"The world is not a rectilinear world, it is a curvilinear world. The heavenly bodies go in a curve because that is the
natural way..."

-- George Bernard Shaw

"I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein."

-- Oscar Niemeyer

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

26. Seven Buildings that will Rock your World in 2015

About a year ago I wrote a post called "Six Buildings that will Rock your World in 2014." It turned out to be my second-most popular post of the year. Far be it from me to argue with success, so let's do it again for 2015.

Here are the buildings that WOWchitecture believes will have the greatest impact on the global architecture scene in 2015. They're bold, they're daring and they'll carry architecture to new heights - sometimes literally.


The New York Trio

Pyramids had a great run during Egypt's "Let my people go" era. The Mayan's brought them back a millennium or two later and also had good success. But when Britain's Lord Norman Foster built a 62-metre pyramid in Kazakstan (Palace of Peace and Reconciliation), it was derided as an act of folly by a country that just had too much oil money.

Then along came Copenhagen's free-thinking architecture firm, BIG, with a plan to place a 32-storey pyramid in New York. And not just in New York, but on the very visible bank of the Hudson River. Known officially as W57 for its location on 57th Street, the pyramid has also been dubbed "Magic Mountain". And oh what magic architect Bjarke Ingles has conjured up. The white building slants back at a steep angle. It has slit-like terraces cut out of its facade. A huge cutout just off centre allows for a football-field-sized plaza whose greenery visually aligns with that of the Hudson River Park.


Speaking of magic, one project that could certainly use some fairy dust is the World Trade Centre. David Childs and SOM certainly didn't imbue it into WTC1 - a monolithic structure that conveys strength and power at the expense of innovation, aesthetic appeal, and grace. Nor did Foster and Richard Rogers, two brilliant British architects whose WTC tower designs suggest they were on auto pilot. As for Fumihiko Maki's already finished WTC4, the less said, the better.

The one bit of WTC magic is coming courtesy of unconventional, organic  architect Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava - arguably the world's greatest architect without a Pritzker Prize - just happens to hail from my adopted hometown, Valencia. For the WTC he's designed the ultimate Transportation Hub. 

At its core is a giant white oculus - the eye-shaped structure that Calatrava has relied upon successfully in the past. Springing out from the oculus on both sides are long graceful wings. On a sunny day the oculus will open, allowing warming rays to bathe those in the mall below. The net effect is that of a huge graceful bird getting ready to take off.

Via Santiago Calatrava

Sometimes, just by using boxes you can come up with something entirely out-of-the-box. At least you can if you're Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron, the folks who created the splendid Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics. Their latest project, 56 Leonard St. consists of a series of rectangles piled one on top of the other. The materials couldn't be simpler: concrete floors, ceilings and support pillars, with floor-to-ceiling windows giving every owner a priceless - actually, an incredibly expensively - view of the incomparable New York skyline.

Where the genius comes in is in the way Herzog and de Meuron have arranged the rectangles. Sometimes the floor plates are identical and sit evenly on top of each other. Sometimes they're not and they don't. Floors cantilever out over the ones below or beneath the ones above. The jagged edge creates a look unlike any skyscraper in New York. At 57 storeys, 56 Leonard St. may not be one of the taller buildings in New York, but it sure will be one of the more unusual.

Via Herzog and de Meuron

The Flying Saucer

If Jean Nouvel's Abu Dhabi Louvre looks a little familiar, it may be because it appeared in one of my earlier posts, "My 8 Favourite Buildings that Look Like Flying Saucers." A branch of the more famous gallery in Paris, the Abu Dhabi version is part of a massive planned cultural project on Saadiyat Island. IF completed - and that's by no means certain - it will be the largest collection of cultural buildings in the world.

Via Atelier Jean Nouvel

The new Louvre is a dead cert to finish, with opening scheduled for the end of 2015. The next to follow will be Foster's Zayed National Museum, scheduled for completion in 2016, but not likely since they've just chosen a construction company.  Meanwhile Frank Gehry's Guggenheim hasn't even gotten that far yet, and the only constant about Zaha Hadid's Performing Arts Center is that it's constantly being postponed. The building is no longer mentioned on the cultural district's website.

Sure, Let's Save al-Qaeda the Trouble

I don't usually post buildings I don't like. In fact, this may be the first time. But I have to admit that the Maha Nakhon in Bangkok is going to get a lot of "WOWs". The 77-storey glass tower was designed by OMA - home to Starchitect Rem Koolhaas. When finished, it will look like it was hit by a couple of planes and instead of repairing the damage they just put new cladding over the crushed in areas.


Technically, this tower qualifies as WOWchitecture. But in the wake of September 11, I wonder how many people will react like I did and say "Wow, how insensitive! Wow, what a shot at New York! Wow, how inappropriate!" Now, I'm not one of those sensitive types who gets all teary-eyed at the mention of 9/11. Heck, I'm not even American (although I do compete as a member of Beard Team USA - but that's another story). Yet even I'm offended by the design of this building.

China Rising

It's no great secret that when it comes to 100-storey supertalls, China is the global leader - and picking up steam by the day. The bad news is that the emphasis on speed and height is resulting in far too many big, boring, blue-clad glass boxes dotting the country. The good news is that there are exceptions to this rule, like the 128-floor Shanghai Tower, which was on last year's Rock your World list, and the 115-floor Ping An International Finance Centre in Shenzen, which is on this year's.

The Ping An, designed by American-based KPFresembles a giant silver rocket ship. It flares a bit at the bottom creating the impression of rocket fins. Then for most of its body it rises straight up, it's height underscored by vertical lines. Near the top, the futuristic building tapers radically on all sides until it reaches a point. Extending from the point is a long thin spire much like those seen in 1950s science fiction movies. Get ready for blastoff in 2015.


Apparently they can Build a Supertall

Within the architecture community, Seoul is known as a city that loves to announce bold and imaginative skyscrapers, even entire new districts of soaring skyscrapers - and then fails to build them. It seems that anytime someone gets even the faintest thought of designing a skyscraper, it gets announced as if it's a sure thing. Then dawn breaks - the dawn of fiscal reality, technological reality and structural reality, and the projects ends up in the ashcan of architectural history.

The Lotte World Tower will break the pattern. The 123-storey tower is simply too far along (91-stories and counting) not to happen. Like the Ping An, the Seoul Lotte was designed - and elegantly so - by KPF. It too starts off straight, but the tapering begins earlier and proceeds more gradually. Rather than coming to a point, the 555-metre building squares off at the top. If that's where it ended it would look quite weird, but the glass cladding rises beyond the core structure, bringing the building to a more stylish conclusion.

That's my list of the seven buildings that will rock your world in 2015. They'll all be finished (at least on the outside) sometime in the year ahead. If you think you know of any that will get a bigger "WOW", just leave me a note at the bottom of this post and I'll consider adding your suggestion to my list.

Monday, 24 November 2014

25. Barcelona: the Ninth Building

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post called "Barcelona: 8 Wildly Colourful Buildings not by Gaudi." It should have been "Nine Wildly Colourful..." but one building was so unique, so idiosyncratic, so absolutely delightful, that I had to give it it's own spotlight. That building is Casa Comalat:

Casa Comalat displays all of the quintessential characteristics of an Antoni Gaudi building. It has Gaudi's playful colours, parabolic arches, curved lines, wavy tile patterns, oversized windows and balconies, joyful exhuberance - and just about everything that makes a building scream out "GAUDI". There's just one thing. The architect who designed it wasn't Gaudi. It was Salvador Valeri i Pupurull.

Valeri Pupurull was part of the generation of Modernista (Catalan Art Nouveau) young turks who succeeded Gaudi. His work on Casa Comalat took place from 1906-11. While owing much to Gaudi's ground-breaking style, Valeri Pupurull went the Catalan grandmaster one step further by giving the building two different facades!

When you stand outside the front facade on the busy main street Diagonal, what your eyes take in is a relatively sober building made of heavy grey stone. And yet there are hints of a hugely creative mind at work.

Like a magnificent wood and iron front door with an ornamental stone-surround:

beautiful wrought-iron balconies with decorative stone supports:

stained-glass windows with double pillared stone-surrounds:

and a harlequin-hat roof made of green glazed tile:

reminiscent of Gaudi's greatest work, Casa Batlo.

The front fa├žade usually draws a small crowd of amateur photographers. When they're finished taking their shots, many just drift further down Diagonal assuming that the rear facade is more of the same. Big mistake. BIG MISTAKE!!!

Because it's only when you go around to the quieter backstreet that you'll see the architect's kaleidoscopic imagination in its full, glorious form. To appreciate the Alice-in-Wonderland hallucinogenic vision that presents itself, you really have to study Casa Comalat's rear facade section-by-section.

The top, with its circular aperture and curved roof is amazing in it's own right, but also provides a sneak preview of what is to come....

....more polychromatic porcelain tiles arranged by ceramicist Luis Bru I Salleles to create organic forms, wooden terraces enclosed by stained-glass windows, green wooden window frames, and brown wooden blinds (seen as somewhat of an affectation at the time).....

Below the terraces, Bru Salleles, already regarded as the top ceramicist in Spain, created panels of tiled mosaics the likes of which Europe had never seen:

Supporting it all are two pairs of twin parabolic arches. The arches also protect more stained-glass windows and green window frames and shutters.
By now you're probably wondering which version of Valeri Pupurull designed Casa Comalat's interior - the grey, sober, orderly one, or the wild, wavy, polychromatic one? Unfortunately, the building is private - largely housing investment companies - and not open to the public.
Fortunately, one of those companies Q-Renta Agencia de Valores, has made some interior shots available. I think they'll quite handily answer your question!



Friday, 7 November 2014

24. Eclectic Architecture at its Best 

It's been a while since I last showcased a building in my adopted hometown of Valencia. Let me remedy this right away lest you think we Valencianos are WOWchitecture-challenged.

One of my favourite places in the city for building-watching (sort of like people-watching, but the buildings don't care how long you stare) is the Plaza del Ayuntamiento or Town Hall Square. The square is named after this rather Baroque-looking building, scene of many a football celebration and political protest:

  In case you're wondering, that's a football celebration. So is this:

Really. They don't call this city's biggest festival Las Fallas (The Fires) for nothing.

At the heart of the square (which, this being Europe, is actually triangular) is a cascading fountain that serves as a focal point for many a photo-op:

More recently, an artificially chilled skating rink has been added - a rather expensive act of folly that allows Valencianos to pretend for a couple of months that it actually gets cold around Christmas. Never mind that daytime highs are usually in the 18-20 C. range.

The square itself is surrounded by leafy plane trees and stately palms. It's also dotted with kiosks selling herbs, orchids and fresh-cut flowers. Circling the square (or should that be triangulating the triangle) are elegant buildings in a variety of architectural styles, largely erected in the first third of the 20th century. This was, of course, before Franco and his jack-booted storm troopers stomped all over the heart of socialist Spain.

 This blending of architectural styles often results in an ugly urban mish-mash, but in Valencia's case it actually works. The harmonious assembly of structures includes curved and pricey Art Nouveau apartment buildings:

  An Art Deco movie theatre:

Moorish-inspired low-rise buildings:

  And other interesting buildings just trying to fit in:

My favourite building on the square is the Central Post Office by  Miguel Angel Navarro and architect to whom I cannot attribute a single other building. Its architectural style has been described as "truly eclectic" and that, if anything, is an understatement.

The exterior is a melange of Moorish-style cupolas, six Baroque winged figures, a 30-foot high Art Deco-ish metallic replica of a once-functioning communications tower - and that's just on the roof:

The main entry facade showcases architectural Classicism in the form of four gigantic Ionic columns. A smaller set of six columns supports a platform on which sit five figures representing the continents and symbolizing international communications.

And yet, the real WOW factor doesn't even present itself until you enter the building. There, you are welcomed by two naked golden goddesses, each carrying two lamps in their hands and balancing one on their heads, as well as by a richly carved wooden ceiling, and wood-trimmed windows - all done in the Art Nouveau style:

Walk through to the Main Hall, an elliptical space where the city's postal business is still being transacted on a daily basis. Look up, and you'll see an exceptional domed-ceiling featuring 3,500 pieces of stained glass:

The Valencia Central Post Office is, in short, a microcosm of the many architectural motifs that make up the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The Plaza, in turn, is a microcosm of the city's diversity of built form.

If you want to walk around 700+ years of architectural history - starting with the 14th century gates and bridges to the city and finishing with the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences - you'd be well served by a visit to my adopted hometown.

Who knows, you might even want to move here. I know Heather and I did!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

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Saturday, 11 October 2014

23. The Newest Architectural Feature?

The discipline of architecture doesn't, technically speaking, include street art. Or colloquially speaking. Or any way of speaking, for that matter. And yet, neighbourhoods and even individual buildings are increasingly being judged by their street art.

Of course, many neighbourhoods, homes and buildings are perfectly beautiful the way they were built. You wouldn't, for example, want to further adorn the Burj Khalifa, Chrysler Building or Petronas Towers. 

But if you happen to be the owner of a relatively modern, but somewhat banal building, street art can add a distinct dash of splash:

Apartment in Valencia, Spain. Artist: Julieta.

Apartment in Gdansk Poland.
 photo via mrpilgrim.co.uk
A little street art here and there can be the first step in renewing an impoverished area and boosting neighbourhood pride:
Apartment in working-class Barcelona district.

Building in gentrifying Valencia neighbourhood. Artist: Ericailcane.
And it won't even cost cash-strapped governments a nickel. In some cases, landlords commission the work; in others, artists (not exactly wealthy themselves) pick up the tab for materials and contribute their time. In a better world, community funding would underwrite both craftsman and supplies.

That may not be as direct as tackling the root causes of poverty, but you have to start somewhere. Besides street art can act as a community revenue stream, flowing tourists dollars to local stores, galleries and restaurants; and attracting investment dollars with which to create better facilities.

Street art can do big things, like promoting a country's cultural identity:

Dancer on the outside wall of a Valencia Flamenco restaurant.
Artist: Paloma Cort

Or small things, like offering up a bit of humour to someone having a bad day:

 Gentrifying Valencia Neighbourhood.
Artist: Luis Montolio
As Banksy once said, “Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don't come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they're having a piss.” 
Now let's be truthful, not all street art is beautiful or attractive. Just because some idiot knows how to buy a can of spray paint and write his name on a wall doesn't make it art, or make him Picasso.

By the same token though, I can take you into just about any art gallery in the world and show you paintings worth millions that I wouldn't hang on my bathroom door. Yes, I'm talking about you Barnet Newman and your $1.8 million con job on the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa:

Voice of Fire

Now, don't get me wrong. I like modern art as much as the next guy. In fact, probably more than the next guy. Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Dali, Warhol they're my main men. When I see a masterpiece by one of them I get positively stoked. (Wait a minute, I'm 62-years-old - I gotta stop talking like that!)

But let's face it, if you could only look at one piece of art for the rest of your life, which would you choose? This one by Mark Rothko:

Or this one by Julieta:

To me it's a no brainer.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

22. The Great Houses of Chicago

Chicago has long been one of my favourite cities in the world. How can you not love a city that invented the skyscraper:

Re-imagined the idea of an urban park:

Made "the blues" go electric, and spotlights it every year at the world's largest free outdoors blues festival:

And created the only pizza in the world worth eating - the deep dish pizza:

Yup, Chicago is my kind of town!

One of the best features of "ChiTown" (as the locals call it) is its magnificent historic houses. First among the best are those designed by the 20th century's best-known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Wright - as the good people of Chicago still refer to him - used the suburb of Oak Park as his residence, experimental lab, and showcase to the world.

Before he designed his signature Prairie Houses, Wright experimented with a variety of styles. One of the standout creations of his early career was the 1893 Walter Gale House - built about a block away from Wright's own home and studio on Chicago Street. Its key feature is a beautiful rounded-wood turret that dominates the front of the house:

Gale House is considered one of Wright's "bootleg houses" because it was designed while he was under contract to another great Chicago architect, Louis Sullivan, and forbidden to work on his own projects. Following rules was definitely not Wright's strong suit. Nor was tolerating disobedience Sullivan's. Before you could say "I'm an arrogant son-of-a-bitch who listens to no one" Wright was out on his rear.

Wright later experimented - very successfully, and to great acclaim - with high-pitched roofs and wide, thin chimneys as at the Nathan G. Moore House:

And indeed his own home and studio:

Eventually, Wright went on to perfect his Prairie House design with its characteristic horizontality - flat roofs, oversized eves, and square windows with leaded glass. He built them all over Oak Park, including the Edwin R. Hills House:

And Arthur B. Heurtley House:

Another neighbourhood that I love for its historic houses is Wicker Park, a west-end area that has been developed by numerous immigrant communities since the 1870s. My favourites include The Hermann Weinhardt House:

And three other historic homes that, despite their grandeur, were not named after their owners but just given addresses:


Yet another Chicago area that I love to walk around is the Gold Coast, particularly North Astor Street. Here you'll see some highly enviable mansions, starting with the residence of John Wellburn Root, near the south end of the street:

And finishing up with the Charnley-Persky House to the north:

The house was co-designed by Sullivan and Wright before their big breakup - which kind of brings us back full circle to the beginning of our story.

Charnley-Persky is open to the public, so go see it if you can and have fun trying to figure out which parts were designed by Wright and which by Sullivan.