Tate Modern: 10th Anniversary

29 04 2010

The groundbreaking renovation of the Bankside Power Station into the home of Britain’s ‘Modern Art Scene’, the Tate Modern, will celebrate it’s 10th birthday this May.

The international design competition was launched in July 1994, and was won by Herzog & De Meuron, the innovative Swiss architects. Often heralded as their pièce de résistance, the Tate Modern is a beautiful, deft and fitting ‘re-thinking’ of the building. Coming in just shy of £150 million for the conversion meant all eyes were watching to see what HdM would do – they did not disappoint. The newly revamped ‘Tate Modern’ was completed in January 2000, and opened to the public in, you guessed it, May of that year.

Much of the internal structure of the building remained intact, including the vast ‘Turbine Hall’ which has housed many fantastic installations over the past ten years (Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The Weather Project’ being one of my favourites: http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/eliasson/about.htm). Also, an electrical sub-station that took up the southern third of the building remained under the ownership of EDF Energy (the French energy giants) until 2006 when they agreed to release half of this holding to the museum.

The biggest change to the structure is the addition of the two-story glass extension on one half of the roof (this houses all the essential parts of any public building – the obligatory cafe / restaurant etc. Externally then, the building may appear to be relatively unchanged. For me though, it is the subtle adaptation of what was once considered an eyesore on the Thames, into something that Britons have come to love and cherish. It is sympathetic to it’s industrial roots, and yet steers away from them in all the right places.

As Ada Louise Huxtable (juror for the Pritzker Prize the year HdM won) says: “They [HdM] refine the traditions of modernism to elemental simplicity, while transforming materials and surfaces through the exploration of new treatments and techniques.”

To celebrate the anniversary, the Tate is holding a series of events free to the public between 12th – 16th May. This includes an exhibition entitled: ‘No Soul For Sale’ – a three-day festival mixing cutting edge arts events, performances, music and film.

Check out the Tate website for more information: http://www.tate.org.uk/


4 Mile Run Bridge

14 04 2010

Grimshaw, Arup & Scape's winning entry

Arup, Grimshaw and Scape have been announced as winners of the ‘4 Mile Run Bridge’ competition in Northern Virginia, USA.

The project seeks to revitalise and restore the ecology of the revered park space and act as a conduit to bring local communities together – which is, in effect, what a bridge is for (metaphorically speaking). The winning entry sees a beautiful, yet simple design, that sweeps majestically across the water.

Have a look at the winning presentation here: http://www.4milerun.org/PDF/Team1_4MileRun.pdf

A little more Orbit

12 04 2010

Anish Kapoor explains, briefly, the idea behind his Olympic Tower. David Sillito asks him inane questions, but it’s nice to see some 3D visualisations of the tower.

Brunnenstrasse 9

11 04 2010

Stark doesn’t quite cover it. Berlin’s newest gallery space in trendy Mitte has provoked quite a reaction from artists, designers and architects alike. The space has been inundated with praise, and I can see why.

It’s shell may seem a little, well, bleak; but look closer at it’s ‘unfinished’ exterior and you begin to understand the story of this place. It’s an exercise in flexibility. Every part of it (nearly) can be re-arranged, moved and reconfigured to suit the needs of the inhabitants. The facade, the walls, windows and doors can all be relocated to change the space inside. This wonderful, movable building, sits perfectly in its ever-changing surroundings and instead of appearing a little bit gimmicky, actually brings a whole new level of ingenuity to minimal, modernist architecture. Along the interior walls you’ll find holes ready to support another floor, staircases that can be moved and a ground floor that can be (partly) removed to give a double-height gallery space in the basement, should the tenant require it.

The interior intentionally exposes the buildings skeleton: untreated concrete floors and walls, MDF panels and uncased strip fluorescent lighting. This base state, however, is really rather beautiful and, knowing the potential the space still holds to change, makes it even more attractive. You can not only appreciate it for what it is now, but what it could be. This space is malleable, and it’s exciting to know that one day it will change.

It’s a fascinating approach to what will be a mixed-use building. Arno Brandlhuber, the minimalist genius who designed the space, has his studio in the penthouse suite of the building, along with the painfully trendy fashion magazine 032C on the third floor and the gallery KOW in the ground floor gallery space. This can, of course, all change if needed. So when I say that ‘stark’ doesn’t quite cover it, I mean it. This building is more the sum of its minimalist concrete parts. It’s an uplifting, ingenious creation that proves minimal design can, and will, stand the test of time.

images courtesy of: http://atelierhaussmann.wordpress.com/

Gardens by The Bay – Squint Opera Movie

8 04 2010

A truly groundbreaking project which I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with, in a small way, during my time with the lead consultant’s on the project – Grant Associates. I could rattle on for ages, but just watch the video to get the idea! The project was won in 2006, so I’m a little out of date on this one, but thought it was more than worth a mention.

Anish Kapoor – Orbit

8 04 2010

Anish Kapoor's 'Eiffel Tower'

Sculpture as architecture is always a thorny subject. Does a sculptor have the technical know-how that an architect does? Have they studied the fabric of construction and know about the mathematics, as well as the creativity, that goes into a building? The answer is probably not – I may be generalising here, but I think it’s a fair bet.

Great architecture is, of course, about the collaboration between many disciplines. It’s the structural engineers who tell us if what we’ve put down on paper will actually work, it’s the quantity and cost surveyors who help us bring a project into existence, the landscape architects who shape the environment around it and the all the other professions are what make a great building, well, great.

Anish Kapoor’s Olympic Tower is a staggering crimson structure that twists and turns it’s way up to 120 metres in height. It has been dubbed the British ‘Eiffel Tower’ – but can it stand up to such a comparison? The London 2012 games are, we’ve been told, Britain’s chance to put on an Olympics with a true British character: something a little quirky, a little off-the-wall. We may not have the budget China had, but we sure as hell are going to put on an ‘individual’ show. Personally, I think that’s great. There’s no reason why we can’t put on an exemplary games with a smaller budget than other countries may have at their disposal, but does that involve a £19 million steel tower? Surely the fact we are working with an increasingly diminishing budget means we should be spending our cash wisely?

The ‘ArcelorMittal Orbit’, to give it it’s full name, has been funded by Europe’s richest man – Lakshmi Mittal – a British Indian steel magnate. He has been named the 5th richest man in the world and sits atop many of the worlds most infulential, and richest companies. He’s non-executive Director of Goldman Sachs, for example – one of the major players in the worldwide financial meltdown – now there’s some kudos for a games that’s supposed to represent modern Britain on a budget. A little insensitive maybe?

All of the political and financial quips aside, does this tower fit the London Olympics? Will it serve to be the shining beacon of our games that it’s supposed to be? There’s no doubt that the East London site the Olympics is calling its home is in need of regeneration, and that anything that can last past those few summer weeks when the games actually take place is a bonus, but I’m unsure whether the Orbit will have longevity.

The Eiffel Tower, of course, was never supposed to live past 1909, but has managed to become an iconic landmark of Paris. Similarly, the Eiffel Tower was met with the same sorts of criticism to that of the ArcelorMittal Orbit – maybe then, I’m being shortsighted. Maybe this tower will define the games in 2012 and will serve as a lasting memory of modern Britain’s creativity and ingenuity. Once I get up in that lift to the viewing platform and have a look for myself, I’ll decide. For now I’m on the fence – a colossal expense, but who knows, maybe it will become one of the landmarks of London?

2010 Pritzker Prize winners: Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa

29 03 2010

Japanese partners in the architectural firm SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa) have been awarded with the ‘2010 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize’ for their outstanding contributions toward groundbreaking, innovative architecture in the built environment today.

This is the third time since the prize’s inception that two architects have been awarded; this first was in 1988 when Oscar Niemeyer and Gordon Bunshaft were honoured, and the second in 2001 when Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron (post coming soon about their new ‘VitraHaus’) received the award.

So what makes Sejima & Nishizawa worthy winners? How can one distill an award like this, which promises to seek out: “a living
architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.” That’s no mean feat.

A majority of SANAA’s work has been limited to their native Japan, was this ‘worldwide’ award, then, correctly dished out? SANAA’s architecture is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, it’s clean, simple, organic and ever-so Japanese. They have consistently designed perfectly functional and attractive buildings, so I believe they well deserve the award. There’s just one thing that niggles at me: there seems to be a lack of fire in much of their work. Everything is white render, floor to ceiling glazing and cold hard steel. I think sometimes you could argue a white box always looks edgy and beautiful if you stick in a field surrounded by ancient woodland and a beautiful, lush landscape. Take that box out of the landscape and stick it in a desolate urban environment, and suddenly it can loose all it’s appeal – not always, but it’s tricky to get right. SANAA’s ’21st Century Museum’ in Kanazawa, Japan borders on the edge of ‘fashionable’ architecture for me, and fails to impact as much as it would like to.

Their design for the ‘New Museum of Contemporary Art’ in new York however manages to shrug off the ‘white box’ syndrome by cleverly, and effectively playing with form and structure. The museum resembles, quite aptly considering my ‘white box’ analogy, a pile of white boxes stacked irregularly on top of each other. Each level has looked at individually and has been planned with precision for the job at hand – temporary and movable walls allow the gallery space to shift to accommodate the work being shown. The interior is sleek and minimalist, but not cold; it seems to want to house glorious works of art. This white box has soul.

SANAA then, have the worldwide recognition that will, no doubt, propel them even further into the architectural limelight. I suppose then, as much as honoring architects whom have already shown us what they can do, they can sometimes highlight what’s to come. Let’s hope Sejima & Nishizawa take this award as a sign to up their game – their audience just got a whole lot bigger.