mercoledì, gennaio 30, 2008


Beijing's National Aquatic Centre has opened after four years in construction.With a seating capacity of 17,000, the Centre, known as the "Watercube", will host swimming, diving, and synchronised swimming competitions during this summer's Olympic Games

lunedì, gennaio 28, 2008

domenica, gennaio 06, 2008

World's greenest office block set for Paris

The architect behind New York's Freedom Tower - built on the former site of the World Trade Centre - has announced that it is to construct what promises to be the world's greenest office building.
The office block, which will be branded Energy Plus, is to be built in the run-down area of Gennevilliers in the outskirts of Paris.

The project's creator, architect Skidmore Owings & Merrill, says it is also in talks to construct similar buildings in the US, Europe and the Middle East.
America's Rocky Mountain Institute, the prestigious environmental think-tank, is advising on Energy Plus, and the project was endorsed by former US president Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting last year.
Patrick Getreide, who is leading the Energy Plus project with partner Marc Eisenberg, said: "It will be the first building in the world to be 'energy plus' and carbon zero."
The proposed building, which will be more than 70,000 sq m and house up to 5,000 people, will produce enough of its own electricity to power all the heating, lighting, and air conditioning required by tenants. It will also generate carbon credits which it hopes to trade for money in the future.
Commercial property is urgently in need of greener standards, Mr Getreide said. "Many people think cars are the big polluters but it is not true.
In France 47pc of pollution comes from real estate, 33pc is from industry and 23pc comes from cars."
Mr Getreide admitted the building will be more expensive to construct than conventional office blocks, a cost that will have to be passed on to tenants.
But the builders hope to price their Energy Plus buildings on a par with the costlier end of the conventional commercial property rental market in any given area.
Mr Getreide said: "It will be 25pc to 30pc more expensive than a normal building to construct. But there will be big savings - tenants will not have to pay for any electricity, and maintenance costs will also be lower."
He added that there is an extra value to renting space in the building: "You have to calculate the value of this over 25 years - we all have to pay the price for living in a better world where there is less pollution."
The Energy Plus building will generate its own electricity by having more solar panels on it than any other building in existence, while its cooling system will take water from the nearby river Seine and pump it around the offices.
And by using a cutting-edge form of insulation, Mr Getreide said, his team would be able to get the amount of electricity consumption per square metre of office space per year down to 16 kilowatts, the lowest in the world for a building of its size.
Most modern buildings use between 80 and 250 kilowatts per square metre, while older ones often use up to 300 kilowatts.
Such projects as the Energy Plus building, which will take more than a year to construct, would struggle to get off the ground without the support of high-profile backers such as Mr Clinton and financial incentives from governments, Mr Getreide said.
Skidmore Owings & Merrill is also behind the skyscraper Burj Dubai, which, when it is completed, will be the world's tallest man-made structure.

sabato, gennaio 05, 2008

Even if his own work isn't broken, a Brazilian architect fixes it

What to do with our aging architectural heroes? What if their genius deteriorates and they begin tinkering with their own masterpieces?
A powerful case in point is the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who celebrated his 100th birthday this month. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s he established himself as one of Modernism's greatest luminaries, infusing stark abstract forms with a beguiling tropical hedonism that reshaped Brazil's identity in the popular imagination and mesmerized architects around the globe.
In Brasília, a city that rose out of a savanna in the span of four years, he created at least a half dozen architectural masterpieces — a mind-boggling accomplishment by today's standards. Today Niemeyer is held up as one of Brazil's greatest national treasures, and he seems as spry as ever. He is at work on a cultural center in Aviles, Spain, and another in Niteroi, just south of Rio de Janeiro. He recently unveiled a new line of furniture at the Art Basel Miami fair. And last year he married his longtime secretary, Vera Lúcia Cabreira.
In recognition of the heroic scale of his accomplishments, Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, recently proposed legislation that would confer special landmark status on all of his buildings.
But the greatest threat to Niemeyer's remarkable legacy may not be the developer's bulldozer or insensitive city planners, but Niemeyer himself.
It is not simply that his latest buildings have a careless, tossed-off quality. It's that some of his most revered buildings — from the Brasília Cathedral to the grand Monumental Axis of the city itself — have been marred by the architect's own hand. And this poses an uncomfortable dilemma: At what point do we — that is, the public that idolizes him, his government and private clients — have an obligation to intervene? Or is posing the question an act of spectacularly bad taste?
To those who pay close attention, the decline in the quality of Niemeyer's work — whether resulting from a creative lull or complacency brought on by fame or old age — has been evident since he completed his Museum of Contemporary Art in Niteroi in 1996. Resting lightly on a single column at the edge of a cliff, its white saucer-shaped form looks best against the glamorous backdrop of Guanabara Bay.
What's missing, however, is the lightness of touch that could draw you deeper into the work. The concrete surfaces are crude and unfinished; the structure lacks the careful refinement that gave his early buildings a textured significance and signaled that the architect cared deeply about the people who would inhabit them.
It's as if the museum were designed by a lesser talent who could mimic the graceful lines in Niemeyer's sketches but lacked the skill and patience to see the design through.
But if the art museum is an inferior work that mostly suffers in comparison with his early masterpieces, his midcentury projects in central Brasília are another matter: a trove of Modernist landmarks conceived on the grandest scale.
No photograph can prepare a visitor to the 1958 National Congress building for the delicacy with which it is set into the landscape. Surrounded by immaculate lawns, its form sunken slightly into the ground, it exerts a gravitational pull as you approach. A long, narrow ramp leads to a roof, where the public can stroll around the base of the bowl-like form of the chamber of deputies. That expression of the bond between a government and the people is as moving today as it was when the building was inaugurated half a century ago.
Even more refined is the nearby Itamaraty Palace, built to house the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Its soaring slender arches, rising from vast reflecting pools, are like a soothing oasis in a vast flat landscape. Inside, a circular staircase is conceived as a series of cantilevered concrete slabs. As you climb, you can practically feel gravity releasing its hold on your body, a physical sensation that reinforces the building's visual lightness.
Such structures are arranged along the plazas with the precision of pieces on a chessboard. The spaces among them convey both an airiness and a subtle tension among their varied forms, charging the whole with energy.
Completed in an era when millions of Americans were fleeing cities for the homogenous suburbs of the Eisenhower era, and Europe was still limping through its recovery from World War II, Brasília seemed to assert that erotic desire and human tenderness had a place in modern society. Better still, the stunning speed of its construction suggested that this sensual utopia was only as far away as the next cocktail.
The force of that vision reverberated across the United States and Europe. Lincoln Center in Manhattan, Empire State Plaza in Albany, the Los Angeles Music Center — all owe a debt to Niemeyer. And today a young generation versed in computer enhancement has found inspiration in his fluid concrete curves.
But if Brasília's high-flown status as a showplace of Modernist architecture is well known, Niemeyer's more recent work there has barely been discussed.
In the mid-1980s Niemeyer altered the shape of the arches that frame the main facade of his Ministry of Justice building, sacrificing the elegance of their symmetry in favor of something more whimsical. Around the same time he renovated Brasília Cathedral, considered one of his greatest works. Designed as a series of parabolic arches that splay open at the top, its form added an exuberant touch to the Monumental Axis. Niemeyer painted its exposed concrete structure white, and he replaced its towering windows with stained-glass panels designed by Marianne Peretti: changes that detract from the raw force of the building's upward thrust.
Perhaps most damaging, however, was the completion last year of Niemeyer's National Museum and National Library along the Monumental Axis. The museum's white dome, pierced at one end by a long ramp, rests on its concrete plaza with the grace of an army bunker. The interior's curved walls and lack of natural light — a shame in a climate like Brazil's — make it an uncomfortable place to view art.
The National Library, just next door, is a somber rectangular box clad in perforated screens, redolent of standard Modernist formulas. Its vaulted base, propped up on thin columns, evokes a generic government building from the 1960s.
But what's worst about these two buildings is their placement. Until a few years ago visitors could drive up a gently sloping hill before arriving at the crest, where the entire Monumental Axis unfolded in front of them. The symmetrical rows of government buildings were broken only by the exuberant form of the cathedral and the congress hall complex, its towers set slightly off center, in the far distance.
Now that view is blocked by the monotonous forms of the museum and library, and the sense of surprise is lost.
Nobody can fault Niemeyer for his desire to keep working; that his enthusiasm is undimmed at the age of 100 is cause for awe. And it's laudable that he approaches his past work without an exaggerated self-importance. Cities are not museum pieces; without constant change, they lose their cultural vitality.
Yet the value of these Modernist buildings as part of our shared cultural memory — the foundation of our identity — cannot be underestimated.
Brasília's Monumental Axis is not simply a relic from a discounted age or an emblem of a failed utopia. It is as crucial to the values of its time as the pyramids were to theirs. To mar that vision is a cultural tragedy, even if the creator's hand is responsible.

venerdì, gennaio 04, 2008

The New Museum of Contemporary Art of New York

The New Museum of Contemporary Art was designed by the Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.

From the New York Times

Contemporary art museum injects energy in New York

NEW YORK: New York is in the cultural doldrums. The city is bursting with gorgeous art exhibitions, but where is the raw energy? Where is the new blood, intent on upending the establishment? Today, once-rebellious talents often seem to be wandering lost in the constellation of celebrity, where they soon settle into complacency.
Designed by the Japanese firm Sanaa, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, on the Bowery at Prince Street on the Lower East Side, is the kind of building that renews your faith in New York as a place where culture is lived, not just bought and sold.
The architects, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, conceived the building as a series of mismatched galleries precariously stacked one atop the other. It succeeds on a spectacular range of levels: as a hypnotic urban object, as a subtle critique of the art world and as a refreshingly unpretentious place to view art.
But what elevates the building itself to art is the way it captures an unnerving moment in the city's cultural history with near-perfect pitch. Its ethereal forms hover somewhere between the legacy of a fading bohemian downtown and the ravenous appetites of a society awash in new money. That the building is so artfully rooted in the present means that its haunting quality will probably deepen as the city ages around it.
Sejima and Nishizawa may have seemed unlikely candidates to shake up the establishment. The pair is known for work of a high level of refinement and an almost aching sensitivity to a project's social and physical context. Their most celebrated project, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, is a collection of discrete pavilions enveloped in a glistening one-story glass cylinder - a heavenly village of art whose intricate network of corridors obliterates the conventional museum narrative. Its sleek forms are pieced together with a precision and care that are closer in spirit to the layout of a computer's circuit board than to the big industrial machines fetishized by the early Modernists

But the architects decided that aiming for a similar level of refinement at the New Museum would have been unwise. For one thing, the quality of craftsmanship in New York is known to be substandard, compared with the workmanship at construction sites in, say, Japan. And the 60,000-square-foot, or 5,570-square-meter, New Museum building was built on a relatively modest budget of $50 million.
More important, the museum was intent on staying tethered to what was left of the rough-and-tumble downtown art scene. The decision to move the institution from SoHo to the Bowery was an effort to tap into its history - its uninhibited characters, seedy settings and, above all, rejection of bourgeois tastes.
The seven-story building stands amid the remnants of this forgotten landscape and a new one. Dirty brick facades flank it on two sides. SoHo's glitzy boutiques and showrooms are a few blocks to the west; the cheap, pretentious glass towers that embody the latest wave of gentrification are rising to the east and north.
The museum serves as a hinge between these two worlds. As it rises, its floors shift back and forth like a pile of boxes stacked ever so carefully. Its protective armor of aluminum mesh is a great ornamental screen. Exquisitely detailed, it is backed by a second layer of metal panels, giving the surface a subtle depth.
What results is a striking expression of the neighborhood's warring identities. When the building is approached from Prince Street, the contrast between the instability of the forms and the uniformity of the aluminum gives it a strangely enigmatic glow, evoking both a fading past and a phantom future. As you get closer, the skin becomes tougher and more industrial, echoing what's left of the neighborhood's grittier history.
The formal ambiguity is coupled with a fierce desire to bridge the divide between art and everyday life. Only a thin sheet of floor-to-ceiling glass separates the sidewalk from the museum's ground floor. Inside a lobby and loading dock are set side by side, so that pedestrians can watch the art being moved in and out of the building or gaze across to a small café and gallery at the rear of the lobby. From here, visitors can contemplate the chaos of the city in relative silence.
It's only when you ascend to the upper floors that you begin to glean the meaning of the museum's unusual form. By shifting the positions of the floors, the architects were able to create narrow skylights along the outer edges of the galleries, allowing a soft, diffuse sunlight to wash down their white walls.

This talent for extracting meaning from simple but unexpected choices - like shifting the position of a floor or the texture of a material - is what imbues Sanaa's architecture with a hint of mystery. Here, that effect surfaces in myriad ways. Because the position of the skylights varies from floor to floor, the quality of the light is never exactly the same. Some gallery floors are compact, some tall, and others far bigger but with lower ceilings. They have an intuitive relationship to one another without becoming repetitive.
Most significantly, the design brings the art to life. To focus attention on its new building, the museum chose to open with a show of contemporary sculpture; the walls are left entirely bare. Even so, you can feel the architects' empathy for the artist's hand. The gentle shifts in scale, proportion and light heighten your awareness of the surroundings, which, in turn, draws you closer to the artworks. The shifting mood of the rooms constantly encourages you to observe the sculptures from different, unexpected perspectives.
That effect is reinforced by the rawness of the spaces - exposed beams, painted white walls, cracked concrete floors. The informal quality makes the art feel wonderfully accessible. There is nothing ostentatious here, none of the fussy detailing or fancy materials that create an invisible barrier between viewer and art in so many contemporary museums and galleries.
There are other surprises. A narrow staircase, 50 feet, or 15 meters, long and 4 feet wide, connects the third and fourth floors, exaggerating the distance between the two and heightening your anticipation. At the top, a narrow wedge of space connects the staircase to the gallery, inducing a sudden sense of compression before you experience the release of stepping into the exhibition.
It will take some time, of course, to understand what impact the new building, and the art institution it houses, will have on the cultural life of New York. But not since the Museum of Modern Art rattled the foundations of the city's art establishment in the 1930s has a museum seemed so in touch with the present.
Poised at one edge of a city struggling to regain its creative momentum, the New Museum building embodies a leap of faith. It suggests a breathing space somewhere between the innocence of New York's artistic past and an encroaching money-driven cynicism. It's hard to think of another architect who's been able to capture that uneasy optimism with such grace.