin-starred chefs flown in from around the world curate new menus each week." It is indicative, she argues, of what Kuba Snopek (a lecturer at the Strelka Institute) describes as "hipster Stalinism" - a surge of redevelopment in certain parts of Moscow that cater to the 'oligarchs', wealthy creatives and Muscovite 'hipsters'. At Door19, for example, apartments sell for between $15,000 and $20,000 per square metre.
Speaking to The Guardian, David Chipperfield has stated that he regards the hold of private investment over new architecture in London as an "absolutely terrible" means of building a city. He argues that Berlin - where he spends considerable amounts of time and runs a large office - "is a much more reflective society than ours" because the UK has sunk into "a success-based culture."
The people behind Frank Gehry's Fondation Louis Vuitton (FLV) in Paris, which is set to officially open on the 27th October 2014, recently invited a band of architecture critics to take a look around and pen their thoughts. Gehry's bold approach to architectural form, most evident in buildings like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, matches the foundation's aim to "promote and support contemporary and artistic creation" in France. According to their website, they in particular embody "a passion for artistic freedom." How, then, has the enormous sailed structure, challenged by local opposition from the outset, settled into its Parisian parkland surroundings?
See what The Guardian's Oliver Wainwright, The Observer's Rowan Moore, Vanity Fair's Paul Goldberger, The LA Times' Christopher Hawthorne, as well as the Architectural Digests' Mayer Rus, had to say about Gehry's latest completed building after the break.
The USA's tallest building shoulders one of the nation's greatest challenges: paying tribute to lives lost in one of the country's greatest tragedies. One World Trade Center in lower Manhattan has yet to be completed and yet has still recently been condemned by a number of critics, who cite the former "Freedom Tower" as an inspirational failure. Thirteen years after the attacks, the wider site at ground zero also remains plagued by red tape and bureaucratic delays, unfinished and as-yet-unbuilt World Trade Centers, Calatrava's $5B transit hub, and an absence of reverence, according to critics. Read some of the most potent reviews of the new World Trade Center site from the press in our compilation after the break.
The highly anticipated 3D film series Cathedrals of Culture has now opened around the world. Directed by Wim Wenders and a team of five other acclaimed directors (Robert Redford, Michael Glawogger, Michael Madsen, Margreth Olin and Karim Aïnouz), the collection - according to The Guardian's Oliver Wainwright - "feels more like a series of vapid promotional videos." Arguing that in most of the films (with the exception of Michael Madsen's) the narrative is lost in favour of cinematic shots, "Cathedrals of Culture presents a limited and internalised view of what architecture is, a fault perhaps driven by the obsession with the 3D camera. [...] It has a self-satisfied, sometimes cultish, air that makes you feel like you’re taking part in some collective brainwashing exercise." Wainwright concludes that Living Architectures is the best place to go. See some of their films featured in ArchDaily's 40 Architecture Docs to Watch in 2014.
Alongside a number of recent articles that explore the rise of the urban property developer and the subsequent "threat" to the built environment, Oliver Wainwright of The Guardian explores at length how developers are "exploiting planning authorities and ruining our cities." In discussion with Peter Rees, former Chief Planning Officer for the City of London and responsible for the financial district's monuments of today, Wainwright discusses the lack of accountability of the vast majority of urban developers. While local councils attempt to secure the next iconic development for their area many planners, authorities and developers are locked in a battle over the built fabric of our cities. Read the article in full here.
Who says that playing is just for kids? Bristol, in the United Kingdom, is just one of the many cities around the world experimenting with urban play, creating opportunities to eliminate urban solitude in favour of having fun. In a recent article in The Guardian, Julian Baggini dives head first into Bristol's playful new initiatives including a 300-foot water slide on the city's high street, post boxes that converse using text messaging, and city-wide zombie chases. Bristol is leading the way with urban play worldwide, hosting a conference this month entitled Making the City Playable, an opportunity for planners to convene with the creative minds behind the new form of entertainment. Find out more about urban play and the benefits it brings to cities here.
Looking for your dream home? Picket fence, driveway (sedan included), basketball net, and terracotta pots complete with flowers in bloom, available now in the quiet neighbourhood of Rancho Santa Fe in Shanghai, China. According to this article in The Guardian, "The Chinese Dream" is currently sweeping the People's Republic, with Western planning models replicated with identical ineffective results. The article offers an intimate insight into the role of American architectural fetishism in modern China, and how the government is now fighting to curb the trend. Read the complete article here.
In a short film for The Guardian Lead Architect and Partner of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Graham Stirk, tours Robert Booth around the almost-complete Leadenhall Building. The building is referred to as a relative of it's neighbour, Lloyds of London, which was completed by Richard Rogers's practice in 1986. Leadenhall, dubbed the "Cheesegrater" due to its angled façade, is twice the height of Lloyds and is considered to be the physical manifestation of the evolution of Rogers' architectural and tectonic language. Although less "structurally showy" than its counterpart, the building is still unconventionally bold when it comes to structural expression.