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Celebrity Shoot-out

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Representatives of four fairly well-known architectural practices pitch their projects for the limited competition for 425 Park Avenue. The original article is by Oliver Wainwright, writing for The Guardian, here. His article really says it all, but the original links were breaking so I collected them from Youtube and am storing them here for safekeeping. Enjoy.

Graham Stirk presenting for Rogers, Stirk, Harbour & Partners

Remment Koolhaas, presenting for OMA

Dame Zaha Hadid & Patrik Schumacher, presenting for Zaha Hadid Architects

Baron Foster of Thames Bank, presenting for Foster + Partners

Man-of-the-people Norm won hands-down, as we know. Let’s see how he did it!

1) Know the competition.

OMA and ZHA are so used to lecture rooms, auditoriums and adoring audiences that it doesn’t take a genius to know what they will produce, what they will think is special about their project, how they will present it, and the attitude with which they present it. So be different! If they use powerpoint, you use boards. If they talk sitting down, you talk standing up. If they leave their jackets on, you take yours off. Clever!

2) Slow architecture

Using boards has several advantages.

  • A stack of boards is bigger than a laptop. It looks like you’ve done more work.
  • You can have your colleagues hand you them when you need them. This shows teamwork.
  • You can use a marker pen to make some insignificant point for dramatic effect. Once.
  • The presentation itself is more leisurely. The audience isn’t forced to pay constant attention. The project appears simpler and easier to comprehend, and this makes the audience not feel stupid. This is always a plus if you want them to be your clients.
  • The boards still have a presence, even when the presentation is over. You can’t just switch them off.

3) Put thoughts in the clients’ heads.

I couldn’t tell if it was a voiceover or at the actual presentation but the line about “”To be distinguished and notable, this building doesn’t have to indulge in a ‘look at me’ hysteria of sculptural shapes and so on.” seemed like pure, gloves-off, stuff. Maybe the others were horrified upon hearing that. Maybe they all got together later over a beer and some good-natured banter and had a laugh. “… and you should have seen your face when I said the bit about ‘look at me’ hysteria …” “Norm I gotta hand it to you – you got the better of us! We’ll get you next time!” “Yeah right – see ya in Shanghai next week.”

4) Provide grounds for comparison

When two of the competition are using the entire building to make their “design” statements, you don’t want the clients to feel as if they’re missing out by choosing you and possibly leaving themselves open to criticism for being too “commercial” or insufficiently “brave”. So give them something to compare. Give them a piece of architectural flim-flam that does the design statement “look-at-me!” thing, but on two conditions.

  1. Emphasise that it’s optional.
  2. Make it obvious that it won’t cost that much.

One of the posters on archidose wrote

Foster’s proposal might be ‘just’ ok .. for Dubai, south east asia, Mumbai – where the skyscraper is still beginning to evolve and the ‘roof element’ shines across the skyline … but why does Manhattan need those 3 ugly antennas on top!!? what was he thinking??

It’s not like that. It’s not about what Manhattan’s skyline ‘needs’ – as if sentient skylines evolve themselves to create a picturesque composition for us all to admire. It’s not even about what Foster thinks Manhattan’s skyline needs (although that’s what he’s saying). It’s about what the clients think they would like to see on Manhattan’s skyline for them to admire. It is they who want to say “look at me – that one’s ours!” and without paying too much to do so. I don’t see what’s that much different from Dubai. Over here, it’s the ostentatiously quieter buildings that scream look-at-me the most. Here’s F+P’s The Index. [Thanks cbtuh for the photo and further info.]

Each office floor plate comprises three 27 x 27 meter (89 x 89 foot) column free bays. These long span structures allow maximum flexibility for space planning, so that the levels are suitable for large international financial corporations or can be subdivided for multiple tenancies.

index 3

The reason why the three towers of 425 Park Avenue appear a surprise in terms of F+P’s oeuvre is that that particular design motif from the F+P Stylebook makes its first media appearance out of sequence. We should all be admiring it as a development and sophisticationing of the triple “penthouse” apartment blocks perched atop The Index which, as far as I know, hasn’t had an official opening. Large international financial corporations have somehow resisted occupying those uninterrupted spans. I do see some lights on in some of the apartments. Some have curtains.

index 2

But, to F+P’s credit,

The tower is oriented exactly along the east-west axis so that the eastern and western concrete cores shelter the floors from the harsh, desert sun and the climatic effects of the area. The concrete cores shelter the building from the low angle, highly penetrating morning and evening sun leaving only the South facade exposed to the high angle, low penetrating midday sun. The south-facing facade utilizes extensive sun shades to lower solar gain.

The Index is one of the first towers in the region to intelligently embrace its climatic surrounding environment within its fundamental design principles. The tower’s environmental strategy significantly lowers the requirement for air conditioning within the building and therefore substantially reduces the energy costs for its tenants. During the height of the summer, without air conditioning, the tower’s internal temperatures will not surpass 28 degrees Celsius. (W)

I’d like to see some data for that. The tower’s A Beast (albeit a lesser one than Burj Khalifa) and those celebrated cores ‘shelter’ only the offices to make for well integrated structure and planning on the office floors.

index-1The apartment levels don’t exhibit those fundamental design principles. Why bother sheltering the east and west elevations with expensive cores if a wardrobe will do the same job? Generally, the apartments fare less well in terms of planning terms but then, apartment planning is generally a moveable feast anyway. It’s usually possible to market an apartment’s shortcomings as a feature to someone. Note how

  • In eight out of the twelve apartments shown above, you have to go to another room to see the other half of the view you paid for.
  • 2m x 10m columns is serious structure. In the four apartments at third-points, you can get up close and personal with it in the comfortingly bijou living rooms.
  • To balcony or not to balcony is a false choice. It all depends how many times a year the windows get washed. It’ll probably be three times a year if the building owners wish to back up their claim to being a premium address. If it’s anything less than that, all a balcony means is that you will be looking through two layers of dusty glass instead of one.
  • In the plans for the corner apartments, we have dining tables for six persons but living room chairs for only four. This usually means too much space in the wrong places.

Overall, the planning is fair. F+P bathrooms and kitchens are usually exquisitely detailed. I’m beginning to sound like a property agent!