giovedì, dicembre 21, 2006

First steel column rises out of NYC ground zero

First steel column of Freedom Tower rises out of NYC ground zero

sabato, dicembre 16, 2006

Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston

In Boston, an arts museum with a populist mission
BOSTON This is not a friendly place for architecture. Four decades ago, the completion of a City Hall in Brutalist concrete sent the city's cultural guardians into a panic. Since then, with a few exceptions like the John Hancock Tower, the city's architectural aspirations could generally be summed up in one word: brick.
The new Institute of Contemporary Art, which opens on Sunday, is likely to change all that. Designed by Diller Scofidio & Renfro of New York, its taut glass-and-steel forms at the edge of Boston Harbor are a startling expression of public-spiritedness. Conceived as an extension of a 43-mile, or about 70-kilometer, boardwalk along the water, its ability to interweave art and civic life makes it the most important building to rise here in a generation. It is also a milestone for Elizabeth Diller and Richard Scofidio, a duo who have dwelled largely on the fringes of the architecture profession since they opened their practice in the 1970s.
Their early projects — art installations, window displays, stage design — seemed intended to distance them from their peers, as if they felt ill at ease with architecture's permanence. Their 2002 Blur Building on Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, a grid of computerized nozzles supported on scaffolding and emitting puffs of mist, evoked an ethereal cloud; their current renovation of Lincoln Center in New York consists of a series of surgically precise interventions — a lobby, a pedestrian bridge, a concrete canopy — that suture together existing urban fragments.
But if trepidation is a consistent thread in their work, that's easy to forget as you approach the new museum. Flanked by empty parking lots on two sides, its bunkerlike form looms heroically at the water's edge. The building is designed as a series of public zones, with a museum and theater stacked atop a lobby and a stand of outdoor bleachers overlooking the water.
These zones are connected by a ribbon of wood that rises from the waterfront, up the bleachers, and into the building to form the theater stage. Then it rises diagonally to support the theater seating and up the rear wall before folding back over to become a platform for the galleries on the fourth level.
For now, the museum reads more as a sculptural object in stunning isolation against the sky than as part of a dense urban composition.
That won't last long: a hotel, office building, and residential tower are planned for the lots flanking the museum. But ultimately, the effect could be even more magical. Viewed through a maze of new buildings, the structure could wield the force of a wonderful surprise. And the bleachers should feel more intimate and sheltered.
There are a few kinks. The ground- floor entry is oddly laid out: The main entrance is set at the corner and cuts diagonally into the lobby, creating an awkward leftover space just inside the street facade. The space functions neither as a lobby nor a contemplative corner.
But it is the bleachers that form the building's public face, attesting to the project's populist mission. The view is magnificent. The heavy cantilevered form of the museum hovers above, guiding your eyes outward toward the rippling water rather than upward. As you climb the bleachers, the weight of the cantilever is palpable, though the effect is less menacing than intimate.
You might say that this is the architects' 21st-century response to the grand steps leading up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, another stage where the public becomes part of the spectacle.
Rather than engage with the street hubbub, however, the center invites visitors to leave the city behind and embark on a contemplative experience. Beyond the water, stretches the city skyline, a view with a tough, unsentimental edge. After the waterfront development is completed, the museum will be physically and visually linked to downtown by the pedestrian boardwalk that will run along the entire waterfront.
Visually at least, that sequence from the boardwalk extends to the museum building itself: From the top of the bleachers, passers-by can peer directly into the theater through a towering glass wall. To actually enter the theater, visitors board an enormous glass elevator in the lobby. Upon exiting the elevator, the crowd spills downward to the seats. At the bottom, lies the stage, which is framed by glass on two sides and overlooks the water.
In essence, the theater is a more formal version of the bleachers.
But it is only when you reach the galleries above that you fully grasp how the architects have harnessed the harbor setting to induce a reflective mood. Divided into two parallel warehouselike spaces, this level yields 17,000 square feet, or about 1,580 square meters, of space for art, three times the amount afforded by the museum's old quarters in the Back Bay area.
The water reappears in the media center, a small room, lodged between the two wings, that telescopes downward, with descending rows of computers at which visitors can sit to peruse the museum's collection. At the bottom of the room, a window frames a narrow view of the water's surface, reducing it to an abstraction; the mood shifts along with the changing pattern of the waves.
That entrancing image sums up the museum's goal of resensitizing its audience to the world's tactile surfaces, its patterns, its range of scales — whether the subject before us is the city or a solitary work of art. It is the architecture of empathy, welcome therapy for a self- involved age.

sabato, dicembre 09, 2006

Wembley Stadium

New Wembley Stadium designed by Norman Foster
At almost four times the height of the original, covering twice the area, and with 90,000 seats, the new Wembley Stadium will be the largest covered football stadium in the world. The key feature of the new stadium is its partly retractable roof, supported structurally by a spectacular 133-metre-high arch. Dramatically illuminated at night, the arch will be visible from across London.
Originally built for the British Empire Exhibition of 1924, and in turn the main venue for the Olympic Games in 1948 and the football World Cup Finals in 1966, the old Wembley Stadium became the most famous sports and entertainment venue in Britain. The design of the new stadium builds upon the heritage of the old to provide future generations of sports and music fans with a venue equipped for the twenty-first century. At almost four times the height of the original, covering twice the area, and with 90,000 seats, the new Wembley Stadium will be the largest all-covered football stadium in the world.A key feature of the new stadium is its partly retractable roof. When retracted it will ensure that the turf gets sufficient daylight and ventilation to maintain a perfect playing surface, while in poor weather it can be closed within fifteen minutes to cover all seats. The roof is supported by a spectacular 133-metre-high arch that soars over the stadium, providing an iconic replacement for the old buildings landmark twin towers. Dramatically illuminated at night, the arch will be visible from vantage points across London. Beneath this arch, stadium facilities are designed to maximise spectator comfort and enjoyment. The geometry of the seating bowl ensures that everyone has an unobstructed view from each of its three tiers; seats are wider than in the old stadium, with more leg-room; the upper tiers are accessed via escalators; and a new concourse wrapping around the building allows easy circulation and provides seated dining for over 10,000 spectators at any one time.To create an intimate atmosphere during football and rugby games, the stadium has been designed with seats close to the pitch, yet it also has the potential to host track and field competitions, for which a running track and athletics arena can be installed when needed above the pitch on a rigid platform covering part of the lower tier. Acoustic studies have been undertaken to ensure that the new stadium will recreate the famous Wembley roar.

martedì, dicembre 05, 2006

Quai Branly: A perverse, magical space

(Picture taken from )
PARIS No one relishes a grand architectural scandal the way Parisians do. François Mitterrand sprinkled the city with bold landmarks, from I.M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre to Dominique Perrault's National Library, which was regarded by many as a noble failure. Georges Pompidou built just one, the colorful machinelike museum that bears his name, and if traditionalists were appalled by it, he is still best remembered for that masterpiece of 1970s populism.
Like its predecessors, the Musée du Quai Branly should raise the hackles of those who hate to see Paris's beauty tampered with. Defiant, mysterious and wildly eccentric, it is not an easy building to love. Its jumble of mismatched structures, set in a lush, rambling garden on the Left Bank of the Seine in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, hardly conforms to notions of Parisian elegance. And the relocation of African, Oceanic and Asian artworks from the Musée de l'Homme and the Musée des Arts Africains et Océaniens has stirred considerable resentment.
Yet for all of its flaws, Jean Nouvel's building creates a kaleidoscopic montage of urban impressions. And once you give yourself over to the experience, you may find it the greatest monument to French popular culture since the Pompidou.
Nouvel is best known for technologically refined architecture that distorts the way we perceive the world around us. His 1994 Cartier Foundation building on Boulevard Raspail is a hypnotic reworking of the conventional glass box, a play of transparent and reflective surfaces that dissolves into the city around it.
At Quai Branly, however, Nouvel did not want to impose Western technological values on a building devoted to non-Western art. Nor did he want to create a parody of tribal architecture.
"The building could not be an affirmation of the triumph of Western architecture," he said, gazing down on his creation from the top of the Eiffel Tower on a recent afternoon. "If you understand the rules," he said, the mystery is lost.
It is a nutty idea. Without rules, how does an architect begin? Nouvel got started by observing his context. The museum rises from a 7.5-hectare, or 19-acre, site anchored at its east end by a row of grand 19th- century apartment buildings. Their uniform facades represent the rationally ordered Paris of Baron Haussmann, who carved out the city's broad boulevards. Haussmann's efforts were seen as a way of cleansing the old city of its medieval squalor. But the aim was also to isolate the other: the downtrodden urban populace, among whom radical ideas festered.
To Nouvel this is not dead history, as recent rioting by immigrants on Paris's outskirts has shown. Thumbing his nose at Haussmann, he offers an anarchic collection of motley structures that spill out over the garden. The main body of the museum, propped up on thick columns, extends through the center of the lush space. An enormous curved glass wall shields the garden from cars roaring by along the Seine. Two small buildings - one for artists' studios, another for administrative offices - protrude from the ends of the Haussmann apartments.
The studied casualness is dumbfounding at first. The forms seem carelessly patched together. A cylindrical lobby and temporary gallery tucked under the main building seem squashed under the weight; the connection between the gallery buildings and the offices - a few small bridges - looks flimsy.
What is more, each facade is different, as if the architect could not stop fussing with his design. On one side of the building are rust-colored louvered brises- soleil. On the other, a row of colorful boxes projects out over the garden.
Some will attack the project as yet another example of a self-indulgent architect run amok. Others will take issue with the handicraft quality of some of the structures and the use of childlike colors, which raise touchy questions about how we portray non-Western cultures.
Yet as you explore the buildings, it is clear that a vibrant imagination is at work. The main gallery building atop the columns, loosely inspired by Le Corbusier's 1952 Unité d'Habitation housing block in Marseille, suggests a ship drifting through the city. Yet the exterior is made intentionally crude by the rust-colored blinds and colored boxes.
The atelier structure seems like a simple Modernist glass box at first glance, yet a subtle pattern, reminiscent of aboriginal artwork, can be discerned on the building's facade. Inside a number of aboriginal artists have painted the ceilings in bold, swirling patterns that are illuminated by night so that they are visible from the street.
By contrast, the exterior of the administration building is swallowed up by a vertical carpet of exotic plants punctured by big windows. On some stories, the plants invade the building, crawling down the interior walls. ("When you put in little flowers, people are happy," Nouvel said of his design.)
The approach to the galleries rewards patience. From the lobby visitors climb a long, spiraling ramp around one side of a towering glass silo housing hundreds of musical instruments. The ramp then doubles back, crossing the temporary gallery space before reaching a corridor that leads to the main galleries.
The journey is perverse yet also magical. Enclosed behind glass, the instruments are like exotic birds perched just outside of reach. As the ramp rises, and the silo is left behind, you feel as if you are being lifted up into the air.
The final payoff is in the main galleries, a cavernous, 200-meter-long, or 650-foot-long, hall. Two parallel leather-clad barriers embedded with benches and video screens weave down the middle. Mezzanine platforms at either end offer sweeping views of the exhibits.
The effect is of an informal warehouse packed with unexpected treasures. Bathed in an inky light, the artworks are in towering glass cabinets whose edges seem to fade into the darkness. At times the transparency allows you to view rows of artworks all at once that virtually float in the vastness of the space.
This project certainly won't satisfy everyone. But should it? Nouvel did not set out to pay homage to history. His message is that the old system doesn't work: Let's invent a new one.
In that sense the Musée du Quai Branly is part of a historical continuum, linked to the Pompidou and to Charles Garnier's Paris Opera in the way it melds social and visual experiences in a joyful promenade. Nouvel's design is an act of dissent that forces us to feel the world again.

(Picture taken from )