November 30, 2009

Notre Dame du Haut - Ronchamp, France

For such a vaunted idol of modern architecture, designed by a deity of the architectural designers of the 20th century, visiting the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France was a serene and beautiful experience. Designed by Le Corbusier in 1956, the chapel lies on a picturesque hill high over the quaint village, offering stunning views of the rolling countryside. A small road winds its way through the wooded slopes and deposits you at a somewhat antiquated visitors center. The chapel remains hidden from view by trees and hedges and is slowly revealed as one meanders along the path leading further up the hill. As you follow the pathway, glimpses of the whitewashed walls and infamous concrete roof appear between the gaps in foliage. You round a bend, the hedges end, and the edifice stands before you, rising out of a pristine grass clearing, resting quietly, smaller than expected.

It is difficult to describe the building other than to say it is different, and more magnificent than any of the many photographs and writings about the building have illustrated. Somehow photographs make the chapel look more imposing, often lacking the scale of the place. It is a rather modest sized building, quietly resting on it’s hilltop perch, gazing out over the landscape. It clearly demonstrates Le Corbusier’s talents of fitting his buildings into the greater landscape, an aspect of his work that is often overlooked. He was a master at manipulating the fluidity of concrete, and the subtleties of natural light. He also had an instinctive connection between building and nature, one which gets lost when studying his high rise housing blocks hovering over the land on pilotis. This church felt like it belonged to the site, enhancing the surroundings, relating the clouds passing above to the rolling hills below.

Slowly walking around the building revealed elements of the design, and details that I had never seen in the extensive coverage of Corbusier’s work in my architectural education. The celebration of rainwater collection on the immense roof, becomes a sculptural water spout feeding a basin of sculptural forms rendered in concrete. The light towers, hidden from view in the most common photo of the building, echo each other and frame the secondary, but only open entrance to the interior. External stairs cantilever off the side and animate one of the facades. Tiny dark gashes in the bright white monolith hint at the experience of the dark interior pierced by carefully controlled streams of natural light.

Another Facade, offers a platform protected by the cantilevered roof, containing the facilities to run outdoor services. The podium for the sermon, the table for the holy relics and place for people to take communion become sculptures carved out of the thick walls or rising out of the concrete floor. Each is a work of art, static sculptures, adding interest to the building until they are called into duty when a summer service is required.

Walking into the interior transports you into a different world. The sunny summer day dims while cool air offers relief from the hot sun. Eyes adjust to the darkness revealing the rough textures of the walls as light flows down the arcing ceiling of the light wells. The source is hidden from view leaving only gentle gradients of light to bless the quiet rooms for prayer. The main congregation sits on playfully designed benches set along one of the most famous aspects of the building - the immensely thick walls pierced by angular openings for light. Each gash is cuts deep into the wall and is capped by a stained glass window of varying pattern and color. These holes fold open as they move into the interior, pouring colored light in different directions. As the sun shifts, and clouds move across the dome of the sky, the effects through the wall make the interior a dynamic experience, with each moment being a unique temporal existence.

The building is beautiful, elegant and a truly marvelous experience to visit. It was a pilgrimage of sorts for me, although a non religious one. The power of this building can be felt physically and emotionally. It engages your senses in a truly spiritual way, seductive textures draw your hands to touch the walls, light moves your gaze to the heavens, the cool air calms your spirit, the scent of burning candles relaxes your mind. It was a building seeping with phenomenology, proving the power of design and the genius of one of the truly great architects.

Click here for a slide show of photographs of the chapel: Notre Dame du Haut - designed by Le Corbusier


After over 50 years of unchanged surroundings, the site is currently being redeveloped. To bring new life to the chapel a nunnery, a new gate house and a visitors center are being added to the site. Designed by world renowned architect, Renzo Piano, each of the new buildings is being integrated into the landscape, partially submerged into the hill side so as to not interfere with views of and from the historic chapel. The new construction began this past year and is planned to be completed in 2011. The access roads, parking area, and surrounding landscaping will all be redesigned to enhance the site for visitors as well as to add life and purpose to the spiritual aspect of the building. You can see images and find more information about the design by visiting the Renzo Piano Building Workshop website:

Check out these books on The Chapel at Ronchamp and Le Corbusier's writing and architecture: Le Corbusier: The Chapel at Ronchamp, Towards a New Architecture, Le Corbusier in Detail, and Le Corbusier : Complete Works in Eight Volumes.

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November 28, 2009

Video: Ray Anderson on the business logic of sustainability

This is an inspirational talk discussing how a company can be profitable - perhaps even more so - by focusing on a business model that embraces principles of sustainability. It proves that making the imperative decisions to change our habits are NOT anti business, no matter how some people argue otherwise. Innovation and responsibility should be the key to a successful company, not antiquated business practices and stiff regulations holding back your competition. I believe, if more CEOs and other people with corporate power followed this line of thinking our economy would be stronger, consumers would have access to better products, and our world would be safer, cleaner, and more beautiful.

At his carpet company, Ray Anderson has increased sales and doubled profits while turning the traditional "take / make / waste" industrial system on its head. In a gentle, understated way, he shares a powerful vision for sustainable commerce.

From his TED.COM profile:
Ray Anderson is the founder of Interface, the company that makes those adorable Flor carpet tiles (as well as lots of less whizzy but equally useful flooring and fabric). He was a serious carpet guy, focused on building his company and making great products. Then he read Paul Hawken's book The Ecology of Commerce. Something clicked: with his company's global reach and manufacturing footprint, he was in a position to do something very real, very important, in building a sustainable world.

Anderson focused the company's attention on sustainable decisionmaking, taking a hard look at suppliers, manufacturing processes, and the beginning-to-end life cycle of all its products. (For example: If you can't find a place to recycle a worn or damaged Flor tile, Interface invites you to send it back to them and they'll do it for you.) They call this drive Mission Zero: "our promise to eliminate any negative impact our company may have on the environment by the year 2020."


November 23, 2009 News and Update

Hello readers. You may have noticed that our site has been changing recently. I want to update you all on a few of the things we have been working on at over the past couple of months. Along with the slight redesign of the website, we are now branding ourselves as an Online Magazine, hoping this will give us a little more credibility than being just another blog. We have been slowly growing over the past year, and we hope this move will help us grow faster going forward. Yes, this is just a branding/marketing move and not a real change to the site, but it is important none the less.

We have also started a group on Facebook (click here). We would love it if you would all become fans and invite your friends! Feel free to add your comments and post interesting photos, links and other design related content. We are also looking for administrators for the group. Let us know if you would like to get involved.

You can also follow us on twitter (by clicking here). We will be posting interesting thoughts, ideas and links a few times a day. Our goal is to be one of the most followed architecture and design groups on Twitter. Please help us grow our followers. has recently joined the Affiliate program. We get a small percentage of all sales that we refer to Amazon. Check out our store (click here) to see books that we recommend. You can also follow one of the links off our site (like this one) and then order any product offered through You may also have noticed that we are featuring related books below our posts. This is a great way to find out more information on the designers, artists, and topics we write about.

You can help grow by subscribing to our feed (thank you to the many of you who already do) and by clicking the "Follow" button on the Google Friend Connect widget in the left hand column. We also love hearing feedback so leave comments after the articles and videos you find interesting. We promise to respond.

As always, we are looking for new contributors to the site. If you have an idea, a complete article, a research paper or an interesting video that is in need of some exposure let us know.

Finally, check out our picasa web albums for photographs of great architecture from around the world. There are albums for many of the buildings we write about as well as other interesting places we have visited on our world travels. We will be adding photographs from a recent trip to Copenhagen over the next few weeks.

Thanks once again for reading


November 22, 2009

Video: Paula Scher - Graphic Design

An interesting talk about graphic design. I was particularly interested in her blending of graphics and architecture.
Here is a good book on her work: Make It Bigger
She is also interviewed and featured in the documentary Helvetica. Buy the DVD here: Helvetica

November 18, 2009

Construction Starts on MVRDV Market Hall

Here is a press release I recently received from MVRDV for their new project in downtown Rotterdam:

Today the mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb and city councilor Hamit Karakus have officially started the construction of the new Rotterdam Market Hall. The arched building located in the centre of Rotterdam, developed by Provast and designed by MVRDV is a hybrid of public market and apartment building. Completion is set for 2014. Total investment is 175 million Euro with a total surface of 100.000 m2.

At the place where Rotterdam was founded, near the historic Laurens church, the Market Hall will be realized as a new urban typology. The Market Hall is a sustainable combination of food, leisure, living and parking. Fully integrated to enhance and use the synergetic possibilities of the different functions, a public building emerging from housing.

An arch of 228 apartments, of which 102 for rent, will create a large hall which houses 100 market stalls, shops and restaurants, 1200 parking spaces and an underground super market. The apartments will all have a balcony on the outside and a window to the inside of the market. Insulation will prevent any unwanted effects. The 40 meter tall and wide opening of the front and back will be covered with a flexible suspended glass façade, allowing for maximum transparency and a minimum of structure. The interior of the arch will display market produce.

The project with a total of 100.000 m2 is set to be completed in 2014 and part of the current regeneration of Rotterdam’s post war centre. Project developer Provast realizes the building, Unibail Rodamco invested in the shops and restaurants whilst Housing Corporation Vesteda will manage the rental apartments, making the building a socially integrated part of the city.

My thoughts: It is definitely a bold statement and an ambitious design. However, I don't find it particularly captivating. It seems rather large and bulky and definitely doesn't slip into its surroundings - rather, it screams for attention. The market space seems inviting with the minimal glass walls separating it from the elements while preserving views and allowing ample daylight. It is also interesting that all of the apartments will have views both out to the city and in to the market. I just don't think this building needs to be so flashy. Giant fruits and vegetables as super graphics on the interior of the arch? Do they really have to hit us over the head with the graphic design? I would much prefer a simpler material palate, one with high quality materials and an acute attention to detailing - something less flashy and more subdued and confident. I would have liked to see a building that creates a new typology for mixed use architecture and yet elegantly fits within the context of the historic city.

* Update from Irold van der Sar, a friend and architect living in Rotterdam: The development of the Markthal is really not sure. See: Briefly: the developer is taking Vestada to court. Vestada doesn’t have faith in the project anymore now that one of the other investors stepped out of the project.


Firm Profile:
MVRDV was set up in Rotterdam (the Netherlands) in 1993 by Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries.

MVRDV produces designs and studies in the fields of architecture, urbanism and landscape design. Early projects such as the headquarters for the Dutch Public Broadcaster VPRO and housing for elderly WoZoCo in Amsterdam lead to international acclaim. MVRDV develops its work in a conceptual way, the changing condition is visualised and discussed through designs, sometimes literally through the design and construction of a diagram.

The office continues to pursue its fascination and methodical research on density using a method of shaping space through complex amounts of data that accompany contemporary building and design processes. MVRDV first published a cross section of these study results in FARMAX (1998), followed by a.o. MetaCity/Datatown (1999), Costa Iberica (2000), Regionmaker (2002), 5 Minutes City (2003), KM3 (2005), which contains Pig City and more recently Spacefighter (2007) and Skycar City (2007), the latter two will be exhibited at the 2008 Biennale of Venice. MVRDV deals with global ecological issues in large scale studies like Pig City as well as in small scale solutions for flooded areas of New Orleans.

Current projects include various housing projects in the Netherlands, Spain, China, France, Austria, the United Kingdom, USA, India, Korea and other countries, a television centre in Zürich, a public library for Spijkenisse (Netherlands), a central market hall for Rotterdam, a culture plaza in Nanjing, China, large scale urban masterplans in Oslo, Norway and in Tirana, Albania, a masterplan for an eco-city in Logroño, Spain and an urban vision for the doubling in size of Almere, Netherlands.

The work of MVRDV is exhibited and published world wide and receives international awards. The 60 architects, designers and staff members conceive projects in a multi-disciplinary collaborative design process and apply highest technological and sustainable standards.

For more information please contact public relations at MVRDV, Jan Knikker / Paula van Baak / Isabel Pagel
+31 10 477 2860 or

If you are interested in the work of MVRDV and want to see more of their research and built projects check out these books: Mvrdv: Km3: Excursions on Capacity, Skycar City (MVRDV), Metacity/Datatown, and MVRDV: Works and Projects 1991-2006


Video: Cameron Sinclair - The refugees of boom-and-bust

Cameron Sinclair is an inspiring individual and I agree with his statement that in many of the issues he takes on, there is no High Road, but only one road to take. Social and environmental sustainability and responsibility is a moral imperative, one architects are bound to serve. Make the right choices.

At TEDGlobal U, Cameron Sinclair shows the unreported cost of real estate megaprojects gone bust: thousands of migrant construction laborers left stranded and penniless. To his fellow architects, he says there is only one ethical response.

To watch his previous video: click here
Visit the Architecture for Humanity homepage:
Buy the fantastic book produced by Cameron Sinclair's organization Architecture for Humanity: Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises


November 17, 2009

Video: In the Studio - Antony Gormley’s cutting-edge workspace

This past summer I visited an exhibition of Antony Gormley's work at the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria - a beautiful building designed by Peter Zumthor. Along with the elegance of the gallery itself, Gormley's work was absolutely incredible. His three diverse sculptures captivated visitors and engaged the entire space of each gallery, forcing viewers to interact with the sculpture and ponder the ways the human body interacts with surrounding space. The works completely dominated each gallery room guiding people to move into and become part of the sculpture themselves.

From the Tate website: Antony Gormley takes us on a tour of his studio. Designed in collaboration with the architect David Chipperfield, this converted warehouse just north of King Cross manages to accommodate hanger-like rooms, where teams of assistants work on large-scale sculptures, with more intimate, personal spaces.

Antony Gormley's homepage:
Antony Gormley's Artsy Page:
If this talk intrigued you check out these books showcasing Antony Gormley's amazing artwork: Antony Gormley, and Antony Gormley (Contemporary Artists)


November 9, 2009

Video: Eric Sanderson pictures New York - before the City

Since being introduced to the concept of Landscape Ecology by Profesor Brook Muller at the University of Oregon, I have been fascinated by the blending of architecture and the environment. This fascinating talk takes a step back in time to visualize what life on Manhattan was like before the Europeans arrived. Using this knowledge as a base we can better design site specific architecture that is in complete harmony with the ecosystem around it. Think about what New York City would be in 100 years if nature was reintroduced as an integral infrastructure for the city - there are some visualizations of this concept at the end of the presentation. From
400 years after Hudson found New York harbor, Eric Sanderson shares how he made a 3D map of Mannahatta's fascinating pre-city ecology of hills, rivers, wildlife -- accurate down to the block -- when Times Square was a wetland and you couldn't get delivery.

If you found this talk interesting check out this book: Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City


November 4, 2009

Video: Olafur Eliasson - Playing with space and light

An international artist whose work bridges art and architecture, Olafur Eliasson offers an inspiring way of looking at space and causing people to interact with and perceive the spaces around them in a unique way. His experimental work uses natural elements and phenomena - water, light, fog, ice, etc. - to express his ideas, while focusing on movement and how that alters our perception. Time is also an important element in his art, once again causing viewers to perceive things in a new perspective. Usually he works at a large scale, with installations ranging from a series of waterfalls in the rivers surrounding Manhattan to an installation of a giant setting sun shrouded by fog in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Gallery in London. From

In the spectacular large-scale projects he's famous for (such as "Waterfalls" in New York harbor), Olafur Eliasson creates art from a palette of space, distance, color and light. This idea-packed talk begins with an experiment in the nature of perception.

Denmark-born Icelander Olafur Eliasson has taken the art world by storm -- and the meteorological dimensions of that statement are appropriate. His immensely popular The Weather Project, at London's Tate Museum, immersed spectators in an artificial mirrored environment with its own looming sun (and its own analog of London fog), and attracted 2 million visitors in the process. In the summer of 2008, his four massive waterfalls spectacularly punctuated key sites in New York's harbor -- including one pouring from beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

Eliasson's works emphasize tricks of light, refraction and scale, and tend to involve each viewer in his or her own unique experience, as in Beauty, which, by passing light through a wall of fine mist, produces a different rainbow when viewed from different points in the gallery. And his works engage passers-by in urban environments -- Eye See You, a project for Louis Vuitton (and meant to publicize 121 Ethiopia, an African nonprofit Eliasson co-founded with his wife), grabs viewers in the street with a beam of light shot from the window by an eye-shaped lamp.
"Many of his best-known works explore architecture and the mechanics of perception, almost as if the fantastical imaginings of Buckminster Fuller were reinterpreted by a cognitive scientist."
- Michael Joseph Gross, New York magazine

If you are interested in more information about Olafur Eliasson and his artwrok check out these books: Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, Studio Olafur Eliasson: An Encyclopedia, Olafur Eliasson (Contemporary Artists)


November 1, 2009

Video: Stefan Sagmeister - The power of time off

From Every seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his New York studio for a yearlong sabbatical to rejuvenate and refresh their creative outlook. He explains the often overlooked value of time off and shows the innovative projects inspired by his time in Bali.

If you liked this video check out these others: Stefan Sagmeister Talks

These Books may also be of interest: Things I have learned in my life so far, Sagmeister: Made You Look
As will this movie, available on DVD and for download: Helvetica for download, Helvetica on DVD


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