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Sensing the future: looking at the shape of things to come, the AR begins a new year with a global survey of work in progress.

Predicting the future can sometimes be a precarious business. Ask the man who turned down the Beatles, or H. M. Warner (of the eponymous Brothers), who famously opined, 'Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?'. Ten years ago, few would have thought that the Internet, at that time a stuttering, stunted realm inhabited by cyber geeks, was actually twenty-first century lightning in a bottle poised to usher in an unimaginable revolution in culture, technology, communications and perception. Now, no self-respecting individual or organisation is without their website or blog (check out AR editor Paul Finch's latest cyber musings at Yet though a bells and whistles website is now considered an essential promotional tool of the modern architect, you have to sneakingly admire Herzog & de Meuron who, despite their international superstar status, choose to spurn the lure of cyberspace. How long they can sustain such a perversely Luddite (yet somehow also reassuringly Swiss) posture remains to be seen.

At the start of another year of adventures in international architecture, it seems appropriate to indulge in some modest crystal ball gazing of our own, though the futures predicted here are more certain to come to pass. The 35 or so projects shown in this issue are not intended as an exhaustive deconstruction of the current state of architecture, but they do, in their way, give a sense of the prevailing zeitgeist, from Heikkinen & Komonen's modest prefabricated house prototype (p70), to the luscious excesses of Zaha Hadid's latest trophy museum (p28). Each is a product of its time, yet will also shape the future of architecture and society.

The scale and scope of work

As such surveys are invariably subject to the predilections of their compilers, it may help to give some notion of the processes of selection and taxonomy. Some 70 or so practices were invited to send on-the-boards material for consideration, with the stipulation that projects had to be unbuilt, but viable. Some are on site, some are at the design development stage, but the idea is to present work that will actually be realised at some stage, as opposed to a cavalcade of aborted back catalogues. To instill some manageability to proceedings, projects are loosely grouped into five sections: Culture, Work, Community, Dwelling and Urbanism. These are necessarily flexible categories, but as is the case with the AR's regular themed sections, they throw up some intriguing juxtapositions.

In all their various manifestations, cultural buildings add a vital impetus to civic life, though it should also be recognised that the fetishisation of tediously 'iconic' new galleries, museums and concert halls as a magic salve to wider problems is not necessarily an unmixed good. Though flashy one-liners have a brash appeal, schemes that take a more measured approach, either through the reuse of old buildings, such as Jakob + MacFarlane's City of Fashion & Design in Paris (p30) or the reconstitution of the urban fabric, such as Rafael Moneo's Roman amphitheatre museum in Cartagena (p39), connect more resonantly with the urban and human condition.

'Work' considers how the workplace in its many forms is evolving to embrace technological and organisational change. Niels Torp's offices for Royal Jordanian Airlines in Amman (p42) reprise the sociable internal streets of previous headquarters for SAS and BA, proving that grey prairies need not be the corporate norm, while in Mumbai, Williams & Tsien's business park (p51) is a thoughtful response to climate and culture. 'Community' encompasses a raft of building types that meet different sorts of needs, from the spiritual (Barclay & Crousse's little church for an impoverished Peruvian community, p57) to the sporting (Ofis Architects' revitalised football stadium in Maribor, p59).

Residential projects continue to provide fertile ground for experimentation, both at the scale of individual houses, such as Shigeru Ban's poised coil in the upstate New York landscape (p71), and housing, such as German del Sol's social housing blocks in Madrid (p66), their facades animated by planted pergolas. Finally, 'Urbanism' explores how towns and cities can be reinvigorated through both large-scale development (Bolles Wilson's work in Hamburg, p72) or smaller civic follies (Marks Barfield's kinetic observation tower in Brighton, p79).

Beyond the lure of the visualisation

While this picturesque assemblage of projects has an obvious visual immediacy, it must be regarded as the tip of a great architectural production iceberg. How these seductive visualisations are realised will be the true test of their architects' ingenuity and determination. Unlike the more mercurial arts, such as fashion, architecture is slower and more painstaking and not subject to seasonal whims and caprices. The immensely complex processes of design and construction still take time (even in this era of accelerated gratification) and buildings are expected to have lifespans much longer than most humans.

Yet there are some superficial similarities between the worlds of architecture and fashion, notably in the easy piracy of pioneering ideas. Low rent rip-offs of haute couture architects are depressingly omnipresent. (With a fair wind and the right CAD kit, you too can be Frank Gehry.) And architecture is also subject to fickle barometers of fashionability and public taste. For instance, who would have thought that the more challenging manifestations of British Modernism as epitomised by Goldfinger et al, would end up being hailed as cuddly national treasures. The hulking Trellick Tower is now a Notting Hill address du jour and Patrick Hodgkinson's recently refurbished Brunswick Centre has had its Stalinest central allee made over to accommodate a parade of chi-chi shops. Not quite the heroic brave new world of post-war imagination, but at least it speaks of an architecture robust enough to withstand the vicissitudes of physical and cultural reinvention. How many of the projects shown here will be able to claim that in 50 years' time?
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Title Annotation:comment
Author:Slessor, Catherine
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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Next Article:Zaha Hadid: art museum, Cagliari, Italy.

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