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When Architecture Kills

by Alexander G Rubio Tue Jan 3rd, 2006 at 08:02:35 PM EST

It had to happen. And it will no doubt happen again. It's one of those rare cases where a lack of culture actually turns out to be lethal.

At four in the afternoon on Monday 2. January the flat roof of the ice rink in the Bavarian town of Bad Reichenhall in southeastern Germany collapsed under the weight of a 20 centimeter layer of wet snow, killing at least 11 and trapping God knows how many under masses of broken girders and rubble.

As always when disaster strikes the bereaved ask themselves, "Who is to blame?" Some times no one is. It is one of the facts of the universe, that people have shaped religions to reconcile themselves with, that some times bad things happen to good people for no particular reason.

But then again, some times, as in this case, there is negligence involved, whether it be criminal or not. The builders and the people responsible for the upkeep of the building must take some of the blame, as must the municipal authorities whose job it was to certify the building plans. But there are others, most long dead, who are indirectly culpable too in setting the stage for this, and more subtle, disasters.

This is what I had to say on the subject back in early March of last year. The title of that short article, "The Architecture of Dead Souls", now seems slightly skin crawling:

And this is where I have to go into full on spittle flying rant mode. Whenever you engage the architects behind these monstrosities or the public servants who ordered and approved them in debate, and finally, after adrenaline soaked hours of trying not to strangle them outright, have got them to grudgingly concede that yes, that school building is actually ugly as a shaved bat, they fall back on the final argument: "It's functional."

That's when I feel the last croaking breath of a town councilor on my face as I choke them screaming into their philistine faces: "Explain to me how a flat-roofed rectangular box is functional in bloody Norway. Explain how it's functional to hire a guy to rush up on the roof to shovel snow off it every second day in winter so the roof doesn't cave in and kill all the students, you sad excuse for a civilised human being!"

This goes to the heart of Modernism, and is of a part with its consequences in literature, music and art in general. The old traditional forms that pre-dated it certainly conformed to Sturgeon's Law, that "90% of everything is crud," and had its share of rote and uninspired works. If you bothered to dig them up, most collections of sonnets from a century ago or more would throw up enough sunsets and daffodils to send you into a diabetic coma. We can't all be Petrarch.

But the old traditional forms, in architecture, as well as in poetry, at least vouchsafed a minimum of craft and aesthetic art, even if it did not originate in the artist, or builder, him-/herself. Modernism, outside of the hands of its pioneers and most gifted practitioners carried no such guarantee. When everyone is tasked with reinventing fire and the wheel, even the most talented among us would be lucky to end up with a smouldering sled.

In a letter to fellow scientist Robert Hooke, Sir Isaac Newton, arguably one of the most original thinkers throughout all of human history, wrote, "If I have been able to see farther, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants." Human beings are blessed with a big brain, but very little in the way of innate abilities or instincts. What separates us from the hairless apes we once were is the accumulated learning of the countless generations that have gone before, to which a handful of us might, if we are lucky, add a thing or two. Art and architecture, like all human endeavours, builds on the collective memory of what has been proved to work in the past, and what has not.

Which brings us back to roofs. Once upon a time, in the northern parts of the world, if you said the word "roof", most anyone would automatically, without even considering the reason why, see an image of a sloping roof of one form or another. Now this might, upon a moment's thought, seem self-evident. People living in climates with lots of rain and snow in winter soon discovered that a slanted roof which shed snow and water was a rather good idea. But like many things taken for granted, it wasn't so self-evident after all.

In the aftermath of World War I, bored and disillusioned with the past and all its works, artists and architects not only set out to improve upon the past, but to repudiate it utterly. the Italian futurist Marinetti wanted to fill in the canals of Venice and replace the palazzi with modern factories. While the Swiss architect Le Corbusier wanted to tear down Paris and replace it with "machines for living". Sainte Chapelle, the Louvre, Notre Dame and the irregular nooks and crannies of the Latin Quarter, everything had to go, to be replaced by what we see today in the banlieus so recently convulsed by riots and vandalism.

Not only the frills and ornaments that made even modest buildings of the past psychologically fit for human habitation were deemed not "functional" and were banished, but just about anything not conforming to straight lines and angles was anathema. It was an utopian architecture, and like most utopian schemes it disregarded the realities of the everyday world people live in.

One thing is that people like the frills and ornaments and idiosyncrasies of older buildings, and given the choice, and money permitting, they, and most architects, choose to live in them, and not the "modern" machines of said architects and city planners. The brutalist assault on what they consider kitsch ornamentation and sentimentality betrays a decidedly non-progressive contempt for ordinary people's very humane taste for traditional comforts.

Secondly, these architects, even when they came up with designs that in and of themselves are beautiful and elegant, overlooked the fact that projected out and mass-produced in the real world, their designs would not only be subjected to, but in fact encourage, the use of substandard cement, weak plaster wall segments and cheap, easily corroded steel.

Add to that the fact that these modern buildings, with their pristine flat white surfaces, were inherently high maintenance, with the lack of eaves, to give partial protection against the elements and drain water beyond the walls, meaning that within a year those surfaces would be stained with unsightly brown discolourations, for example. There's no doubt that done on a big enough budget, and scrupulously maintained, modernist architecture can yield striking results, whether in the form of villas for the wealthy or lavish office buildings like Mies van der Rohe's Seagram building on Park Avenue. But its application to whole cityscapes and housing for the poor has wrought little but disaster.

And ugly cheers on ugliness. Even the most callous of us have an abiding respect for beauty. Most of us, except for the mentally disturbed, shrink back from taking a hammer to a work of art, or even the mildly aesthetically pleasing. But the grey cracking concrete manifestations of utopian modern architecture we literally piss on. Of all the arts, architecture is the one we interact with the most. It shapes us and our actions in a very real way. Anyone who has tried to work both in a handsomely appointed office in a noble old building and the drab cubicles of a modern office landscape will know the difference. Surroundings devoid of human sympathy elicits little sympathy and care in return.

The result was, even in more southern climes, where the standard flat roof design is viable, instant slums, inhuman urban wastelands of endlessly reflecting mirrors of ennui and misery. Partly thought up to alleviate social ills, the architecture ended up creating machines for grinding the poor people forced to live in them even further into the ground. And taken up enthusiastically and wholesale, with a willful disregard for local traditions of craftsmanship, by builders in northern towns and cities, the results can even be lethal.

Whatever the original intentions of architects and builders, the French banlieus and schoolchildren crushed under collapsing roofs can hardly be called positive contributions to the progressive cause.

This article is also available at Bitsofnews.com and Daily Kos.

while one might question the inapt  'I-told-you-so' nature of this diary  at this time - it is generally to the point.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jan 3rd, 2006 at 09:51:00 PM EST
I feel it is important to get this issue debated. Not least because my guess would be that quite a number of the readers here are politically active and some even in a position to make decisions on projects like this skating rink.

Hell, in hindsight I myself was part of green-lighting one such athletics hall, that I wouldn't want to set foot in in winter now, when I was involved in local politics.

These are actually things some of us can do something about.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Alexander G Rubio (alexander.rubio@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 3rd, 2006 at 10:02:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was once married into the family of a patriarchal post-Aalto international modernist architect. I've been thru endless evenings of these arguments.

The classic statement comes from Frank Lloyd WRIGHT when confronted by extremely rich patrons phoning from their new FLW home after a rainstorm, complaining that water was dripping from their lovely modernist flat roof onto the dining table.

"Move the table"

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jan 3rd, 2006 at 10:12:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is a book you might find interesting. The history of Asmara in the 1920s and 30s under Italian government is fascinating, as is the resulting architecture.
by asdf on Tue Jan 3rd, 2006 at 10:33:42 PM EST
This ties in rather closely with Chris Kulcyzski's diary on cars today, in so much as in America, at least, the same modernists who made it their mission to destroy livable architecture also made it their mission to destroy the density and diversity of the city.  Seeing such things as walking and street life as anachronisms of the past, they longed to create the perfect of world of complete residential/business/industrial segregation, of grid-like cities connected by highways with no sidewalks, where everything was in its place and everything was accessibly only by cars.

I've grew up in one of the earliest fruits of that vision, suburban Los Angeles, and am now live in a place that seems to have completely ignorged the urban-planning aspects of modernism, Japan.  I have to say, in a lot of ways Japan is a hell of a lot more liveable.

by Zwackus on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 02:31:47 AM EST
Going off on a purely aesthetic tangent, from my own perspective I have to say that at its best I find modernist architecture a lot more interesting than what preceded it. The grand nineteenth century stuff really isn't my cup of tea.  

However, as far as the mass produced stuff goes, the situation is reversed. I currently live in one of the brownstone neighbourhoods in Brooklyn - i.e. the late nineteenth century equivalent of the suburban middle class subdivision or the postwar W. European middle class apartment development. Nineteenth century beats postwar hands down. Walking out into my neighbourhood, especially at night, provides a comforting and uplifting sense of harmony.

Worst place I ever lived for an extended period of time was a 1970's huge Warsaw plattenbau apartment complex - soul deadening ugliness and shoddiness. When I next lived in Warsaw I chose an eighties complex that was simply bland and more importantly right on the edge of the old town and next to a nice old park. The extra daily half hour of crowded trams each way was more than worth it.  Warsaw btw is easily the ugliest capital I've ever seen, but at least the communists decided to faithfully rebuild a replica of the old town.  I only wish the Germans had done the same in their cities.

Geneva has unfortunately made a determined effort over the past several decades to replace the pleasant nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings on its right bank with 'functional' modern stuff that ranges from ugly to mildly annoying, characterless non-descript.

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 03:18:34 AM EST
To be fair, a lot of the mediocre 20th centruy stuff comes from the postwar period when urgent necessity was a rather good excuse.  lot of the harmonious old stuff was destroyed in the war, sadly, whole neighboroods or towns- worth of it.

An interesting comparison for architecture is between London and Paris, where the constraints on the appearance of the buildings are rather different (stringent height restrictions in Paris, plus "facadisme, i.e. the obligation to keep the outside as it was when refurbishing/tearing down a building). London has much more original architecture (from my uninformed point of view), but both cities have their share of ugly  and beautiful stuff (whether individual buildings or streets/blocks).

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 03:48:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To be fair, a lot of the mediocre 20th centruy stuff comes from the postwar period when urgent necessity was a rather good excuse.  lot of the harmonious old stuff was destroyed in the war, sadly, whole neighboroods or towns- worth of it.

I'd buy that if it weren't for the fact that the European city I'm most familiar with is Geneva. Wealthy and no wartime destruction - yet the housing is just as ugly as in Germany. Hell, even the sixties and seventies era buildings on Park or Fifth on the Upper East Side are hideous - and that's carefully built stuff for the wealthy.

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 11:19:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Worst place I ever lived for an extended period of time was a 1970's huge Warsaw plattenbau apartment complex - soul deadening ugliness and shoddiness.

Yeah right, and you only lived in them when they were new!

By the way, Marek, you are just the right person to ask this.

What would be the best English word to use for Plattenbau? I am always confused what to use when talking of one in English.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 05:19:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually I lived there in the plattenbau monstrosity about a dozen years ago - they were roughly twenty years old and already in bad shape.  Remember, I was born in the US and grew up in the US and Switzerland. When I travelled to Poland for summers and Christmas I mostly stayed either in my grandfather's Krakow apartment - a really nice early twenties bourgeois type place right between the old town and the castle overlooking the park that rings the old town. Or I spent time in the mountain resort of Zakopane where my family has had a vacation home since the thirties. Or on my grand aunt's small farm - very small and primitive house but it had a certain taste of exoticism and adventure for a middle class Western kid like me - look, no running water, draw the bucket up from the pretty well :)

I have no idea what to call a Plattenbau in English, I generally just say 'housing project' though that isn't an ideal translation it does work better than a literal one - 'large concrete slab building'.  The sixties and seventies era was the worst period for 'architecture' in Poland (badly designed hideousness would be a better term). The stalinist era buildings are ugly but at least they're solid. The eighties stuff is unattractive but nowhere near as bad as what preceded it.

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 11:15:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When I visited Krakow some summers ago, I went to have a look at the Nova Huta suburb. A Stalinist town build in the fifties to provide housing for the workers at the disastrous Nova Huta steelwork that Stalin had placed near Krakow in order to give the academic city a solid proletariat (in spite of the lack of steel and coal near Krakow).

I expected this Stalinist vision of a "town of the future" to be a completely drab and nightmarish zone of socialist concrete blocks, but to my surprise, I found that what I saw actually compared very favorably to the suburban landscapes that exists around Copenhagen.

There was something quite sad about realizing that even Stalinist visions of the future constructed cheaply in a poor country after the world war, looked less hopeless than the functionalistic model neighborhoods constructed by a fairly rich welfare state in the sixties.

Here's a picture of Høje Gladsaxe in Copenhagen, build in 1968:

And one from Nova Huta:

Biilmann Blog

by BobFunk (bobfunk@clanwhiskey.net) on Thu Jan 5th, 2006 at 06:42:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's fifities socreal ('socialist-realist'), not seventies Plattenbau. The latter looks like your Høje Gladsaxe, only made of lower quality materials, larger concrete plates (c. 3m x 3m) and much more of these towers in one group.

On the other hand, I must note that I was once directed to the (now disappeared) homepage of an American family in Budapest, written for other expats, who lived in one of Budapest's Plattenbau buildings (one of the better) - and wrote that they liked the place, and wondered why Budapesters are of such low opinion of them! (They came from Chicago, I wonder if anyone can comment on downtown living space there.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jan 5th, 2006 at 07:26:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually I lived there in the plattenbau monstrosity about a dozen years ago - they were roughly twenty years old and already in bad shape.

Late night confused mind... sorry. However, until the end of communism, there was still some effort to maintain these houses - except for East Germany, wherever I saw them, save for a few replaced doors they usually look much worse now 12 years later.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jan 5th, 2006 at 07:17:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent diary!

A regular architecture blogging series on ET would be great (margouillat said he might do it, but was swamped by work for a while. Others welcome, obviously!)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 03:50:10 AM EST
Thank you for the compliment.

As to a regular series on architecture, I would probably be the wrong person to commit to a regular anything. I guess you know me well enough by now to know that I would digress, ramble and jump off the tracks 'til what started out being about architecture ended up debating the importance of Newfoundland cod fisheries to European colonialist expansion... ;)

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Alexander G Rubio (alexander.rubio@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 04:33:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Kudos for mentioning Sturgeon's Law, which has long been a guiding light for me.

There is even a Sirocco's addendum: 5 percent of everything, except country & western music, rules.

I guess brutalist architecture is another candidate for exception status. A case in point is the wretched Chateau Neuf in Oslo, in which I must have set foot hundreds of times, and loathed incrementally more for each visit.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 08:29:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Younger, when I was still in school, at the very last week of the school before graduation, we saw taped TV programs with titles like:
"Engineer is human too"
"Engineering failures"

From these educational programs I learned terms like CAD (Computer Aided Disaster), why you MUST triple safety factor value and why it does make sense to estimate achieved values on your head...

by Nikita on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 08:32:12 AM EST
There is another warning on the reliance on initially cheap novel building methods reported in Leeds.

A pioneering block of flats in Leeds city centre has been evacuated amid fears it could collapse in high winds.

The 46 tenants of Caspar Apartments in North Street, built in 2000, must leave by 14 January. Most have already gone.

The block was built for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to provide affordable homes for single people, using a pre-assembled flat-pack design.

But a report by engineering firm Arup said the design left it vulnerable in bad weather and major work was needed.

Japanese construction company Kajima built the 46 single people's flats using prefabricated apartments assembled in a factory and then put into place by cranes on site.

A spokesman for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: "Although a well received development and very popular in other respects, the innovative method of construction for this development is creating serious difficulties.

"This form of construction was very much at the cutting edge of new techniques and the results have been very disappointing indeed.

"We are, therefore, arranging for everyone to move out and will be paying them compensation accordingly.

"We are very upset at the inconvenience and concern these problems are causing to residents and to ourselves but recognise that the builders are taking their responsibilities seriously.

"The wider lesson we have learnt from this experience is that it does not pay to be too ambitious in pioneering modern methods of construction which are now becoming more fashionable."

by Londonbear on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 09:46:20 AM EST
I second you. You make me try here to discuss again a pet idea of mine, which get always a rough rebuttal from my friend architects when I try to explain it to them...

I personally can't stand anymore these uninspired modern steel / glas buildings we see everywhere. I believe that the "modern" standard building is successful not because everybody like it , but mainly because its repetitive geometrical motives are much easier to design/ to build: no craftsmanship needed, only a "geometra" (as in the italian "casa da geometra"), some not so skilled labor, and very short lead times.
Proof is that some exceptions like the extremely complicated buildings like Guggenheim Museum of Frank Gehry are just that, exceptions: nobody can afford it, and few people can execute it.
Here come my pet idea: if you don't have stonecarvers anymore, use the computer people you have aplenty. I am convinced that some technologies of the mechanical engineering field I came across in my professional life could be scaled up for giving back to the architects the freedom of fine non repetitive details, curves and 3D characterisation of the facade, with reasonable extra-costs and the building skills and materials of today. But every time I try to explain how, my friends architects laugh at me: No way it happens!
I am said that if such a facade would cost say only 5% more than today Mondrian-but-please-without-the-expensive-colors alike fronts, nobody would pay for it. Such innovation is not needed, I can forget my ideas. No problem with the mirror walls everywhere in the city, everybody is happy, no need to change.
But we pay for riots or city-dwellers depressions...

La répartie est dans l'escalier. Elle revient de suite.

by lacordaire on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 05:03:35 PM EST
Yes, that is the sad part, that modern technology and materials could be applied to a better standard of building than we see around us, while still being affordable. But certain paradigms tend to stick. The box has stuck around for a long time now and has become almost synonymous with modern architecture, to such a degree that people have difficulty imagining anything else.

As you rightly say, I think partial salvation lies in computer rendering tools, which makes it easier to experiment with other styles at a low cost, and opens the door to more artistically minded architects.

That may be part of the problem that the unavoidable specialisation of professions and disciplines through the years has broken the ties that once bound architects to the craftsman/artist profession they were once a part of. Remember that the great architects of the Renaissance were also painters, sculptors and whatnot besides designing buildings.

Of course, in this case a remedial course in structural engineering might be in order for the architect too...

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Alexander G Rubio (alexander.rubio@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 05:43:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So what do you think of the pretty original buildings in London, like the Lloyds headquarters (done I think by the same guy as Beaubourg in Paris, his name escapes me right now, with all the "entrails" on the outside) or the Gherkin, or a number of others?

And what do you think of La Grande Arche in Paris?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 05:53:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Loyds Building would be Richard Rogers if I remember correctly, who, as you said did the Beaubourg with Renzo Piano. Of the two, I must say I prefer the Loyds headquarters, as a building, but find it less well integrated with its surroundings than the Centre Pompidou. It's like something out of "Bladerunner" fell out of the sky and crushed an old bank while threatening to devour the neighbouring ones when it's done digesting.

As regards the arch, I'm conflicted. It does fit the surroundings though.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Alexander G Rubio (alexander.rubio@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 06:07:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That the inspired part... and the expensive one. The Arch was expensive for sure, and I don't know for the the Lloyd's, but I could have added The Gherkin, where every single piece must have the right curvature, no standards...
That is exactly what I intend with computer value added instead of computer value substracted.

La répartie est dans l'escalier. Elle revient de suite.
by lacordaire on Thu Jan 5th, 2006 at 04:20:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I completely agree!

However, I would like to see margouillat's retorts :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 05:16:32 PM EST
Gee whizz ! I'm off to rest a bit... And I come back here to find this diary that would take pages to answer properly!!!
So I'll do it short :-)
Of course, I don't agree with the general direction of it, while I do agree on the "results" !
I feel there are several facts mixed up in some of those popular beliefs ( not to hurt anyones feeling, but, I do hear that often :-) )!

Chapter one:
First point: Has modernism (as a movement) killed roofs ? (I would say no)...
Second point : Does modernism (as a movement) still exist ? (I would also answer no)...

Chapter two:
First point: Who, today, decides of a building (look, shape, form, program, usefulness, performance, etc...) ? Certainly not the Architect, but either a jury (mostly political people) for public buildings, or the banker (hello Jérôme :-) ) for the private ones...!
Second point : Building costs have been reduced to a sheer minima. Contractors have eaten economically each other and are reduced to a handful that makes the "law" (or you don't have your building done!).

Chapter three:
First point: CADs and other nifty devices just don't really help, as most users don't even "see" in space. It's more about having the best "library", ending, of course to the "famed" boxes !
Second point : At IMAGINA in Cannes, at the end of january there will be a debate with Peï and Piano on the importance of line in architecture (le "trait" in french, which was the ancestor of the descriptive), and of course what it has become in computers!

Chapter four:
First point:  In a time where each beam is controlled six times by various people, the knowledge of structural engineering is truly very low. Most engineering offices can't even calculate a shell (they don't do it at school anymore), as such structures doesn't go in the structural program that knows only about porticos !
Second point : Most people (architects and engineers) often get mixed up with scale ! Think of the cable of the Golden Gate bridge... When there is wind and load (trucks) you can see it wobble as a mere string. But if I give you three meters of the same cable, you could use it as a post ...

There are bad architects and bad architecture. I've fought against the glass/steel box design in countries that didn't even produce steel nor glass ! Each time such a design won the contest.. Because that's exactly what the client wanted.. A no-nonsense office building, showing wealth and swiss watch precision for a reasonable price!
Most want a Ferrari for the price of a Twingo, and they'll find someone to draw it (I don't say design!) and often don't even care if it will last long, or if will cost fortunes to tend.

There are exceptions, of course, but we are surrounded by buildings that carries no culture.
And that is only about buildings, now think a bit about urbanism, and who designs your future way of living in a city !!!
Sustainability, even if it is sometimes a trend, is a hope for many architects, as it allows for a better designing as for built materials.

About the skating ring catastrophe, I haven't seen the building before seeing the shambles on TV... I'm just surprised that the German rules on snow overload weren't applied. I think they were, and that the building had another structural failure (?) before giving in under the snow... I'll ask around !

Sigh.. And I thought I would "heat" a bit by lurking gently and lazily for the new year ! :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Wed Jan 4th, 2006 at 08:53:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's all? No defense of concrete?!?!?!? :-)

Incidentally, I first heard of this when I talked with my mother, who has a diploma as a structural engineer (tough never worked as one). She says even flat roofs have to be designed for local maximum snow in 100 years times 1.4, so she guesses this was either record snow or material failure.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jan 5th, 2006 at 07:36:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Eh,eh.. Concrete is not so "modern", and Versailles has also glass windows :-) It's not the material but how we use it !

In Avoriaz (an "old/new" ski resort) there are parts with flat roofs but then, Labro & Orzoni designed a wooden flooring, 60cm over the flat roof to keep the snow of the roof.
When freezing, the snow doesn't damage the existing waterproofness, and when temperature is rising, it allows for slow melting...
In between it allows for a big air insulation... :-)

It's always a matter of thinking right and mostly about common sense !

Happy new year everybody :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Thu Jan 5th, 2006 at 10:33:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
May I ask what you think of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the National Gallery in Helsinki? Two of my favorites, but I won't take offense if you feel otherwise!

Happy new year back at you.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Thu Jan 5th, 2006 at 10:39:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you mean the Kiasma by Steven Holl ???

While The Guggenheim in Bibao seems to be Gehry's ban (He is "stuck" with this style, as clients wants "the same"...), it is also a great building.
Not so because of it's outside looks, but mostly because of it's interior space and light that serves well the different expositions...

I like also his wooden ceiling ( that changes form in function of acoustics wanted) in the Disney music center...

But... I do wonder why he sticks to old techniques (I beams and such) when he could play with shells structures ?

Of course the ex American center in Paris was a failure... And is now rehabilitated in a center for cinema...
As that sort of free play with form needs always a perfect building technique and very good materials (expensive usually), as it doesn't support mediocrity or else, the building will get ruined in time !

I don't know well the Kiasma... But the building seems sounder :-)
I regret that it was not a Finnish architect that was chosen, as they usually have the "knack" to play with mixing natural materials on site with more contemporary ones... I must go there one of these days :-)

It's difficult for me to critique that sort of "free sculpture" architecture, as I feel it's searching form for form !
While it can be a success for some buildings generating their own site (as Bilbao), I feel it "ages" quite quickly as a "style". And my belief is that Architecture should not wan through time, even if it's functions changes...!

Peter Cook's Kuntshaus in Graz is a good example of dichotomy between the original idea and the construction technique (wether you like the "Ocarina" or not :-) ). It's a "Star war" form, built like a movie prop, making it very complicated in it's details...

The old saying goes as: To have a good architecture, you need a good client and a good architect... I would add: and also a good engineer that can discuss freely with the architect- before - the first drawings !
:-) :-) :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Thu Jan 5th, 2006 at 01:29:07 PM EST
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