By Alex Ulam - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 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 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: