"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

Monday, 24 February 2014

9. London: Beehive Kick-Starts Renewal

In 1998, the city of London decided it needed a landmark building to kick-start its bedraggled area south of the Thames. The man chosen to design a new city hall was England's favourite-son architect, Sir Norman Foster.

Foster, now 78, wasn't regarded as an "out there" architect like contemporary Frank Gehry, or later-to-come mavericks Santiago Calatrava and Zaha Hadid. He had a global reputation as a superb craftsman who liked to use a lot of glass and open spaces to give his buildings a lighter-than-air look.

Foster went to the drawing board, or rather computer, and what he came back with raised more than a few eyebrows. It was a blue geodesic dome, not unlike those of his friend, Buckminster Fuller, except that it looked like it had been blown off-centre by a gale-force wind. The public quickly dubbed it, "The Beehive".

Others were not so kind. Former Mayor Ken Livingstone called it "a glass testicle". Current mayor, Boris Johnson referred to it as "the glass gonad". And yet there are so many reasons why London's city hall qualifies as a work of WOWchitecture:

It looks fabulous at night, the only time its magnificent helical staircase can be clearly seen from the outside.

Image via Foster and Partners

The spiral staircase itself is a work of art. It runs for 800-metres, curving its way through all 10 above-grade floors to the top of the building. The platform there is open to the public, providing citizens with a transparent view of the activities of their elected officials.

Photo by DAVID ILLIF. License CC-BY-SA 3.0

More than half of the space is public plaza, offering great exhibition space for art. In this case it's larger-than-life Les Paul guitars, painted and autographed by famous folk and sold off for charity.

The building provides a great backdrop for tourist photos. This is especially true if you're a digital artist - like me.

It offers a great platform for viewing Foster's totemic skyscraper, "The Gherkin" on the north side of the Thames.

And finally, the strategy worked! The south side of the Thames has been a "beehive" of growth (pun intended). It even has buildings like this:

That's Renzo Piano's building, The Shard. But that's a story for another day.