So you wannabe a bauberufsjugendlicher?
In a greying profession demonstrating vitality can be mis/read as youthful aspiration. Given that architecture is an old man’s game, any interest in popular culture posits the architect as wannabe teenager. Asides from Ryue Nishizawa from SANAA who picked up a Pritzker at just age 44 albeit on the back of Kazuyo Sejima his 11y older partner, the majority of architects plod a slower career path.
The WHAT_architecture Diamond Pavilion is a relocatable pavilion that embraces the legacy of QE2’s Diamond Jubilee Year through its transparent, cut facetted form. It is the crown jewel that enhances both place and occasion in Winchester’s events calendar. The project follows the 5C characteristics of the diamond trade but transforms cut, carat, clarity, colour and certification into cut (form), clarity (transparency), colour (opacity), change (enclosure, location) and cost. Oh, BTW, it’s inflatable within 30minutes. Think: Bouncy Windsor Castle!
There’s nothing new about bridge housing as this 1793 proposal (by the poignantly named W. Bridges) for a bridge over the River Avon at the Rocks of St Vincent from Sion Row illustrates. This multi-storied bridge was to have been wedged into the Clifton Gorge at Bristol. Above its single arch span, the structure incorporated a chapel, public offices, warehouses and a corn exchange. So the creativity of the 132nnr WHAT_bridge lies not in its architectural proposition but in the discovery of the site in the first place!
The Boeing Everett Factory used to manufacture various planes, including the 747, is the ‘largest building in the world, by volume’. The Welsh Assembly’s brief for this hangar was to design the most compact hangar which could accommodate the world’s largest passenger planes: the Airbus A380, the Boeing 747 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the world’s first mostly composite commercial airplane. In doing so the proposed hangar streamlines large span composite trusses to give the hangar its identity.
Machine a habiter? The Porsche 997 may not yet cost more than your flat but as a mobile status symbol it can partially explain the skewed prominence of high performance vehicles over high performance housing. Architecture costs money. An aspirational vehicle is a cheaper way of acquiring designer living. WHAT_carchitecture re-presents the car as Villa(in).
In the pursuit of awards and glory, fame and fortune, the running of a football club offers a surprising number of parallels to the running of an architectural practice.
In football there is increasingly an interest in how the game is played in as much as the end result (Abramovich’s sacking of Di Matteo was due to the team not playing in a flamboyant style even though it had just won the Champion’s League). It’s about methods as much as about results. Or rather it’s about entertainment.
Similarly in architecture. How a ‘building’ is designed is increasingly as important as the end result, particularly if it involves the public purse. How we play the game, how we win a job, how we build an office engages with professional issues including personnel contracts, team structures, training methods, management, key performance indicators and even how to run competitions constructs the role of team / office, and in doing so, defines the scope, power and influence of The Game of Architecture.
Architects like to picture themselves at the top of the design pyramid – the all-rounders who can design anything from a city to an earring. So why can’t they design their own websites?
I spend a great deal of time negotiating architects’ websites and, at the risk of biting the hand that feeds me, I’m amazed how bad most of them are. If their buildings were designed like their websites, people would forever be getting lost in mazes of corridors or opening doors to find a 10-storey drop on the other side or, like me, banging their heads against brick walls.
Take Renzo Piano. One of the world’s greatest architects, no doubt, but try to use his website and you’ll see what I mean. See how long it takes you to find the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas (one of his lesser known projects). It took me a good 10 minutes to work out there was any info at all. Only by dragging your cursor over the “Renzo Piano Building Workshop” logo do you fleetingly access the secret portal. Then you have to negotiate a succession of moving maps, mystifying symbols and surprise pop-up menus to find anything. It’s like a highbrow version of Tomb Raider. And be careful not to press the back button on your browser or you’re ejected from the whole site and back to square one. Renzo Piano has designed an airport in the middle of the sea for God’s sake – why should a website be beyond him? You’d be better off simply calling them up – but just you try finding the phone number.
It’s unfair to single out Piano – there are countless British architects whose sites are equally poor. Perhaps architects seriously imagine we want to spend half an hour watching Flash animations or maybe it’s a blind spot in their otherwise impregnable design armoury?
I’ll name and shame a few to give you an idea (all fine architects, I hasten to add):
· Zaha Hadid – “Look at a nice picture of me, then good luck finding what you’re after.”
· Will Alsop – A classic architect conceit: organise your work under pretentious titles like “moving”, “healing”, “playing” – as in, “I don’t design mere tube stations and hospitals, you know.”
· David Chipperfield – Tiny, light grey text on a white background is an architects’ favourite for some reason (not legibility). Poorly sighted clients apply elsewhere.
· Heneghan Peng – So minimal, it’s practically a blank screen.
· AHMM – Click the link, go and make a cup of tea, come back and it’ll still be loading (at least on my tired old machine).
· WHAT_architecture - A radical, graphic reinvention of the art of information display which you’ll need a degree in advanced cartography to work out.
· Herzog & De Meuron, Peter Zumthor etc – Of course, if you’re a super-elite practice you don’t have a website at all. If you need to look on the internet, you’re really not worthy to hire them.