Posts Tagged ‘Herzog & de Meuron’

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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The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier



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Cars | Art-of-the-States

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Sotheby’s
Art of the Automobile
Sotheby’s Manhattan Galleries
New York, USA
Exhibition: 18th – 21st November, 2013
Sale: 21st November

Pistonhead: Artists Engage the Automobile
1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, Florida, USA
3rd – 8th December, 2013

A couple of years ago, during one of her TV talk shows, American media proprietor, actress, producer, and philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey handed out little sealed boxes to each of her 275 member audience. Deafening shrieks, screams and laughter filled the air when, invited by her to open them, each box contained the keys to a brand new German VW Beetle, which Oprah had given to everyone as a present.

It’s no surprise that, despite these turbulent economic times, in the country which boasts 16 lane highways, where the car is adored and deified, some of the most phenomenal, car-related events in the world take place there.

Another of these is due to happen next week, when the sky-high 10th floor galleries of Sotheby’s Manhattan headquarters building at 1334 York Avenue provides the extraordinary setting for an extraordinary exhibition of over 25 rare and historic cars from all the great makers around the world. All will go under the hammer in RM Auctions and Sotheby’s Art of the Automobile sale. The star attraction, one of the most coveted and collectible cars of all time, the 1964 Ferrari 250 LM, with coachwork by Carrozzeria Scaglietti, which finished eighth overall and first in class at the 1968 24 Hours of Daytona, with the sale’s highest estimated price tag of $12m-15m, is ironically, again, not an American car. Alongside it, however, beautiful, legendary and rare US Lincoln, Chevrolet and Plymouth designs, as well as cars from many international celebrated producers – Aston Martin, Talbot-Lago, Mercedes Benz, Maserati – the list is endless – each with legitimate provenance and from every era of motoring history are well-represented.

Meanwhile, a little further south, but shortly after, Venus Over Manhattan, Powered by Ferrari, will exhibit 14 cars transformed into sculptures since 1970 by leading modern and contemporary artists in their exhibition Piston Head: Artists Engage the Automobile, at 1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, Florida, the dramatic open air parking structure designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. Piston Head is being organised in conjunction with Art Basel Miami Beach – the annual art fair considered one of the biggest events on the world’s art calendar. Works by an international array of artists: Ron Arad, Bruce High Quality Foundation, César, Dan Colen and Nate Lowman, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, Virginia Overton, Olivier Mosset / Jacob Kassay / Servane Mary, Richard Phillips, Richard Prince, Tom Sachs, Salvatore Scarpitta, Kenny Scharf, and Franz West, will be on show. Prices for individual pieces will not be announced in advance, but will range from $250,000-7m. And while here, another Ferrari, the LaFerrari state-of-the-art hybrid supercar, unveiled at the 2013 Geneva Auto Show, is likely to steal the show, one of the major highlights will be when Los Angeles-based artist Joshua Callaghan creates a new work in situ – a signature ‘rubbing’ of the car – as part of the exhibition.

Images from top
Ford Galaxie (Car), 2013, detail
Olivier Mosset, Jacob Kassay and Servane Mary
1964 Ford Galaxie

Ferrari 250 LM, 1964
Estimate $12,000,000-15,000,000

Plymouth Road Runner Superbird, 1970
Estimate $400,000-500,000

Talbot-Lago T150-C SS Teardrop Cabriolet, 1938
Estimate $8,000,000-10,000,000

Lincoln Indianaolis Exclusive Study, 1955
Estimate $2,000,000 -2,500,000

Aston Martin DB2/4 Mk II ‘Supersonic’, 1956
Estimate $1,800,000-2,400,000

Vanishing Point (The Artist Cut) (Car), 2012 – 13
Richard Prince

Untitled (Car), 1986, detail, Keith Haring
Enamel on 1963 Buick Special

Photos top, 7&8 Courtesy Venus Over Manhattan

Photos 2-6, Michael Furman ©2013
Courtesy RM Auctions and Sotheby’s New York


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The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Architecture | Kultur:Stadt (Culture:City)

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Kultur:Stadt (Culture:City)
Akademie der Künste
Berlin, Germany
15th March – 26th May, 2013

After the Wall fell and reunification followed, the re-establishment of Berlin as a cultural centre, would be a symbolic act as important to the German people as rebuilding its capital. The Altes Museum, inaugurated in 1876, was reopened after substantial renovations in December 2001. The event marked the end of the first stage in the masterplan to renovate the city’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island) – declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. The formidable, five-building museum complex, devised in 1841 was finally completed in 1930. A few years later, 70% of it lay in ruin.

The venue for Kultur:Stadt (Culture:City), The Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), lies elsewhere the city. This ambitious exhibition and associated lectures, film screenings, concerts, sound installations and conferences, will take a critical eye to the relationship between the architecture of culture and the social reality of the 21st century, and aims to show the impact of art and culture on cities from a worldwide perspective.

Some of the most spectacular and innovative building projects of our age: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, 1993-1997, by Frank Gehry; Tate Modern, London, 1994-2000 and The Tate Modern Project, 2004-2016, by Herzog & de Meuron, and the Guangzhou Opera House, 2002-2010 by Zaha Hadid Architects, will be put under scrutiny. In an effort to determine what lessons have been learned, their historic predecessors: Sydney Opera House, 1957-1973 by Jørn Utzon; Kulturhuset, Stockholm, 1965-1974 by Peter Celsing Arkitektkontor; Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1971-1977 by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, will be studied closely. In contrast, the inspection of community-generated projects, at the opposite end of the financial scale, like Detroit Soup also forms part of the agenda. Set up three years ago by Kate Daughdrill and Jessica Hernandez, Soup describes itself as a public dinner and collaborative situation. A democratic experiment in micro-funding, it functions as a hub bringing together various creative communities in Detroit. Around 40 people sat down at the first dinner – numbers now average 225 per month. The project has moved from funding artists in need of a little money to get a project underway, to a wide variety of community activities that have included cleaning up public parks. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to study initiatives such as The Centre Pompidou Mobile, launched in 2011, a touring exhibition that uses an adaptable, collapsible, tent-like structure to bring the experience of visiting a national collection of art to those remote from cultural centres.

The often criticised European Capital of Culture scheme was started in 1985 with the idea of creating opportunities for cities to generate considerable cultural, social and economic benefits, to help foster urban regeneration, and to change their image by raising their visibility and international profile. More than 40 cities from Stockholm to Genoa, Athens to Glasgow and Cracow to Porto have so far been designated. The effectiveness of the scheme will be discussed and evaluated, via examples such as Kunsthaus Graz, built in 2003 by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier.

The architecture of libraries as ‘Spaces of Information’ will also be considered, amongst them the Seattle Central Library, Washington, USA, designed by a team led by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. Described by the influential Arch Daily website, as ‘more than a mere library, but an enhaced public space around knowledge,’ SCL represents an attempt at re-defining the traditional concept of a library by organizing itself into spatial compartments each dedicated to, and equipped for, specific duties. In an age where information is accessible anywhere, it makes curatorship of content the key component to making the library vital.

Ironically, by 2025, when renovations are due for completion, unless those responsible keep a very close eye on developments and adapt accordingly, the debates raised by events such as Kultur:Stadt (Culture:City) may have transformed our ideas about the form our cultural institutions should take to such a degree that the Museumsinsel will already be moribund.

Images from top
Seattle Central Library, USA, 2004
Architects OMA/LMN
Office for Metropolitan Architecture in joint venture with LMN
Photo Philippe Ruault

Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1977
Architects Studio Piano & Rogers
Architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers
Photo courtesy RPBW, Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Kunsthaus Graz, Austria, 2003
Architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier
Photo Universalmuseum Joanneum/Christian Plach

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain,1997
Architect Frank O Gehry
Photo David Heald
©The Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Centre Pompidou Mobile, France
Architects Patrick Bouchain and Loïc Julienne
Photo Loïc Julienne


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The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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All Categories | Past Forward

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Christian Marclay – The Clock
MoMA
New York City, USA
Until 21st January, 2013

David Bowie Is
Victoria & Albert Museum
London, UK
23rd March – 28th July, 2013

As we look forward to the David Bowie Is retrospective at London’s V&A in 2013, Christian Marclay’s film, The Clock, ticks away the remainder of 2012 at MoMA in New York, where it opened last week.

Completed in 2010 – already three years old – a monumental icon of contemporary art, The Clock, for which Marclay won a Golden Lion for best artist at the Venice Film Festival in 2011, is cleverly constructed from 24 hours-worth of clips from the past 100 years of cinema, almost all including a clock or a watch. Perhaps the film and the Bowie show can be taken as signs of the times. Certainly, referencing and re-assessing the past was a theme during 2012 and indications are that the trend is set to continue.

If we pause to consider, true innovation is a pretty rare thing and, while there’s no current lack of it, the flow remains uneven by nature. In comparison, art and design history – recent and ancient – is vast and has left an enormous, carefully refined legacy, much of it eminently worthy of our attention, reconsideration and reinterpretation, some of it recyclable.

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum reopens its doors in April 2013 following an ambitious 10-year renovation programme. Already launched, the very forward-thinking Rijks Studio initiative, makes a digital collection of 125,000 items from the museum’s historical collection accessible to all for free. Members of the public are invited to create their own works of art by downloading high-resolution images and using them in a creative fashion, copyright free.

Editor of the British edition of Harper’s Bazaar, Justine Picardie is the author of several acclaimed books including Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life (HarperCollins, 2010). Talking about her first proper issue (January, 2013), she explains her preoccupations with Chanel, Vreeland, Dior, et al, as an exploration of how understanding the past is a way to move forwards. And it’s important to get it right. Opinions differed on the October launch of Hedi Slimane’s debut collection for Saint Laurent – the label’s original inspirational concepts still present, but updated and made inimitably Slimane’s own, were seen by some as underwhelming.

The (London) Royal Academy’s Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 ran over into January, 2012. Reviewing it, The Guardian reminded us that the Russian avant garde which emerged out of the futurist cafés and cabarets of the mid-1910s was probably the most intensive and creative art and architectural movement of the past century. Sergei Tchoban (with partner Sergei Kuznetsov) of SPEECH Techoban/Kuznetsov, designed the astonishingly futuristic and much-praised Russian Pavilion that caused such a stir at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale in August. The entirely QR-coded environment – an homage, conscious or otherwise, to the square: architectural cornerstone of a few thousand years standing, but currently out of favour in a world of curvilinear structures – addressed the country’s future while referencing early 20th century influences. Italian Futurism, 1909-44, will run at The Guggenheim in New York from in 2014. When it appeared, in 1909, the original Futurist Manifesto, that had inspired the Russians, called for the demolition of museums and libraries; Foster + Partners recently mooted $300 million renovation of the New York Public Library in Manhattan, intended to begin with the eviction of 1.2 million books, provoked more adverse reaction than it bargained for. Similarly, London’s uncompromising tall and dynamic Shard, inaugurated in July, caused an immediate sensation, but earned a chilly reception from some quarters for its apparent lack of sensitivity towards the existing cityscape.

Steeped in ancient tradition, the Olympic Games has brought the modern world some its most daring, groundbreaking and well-considered architecture, product design and graphics. The London 2012 Games – modest in terms of scale by comparison to recent predecessors – didn’t fail to deliver more of the same. Among other items, the event’s Olympic torch designed by Barber Osgerby, was buried in a time capsule as part of the ground breaking ceremony for the new Design Museum that will be installed in the former 1962-built Commonwealth Institute, after its rigorous but nevertheless sympathetic redevelopment by John Pawson. Elsewhere, Herzog & de Meuron, architects of the Beijing 2008 Olympics‘ astonishing ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium, and designers of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012 (with Ai Weiwei), recently completed the Parrish Art Museum at Southampton on Long Island. ‘Our design for the Parrish is a reinterpretation… of the traditional house form,’  said Jacques Herzog, ‘…something very specific, precise and also fresh.’

This month at Christie’s in New York a lacquered and painted wooden screen made by Eileen Gray in the 1920s, sold for over $1.8 million. Paris, where Gray spent most of her life, hosts a retrospective of her unique work at the Pompidou Centre, starting in February. American photographer, Man Ray, also spent the greater part of his life in Paris. Man Ray’s Portraits is at London’s National Portrait Gallery in February, while Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light will run from March to August at MoMA. It takes Inspired curating with a new and interesting perspective, combined with creative presentation to make exhibitions and events based solely on archival content current and vital.

Frieze Masters was launched in October by Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, co-founders of Frieze. The new fair, coinciding with, and within walking distance of Frieze London, in Regent’s Park, was based on the idea of applying a contemporary approach to selling pre-21st-century art, from ancient to modern. The inaugural six-day event, in which 90 galleries from 18 countries took part, was attended by around 28,000 international visitors and was a massive hit. Sales were brisk; one of the most significant reports was of widespread contemporary collectors’ interest in historical work and vice versa. Not surprisingly, Frieze Masters will happen again in 2013 and is set to become a regular fixture.

The apposite title of the V&A’s forthcoming show, David Bowie Is, recognises that the David Bowie phenomenon, so influential over the past 40 yearts, is important historically but also as a source of inspiration for today’s and tomorrow’s innovative thinking. Set in motion, sequences from it cast out on to the internet, it’s unlikely that The Clock will ever stop.

Images from top
Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997,
Frank W Ockenfels 3

Union Jack coat designed by Alexander McQueen in collaboration with
David Bowie
© Frank W Ockenfels 3, 1997

Video still from The Clock, 2010, Christian Marclay
Single-channel video with sound, 24 hours
©Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

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The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Culture | Postmodernism: The Wit & the Wisdom

Monday, September 19th, 2011





Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990
V&A, London. 24th September, 2011 – January 15th, 2012

In 1976 filthy, gobbing punks tore apart the sequined and gold-laméd world that glam rock, with its massive, alienating concerts and over-produced double (and sometimes, triple) albums had become. Early manifestations of an infant philosophy can be just as ugly as those of a dying one.

Arguably – pop art may have got there considerably earlier – postmodernism first emerged in architectural theory at the end of the 1960s. Whereas modernism was concerned more with principles like certainty, authority, identity and unity, postmodernism is often associated with difference, plurality, textuality, scepticism and wit. Like The Sex Pistols‘ manager Malcolm McClaren, who liked to laugh and jeer and would just a few years later, put the boot into glam, American architect and theorist Robert Venturi was prepared to play dirty and liked to joke. Famously – or infamously, depending on one’s point of view – Venturi lampooned modernist god Ludwig Mies van der Rohe by substituting the latter’s dictum ‘Less is more’, with his own ‘Less is a bore’, at the same time rather snidely drawing attention to the fact that façadism played a not insignificant role in Miese’s buildings, just as it did in that of the Las Vegas strip which he considered to be more honest architecture. But Venturi was essentially a theorist and built little.

At first punk, as an anti-establishment movement within pop and as an idealism, was contained and concentrated within only a few major cities – London and Manchester in the UK, New York in the USA but its out with the old, in with the new attitude insinuated itself throughout the creative world. As the 70s became the 80s and punk splintered, New Romantic became the dominant music and fashion trend. Vivienne Westwood – Malcolm McClaren’s partner in crime – who had created much of what became the punk dress code, became established as a leading UK fashion designer, subverting established ideas of beauty and elegance. Milan and Paris, had caught the punk bug a little later. It was these two mainland European cities respectively, that would engender the postmoderist Memphis Group, established in 1981, headed-up by architects Ettore Sotsass and Matteo Thun, and Philippe Starck. The world of fashion was just waking up to enfant terrible, Jean-Paul Gaultier’s, iconoclastic designs, which, though beautifully tailored, drew heavily on street style for inspiration. Mother superior of the postmodern, Madonna, would later wear the infamous cone bra Gaultier designed for her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. Both Westwood and Gaultier went on to produce haute couture.

Sotsass, in calling the work of Memphis ‘The New International Style’, disagreed with the conformist approach of modernist design and challenged the idea that products had to follow conventional shapes, colours, textures and patterns. Fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld was to become a collector of the group’s work which was colourful, brash and loud, and took inspiration from Art Deco, Pop Art and kitsch, subverting established perceptions of taste. Also in the 80s, Alberto Alessi, head of the long-established eponymous Italian, quality home product design company, commissioned German postmodernist architect Richard Sapper – who had worked for a time with Gio Ponti – to design a kettle and later cutlery, that were a far cry from the modernist principle: form follows function. Sapper was the first of many architects and designers, including Spaniard Javier Mariscal – who had been invited to take part in the first Memphis exhibition – to work for Alessi. Extremely prolific, Starck, who went on to become probably the world’s best-known product designer of the late 20th century, designed his classic Juicy Salif Lemon Juicer for Alessi, who has described the role of his company as ‘attempting to create new objects, introducing a touch of transcendency, helping us decipher our own modernity’.

French graphic designer, illustrator, photographer and advertising director, Jean-Paul Goude (Born, 1940) now perhaps best-know for his campaign work for Chanel Egoïste and Chanel Coco, who had worked at Esquire magazine in New York in the early 70s and developed an interest in black street-style, began working with singer Grace Jones on her image, outfits, stage shows and videos, transforming her into the ultimate postmodern diva. Goude’s climax came when he was asked to design the French Bicentennial July 14th parade on the Champs Elysées in 1989. Author’s note: Having had the good fortune to be invited to this by Goude, I  can only describe it as one of the most spectacular events I have ever attended. Annie Lennox of The Eurythmics, changing her look and style, dramatically for each new tour, as did Madonna, was the third queen of the postmodern music world. Divos included, The Human League’s, Phil Oakey, the band Duran Duran and of course the two great glam innovators who, stand the test of time, continued to make interesting music throughout the 80s and 90s: David Bowie and Bryan Ferry.

At least one of those who were to become know as postmodernists was already advanced in years. Not wishing to be left out of the party started by Venturi, conscious of the inevitable change that was coming, Philip Johnson, 74 in 1980, a great supporter of van der Rohe, and whose work echoed the master’s, completed New York’s AT&T Building – now The Sony Building – crowned with a Georgian pediment in 1984 that instantly became a postmodernist icon. Himself 55 in 1980, Venturi had only a few private houses and a lack-lustre addition to the Allen Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio, finished 1976, to his name. Like a too-late Pop Art piece that didn’t quite come off, The Sainsbury Wing, an extension to the The National Gallery in London by Robert Venturi and his wife and associate, Denise Scott Brown, opened in 1991. Desperately iconoclastic: an odd montage of classicism, modernism and brutalism; it isn’t funny at all. Just around the corner and taking up a prominent position overlooking the Thames, Terry Farrell’s oversized, cartoon-like Charing Cross Station, opened the previous year and a little way up-river, known within the intelligence community as Legoland or Babylon-on-Thames, Farrell’s SIS Building, headquarters of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service was finished in 1994. His latest creation however – just opened, the Kingkey Finance Tower, the tallest tower ever built by a British architect, in Shenzen, southern China – from a distance showing clear signs of lessons learned from uncompromising modernist and survivor, Norman Foster, architect of London’s Gherkin, is a streamlined wonder.

Probably the world’s most famous postmodern architect, Canadian Frank Gehry, based in LA, is somewhere in amongst all of this. Gehry (82) certainly built and is still building but, has he just one idea and how much longer can he continue to sell it?

Researching this post I happened across the following: ‘Modern art no longer scandalizes its public. It has become the new academy, a new form of official art. Modernism and avant-gardism, are perceived today as elitist in comparison with postmodernism, in which high culture is no longer viewed as aesthetically superior to popular culture.’ Excerpted from Sociologist Diana Crane, PhD, professor emerita at the University of Pennsylvania’s Postmodernism and the Avant-Garde: Stylistic Change in Fashion Design. The John Hopkins University Press 1997.

Time, in architecture terms at least, passes far more slowly than in say the here-today-gone-tomorrow world of fashion. Building projects that were begun over a decade ago may just be nearing completion. In bracketing postmodernism between the years 1970 and 1990, the V&A are either doing it for convenience or are trying to tell us that it has for some time been all over bar the fighting. Perhaps they are hinting heavily that the old postmodern guard, will certainly not be building for much longer. Have we for some time been witnessing the emergence of a new modernism: a more sensitive modernism, informed by postmoderism of its earlier deficiences; excited at the possibilities that the widespread use of computers, smart-phones and the internet have opened up; a modernism that has unceremoniously dismantled and dumped its brutalist, non-user-friendly past; a finely  tempered modernism as seen in the fluid, sensual shapes of the architecture of Zaha Hadid and Herzog & de Meuron and the design work of companies such as Barber Osgerby? If so, I wonder what name we’ll give it?

Images from top:
Grace Jones Maternity Dress 1979, Jean-Paul Goude © Jean-Paul Goude
Juicy Salif Lemon Juicer 1990, designed by Phillipe Starck for Alessi
Super Lamp 1981, designed by Martine Bedin for Memphis © V&A images
Vegas 1966, by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates
Kingkey Finance Tower 2011, by TFP Farrells

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Garden | Vertically Challenging

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011


Michael Hellgren: vertical gardener

Blending its traditional naturalism with modernism produced the familiar humanistic product design and architecture we have grown to expect from Scandinavia. Michael Hellgren takes the concept to another level: literally. Vertical Garden Design, the company he set up after studying in Uppsala, Sweden and École d’architecture et de paysage de Bordeaux, France, is growing – if you’ll pardon the corny pun – and now has offices in Stockholm, Lisbon and Barcelona. This year has already seen completion – in collaboration with Dublin-based, Studio M architects – of the indoor wall of vegetation the company designed and installed at a cultural centre in Dubai. Earlier projects include the interior of a new concepts store for the clothing retailer, Replay, in Florence and an interior wall garden with waterfall, for Lisbon’s Natura Towers Hotel.

Vertical gardens as a concept are, of course, not new and Michael freely admits to being influenced by the ideas and techniques developed by the highly-acclaimed Frenchman, Patrick Blanc, who has designed and installed gardens from Tasmania (MONA, Hobart) to London (Athenaeum Hotel, Piccadilly). Now in his late fifties – and still sought after– Blanc is currently working with Herzog & de Meuron on the Miami Art Museum, due for completion in 2012, which includes a series of slender, vertical columns of dense vegetation.

What’s new and interesting about Hellgren’s Vertical Garden Design, as opposed to Vertical Garden Patrick Blanc – the company names are easily confused – is that while in much of his later work, Blanc has gone for arranging plants in patterns, uneven stripes in different textures and colours, making his wall schemes appear artificial/designed, Hellgren leans far more toward the natural, allowing the plants to make their own statement. But, it’s more than that. Perhaps there’s a cultural difference at play here; one somehow knows instinctively that nouvelle cuisine could not have been invented in Sweden, however the Swedes have no Jean-Paul Gaultier. While Hellgren’s company is by comparison with Blanc’s still relatively small, likewise it’s projects, just comparing the two firms websites, gives a clear insight into their different approaches: Blanc’s – designed by SMOL, built by Seegne – playful and almost comically kitsch, the pictures crude; Hellgren’s simple, minimal, fresh – designed by New York City and Paris-based, Area 17 – with beautiful, high quality images (See inspirational images and projects above and below). These images are what first drew me to investigate Vertical Garden Design further and to discover that Michael Hellgren is also the talented plant and landscape photographer, responsible for taking them.


What do you think of the Vertical Garden Design website?
And, Michael Hellgren’s Photography?

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