"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

Thursday, 30 January 2014

6. Six Buildings that will Rock our World in 2014

2014 is going to be a great year for WOWchitecture!

Sure, we'll still be living in a world where bland and banal boxes rule the day; where playing it safe triumphs over taking a risk; and where "value engineering" means cheaping-out on design. 

But on the plus side, we'll see more and more brave souls -- architects, engineers, developers and construction professionals -- ready not only to think outside the box, but willing to destroy the box entirely.

So let's celebrate six transformational projects. Together they'll make our planet a more exciting place in the year ahead.

Building Most Likely to be Confused for a Spacecraft

At the edge of a small peninsula, where the Rhone and Saone rivers converge in the city of Lyon, France, the Musee des Confluences sits ready to open its doors. Or should I say blast off. Because while I've seen a number of structures mimic the form of flying saucers, this one looks like a full-blown starship:

                                                                            Photo Credit: Armin Hess, Coop Himmelb(l)au

Designed by Austrian firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, and built largely of glass and titanium, the Musee is pure magic. Its shape is defined by three sections: The Plinth, The Cloud and The Crystal. Each section will explore one of life's great questions: Where do we come from? Who are we? What do we do?

Along the way, visitors will explore the history of the universe, how evolution works, and how societies function. With a journey this large is it any wonder it will take a spaceship?

Beam me up Scotty!

Close Encounters of a Classical Kind

Continuing on with our spaceship -- and indeed our French -- theme, I love the way this model makes it look like a group of stunned earthlings are walking up into the maw of an alien mothership.

                                                                             Photo via Atelier Jean Nouvel                                        

Earthlings of all stripes may indeed be dazed -- and dazzled -- when they gaze upon Jean Nouvel's aluminum-clad Philharmonie de Paris. The classical music hall, scheduled for completion in December, already sits high on Paris' northern skyline, giving the city of light yet another landmark.

Like most hyper-creative buildings, the Philharmonie has drawn its share of nay-sayers. The New York Times described it as resembling a mound of loosely stacked plates topped by a 170-foot-high sail. The Guardian compared it to a stack of giant paving stones.

Meanwhile, bean-counting auditors have jumped all over the project's rising costs, now up to €387-million. Still, as former President Nicholas Sarkozy observed while shooting back at the penny-pinchers, "Who can argue that in this time of crisis we don't need music?"

Who indeed.

Stairway to Heaven

The city of Shanghai has long had one of the world's great skylines.

Why? Number one, its buildings have a genuine Asian character, creating a strong sense of place. Two, they are beautiful sculptural works in their own right. And three, new skyscrapers fit seamlessly into the urban landscape, creating an integrated whole instead of a jumble of tall buildings.

The latest addition, Shanghai Tower, follows this successful formula to perfection. It looks like an enormous bamboo stalk, an important cultural icon. It's willowy appearance and quality cladding give it an elegant beauty. And, as the second-tallest building in the world (121-storeys and 632-metres high), it nicely aligns with the adjacent Jin Mao tower and Shanghai World Financial Centre, creating an image of a giant stairway to heaven.

                                                              Photo via Gensler Architects                                  

Shanghai Tower was designed by San Francisco's Gensler Architects. The firm says its design team "anticipated that three important strategies -- the tower's asymmetric form, it's tapering profile and its rounded corners -- would allow the building to withstand the typhoon-force winds common to Shanghai."

Now, if they could only do something about that air quality.

Let's Twist Again, Like we did Last Summer...

Ever since Santiago Calatrava built the HSB Turning Torso in Malmo, Sweden, cities have been falling all over themselves to create their own version of a twisting skyscraper. Dubai has one, so does Panama City. Manama (Bahrain) will be finishing its version later this year. Even the Shanghai Tower could be put in this category since it rotates 120 degrees from top to bottom. But my favourite is Moscow's Evolution:

                                                 Photo via DvW,skyscrapercity.com                                   

Designed by Edinburgh's RMJM, Evolution is part of a new cluster of skyscrapers rising on former industrial land about three miles from the Kremlin. Its architects call it "sexy", and while I wouldn't quite go that far, it does bear a certain resemblance to an elegant ballerina.

Evolution clearly isn't the first twisting torso, and it won't be the last. There are many more in the pipeline around the world. That's unfortunate, not every city needs a turning tower. Maybe it's time we called it a day on this high-impact, but over-exposed design. You really can have too much of a good thing.

Sure, but Where's the Cheese?

One thing I love about British architecture fans and critics is that no matter what a building is called officially, they'll come up with a better (and more popular) name.

Call a building 30 St. Mary's Axe? They'll rename it "The Gherkin". City Hall? Oh you must mean "The Beehive". Even nicknames get nicknames. When it turned out that the sun reflecting off a building previously dubbed "The Walkie Talkie" was melting solid objects, it was immediately re-christened "The Fryscraper".

Hell, even architects are given nicknames. Just ask Wil Alsop, aka "Mr. Blobby".

So when Richard Rogers proposed a skyscraper that looked like a wedge standing upright on its flat end, what could the witty British possibly call it other than The Leadenhall Building?

                                                     Photo via rsh-p.com                                                

Oh, right. The Cheese-grater!
By any name, the building is pure Richard Rogers -- lots of glass, exposed infrastructure, a dash of colour for whimsy, and a seven-story atrium to create both a sense of grandeur and a new people place in the heart of London's business district. If you want to see more of the Rogers style, all you have to do is cross the street to his Lloyds of London building with its famous spiralling metallic outdoor staircases; or venture further afield to his Millennium Dome.

The Cheese-grater isn't just Rogers flexing his prodigious architectural muscles. The shape actually has a practical purpose -- it preserves clear view-lines of London's St. Paul's Cathedral and its iconic dome. So, handsome and practical. Job well done Baron Rogers!

To Hell with the Alphabet, we'll Call it what we Want

It's been a rough year for Canada. My former home and native land has become the laughing stock of the world thanks to crack-smoking, binge-drinking, smack-talking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, and enfant-terrible Justin Bieber.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, proving that no Canadian is above ridicule, can be seen on YouTube serenading Benjamin Netanyahu with the words, "I get high with a little help from my friends..."

Canada is desperately in need of love and affection. So I'd like to do something nice for it by celebrating one of Toronto's more innovative buildings.

It was nearly a decade ago that Starchitect Daniel Libeskind put forward his ambitious design for a waterfront-area condominium called the L-Tower:

                           Photo via Studio Daniel Libeskind                                                                

The design was bold, brave and somewhat outrageous -- sort of like Rob Ford after a long lunch-hour. Who'd have thunk it? A building shaped like Italy! The foot section would be public arts space and the leg section would be private residences.

It wasn't meant to be. The global economic crisis struck hard, government money dried up, and the area tabbed for arts was cancelled. The ever-resourceful Libeskind went back to the drawing board and returned with a re-draft:

                                Photo via  Studio Daniel Libeskind                                           

More than a few people noted that the much-marketed and by then well-known "L-Tower" now looked a lot more like an "I-Tower". What were its developers to do? What would they re-name it?

In change-resistant Toronto, that was no problem. The old name became the new name. The 58-story tower stayed the L-Tower.

Still, it's a most handsome building, one that raises Toronto design standards to new heights. If the Arctic vortex that has North America in a death grip ever  eases off, the building should be finished off in a few short months.

Now it's your Turn

That's my preview of the six buildings that will rock our world in 2014. Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don't. It's a free country (unless of course, you're reading this in China, Egypt, Syria, Russia, Ukraine.....)

I'm interested in your opinion. Did I leave something out? Did I include something you hate? What are your favourite buildings for 2014? Please leave your comments below.