Rowan Atkinson’s Terribly ‘Modern’ House

Another star. Another star architect. This time it’s Rowan Atkinson and Richard Meier designing and building a house together in lovely Oxfordshire. More about the modernist love-in:

Meier’s proposed 9m-high, white steel and glass five-bedroom home, with a two-bedroom guesthouse, had been recommended for refusal by planning officers and branded an ‘ugly space-age petrol station’ and ‘completely inappropriate’ by neighbours.

Love the droll photo of Rowan Atkinson slotted in the middle of the architectural slideshow. Just in case you forgot who he is… perhaps some may think it’s a contemporary shot of Meier himself.

A droll Rowan Atkinson unwittingly appearing in an architectural slideshow

Read the full story at The Architectural Review.

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Monumental Sustainability by Herzog & de Meuron [updated]

Monumental Sustainability by Herzog & de Meuron [updated]

Joining a long line of notable architectural designs emerging from previous Expos and World Fairs, Herzog & de Meuron today released their concept design master plan for the Expo Milan 2015.

Aerial view along the primary boulevard, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Aerial view along the primary boulevard, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)

With an Expo theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, the Herzog & de Meuron master plan deliberately makes a paradigm shift away from the monumental buildings (eg. Eiffel Tower, 1889) or big pointy towers (eg. Space Needle) that characterise past Expos;

To this end, we want to reverse the notion of a monumentality that is associated with physical impact and instead offer a vision of landscape that is monumental in its fragility and natural beauty. [Herzog & de Meuron, architect’s statement]

Described by the architects as a “reinterpreted urban agricultural landscape” the design reminds me of the classic Italian gardens analysed in the book “Green Architecture & The Agrarian Garden” (Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, 1988) that made such an impact on me when I studied landscape architecture. At first glance, the scheme looks like it could be for an anonymous new city in the Middle East but on closer inspection it reflects some romantic elements of Italian cities – Venetian canals and picturesque agrarian scenes in Tuscany – that sit within a rigourous urban structure.

The design is organised around a 1.4 kilometre long boulevard about the scale of the Ramblas in Barcelona or parts of the Champs Elysées in Paris. In the tradition of Roman cities, this primary axis intersects a secondary boulevard that connects the Expo site to the city fabric. A series of strips (perhaps recalling furrows in a field) covered by shade sails cut across the boulevard axis and define the building sites for all the national pavilions. By arranging these strips perpendicular to the axis, each country has an equal frontage or representation at the Expo – despite the varying lengths and topography. Water frames the site in way that recalls the waterways of Venice (check out the boats!), provides sustainability benefits (in part a constructed wetland) as well as way to move around the Expo by boat.

Canal view, Expo Milan 2015. (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Canal view, Expo Milan 2015. (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Boulevard view, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Boulevard view, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Conceptual layers diagram, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Conceptual layers diagram, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Overall aerial view, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Overall aerial view, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Close-up of the boulevard, 'strips' and shade sails, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Close-up of the boulevard, ‘strips’ and shade sails, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
A mini harbour off the canals, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
A mini harbour off the canals, Expo Milan 2015 (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)

Given the strong green theme of the Expo, Herzog & de Meuron are working with the world-renowned sustainability leaders William McDonough + Partners to develop a range of environmental processes that are guided by McDonough’s “cradle to cradle” approach. The diagram below highlights the different parts of the “nutrient system” whereby an appropriate cradle to cradle cycle is assigned to each component; Stuff (1 day to 1 month), Setting (3-30 years), Systems (7-15 years), Skin (20 years), Structure (30-300 years) and Site (eternal).

Expo nutrient system by William McDonough (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)
Expo nutrient system by William McDonough (Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)

Interestingly, Herzog & de Meuron’s bold concept for the 2015 Expo is not exactly their first. In fact, the origins of their de Young Museum (2005) in San Francisco stem from the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894 as the original building was severely damaged by a 1989 earthquake.

In essence, the design for Expo Milan 2015 by Herzog & de Meuron is an urban landscape design framework that provides a monumental yet sustainable approach for an event such as an Expo. Whether or not it makes a long term environmental contribution to the city of Milan, will be revealed in the fullness time as the concept has lofty aspirations;

Just like nature, the Expo will also change over time… it will have provided a foundation for flexible and sustainable development in the entire region, ultimately redefining our long-term approach to the worldwide production of foodstuffs. [Herzog & de Meuron, architect’s statement]


UPDATE 12 April 2015: As the Milan Expo is now only a few weeks from opening, it seems timely to update this 2009 article. Regrettably the “lofty aspirations” of the design team for Expo Milano 2015 remain that – aspirational. By 2011 the entire master plan team of Herzog & de Meuron, Stefano Boeri, William McDonough and Ricky Burdett left the project. Turns out that the organisers weren’t ready to accept the radical new vision of focussing on the issues and content rather than individual pavilions. Go and read the full interview with Herzog in issue no. 32 of uncube. It’s well worth your time.

Francine Houben: Dutch Mountains

Francine Houben: Dutch Mountains

Critical Visions, 2008 RAIA National Conference

With typical Dutch frankness and charm, Francine Houben delivered an interesting keynote surveying a series of Mecanoo projects. Citing her influences as Charles Eames and her background in the Dutch Delta, Houben said she stays connected to the site by “keeping her feet in the clay”. She aims for innovative, human scaled, sustainable projects integrated with the landscape.

Each of the projects presented demonstrated a similar design approach of a folded ground plane or space “carved” from a solid block.

Library light tower, Delft University of Technology (photo by muchachuco)

Continue reading “Francine Houben: Dutch Mountains”

New Books: Siza, Kahn & Contemporary Masterpieces

With the start of another year a distant memory, you’re probably either embroiled in work (for those lucky enough not to have lost their jobs in the recent industry downturn) or perhaps you’re back at university. Either way, there’s always time to think about reading a few quality books.

Three major publishers come to mind when thinking about quality architecture or landscape books; Birkhauser, Phaidon and Thames & Hudson. Birkhauser are usually overpriced (depending on exchange rates) and occasionally include some very average quality images in their books (example) and while Thames & Hudson has published the odd classic, it doesn’t have much of interest coming up anytime soon.
Continue reading “New Books: Siza, Kahn & Contemporary Masterpieces”