By John Fraser - Monday, April 29, 2013 - 0 Comments
John Fraser on the drama behind Canadian architect Jack Diamond’s St. Petersburg masterpiece
Watching the Toronto architect Jack Diamond deal with the final details of his remarkable new opera house—the Mariinsky II, as it is dubbed—in the beautiful but historically complicated Russian city of St. Petersburg is to observe a lion in winter: subdued (somewhat), at bay (for the moment), but still dangerous when he doesn’t get his way. And still determined to sign off on a building that may mean more to him than any he has done before.
Famously particular (and touchy), Diamond is the master architect of many successful public and private buildings around the world and all across his own country, but especially of performing arts houses. There are seven at current count and they have all earned his architectural firm considerable fame for delivering elegant but unostentatious exterior premises that are marvels of ingenuity inside because they actually work acoustically, in performance, as well as leaving no patron soured with a bad seat.
Through five years of relentless and often very frustrating effort in Mother Russia, Diamond has learned that to get a major building project finished there—especially a controversial project still under intense scrutiny and criticism just days before its official unveiling on May 2—you need: a) a friend at the top; and b) strong friends on your team protecting your back. You can’t do it alone and the one without the other is not enough.
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Monday, January 14, 2013 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
Check out the starchitect-designed structures available for your next vacation
Frank Lloyd Wright called it Still Bend, because the nearly 3,000-sq.-foot house overlooks a marsh on the East Twin River in Wisconsin. Completed in 1940 and funded by local businessman Bernard Schwartz, the house has a main floor unfettered by walls, which measures 63 feet from front door to back wall. It also boasts an interior balcony and a soaring, two-storey ceiling typical of Wright’s designs.
Michael Ditmer, co-owner of what is now called Bernard Schwartz House, wants to share that experience. For US$295 to $425 a night, depending on the season, you can rent the four-bedroom house and warm yourself in front of one of the three fireplaces centred around a massive brick chimney, including one in the outdoor sunken court. Continue…
By Alex Ulam - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
So long, Frank Gehry. The design world turns on ‘starchitecture’ and its excesses
Several days before the opening of the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, the most important architectural exhibition in the world, a middle-aged New York architect, Tod Williams, was shuffling around inside a rustic building adjacent to the Venice’s Arsenale, a massive brick complex several city blocks long where the Venetians formerly built their ships. It was a stifling hot day and Williams, bare-chested and dressed in a pair of baggy shorts, was arranging gray wood boxes contributed by several dozen leading figures from the architecture world.
Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, winner of architecture world’s top award, the Pritzker Prize, had sent in a box topped with a series of small glass bottles filled with paint pigments. American architect Brad Cloepfil had filled his box with carved tree branches. Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam’s box has had a collage hanging from it that included doll limbs and black feathers that almost didn’t make it into the show because it was temporarily impounded by Italian customs.
It was no accident that architectural models were not on display. “We said, ‘Do anything you wish,’” said Williams, “But fill it with something personal, something that is not architecture.”
By Scaachi Koul - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 10:27 AM - 0 Comments
The Canadian architect’s design faces setbacks as congress refuses to greenlight funding
A proposed memorial for former U.S. president and five-star general Dwight “Ike” D. Eisenhower has stalled after months of controversy, and a Canadian architect is at the centre of it.
Frank Gehry, 83, was initially asked to design Ike’s Washington memorial. Few, however, appear pleased with his designs. The Toronto-born architect wanted to focus on Eisenhower’s humble roots, which bothered conservatives who said that would diminish the legacy he built up during his later years. His family agreed.
Gehry then wanted to erect metal mesh screens around the four-acre plot to hide the drab neighbouring office buildings. Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan said the screens brought to mind the Iron Curtain, comparing the memorial to those created for Marx, Engels and Lenin. “That was the point at which I could have left the stage,” said Gehry. Perhaps he should have.
Last week, a congressional committee nixed nearly $60 million in funding for the memorial, reflecting growing concern over the controversies. Gehry, however, is pushing ahead. Hope is not lost, says Chris Kelley Cimko, spokesperson for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission. After all, she says, “It took some 40 years to build the Roosevelt memorial.”
By Simona Rabinovitch - Friday, December 23, 2011 at 12:26 PM - 0 Comments
Visual artist Daniel Arsham created cloud-inspired decor for Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performance
Thousands of of coloured balls, connected to one another to form giant clouds, fill half of contemporary artist Daniel Arsham’s Brooklyn studio. The other half of the open space is occupied by Snarkitecture, the collaborative art and architecture practice between Arsham and architect Alex Mustonen. “A lot of my work is about manipulating architecture and causing it to do things it’s not supposed to do,” explains Cleveland, Ohio-born Arsham. As an example, he cites the dressing rooms he designed in 2005 for Dior Homme’s Los Angeles boutique, which erode the surface of the walls.
As for the cloud formations, they will be suspended in Manhattan’s Park Avenue Armory to serve as decor for the final six performances of the renowned Merce Cunningham Dance Company (Dec. 29 through 31). Once the show is over, the company will disband in accordance to the wishes of its founder Merce Cunningham, who died in 2009 at age 90.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, August 19, 2011 at 5:47 AM - 7 Comments
I hope no one will be offended if I take a moment to publicize the design submissions for the new home of the Royal Alberta Museum. Maclean’s is aware that the R-word is irksome to many Canadians; in the contemporary parlance of sexual abuse treatment, it can be a “trigger” for unwelcome memories of colonial worthlessness. But we are stuck with the accepted name of the RAM, so I must trust in the reader’s courage and forgiveness.
The architecture buff will quickly perceive that the province asked four builder-led teams to submit designs for museums and instead ended up, unaccountably, with what look like leftover plans for office buildings. One supposes it is still impossible for a museum façade to declare its purpose in the aggressive classicist manner of the Field Museum in Chicago. But was it too much to ask for the building to be visible at all? Ellis-Don has hidden its imaginary structure behind sheets of mesh and inexplicable metal forests that can provide neither shade nor shelter.
Graham-Jardeg, by contrast, got Richard Meier to design something that looks like a giant industrial refrigerator. Ledcor basically wrote “MUSEUM” on the side of a pile of boxes; somehow, looking at the actual building, one almost feels there has been a mistake, and that the words should read “UNCHALLENGING COMMUNITY COLLEGE”. PCL’s different arrangement of boxes plays up the rooftop garden element while somehow remaining both sinister and cockeyed as imagined from street level. The teeth, certainly, do not help. Public buildings are always an expression of power, but the postmodern suspicion of right angles often introduces a slight element of dementia that makes one crave a soothing dose of Euclid.
It is hard to find anything to love in these drawings, and the locals aren’t having much luck. But maybe violence and political uncertainty have driven Edmontonians to unfounded premature despair, and other Canadians—Canadians with tourist dollars who might one day patronize this museum—will react more warmly. At least we are unlikely to end up in the predicament Calgary faces with its Glenbow Museum—a marvelous institution in its own right, but one torn between heritage and contemporary-art mandates while it struggles for oxygen in an unfriendly concrete caisson.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 1 Comment
A 300-m-tall skyscraper will soon be constructed in the Taiwanese city of Taichung
A 300-m-tall skyscraper complete with eight propeller-powered, Zeppelin-like elevators that spiral around its exterior will soon be constructed in the Taiwanese city of Taichung. Dubbed the Taiwan Tower, the behemoth is supported by eight spires with individual glass and concrete “pods” sprinkled between them for living and office space. It’s meant to look like a gigantic tree, a design inspired by the shape of the Taiwanese island itself, while the bizarre elevators are supposed to resemble floating platforms in video games, which have become an integral part of Taiwanese culture.
The tower, set to begin construction in 2012, was designed by Dorin Stefan, a Romanian architect. He included a geothermal plant, natural ventilation, solar cells, wind turbines and a rainwater collection system in the blueprints to make the building environmentally friendly, as well as space for offices, apartments, and a museum. Taiwan’s government, which is funding the project, hopes the concept will be a draw for tourists, who can view Taiwan’s third largest city from observation decks built into the bottom of the balloon elevators.
By Anne Kingston - Monday, November 29, 2010 at 3:20 PM - 1 Comment
Koi fish coordinated with the woodwork? Barbra Streisand’s epic home reno out-Marthas Martha Stewart.
A few years ago Barbra Streisand was in crisis: the stonework on her primary residence was a tad too pale. So she turned to America’s doyenne of home betterment who, of course, had a solution. “Martha Stewart told me that if I brushed it with cow urine and buttermilk it would turn darker,” Streisand writes in her new book My Passion for Design, a glossy coffee-table tome that chronicles the painstaking creation of her four-house Malibu compound—and gives new meaning to the term vanity press.
The legendary performer, said to insist that rose petals be floating in the toilet bowls of her hotel rooms, felt sullied by the thought of bovine pee. So she ignored Martha’s advice, choosing instead to plant ivy and climbing roses to mask the offending rocks.
Streisand is famous for her obsession with detail (before appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2003, she insisted a black microphone be painted white so as not to clash with her ivory Donna Karan outfit). Her insistence on privacy is equally legendary, which makes the arrival of this over-the-top show-all so surprising. In 2003, she slapped an environmental preservation group with a US$50-million lawsuit for uploading an aerial photograph of her former clifftop estate. The case was thrown out but gave rise to the “Streisand effect,” the term used to describe the viral publicity generated when someone tries to quash online information.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
A number of Canada’s top architects have been leaving their mark on the American capital
Washington likes its buildings imposing, their walls stone-solid—and the activities inside concealed and guarded 24-7. The city’s century-old height limit preserves the iconic views of the Capitol at the cost of imposing a bulky and boxy shape on most large buildings, from concrete government complexes to cookie-cutter condo developments. But lately, a stream of Canadian architects have been bringing a different touch.
On Oct. 25 the American capital will see the gala opening of the biggest new cultural complex since the Kennedy Center opened in 1971: the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theatre, built on the Washington waterfront by Vancouver-based Bing Thom Architects. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle are the honorary chairs of the event.
The 200,000-sq.-foot complex is in many ways a very un-Washington building. Instead of imposing, it is playful. Instead of opaque, it is wrapped in a curving wall of 35,000 sq. feet of transparent glass. In the place of neoclassical columns that adorn so much of the city’s official architecture, there is a decidedly West Coast feature: five-metre wood columns—made by B.C.-based StructureCraft Builders out of Parallam, a material engineered from strands of the province’s Douglas firs—that rise around the building like streamlined totem poles supporting an expansive cantilevered roof. To build the unique structure, the architects said they had to prove the material’s strength and fire resistance, and get a local building code amendment. The elliptical beams, a metre in diameter, taper as they near the floor—making the columns seem lighter, as if giant trees had put on ballet shoes and risen up en pointe. “I’m very proud of it because we need to look at using wood in new ways,” said Bing Thom in an interview, adding, “We have this memory of the timber war with the U.S.—this is the Canadian revenge.”
By Josh Dehaas - Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Kim Jong Il has been lending out cheap labourers and architects to build monuments, palaces—even football stadiums—for leaders across Africa.
North Korea may be poor, but it has no shortage of cheap labourers and architects. In fact, Kim Jong Il has been lending them out to build monuments, palaces—even football stadiums—for leaders across Africa. In return, he’s getting foreign cash: the construction projects may have earned the country US$160 million since 2000 alone, the South Korean news service Daily NK reported.
By Paul Wells - Monday, May 24, 2010 at 11:11 PM - 16 Comments
I was distracted last month when the Musée National des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ), which gives visitors to Quebec City a well-assembled but very limited selection of prominent Quebec paintings through the ages, announced Dutch star-chitect Rem Koolhaas as the winner of an international competition to choose the architect who will dramatically expand and reboot the museum. It’s a big project. The international character of the competition was unusual for Quebec. In reading up on the selection of Koolhaas, I stumbled across a resource all architecture geeks will want to know about.
That’s the L.E.A.P at the Université de Montréal, the Laboratoire d’Etude de l’architecture potentielle, or Laboratory for the Study of Potential Architecture. It’s based on a simple, elegant idea: architecture competitions can be a powerful analytical tool for studying trends in building design, because of course they tell you what got built but also what got considered and rejected. With enough cases in the database, researchers can start to measure, not just guess, which esthetic, economic and political considerations go into the choice of a given design in a given era.
It’s L.E.A.P. that allows us to see, not only Koolhaas’s design, but those of the architects he beat. The MNBAQ competition page (in English; sometimes I cut you guys some slack) is here; it shows, not only dozens of plans and drawings for Koolhaas’s design, but similar amounts of detail on the other 14 designs in the competition. The project criteria seem designed to drive any architect crazy: the 1933 museum was already expanded in 1991 to bridge to an 1861 prison a few dozen metres away. These three elements, built decades apart, are set well back from the Grande Allée. The new building isn’t next to the other two. It’ll be right out on the Grande Allée, connected by underground tunnels to the rest, serving as a face and front gate for the whole jumble. Koolhaas’s design is luminous and boxy:
By Brian Bethune - Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
An architect’s lofty vision for a structure often doesn’t survive once real people use it
Form follows function, or so says the modernist architectural maxim. Rubbish, replies Edward Hollis, an architect himself and author of The Secret Life of Buildings. Function never stands still. Architects may think they’re erecting lasting structures that can fulfill only one purpose, but the recalcitrant humans who actually use buildings, Hollis argues gleefully, waste no time at all in altering builders’ visions to suit their own ever-evolving needs.
Nor is this some evil wrought on perfection. The things generations of inhabitants have done to those defining buildings have created “something rich and strange,” a history in stone that captures the rise and fall of empires, Hollis convincingly argues in his survey of 13 iconic Western structures. They range from the Parthenon, the Platonic ideal of the perfect building (at least for centuries of aesthetes) to Las Vegas’s Venetian Resort Hotel (no one’s definition of the ideal).
Hollis’s tiny biographies show that the best buildings have the best stories, laced with heroism, sex, greed and murderous death. Take his discussion of Athens’s fifth-century-BCE Parthenon, named after the virgin (parthenos in Greek) goddess Athena. Hollis subtitles the chapter “In which a virgin is ruined.” It’s been a long-drawn-out affair. Eight centuries after it was built, Christians turned the Parthenon into a church, reversing its orientation, so that the back became the front; 11 centuries after that, Muslim Turks turned the church into a mosque and—less forgivably—a military storage depot as well. In 1687, Venetians bombarding the Turks hit the gunpowder store, causing an explosion that rained marble shards for over a kilometre.
By Paul Wells - Friday, September 25, 2009 at 3:17 PM - 15 Comments
My short article in last week’s issue, arguing that Los Angeles architect Zoltan Pali should build the Cantos Music Foundation’s new National Music Centre in Calgary, was roundly ignored by the jury, who preferred Portland architect Brad Cloepfil and his Allied Works Architecture.
Oh well. I interviewed Cloepfil for my piece, and enjoyed our conversation. He was pretty frank that he had only had time, under the short deadlines of the competition, to come up with a few big ideas: a series of parallel towers to house the centre’s various mandates (music, education, performance); a shell that reflects elements of the region’s geography (to my eye, you sort of have to squint to see that); and, most encouraging, a ground-up, from-the-start collaboration with the multimedia specialists at Portland’s Second Story.
So Cloepfil’s proposal was only a first draft. Elizabeth Diller, another shortlisted architect, told me that’s very often the case: you throw out a few ideas, and then if you win the competition you start the serious work, often based on a closer study of the site, of deciding what three-dimensional conclusions flow from those ideas. The Cantos jury, then, was making a leap of faith in picking this guy. At least it’s not a timid choice.
By Paul Wells - Friday, July 17, 2009 at 11:16 PM - 14 Comments
An extraordinary event next Thursday in Calgary deserves national attention. In a public show at the Grand Theatre, five architects will present their proposals for the Cantos Music Foundation’s new national music centre, which will be built on the site of the old King Eddy Hotel in Calgary’s East Village.
Cantos has been active in Calgary for several years, and it’s kind of a bunch of things at once. It houses easily the most complete collection of historical keyboard instruments in Canada, from historic and replica harpsichords and fortepianos, to a big old movie-house organ with drums and noisemakers attached, to the piano Elton John used to write Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and assorted electronic keyboards. It’s a peformance space and it organizes musical events in the broader Calgary community. It has music-education programs. And it’s the new home of the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame collection.
But that’s just the beginning of what comes next. My conversations with the people at Cantos suggest they want to move, in one great big step, from being an important Calgary organization to being a significant national institution. The amazing list of architects who’ll be in town pitching their wares on July 23 gives a hint of the scale of that ambition. How’s this for a short list:
• Jean Nouvel, winner of the 2008 Pritzker Prize and designer of more kind of crazy-wonderful buildings than you can shake a stick at, including the Abu Dhabi Louvre and the new Paris Philharmonie. Continue…