"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

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

12. Five Greatest Arts Centres Never Built

The life of a successful architect must be an extremely satisfying one. How else to explain why so many Pritzker Prize-winners live so long and work so late into their careers. The great Oscar Niemeyer died just 10 days shy of his 105th birthday, still an active architect. Ditto for Philip Johnson who made it to 98 and Frank Lloyd Wright, 91. Still going strong are I.M. Pei, 96, and Frank Gehry, 85, not to mention "kids" Richard Rogers, 80, Richard Meier, 79 and Norman Foster 78.

To achieve longevity - either in life or career - an architect must learn to cope with a good deal of frustration and rejection. In my last post, I presented what I considered to be the "10 Greatest Skyscrapers Never Built". Staying in that vein, I'd like to now focus on the "Five Greatest Arts Centres Never Built".

 When Oscar Niemeyer died on December 5, 2012 the world lost a giant. The Brazilian was not just an architect, but also a visionary, humanitarian and social progressive. His work was like a gift from an alien society to a more primitive race. I can't think of anything that better portrays the gulf between the mostly banal world that we live in and the exciting one Niemeyer foresaw, than this rendering of his Puerto de la Musica proposed for Rosario, Argentina:

via estate of Oscar Niemeyer

Niemeyer's proposed cultural complex would have been part concert hall, part exhibition centre and part music school. The project was launched in 2008 with completion set for 2010 - the bicentennial of Argentina's liberation from Spain - and later pushed back to 2012. In the meantime, political and legal hurdles arose, and then another of Argentina's many recurrent economic crises. Fundraising ceased as Niemeyer's reach exceeded his planet's grasp.

The Atlanta Symphony Centre would have been classic Santiago Calatrava: a white sculptural building with an elongated, arcing roof-piece of lattice-like steel; and moveable wings that opened and closed on either side:

via Santiago Calatrava

When the project was unveiled in 2005, municipal officials boasted of a future impact along the lines of the Sydney Opera House. Unfortunately, private fundraising stalled in 2007 and various levels of government failed to deliver on promised dollars. Seven years later, the four-acre site remains undeveloped.

 Will Alsop's building, The Cloud, was the kind of design, which, along with his general physique, earned him the nickname Mr. Blobby. The Cloud, a 10-storey orb, was to be the centrepiece of Liverpool's revitalization for its year as European Capital of Culture in 2008:

via Will Alsop

Municipal officials hailed Alsop's work as symbolic of a new Liverpool. But the public didn't warm to it and bombarded newspapers with angry letters. As the building's budget grew, the nature of the project changed to include more housing to underwrite the cost of the cultural component. Doubts began to emerge about whether the Cloud would even be ready for Liverpool's big year. Eventually, the plug was pulled, which is why you've probably never heard of Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture.

 You'd think that a city that craves constant global attention, and an architect whose work virtually guarantees it, would make a perfect pairing. Yet Zaha Hadid's Dancing Towers (see my previous post) never managed to soft-shoe their way onto the Dubai skyline, and neither did her Dubai Opera House.

via Zaha Hadid Architects

The opera house was to have been set on its own island. It's fluid curves and rising peaks swooping down from sky to sea were designed to represent Dubai's sand dunes. Announced in 2006, the opera house sang its swan song during the fiscal crisis when its developer killed off all projects not already under construction. Adding insult to injury, Dubai recently announced that an opera house will be built in a different part of the city by a different architect. It too claims that the new opera house will have the same impact as Sydney's iconic one. Having seen the initial renders, I'd have to say that the hype in Dubai soars even higher than its skyscrapers.

The Guggenheim family has contributed to the world of art and architecture in so many ways. There's the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for New York City; Frank Gehry's transformational Bilbao Guggenheim in Spain, and the Peggy R. Guggenheim Museum in Venice.

Then there was the ill-fated Guadalajara Guggenheim, proposed in an international competition by Asymptote Architects. Their vision imagined the museum as an undulating ceramic and glass mass rising from a plateau over a spectacular canyon:

Via Asymptote Architecture

The first shoe dropped when Asymptote lost the competition to Mexican architect Enrique Norten and his TEN Arquitectos firm. The project was then killed off in 2008 when the estimated cost soared to $300-million, while the Mexican consortium behind it had raised just four million. The Guggenheim Foundation refused to scale down the project to meet the country's arts budget, noting that it only sponsored architecturally significant institutes.

So there you have it - the Five Greatest Arts Centres Never Built. Some people argue that, in times of great economic difficulty, the Arts are a frill or should only be paid for by the rich. This ignores the strong connection between the Arts and economic growth. Where would Bilbao be without the Guggenheim? Sydney without its Opera House? Paris without the Louvre? New York and London without their great theatres? The fact is, we live in a world that needs an even greater investment in cultural WOWchitecture, not a smaller one.