Winning design for Mae-Sot School. By Amadeo Bennetta / Daniel LaRossa, Berkeley, CA.
London-based architect David Cole was vacationing in Mae-Sot, Thailand, a town along the Burmese border, when he first learned about the plight of refugees there. Over the past twenty-five years some 30,000 Burmese have come to Mae-Sot to escape their country’s political violence. They live in camps with interim housing but without community buildings and schools. Cole warmed to the refugees he met, and saw the work that the Burmese Migrant Workers Education Committee
, the Colabora Birmaina
, and other organizations were doing on the ground.
After returning home, in order to build a school in Mae-Sot, Cole and industrial designer Louise McKillop founded Building Trust International
(BTI). The charity’s mission is to facilitate international building projects by assembling a specialized team of architects, engineers, sponsors, and other organizations. To solicit ideas for the Mae-Sot school, BTI organized an open design competition. The project brief called for a mobile structure that could serve as a school and community center. While the notion is simple the design problem isn’t. Since the refugees don’t have protected land rights, the structure has to be simple to assemble, transport and reassemble. And the structure needs to address the tropical climate, leverage local construction materials and techniques, and shape a deeply sheltering, inspiring space for the refugees. The competition attracted the interest of over 800 teams and some of the best entries were displayed at a pop-up gallery in London, generating even more interest.
All photos from No Nails, No Lumber by Jeffrey Head (Princeton Architectural Press). Wallace Neff at an Airform construction site.
Architect Wallace Neff made a name for himself in the 1920’s and 1930’s building lavish Spanish-style mansions for Hollywood clients like Douglas Fairbanks, Groucho Marx, and Judy Garland. But his pipe dream was to fill the world with bubble houses: small, inexpensive, domed concrete structures that could be built in just a few days. A new book, No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff, tells the story of his efforts. From 1942 to 1952 Neff helped design and build thousands of bubble houses throughout the world, some of which remain in use even today. In addition to a number of individual bubbles houses in California, a community of twelve was constructed in Falls Church, Virginia, and another community of 1,200 was constructed in Dakar, Senegal. There were bubble house resorts developed in Hobe Sound, Florida and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. And there were bubble houses built to use as grain storage bins in Litchfield Park, Arizona, as wine vats in Portugal, and as gas stations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The chief innovation of the bubble house was its patented Airform construction method. After a concrete foundation was poured in the ground, a heavy rubber bubble was inflated on top. Then the bubble was coated in layers of gunite (spray-on concrete), steel mesh, insulation,
CaixaForum, Madrid, Spain, 2008. By Herzog and de Meuron.
There’s a kind of architecture that’s all about being a good neighbor, slipping into its surroundings without making a fuss. And there’s a kind of architecture that’s all about going right ahead and doing whatever it wants to do, without regard to what’s already there. The smart, contemporary addition and renovation projects highlighted in the book Old Buildings, New Designs
chart a course between these two extremes. While they honor the character and proportions of the older structures they’re enhancing, they’re built with unapologetically contemporary materials and forms. Instead of a nostalgia for historic styles or a fervor for futuristic ones, they find drama in the rich, raw contrast between old and new constructions.
Preserving and renovating old buildings has become an increasingly popular strategy. Building owners have limited funds for construction, designers are more interested in historic preservation and material conservation, and, globally, populations are migrating from rural communities to cities. So designing functional, attention-grabbing additions has become an important field of architecture and urban planning. In the projects featured in the book, sometimes a new interior is carved into the shell of existing structure, and sometimes an entirely new structure is built alongside the existing one.
All photographs copyright David Adjaye, African Metropolitan Architecture, Rizzoli New York, 2011. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
For many of us who’ve never been there, Africa is a myth more than a place, an imaginary landscape of unspoiled deserts, grasslands and forests. So David Adjaye
’s new book of photographs of the continent’s cities, African Metropolitan Architecture
, is revelatory. Adjaye is a celebrated London-based, Tanzania-born architect who has traveled through Africa since he was a child. This seven-volume set collects thousands of photos he took when visiting fifty-two different cities over the past decade. The book is organized geographically, with separate volumes featuring cities in the Maghreb (the northwest shore), the Sahara desert, the Sahel (the zone just south of the desert), the forest, the savanna, and the mountains.
Adjaye’s photographs aren’t rigidly composed, as one would expect from an architect, and have a snapshot-like immediacy. They look as if they were taken by a traveler moving comfortably and inconspicuously through these places, with a personal rather than academic interest. But Adjaye is highly deliberate about what he chooses to photograph, focusing on buildings, streets, parks and plazas that capture the spirit of each city’s life.
Click for Slideshow
Green roof at California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California. By SWA Group.
When the first stretch of the Highline opened in New York City in 2009, it changed the game for contemporary American landscape design. The city park, built on an unused, raised railroad track in Manhattan, is a bold step forward. Its pathways are finished with industrial materials like concrete and steel, its plantings are squeezed into narrow swatches, and its views are stuttered and surprising. It’s a huge contrast to the city’s other great park, Central Park, which was designed by the legendary nineteenth-century landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted. The older park lures visitors with pretty, painterly, panoramas that seem to unfold naturally as they walk through. The Highline breaks free from these longstanding conventions, and falls right in sync with the current directions in landscape design, which are captured in the new book “Futurescapes: Designers for Tomorrow’s Landscape Spaces.”
What’s striking about these new landscapes is how informal so many of them seem. Are these gardens, or patches of undisturbed wildlife? The truth is that even the most carefree-feeling new gardens are painstakingly orchestrated, created by landscape designers with a deep knowledge of plant types, climate and geology.
Click for Slideshow
Beauty and creativity can emerge in even the thorniest economy, as manifested by BOFFO Building Fashion, an exciting series where architects and fashion designers collaborate to create pop-up shops. With the support of CFDA, Supima Cotton and Architizer, Building Fashion had a successful premiere in 2010 at HL23 underneath the High Line. This year, Building Fashion will feature five installments and take place at Karkula, located at 50 Walker Street in Tribeca.
A designer’s work is oftentimes presented in a department store or boutique alongside dozens of collections. Building Fashion, however, gives designers the opportunity have their own freestanding store as well as a space that reflects their personalities. According to Nicola Formichetti, the first designer to be featured in the series, “This is the opportunity to look directly into my head.” Nicola’s, by Gage/Clemenceau Architects, literally reflects Formichetti’s style, with mirrored prisms serving as the ceiling and walls.
Phoenix International Media Center, Beijing, China, 2007-2009. By BIAD_UPo.
Ten years ago there was a joke that half of the world’s construction cranes were in Dubai. Today the joke might be that half of the world’s construction cranes are in mainland China, and that factories in China are producing more cranes every day. There’s been cataclysmic industrialization there and, along with it, an awesome amount of new construction. Old neighborhoods are being razed and, with incredible speed, gleaming new cities are rising. An exhibit at Rome’s modern art museum MAXXI, “Verso Est: Chinese Architectural Landscape,” takes a closer look at the architecture that’s emerging.
Because of relatively unregulated city planning and construction, buildings get built in China more quickly than they could ever get built in North America or Europe. So while New Yorkers wait and watch Tower One rise at the World Trade Center site, Beijing’s Central China Television (CCTV) headquarters by Rem Koolhaas, which was designed at the same time, has already been open for over a year. The breakneck pace of construction is impressive and also risky. Before it’s opening in 2010 the entire exterior shell of the CCTV tower went up in flame when some stray fireworks hit it. It’s an accident that probably wouldn’t have happened at an American building site, where federal safety standards ensure that building materials are fire resistant.
On August 28 the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the lawn in Washington DC will be dedicated. Three hundred thousand people are expected to attend the ceremony, thousands more than attended Dr. King’s legendary March on Washington on this same day in 1963. The monument is the first on the lawn to honor a man who didn’t serve as the country’s president. And it’s the result of decades of persistent lobbying and planning by the private foundation that raised funds and built the monument.
The Memorial shapes an axis connecting the Lincoln Memorial, where King gave his “I have a dream” speech at the end of that march, to the Jefferson Memorial, and overlooks the calm waters of the Tidal Basin. It leads visitors along a path between two large, cleft granite boulders towards a third into which sculptor Lei Yixin has carved a monumental standing figure of Dr. King. The likeness is remarkable, depicting the civil rights leader as a steely, majestic figure, looking far into the distance. President Obama is fond of repeating one of Dr. King’s best remembered sayings, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.” The Memorial illustrates how far American history has progressed, from slavery to emancipation to equal rights, and inspires us to keep moving forward.
Click for slideshow Palast 2007
Just as New Yorkers are scrutinizing the development of the World Trade Center site, Berliners are scrutinizing the development of the Palast der Republik site. The Palast, an immense, East German government building completed in 1976, was condemned for asbestos in 1992 and demolished from 2006 to 2010. Located along the River Spree, amid stately nineteenth century buildings, at the very heart of Berlin’s cultural and tourist district, it had become, after the wall fell in 1989, a very visible symbol of all the wrong things: communism, oppression, censorship, and very, very bad style. A long, low concrete slab covered with gold mirrored glass, it looked like a flashy high security prison. Inside, it housed administration spaces for the city’s communist government and public spaces (lounges, bars, cafes, a bowling alley) where citizens could socialize in state-sanctioned splendor. The interiors were finished in the style of the time, with shag carpets, colored wallpaper, and chrome chandeliers studded with globe lights.
To replace the Palast the city chose to reconstruct the shell of the eighteenth century castle that previously occupied the site, which was damaged during World War II and demolished in 1950. This new castle will house a museum, a library, and shopping mall. It’s a brazen act of historical amnesia, one that looks past an unattractive chapter in history to one that’s more palatable. The project, which was suspended for financial reasons, is slated for completion in the next decade. Just last month a temporary structure, with exhibition space and a lookout point for tourists, opened at the site.
Symbiotic Interlock, Chicago. By Meta-Territory_Studio (Daekwon Park).
Earlier this summer, at a city council meeting in Cupertino, California, Steve Jobs unveiled a surprisingly static rendering for the new Apple corporate headquarters. It showed an big, glass donut-shaped building set down in a lush, edenic garden. (Perhaps some of the company’s gifted product designers can be brought on board to assist.) It was a textbook example of old-school utopian architecture, a gleaming, geometric structure sheltering a privileged, self-sustaining community. And it was strangely backward-looking, reminiscent of happy utopian visions from the 1960’s, like Buckminster Fuller’s domes, that expressed an unquestioning faith in the power of technology.
The new book “Utopia Forever,” which collects contemporary designs, both buildable and far-from-buildable, for future cities and landscapes, offers a far more ominous view. These are visions of a world where nature and technology are locked in continual battle, with nature more likely to come out on top. Now that we’re experiencing the first rattlings of global warming, troubled by extreme weather and dwindling natural resources, we’re more aware of the brute power embodied in earth, air and water. So the new utopias don’t offer blueprints for ideal communities so much as fundamental propositions for survival. Some are vessels floating above or sunk beneath rising oceans.