Posts Tagged ‘David Chipperfield’

Books | Concrete Buildings – What’s Not to Love Now?

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Pierresvives by Zaha Hadid Architects, 2002 > 12, Montpellier, France
Archives, a library and sports department offices for the Hérault region.
The inclined concrete building combined with graphic
windows combine to give an impression of rapid movement

Photo © Iwan Baan



100 Contemporary Concrete Buildings
By Philip Jodidio
Published by Taschen
Hardcover, 2 volumes in slipcase,
730 pp, full colour



Bicentennial Civic Centre by Lucio Morini + GGMPU,
2010 > 2012. Córdoba, Argentina
Ministerial offices with cutout concrete facade
Photo © Leonardo Finotti



In the minds of many, concrete is synonymous with real or fictional, dysfunctional worlds. And, no matter how good they are, novels such as J G Ballard’s Concrete Island, in which his character Robert Maitland, a wealthy architect, finds himself stranded in a section of wasteland in the middle of a relentlessly busy motorway intersection and is forced to survive in his crashed Jaguar on whatever he manages to forage, don’t do concrete’s reputation any favours. Taschen’s non-fiction two-volume boxed set, celebrating the diversity of the best buildings constructed from this versatile, man-made stone, just might.

Editor-in-chief of French art magazine Connaissance des Arts in Paris since 1980 – his numerous published books include the Taschen series on contemporary American, European and Japanese architects, as well as monographs on Tadao Ando, Norman Foster, Santiago Calatrava, and Richard Meier – the books’ author, Philip Jodidio’s reputation and experience lend gravitas to subject matter already weighted down by its long-established association with urban decay and the detritus of past wars and present conflicts, but paradoxically imbues concrete’s history with unexpected lightness and sensitivity, in what must be the most comprehensive study thus far on the subject.

Amongst the global selection of individual architects (except for Foster, probably excluded because concrete is of a lesser importance than glass and steel in his building palette) and architecture practices’ projects, all the aforementioned practitioners are included. Alongside other famous names, such as Luis Baragan, Marcel Breuer, David Chipperfield, Antoni Gaudi, Herzog & de Meuron, Denys Lasdun, Oscar Niemeyer and of course Le Corbusier and Zaha Hadid, the publication also features many architects whose names are probably less familiar, but nonetheless worthy of inclusion.

Roberto Garza Sada Center for Arts, Architecture and Design,
Tadao Ando, 2009 > 12. New Mexico, USA
Part of the University of Monterrey, Monterrey.
The massive concrete
anchor of the building provides ample shade for pedestrians

Photo © Shigeo Ogawa



Jodido’s informative introduction reminds us that the Romans used concrete, but it comes as a surprise to learn that the ancient Egyptians invented and sometimes built with a variation of it. It’s interesting to discover that the concrete rotunda of the Pantheon was constructed without steel reinforcement – the key element that greatly strengthens the substance, allowing it to perform far better under stress, and which has been the backbone of countless concrete structures since the technique was invented by a Frenchman in the mid-1850s. By 1889, we learn that the first reinforced concrete bridge had been built in San Francisco and the construction of the Théâtre des Champs Élysées in Paris in 1913 established concrete – up until then regarded as ‘vulgar’ in certain quarters – as a ‘quality’ building material. Used, misused and abused, it is one that is as ubiquitously employed today in the construction industry, as once were bricks, wood and stone. Jodidio’s book set is about now rather than then, and our picture selections compare three recently-completed very different ‘quality’ buildings of similar scale from around the world, built for very different uses and designed by three very different architectural practices.

Lavishly-illustrated with high-quality photographs and sometimes the building plans of monumental as well as retail and small-scale residential projects, and with mug shots of the majority of the architects, as well as a respectable amount of informative text in English, French and German, you certainly get a lot for the modest price. From a readers’ perspective, however, the very long measure used for the relatively small – 11 or 12pt – condensed, sans serif text, throughout the book, might have been easier on the eye with more leading, or split into two, or even three columns.

Taschen has been known to publish gigantic books, as well as small fat ones. These two are neither excessively large, nor, at 352 pages each, so abnormally thick as to invite comment, but not only is the 100 Contemporary Concrete Buildings package designed to resemble a sturdy and uncompromising block of concrete, it is almost as heavy as one.

All images courtesy Taschen


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Architecture | Greyed Out

Friday, June 3rd, 2011


David Chipperfield Architects’ The Hepworth Wakefield

Wakefield, North Yorkshire

For so many years overshadowed by her contemporary, friend and fellow sculptor, Henry Moore – also from this neck of the wood – it is only just and fitting that Barbara Hepworth has at last been honoured with an eponymously-named gallery in her home town of Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Previously, to see a decent-sized body of her oevre, it was necessary to trek all the way down to the little stone house in St Ives, Cornwall, where for much of her life she lived and worked, building a workshop at the rear and arranging favourite pieces in the modest walled garden. (See The Blog, Edges Rounded, Sharp Points Blunted, Friday, April 9th, 2010).

I had seen versions of 2011 RIBA prizewinners Chipperfield Architects’ proposals for the gallery building in maquette form at his formidable David Chipperfield Form Matters exhibition at London’s Design Museum in 2009. What resembled a modest settlement that might have grown organically over a period of time – built as dwellings or for related functional reasons – of blocky buildings with slanted rooves on the bank of a fast-flowing river that lapped against its foundations, the design of which had been rendered in thin, pale cream card and in pale wood. I was impressed and could not wait to see the finished thing.

Wakefield is trying hard to attract visitors. The new gallery is part of the same initiative as the newly-pedestrianised shopping areas and the once grey tower blocks now capped with ridged rooves and painted in jolly colours. I had not been before and found it a busy, optimistic and bustling town.

Even though, having done my homework, I knew already what to expect, it was quite a shock to be confronted by the flat, mid-grey gallery building, its blocky appearance broken only by the blurry joints of the concrete blocks used inits construction and the insertion of what at first sight appear as randomly-sized and randomly-positioned, black-framed, rectangular windows. The lightness, freshness and optimism of the maquettes is replaced by a brooding, uncompromisingly angular mass of tinted concrete which nods more than a little to the great Japanese minimalist architect, Tadao Ando. The weeping willows along the river bank might well weep. The saving grace, however, is Chipperfield’s elegant pedestrian bridge – which, presumably, because the gallery’s parking space is extremely limited, most visitors are expected to use as access – that stretches from the north side of the river over a gaggle of gaily painted boats to the gallery’s main entrance. Only from this aspect, despite its dour hue, the building beckons and looks approachable.

Inside it is almost a completely different story. The tall walls and ceilings of the gallery spaces are painted white. They flow easily into one another. Hepworth’s sculptures and the city’s collection of paintings are carefully sited to make good use of the natural light that enters via cleverly-designed slits at the edges of the ceilings. As well as bringing light inside the floor deep windows justify their positions by drawing visitors toward them – there is even a bench built into a grey felt-covered niche facing one of them that visitors queue to use.

The majority of Barbara Hepworth’s work can be described as curvy, organic and sensual. On leaving, I found myself wondering what she might have thought about David Chipperfield’s choice of colour and materials for the exterior of this building.

All photographs © Pedro Silmon, 2011. You can see more of my architecture, interior and garden photography at Arcaid Images

Have you been to see The Hepworth Wakefield?
What do you think of it?

Please leave a comment

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