Wednesday, 1 August 2012

feature : Ronchamp by Le Corbusier (1954)


If you like contemporary church architecture, you will no doubt already be familiar with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (still in progress), Niemeyer’s Cathedral of Brasilia (1970) and even Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light, Ibaraki, Osaka (1989). Indeed probably more than any other style of building, religious architecture has in the main successfully delivered some of the most adventurous and breath-taking spaces of all time - For me, none more so than Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp.


The historical design driver was the building as a direct channel to god, demonstrating a lightness of material, an overwhelming scale and a rhythmic repetition of colonnades and fenestration. The congregation’s experience is typically a humbling one, fully aware and reminded of the might and power of a higher being. Church benefactors were obsessed with building bigger and bigger buildings, out-doing their neighbours.


Ronchamp, more formerly the Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, breaks all the rules. Le Corbusier designed a dark, almost oppressive interior. A fair-face concrete roof looms overhead, impossibly “floating” atop a wall that expands up to 10 feet thick. Randomly sized rectangular holes are cut at different angles and even on cloudy days the most beautiful streaks of coloured and white light pierce the air. Indeed the entire building is a master class in light, incorporating 3 top-lit internal chapels within an organic plan.


It was an eerie Sunday morning some years ago when we made our architectural pilgrimage to Corb’s masterpiece. We pitched up an hour early for the 8.00am visitor opening and the excitement was palpable. As we walked up the hill, a shroud of mist kept us in suspense. And then it came into view and it hits you – an amazing jewel, serene by simplicity and choice of material, majestic by proportion and scale. Best building I have ever seen.


by Darren Maddison


all photos thanks to : elpanb

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

feature : Vespa GS, Mod Icon

photos thanks to : vespaio


In my misspelt yoof I owned, for a short while, a Vespa GS 150 VS5 Scooter. A Gran Sport. And sporty it was. And cool it definitely was. They even have one on display in MOMA, New York.


Even at that somewhat unaesthetic period in my life, I knew that the design of my scooter was something very special. It obviously possessed Italian flair, but it also had an indefinable extra element. All in all it was the finest means of transport a Mod could possess. It gave one instant street cred.....when one could manage to stay on the thing, that is.


Buses, lorries and cars were enemies enough, but there was one other enemy that almost guaranteed a Mod and his GS were soon parted: dreaded tar and chippings road resurfacing. Being parted from one’s GS and landing on such an abrasive surface, helmet-less, with only a natty nylon mac for protection, was a very painful business, but one which we Mods stoically endured in the name of coolness.  Nothing, not the four-wheeled enemy, nor the tar and chippings enemy, could dim a Mod’s passion for the best scooter around.


As the son of a car-less joiner, oily, mechanical matters were a mystery to me; but I was lucky. I had a friend called Ray (still have), an apprentice toolmaker, who understood all that spannery, greasy stuff, so not only did my GS look great, it went great; not that it needed to go that great to blow away any heavily-accessorised upstarts that came our way. 


We strapped Mods didn’t approve of gratuitous adornments. Decidedly uncool, we thought. My GS had a spare wheel on the back, a fat exhaust pipe, a little tweaking, and that was it. Mine was the grooviest GS going.


by Richard Woollen, guest author


photo thanks to : oldscoot

photo thanks to : scootergo

photo thanks to : modernvespa

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

feature : Dymaxion Car by Richard Buckminster Fuller (1933)


Anyone that has heard of Buckminster Fuller recalls a structural genius who was credited with designing geodesic domes. There’s no doubt Fuller was a clever man, but it took 2 hugely significant events before he embarked on his incredible architectural journey :


Firstly the shock of losing his young daughter to polio and spinal meningitis in 1922, causing severe depression, but eventually resulted in him resolving to conduct “an experiment, to find what a single individual could contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity”.


Secondly the introduction to the Japanese American artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi in 1929 which became the catalyst that sparked a structural revolution.


class="MsoNormal">Coining a new phrase, Dymaxion (said to be the abbreviation of "dynamic maximum tension"), Fuller and Noguchi focused on new designs for practical housing and transportation. Their first project in 1933 was for a revolutionary car. The three-wheeled, fuel-efficient, eleven (!) -seater literally embraced aircraft technology to create a giant tear-shaped, aerodynamic form.


At 6.1m long (twice as long as any conventional car of the time), the Dymaxion could perform a U-turn within its own length. Unfortunately the new concept car got off the worst possible start. The Dymaxion crashed on the way to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, rolling over and killing the driver and seriously injuring 2 passengers. Some believe it was just the excuse many financial backers had been looking for, as they feared the potential of this revolutionary design would kill all other car sales. Some conspiracy theorists even believe that one of the big car manufacturers of the time arranged for the crash to happen !


Of the 3 prototypes built, only the 2nd one survives. And so it was until 75 years later when Norman Foster, who worked with Fuller from 1971 until 1983 and himself a passionate car collector, built his own replica. Racing car specialists Crosthwaite and Gardiner painstakingly reconstructed the car with an ash frame on the chassis of a 1934 Ford Tudor Sedan. In 2011 I was lucky enough to see it at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. It’s a magnificent gesture to a great man and a true lesson in what might have been.


by Darren Maddison




Monday, 9 July 2012

news : lego freestyle by a2d

by Darren & Simone, a2d architecture

RIBA Love Architecture Festival, Lego Store, Bluewater (23/06/2012)

folly : ArcelorMittal Orbit, London by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond (2012)

photo thanks to : londonist

photo thanks to : dezeen

photo thanks to : travel.usatoday

detail : Beijing National Stadium, Beijing by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai WeiWei (2008)

photos thanks to : wikipedia

to: London Aquatics Centre, London by Zaha Hadid (2011)

photos thanks to : architizer

attention : Olympiapark, Munich, Germany by Frei Otto & Guenther Behnisch (1972)

photos thanks to : herrvebah

photos thanks to : michael grobe 

feature : London 2012 Velodrome by Hopkins Architects (2011)

Surprisingly the Olympic site in Stratford only has 4 new, permanent sports arenas.  There’s the Aquatics Centre, the Copper Box (handball, goalball and fencing), the Olympic Stadium and the Velodrome.

The aquatics centre by Zaha Hadid with her trademark and highly anticipated curvy roof is certainly the most unusual and has grabbed everyone’s attention.  The Copper Box (MAKE Architects) is sadly dour by comparison. It probably isn’t and does seem to incorporate some nice detailing, but at first glance it is not going to win any awards.

The Olympic Stadium (Populous Architects) is the most surprising (for the wrong reasons) and the least remarkable of all. Traditionally nearly all Olympic Stadiums in the post-war era have a legacy of becoming white elephants. Knowing this and desperate to avoid a repeat, the Olympic Committee have instead created one ahead of the games ! At £ 431m, what were they thinking ? What happened to the original, organic design by Foreign Office Architects ? It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but at least it was a unique statement when all eyes are on London.

Thank goodness for Hopkins's Velodrome. A relative snip at only £ 81m (less than a third of the Aquatics centre at a reported £269m), the Velodrome was inspired by bicycle design and seats 6,000 people beneath a beautifully pure, double-curving, lightweight cable roof (less than half the weight of any other covered velodrome). Externally clad in western red cedar, drawing parallels to the track inside, the Velodrome serenely sits, almost floats, atop a shallow mound in the quietest corner of the site.

For me, the Velodrome is the one building in the Olympic park that truly inspires. It is well-made, clever by design, incorporates all the usual sustainable features and still manages to be a thing of beauty without the pricetag. What a fantastic permanent home to what will probably be our most successful sport this year.

by Darren Maddison

photos thanks to : architizer

feature : Cool Catalunya

For me Catalunya has become a bit of a modern architecture and design mecca. 


I think it’s generally accepted that when it comes to these arts, Germany would be the first European country that comes to most people’s minds.  But as much as I love the German approach to architecture and design, down on the Mediterranean, to my eternal joy, they’ve come to handle them in a unique, heterogeneous way.


The Catalunyans, passionately independent people that they are, have always brought their own unique approach to aesthetics, from the inimitable Dali and Miro, to the towering Gaudi.  But today it’s a far more measured, sophisticated Barcelona and Catalunya that faces the world, making its presence felt with some of the most accomplished architecture and design one can find.


If I was pushed to pick one architectural practice and one design studio that exemplify what I’m talking about, they would be RCR Arquitectes, based in Olot, a town in the foothills of the Pyrenees, 90 km north of Barcelona, and Liavore Altherr Molina, based in Barcelona itself.


RCR, Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, and Ramon Vilalta, are internationally recognised architects, all three recipients of honorary fellowships by the American Institute of Architects, for wonderfully varied work which ranges from wineries, through libraries, to a house for a carpenter (some chippy!).  Their work rewards intensive architectural scrutiny.


Liavore Altherr Molina, by contrast, are wider known, having won a much-deserved place in the design world, principally with their chairs.  And of the many great designs they’ve produced, I’d have to pick their Catifa chair.  But when it comes to their lamps, for me there is only one; one that is right up there with Magistretti’s Atollo.  Their ESA lamp is a timeless stunner, in aluminium/glass.  Tomorrow’s icon.


So that’s Catalunya.  So cool . . . 


by Richard Woollen, guest author

Library and Elderly People's Centre, Barcelona, Spain by RCR Arquitectes (2007)

photos thanks to : afasia

Les Cols Restaurant, Olot, Girona, Spain by RCR Arquitectes (2006)

Pavilions in Les Cols Restaurant (2006)

House for a Carpenter, Olot, Girona, Spain by RCR Arquitectes (2007)

photos thanks to : ElCroquis

Catifa Chair by Lievore Altherr Molina

photo thanks to : Arper

Foscarini Esa 07 Table Lamp by Lievore Altherr Molina

photo thanks to : AllModern