May 31, 2010

Slideshow: Palais des Congrès - by Saia Barbarese Topouzanov Architects - Montreal, Canada

Un unheralded firm from Montreal redesigned the Palais des Congrès, a convention center in Montreal, a few years ago. Their bold design has completely transformed the building turning a drab concrete structure into a colorful mosaic of glass. The new facade gives a new face to the complex and has sparked the redevelopment of an overlooked part of the city. The interior is a grand flowing space with a stone floor. As one moves down the concourse the light streaming in through the colored glass facades alters the mood of the space. It is a really outlandish design that somehow seems to work and fits into the context of the surrounding city.

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Book: The Green Dream, How future cities can outsmart nature - The Why Factory

(Delft 26th of May 2010) The Why Factory and NAi Publishers present the research project Green Dream, a comprehensive analysis of the current state of the debate and practice of sustainability and all related topics. The Green Dream is a comprehensive publication about the sense and nonsense of a subject which concerns us all and is often abused or misunderstood whilst being put into general practice. In 22 critical observations the book analyzes in a broad way the issue and point towards solutions for a new approach.

Everybody is talking about Green these days; sustainable architecture and urbanism are getting almost universal attention. And they deserve it. Who could possibly oppose Green?

But there is also suspicion around Green. Research is contradictory. Conclusions are ambiguous. Born-again sustainability gurus are appearing out of nowhere, advocating new truths. Politicians and developers misuse ecology to promote their own agendas. Green-washing has become the state-of-the-art marketing tool.

The Green Dream makes a series of alarming and sometimes contradictory observations on today’s state of the sustainability debate, theory and practice. It explores the topic in an analytical, yet experimental way. It encourages to look at Green from a wider perspective, to stimulate the discussion around Green and to speculate on a new green future.

One of the twenty-two critical observations that Green Dream makes about the current state of environmentally sustainable practice, is the tendency to focus on ‘small green deeds’. The interventions are too small and are too often disconnected efforts to attain the scale of and impact that is called for. Another observation is that Green progresses too slow; the pace with which research and innovation is implemented falls way behind the speed that is needed to keep up with the effects of the ecological crisis.

The Why Factory concludes that green is ultimately about performance. A calculator is proposed, which can measure how Green cities are, which makes their efforts in the field of sustainability comparable and ultimately effective. Visionary projects illustrate the green future that contextual, large-scale, imaginative and measurable architectural and urban projects might produce.

The Amsterdam Canals illuminated with bioluminescent algae
Barcelona under a roof of urban farming
The Green Dream is the latest publication of The Why Factory, an independent think tank and research institute run by MVRDV and the University of Technology Delft. Its first publication was the in November 2009 published volume “Visionary Cities” a comprehensive agenda of the current architecture debate and the themes The Why Factory will research. The Green Dream is the first published research project of The Why Factory.


The Why Factory is a new global think-tank and research institute, led by Winy Maas/MVRDV and Delft University of Technology. The Why Factory advocates the necessity of research, theorization and politicization with regard to the urban future as the territory proper of architecture. The Why Factory initiates independent research projects, post-doctoral programmes, studios for MA courses in architecture and urbanism, post-doctoral studios at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam, master classes, workshops, debates and round-table discussions.

The Why Factory explores the possibilities for the future development of our cities, focusing on the production of models and visualizations for cities of the future. The Why Factory confronts our world’s existing reality with the future of the city. The results of this research are being presented in a series of books, the ‘Future Cities Series’, which is being published in association with NAi Publishers in Rotterdam and Thonik/ BENG Graphic Designers in Amsterdam, and in films produced in collaboration with Wieland & Gouwens in Rotterdam and the BBC in London. The studies will be presented on television by the VPRO public broadcasting company and will be shown at the various exhibition venues (the Netherlands Architecture Institute, the Hong Kong Design Institute and the Aedes Gallery in Berlin).

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May 27, 2010

May 25, 2010

Video: Moving Earth In China - A00 Architecture

A fantastic video showcasing the work of A00 Architecture, an up and coming firm based in Shanghai, China. Their work is particularly noteworthy because of their exploration of innovative uses of Rammed Earth in contemporary architecture. Taking inspiration from historical Chinese rammed earth buildings, and drawing from the technical advances of rammed earth construction in Australia and Canada, A00 is creating incredible contemporary architecture in a low tech, environmentally sustainable material.
For more information visit their website at
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May 24, 2010

Slideshow: Habitat '67 - by Moshe Safdie - Montreal, Canada

A truly innovating building, Habitat '67 sits on an island in the St. Lawrence River overlooking the skyline of Montreal. Originally designed and build for the Expo in 1967 it has maintained its presence as one one of the architecture highlights of Montreal. The cascading cubes provide complex variations of apartments that can be adapted to fit people's needs.

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May 21, 2010

Video: Cameron Sinclair, "Vote for_______"

I normally wouldn't feature a corporate sponsored advertisement on this site but in this particular case I think it is a fantastic message presented by an inspiring individual.

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May 20, 2010

Video: The Third & The Seventh by Alex Roman

A stunning film, entirely computer generated. The introduction is a bit slow with the architecture not featured for the first couple minutes. However, the imagery throughout the short film is superb using famous built architecture as the subject for some fantastically surreal scenes.

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May 18, 2010

Materialism: a new movement in architecture

by Lucas Gray
originally published in the March - May 2010 edition of Design Exchange Magazine.

Weingut Gantenbein by Gramazio & Kohler
Photograph by Ralph Feiner
An iconic building in today's cities stands out like a lone tree in an old growth forest, like a single tower in the saturated Shanghai skyline. In other words, not at all. In the past few years a wave of architects have been trying to out-iconize each other to the point where buildings blend into a tacky mess of kitsch. People, cities and companies have been demanding bold designs, grasping for the "Guggenheim affect" (referring to Gehry's museum in Bilbao although perhaps asking after Frank Lloyd Wright would be better served) not realizing they are buying into a flawed mentality; looking for a shortsighted blast of publicity over long term value. They then sit on a glowing pedestal with their new edifice until the next starchitect creation swallows the headlines.

The age of bigger and flashier is over. Blobitecture has lost whatever luster it once had. As economic affluence wanes in these post-recession years so too will the mentality that flashier is necessary, and that excess is the best choice. As organizations and individuals pare down their lifestyles focus is shifting to quality rather than quantity, to true value over an entire lifespan rather than that initial 15 minutes of fame.

Think about how our children will view the Burj Khalifa, the glass clad super tower in the middle of the Dubai desert. Think about the burden this and other vain edifices are going to be to their inheritors. They consumed immense resources in their construction, bankrupting investors, banks and governments. They will continue to drain resources as long as we continue to pump cool air into overheated offices, irrigate the radiant green lawns, and fill the lavish fountains where once a desert stood. This is the legacy left by the past decade of architectural extravagance, commissioned by a narrow minded elite without a thought of the future. Architects, given huge budgets, were too happy to oblige.

As examples, Zaha Hadid's sensual but aimless forms and Libeskind's jagged monstrosities neglect the importance of context, environment, function and materiality in exchange for sexy images and bold icons. At least Gehry's forms, still with lack of attention to context, have a childlike playfulness, embracing the whimsical with an almost ironic smirk. These famous figures are just a few of many, yet are easy targets of criticism with their headline grabbing personalities and flamboyant designs.

Royal Ontario Museum by Studio Daniel Libeskind
Photograph by Sam Javanrouh
Yet cities deceive themselves by hiring these starchitects, believing that the resulting attention, headlines and magazine covers, will be worth the cost. In the end they are laden with overpriced, under functioning buildings often despised by the local residents. Meanwhile other architects, once talented explorers of form and materiality have been dragged into this game, trying to outshine the sun rather than focusing on the talents and rigor that got them to the top of the pedestal - that earned them the prestige of designing at an Olympic scale.

To highlight this argument I look to the Royal Ontario Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind. It's a disappointing design using inferior materials, that cost the Toronto taxpayers more than 100 million dollars. The interior, although complex in form, is fairly dull, being mostly white-washed dry wall covering huge oddly-shaped voids that remain empty, without purpose. Wouldn't Toronto have been better served by a pared-down, elegant intervention that actually was influenced by the surrounding urban context? The city wanted to capture some of the buzz generated by the Berlin Jewish Museum and instead received a structure that most would gladly return. The seriousness of the design and it's author even managed to eliminate the fun element that makes Gehry's buildings so popular among the public. The jagged crystal forms and sharp cutting windows might suit the Jewish Museum in Berlin, reflecting their troubled history, but I would argue it is not an appropriate design for a provincial museum in Canada's largest city. Re-appropriating this heavy design vocabulary in the ROM in fact diminishes that original symbolism and makes it a gimmick rather than a reponse to context and program. Just to be clear, here I criticize the ROM* but by no means does it stand alone. Dozens of other buildings by various architects can seamlessly take its place within this argument – The BMW World Building in Munich, The Federal Courthouse in Eugene, Oregon; The Millennium Dome in London among others.

*After contacting Studio Daniel Libeskind for images to accompany this article I received this response concerning the ROM design: " might be worth mentioning that while the ROM represents a radical shift in architecture in Toronto, many people have been thrilled to experience it, resulting in a 60 percent increase in attendance since its completion and 2009 visitor numbers reaching 1,024,964. We are incredibly proud of this project and the new vitality it has brought to Toronto’s precinct of Bloor Street and Avenue Road." Perhaps this increase is just because they opened a new building and people wanted to see the crazy design. I would be very interested to see if this increase is a sustainable improvement or will those numbers return to lower numbers once the buzz has diminished. I also have heard more criticism than praise of the project from residents of and visitors to Toronto

Nelson Atkins Museum of Art by Steven Holl
Photograph by Andy Ryan
Rising above this fascination with the absurd are talented architects like Peter Zumthor and Steven Holl, both of whom integrate an in-depth knowledge of materials and light, and design in concert with the surroundings, be they urban or natural landscapes. Famed for his Phenomenological approach to design, Zumthor's attention to materiality, light and mood focus on the user experience of his architecture rather than on the icon his building may become in the media. This is what all great buildings should do: transport a person to a new place, influence their emotions, and have them experience the specific time and place in a unique way. This is what makes Zumthor's buildings so much more powerful and important to architectural discourse than Hadid, Libeskind or Gehry. Holl likewise is a master at manipulating light and exploring textures and materiality. His forms are bold and captivating but have a restrained elegance many other architects lack. In many ways this is the future of architecture, and what the coming decade will support and reward. This is where architecture is moving - into a world where buildings are an instrument to illuminate beauty in nature, as well as a dynamic entity that allows us to better understand our place in the world.

Aqua Tower by Studio Gang Architects
Photograph by Steve Hall at Hedrich Blessing
To assist with this shift a new wave of creative firms are emerging, blending digital design tools with a sensitive approach to environmental issues, creating architecture that is beautiful, grounded in context, and meaningful. Studio Gang, for example, just completed a fantastic building in Chicago called the Aqua Tower with undulating balconies that resemble waves. Keeping the form relatively simple and manipulating the balconies creates a powerful image that is graceful and yet responds to solar orientation. Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis is another firm that is making elegant designs integrating digital technology with an attention to materiality and craftsmanship. Their MSK Art Installation is a direct response to the view points of users as they move through the space, mapping their cones of vision and piercing a wall of steel. The Swiss architects Gramazio & Kohler use a robot assembly arm developed through their research at the ETH Zürich to create stunning brick work based on forms derived from computer modeling - creating solid walls that flow like fabric and have phenomenal translucency. These firms and others like them are shifting architecture into a new style, one focused on how the digital tools available with new technology can help bridge the gap between design, materiality and manufacture. These explorations delve into the fundamental properties of materials and make use of the unique characteristics, their strengths, their weaknesses. Through this work, these firms and others like them are ushering in a new style of architecture - "Materialism."

Weingut Gantenbein by Gramazio & Kohler
Photograph by Ralph Feiner
As our new decade begins with the world's economy in turmoil and people rethinking their priorities I predict a return of elegance to the design world. Elegance is something that has been sorely lacking over the past 10 years as architects tried to top each other, producing Icon after Icon, where forms trumped function, turning architecture into an elaborate series of billion dollar sculptures. Moreover, the cost to society, both in dollars and in our inheritance of once trendy and functionless blobs that will soon fall out of style, is immense. Ernest Dimnet stated that “Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely, on the soul." I argue that for the past 10 years architectural extravagance has slowly been sucking the soul out of both our cities and our lives. Hopefully the new decade will see architecture recapture its essence and bring intimacy back into the design vocabulary. Focusing on Materiality as a means to explore architecture is a a great start and a theme I see growing over the coming years.

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May 17, 2010

Slideshow: Pritzker Bandshell - by Frank Gehry - Chicago, USA

Once again this set of photographs aren't fantastic as I just had a small camera and was there at night. However, this piece of architecture was a pleasant surprise, and my admiration for Gehry continues to grow. His playful forms are perfect for an outdoor amphitheater as the metal planes bend and flow as if blown by the wind off Lake Michigan. It was also fascinating to wander to the back of the sculptural buildings where the intricate steel structure is exposed in all its complexity. The composition was completed by an elegant curved grid flowing over the grass seating area - providing lights, speakers and other technical requirements for performance audiences.

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May 12, 2010

Danish Expo Pavilion by BIG Opens in Shanghai


The Danish Pavilion at Shanghai’s World Expo 2010 designed by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group opened to the public recently. The Danish pavilion at EXPO 2010 will give visitors the opportunity to try some of the best aspects of Danish city life themselves. Through interaction, the visitors are able to actually experience some of Copenhagen’s best attractions – the city bike, the harbor bath, playground settings, a picnic on the roof garden and the opportunity to see the authentic H.C Andersen’s Little Mermaid.
“When we visited the World Exhibition in Zaragoza, we were stunned by the artificial content. State propaganda in paper maché. The Danish Expo pavilion 2010 is the real deal, and not just endless talking. You can ride the city bike, take a swim in the harbor bath, and see the real Little Mermaid”
- Founder of BIG, Bjarke Ingels
The pavilion is designed as a traffic loop created by the motion of city bikes and pedestrians tied in a knot. Over 300 free city bikes located upon the roofscape, offer the visitors a chance to experience the Danish urban lifestyle which includes biking everywhere. The loops are connected in two places. Coming from the inside, the visitors can move out onto the roof, pick up a bike and re‐visit the exhibition by bike as the outdoor cycle path slips into the interior and runs along the entire exhibition before exiting onto the EXPO grounds. The sequence of events at the exhibition takes place between two parallel facades – the internal and external. The internal is closed and contains different functions of the pavilion. The width varies and is defined by the programme of the inner space. The pavilion’s external façade is made of perforated steel. In the evening time, the façade becomes a sequenced instrument of interactive light illuminating the passers‐by.

The exhibition can be experienced in two speeds, as a calm stroll with time to absorb the surroundings and as a dynamic bicycle trip, where the city and city life rush past. Like a Danish city, the Danish pavilion is best experienced on foot and by bike. This way, the pavilion’s theme Welfairytales (Welfare + Fairytales) re‐launches the bicycle in Shanghai as a symbol of lifestyle and sustainable urban development. When the Expo closes, the pavilion can be moved to another site in Shanghai and could function as a transfer point for Shanghai’s new city bikes.
"Sustainability is often misunderstood as the neo-protestant notion "that it has to hurt in order to do good". "You're not supposed to take long warm showers - because wasting all that water it’s not good for the environment" or "you're not supposed to fly on holidays - cause airtraffic is bad for the environment". Gradually we all get the feeling that sustainable life simply is less fun than normal life. If sustainable designs are to become competitive it can not be for purely moral or political reasons - they have to be more attractive and desirable than the non-sustainable alternative. With the Danish Pavilion we have attempted to consolidate a handful of real experiences of how a sustainable city - such as Copenhagen - can in fact increase the quality of life"
- Founder of BIG, Bjarke Ingels
The pavilion is a monolithic structure in white painted steel which keeps it cool during the Shanghai summer sun due to its heat‐reflecting characteristics. The roof is covered with a light blue surfacing texture, known from Danish cycle paths. Inside, the floor is covered with light epoxy and also features the blue cycle path where the bikes pass through the building. The steel of the facade is perforated in a pattern that reflects the actual structural stresses that the pavilion is experiencing making it a 1:1 stress test. The blue cycle path and white concrete surfaces will further define the arrival and exit areas.

Sitting in the harbor pool at the centre of the pavilion is the real Little Mermaid from the harbor of Copenhagen. As one of three of H.C. Andersen’s fables, who is affectionally known in China as An Tung Shung, which is read by every child in China, this will be seen as a gesture of cultural generosity between Denmark and China. While the mermaid is in Shanghai her place in Copenhagen will be replaced by Ai Wei Wei’s multimedia artwork, including a live broadcast of the statue in Shanghai. Other artists include Jeppe Hein from Denmark, who designed a ‘social bench’ that will run alongside the bicycle lane and adapts to its environment elastically by incorporating different functions including a bar for food and drink. The works of Martin De Thurah and Peter Funch are also included in the exhibition areas.
“Throughout the design and realization of the Danish Pavilion a wide range of disciplines, such as architecture, engineering, lighting design and art installations meld together to create a single structure that plays like a finely tuned instrument”
-Project Leader of Danish Expo Pavilion 2010 and Partner in BIG, Finn Norkjaer

About BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group:
BIG currently comprises a group of architects, designers, and thinkers operating within the fields of architecture, urbanism, research, and development which are comprised of over 20 nationalities. The office is currently involved in a large number of projects throughout Europe, Asia and North America. BIG’s architecture emerges out of a careful analysis of how contemporary life constantly evolves and changes, not least due to the influence of multicultural exchange, global economic flows and communication technologies that together require new ways of architectural and urban organization. In all our actions we try to move the focus from the little details to the BIG picture.

PROJECT: Danish Pavilion at the EXPO 2010
SIZE: 3.000m2
COLLABORATORS: 2+1, Arup AGU, Arup Shanghai, Tongji Design Institute, Ai Wei Wei, Jeppe Hein, Martin De Thurah, Peter Funch
LOCATION : Shanghai, China
TEAM: Tobias Hjortdahl, Jan Magasanik, Claus Tversted, Henrick Poulsen, Niels Lund Petersen, Kamil Szoltysek, Sonja Reisinger, Anders Ulsted, Jan Borgstrom, Pauline Lavie, Teis Draiby, Daniel Sundlin, Line Gericke, Armen Menendian, Karsten Hammer Hansen, Martin W. Mortensen, Kenneth Sorensen, Jesper Larsen, Anders Tversted

May 10, 2010

Slideshow: The Reichstag - by Norman Foster - Berlin, Germany

The redesigned Reichstag is one of the best adaptive reuse projects I have seen. The high tech additions to the historic shell provide new life to the heart of the German Government. The dome with its spiraling ramp is a nice touch and offers stunning views of the capital city - although the lines tend to be incredibly long to get in. I think this is one of Norman Foster's most successful projects and definitely worth visiting if you find yourself in Berlin.

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May 5, 2010

WINNERS: monograph of J. Mayer H. Architekten

It is time to announce the winners of the contest to receive a monograph of J. Mayer H. Architekten, which was generously donated by his office. 

The first winner was easy to choose as Kimberley Parkinson has offered to donate the book to Royal Institute of Blind People's Talking Book service. I think this is an incredible idea and it also received lots of support from the other contestants. The other two winners were picked at random.
  • Kimberley Parkinson
  • Heather Spigner
  • Tyler Loewen
Winners, we need your mailing addresses. Please email them to us as soon as possible by clicking here.

Thank you all for entering and reading our blog. Please mention us to your friends and add links to our site from your blogs, facebook, etc.

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May 3, 2010

Slideshow: Grande Bibliotheque - by Patkau Architects - Montreal, Canada

Again, not the best photos, and I only got a few of the interior before getting kicked out. I was impressed by the design, despite the controversy with the facade louvers, which tended to fall off randomly due to the cold Montreal Winters. Still it was an elegant design with an enjoyable interior. I would love to go back in the summer and better document the building.

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