Category Archives: Marketing

Unimagining the Brick

Frank Lloyd Wright and his Froebel® blocks are the main reason we associate building blocks with the nurturing of architectural creativity. The great man himself told us it was so. The blocks may well have been responsible for Wright’s early mastery of horizontal and vertical massing but they might also explain his persistent aversion to diagonals and his creepy, late-in-life fascinations with circles.

Building blocks such as LEGO® [hereinafter, LEGO] have also been part of the lives of many children who did not all become architects. They could be used in many ways and to make many things. The were important for developing spatial ability in children and parents could also enjoy them in their own way. Parents must also have appreciated them being many toys in one and that requests for more pieces were easily and inexpensively satisfied – a state of affairs beneficial to everyone except the manufacturers. What the Lego company decided it needed was a product that discouraged disassembly and subsequent re-use and instead encouraged repeat purchases of one-off kits.

By 2014 the business turnaround of the Lego company was legendary. [1] The 1977 movie Star Wars had been the first movie to aggressively pursue tie-ins with all manner of products and companies.

The Lego company joined the party in 1999 in time for Star Wars Episode 1The first sets were released under the LEGO System brand and consisted of eight sets from Episode I and five sets from the original trilogy films, including the first LEGO Star Wars X-wing and Snowspeeder. [2]

Being expected to cheer at the Lego company’s business turnaround is yet another manifestation of the neoliberal pandemic that blinds us to seeing anything in terms other than dollar value. We don’t even think it odd anymore to talk about the worth of a movie in terms of its opening weekend gross, a footballer in terms of their transfer fee, or an architectural practice in terms of turnover or how many fee-generating architects it employs. 

Lego’s business problems were solved but it was distressing to watch for anyone raised on the old LEGO that had generic pieces and came without instructions. All the new LEGO required was the ability to follow instructions and diagrams and arrive at somebody else’s result. This used to be called construction – and we still need people who are good at that. What we don’t need is for creativity to be redefined as obedience. Or do we? Children who’ve known nothing else but new LEGO are about to graduate architecture school and we’ll soon see how well they adapt to today’s workforce.

Designing every piece as a special piece discouraged disassembly and the making of anything else but there would always be a steady stream of new kits to buy/make. The potential to creatively combine pieces was still represented by residual studs on larger pieces but the things most likely to be creatively added were minifigure characters that redefined creative play as the re-enactment of scenes from movies.


The CREATOR and Architecture series [3] came along to show the link between LEGO and architectural creativity remained, even if as one-off kits that could only make one thing. Initial sets such as the 2009 Fallingwater and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the 2011 Farnsworth House and the 2012 Sydney Opera House were spectacularly unlike what they purported to represent, further cementing the belief that shape was the only thing in architecture that mattered.

These representations of architectural creativity made them ideal gifts for architects. The 2013 Sydney Opera House was an improvement in terms of realism but the series name CREATOR was a misnomer.

These next three buildings embody a certain notion of architectural creativity but their shapes simply don’t do what LEGO does best. I don’t think we’ll be seeing them as LEGO kits anytime soon but, after seeing Marina Bay Sands above, who knows? 

LEGO’s limitations may become apparent when representing certain architectural ideas about shape, but it has even greater limitations when representing any architectural idea that isn’t about shape. We won’t be seeing these next buildings immortalized in LEGO anytime soon.

Gary Garvin already did Dessau. [4]

Occasionally, we hear of rogue artists using LEGO in the disobedient ways of art, such as Nathan Sawayas [5] and his deconstructed figures, Jan Vorman’s [5] repairing of war-ravaged walls, and Wei Wei’s use of donated (i.e. unapproved = “non-LEGO”) bricks for an exhibition of portraits of dissidents and political prisoners after the Lego company refused him a bulk purchase [6].

And then there was the LEGO house. Back in 2009 when I didn’t know who James May was, I thought this was an amusing but experimental use of LEGO as a building product until I learned it was built with the expectation of becoming a permanent exhibit at UK’s LEGOLAND®. This means that rather than being conceived of as a good idea, it was conceived as an exhibit and thus no different from any of the buildings at the VITRA zoo. It was stupid of me to imagine it could ever have been anything else. A mass-producible, durable and generic construction material anyone could assemble into buildings of infinite variation was simply too good to be true.

All avenues of escape are being cut off one by one. Even before the circle was finally closed there had been the LEGO meme in architecture [c.f. Architecture Myths #16: Memes]. Buildings were mimicking LEGO before LEGO came to mimic architecture.

It’s as if the world of architecture still wanted us to believe LEGO had a link with creativity long after the Lego company had abandoned its principles for the noisy representation of them. God this postmodern world sucks.


This refusal of the world of architecture to believe what others already accepted created the market for LEGO Architecture Studio. “Anyone with an interest in architecture can now create their own Lego original designs, as well as building mini architectural masterpieces such as the Eiffel Tower and the Trevi Fountain,” gushed a Lego press release quoted on dezeen, as these things are.


This architectural LEGO can be used to represent architectural ideas as long as they don’t involve properties other than shape. I wasn’t the only kid who valued colour as a property of the bricks.

Aspiring adults can now express their creativity through monochromatic models using a curated selection of architectural tropes and memes. It’s all too real for comfort. The architect kit comes with a 250-page guidebook [8] for those who still don’t get it. It’s an important document future scholars will study in order to understand precisely how the world turned to shit.

Then there’s the LEGO Master Builder Academy Designer Handbook [pdf] that teaches you how to be a designer of LEGO models …

I’m probably guilty of finding something more interesting than it actually is, but I chuckled anyway at Amy Frearson’s question to Bjarke Ingels, “Was it something of a given that you would use the LEGO brick as the basis of the design?”  

And so we approach the endgame with architecture going one step further than the LEGO meme by aspiring to be real LEGO architecture – or is that “real” LEGO architecture? It’s tricky. I propose we use doubled quotation marks to indicate those situations when reality and representations of it fold in and over each other like pizza dough, e.g. “”LEGO Architecture.””

There’s only one way this can end. We’re slowly but surely working our way towards a modular construction element that can be combined in infinitely many ways to build anything quickly, cheaply and easily. However, before that can become a product of enormous benefit to the world, there’s still some problems such as security, structural integrity, fire safety, thermal properties and moisture proofing that need to be sorted. In the meantime, we can just pretend they don’t exist so, in that sense, LEGO and architecture are already indistinguishable. 

• • •

  1. One of many articles describing the Lego company’s turnaround as one of the greatest business success stories of all time.
  2. A post on telling of fifteen years of LEGO® and STAR WARS™ tie-ins
  3. is the eBay of architectural LEGO
  4. There’s a book, The LEGO Architect.
  5. More on LEGO artists Nathan Sawaya and Jan Vorman
  6. The Lego company’s refusal to allow Chinese artist Wei Wei to bulk purchase LEGO has been their only major PR misjudgment we know about.
  7. The 250-page guidebook [pdf (be patient)] accompanying the LEGO Architecture Studio Set has an introductory essay by extrusion-hater Winy Maas, followed by essays and exercises to which invited architects have input. There is REX on Scale, Sō Fujimoto on Space and Section, SOM on Modules and Repetition, MAD Architecture Workshop on Surface, Tham & Videgård Arkitekter Workshop on Mass and Density,  Safdie architects on Symmetry, and KRADS architects who are credited as consulting concept editors [!?] One thing I did learn was that Moshe Safdie used many white LEGO blocks in cluster studies for the apartment modules, gardens and streets of Habitat 67. This makes sense because LEGO was a way of understanding an idea well suited to being understood using LEGO. Elsewhere*, Safdie has said the 2:1 bricks offered the perfect scale.1200px-Habitat_panorama
  8. I was thinking a reverse-engineered Habitat 67 LEGO tribute kit at that scale and with only 1:1 and 2:1 bricks would be a piece of history and a useful tool for everybody to learn about scale, space, section, modules, repetition and symmetry in the same way they informed Safdie’s design. Instead, what happened was the limited-edition sale of a partial model pre-created by Nathalie Boucher. Ingenious as it is, it conveys nothing of how the old LEGO was used creatively to produce the wondrous thing “”LEGO Architecture”” merely depicts. Habitat 67 is a genuine example of old LEGO being used as a creative tool in architecture. It’s no surprise then, that the freestyle creativity LEGO once enabled so generously and silently had to be strategically and noisily supplanted with the dutiful construction of a representation of Habitat 67 as a representation of that creativity.

    One redefinition and two degrees of abstraction now insulate the new creativity from the old. The postmodern world sucked but this neoliberal mutation doublesucks.

 • • •







Different Strokes

It’s not just the Chinese authorities who are fed up with novelty buildings. I hope they’ve learned their lesson.


I fear however, that the recent Chinese edict will only serve to drive symbolic references underground. Downplayed symbolism was already evident in, for example, Pritzker Prizers Zaha Hadid for ‘pebbles on a stream’ Guangzhou Opera House


and Toyo Ito and his dragon-shaped stadium.


You tell me.

I don’t know who’s being scammed more with this enigmatic meme scheme. Ito might have pitched “The scales are actually solar panels. Imagine that! – a dragon that makes its own energy from the fire of the sun!” Or perhaps such duplicity wasn’t even necessary for he equally well may have said “It covers all bases. You can emphasise the dragon bit here because your people like things like that but my press release will emphasise the sustainable angle because that plays well in the Western media.” Deal.


Such one-size-fits-all concepts are creatures of our times. Pre-Beijing Olympics, I imagine the Chinese authorities approved the birds’ nest idea in an as-long-as-the-Western-media-is-happy-we’re-happy kind of way. This is the economic and marketing logic behind the enigmatic signifier. Everyone’s happy. In this next image, it looks like Herzog, de Meuron and artistic advisor Wei-Wei have all just received word their clever ploy worked. Everything about this image is sad.


#excess #celebrity #publicity

The Chinese are now exporting sustainable hedonism imagery back at us.

Duplicity of intent is most obvious when the PR value of highly visible and large buildings has to be exploited globally in different markets. It’s history now, but take Kazakstan’s Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. Its description on F+P’s website never fails to appall.

As a non-denominational contemporary building form, the pyramid is resonant of both a spiritual history that dates back to ancient Egypt as well as a symbol of amity for the future. It will accommodate a permanent venue for the Congress, and houses a 1,500- seat opera house, a university faculty, meeting spaces and a national spiritual centre. This programmatic diversity is unified within the pure form of a pyramid, 62 metres high with a 62 x 62-metre base.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan said he wanted a pyramid and F+P damn well gave him one as it was “well suited to the hierarchical nature of the program.” Sure pal.

Google’s new tent has a similar “top-down decision” feel to it because it’s so un-demonstrative and therefore unlike anything either Heatherwick or Ingels have produced in the cause of furthering their respective brands. From what we’ve come to expect of Heatherwick’s output, it’s not weird enough and, as far as BIG goes, it’s incapable of being reduced to a simple graphic for their website – though I’m sure someone’s trying. It’s easy to imagine Googleboss calling the two of them into his office and saying “I want something the opposite of Apple’s donut!” How it’s played to the media is not his problem.


Image courtest of mercenary imagineers MIR

And here it is on YouTube where everything is these days. I was reminded of BIG’s Baku mountains, but that could be just me. Must give credit where it’s due though. The two of them are catching some very big fish of late.

Googleguy David Ratcliffe adds, “Tech hasn’t really adopted a visual language for buildings.” Oh yeah?

iCloud data center

Meanwhile, this postmodern age drags on. OMA’s Beijing CCTV building showed it’s not possible to police meanings in any meaningful way. People deviate from the script to invent their own.
In response to a 2009 story titled “Architectural Pornography?” at OMA denied that the Beijhadquarters building [and its adjacent Mandarin Oriental Hotel] represented anything other than “a positive and shining expression of a changing world order.” People have been saying for decades that any building taller than it is wide is a phallic symbol, so it’s not surprising that we now have a corollary along with its allegedly pornographic implication. 

Like Lord Foster who also keeps his head down when it comes to what his buildings might actually mean to commoners, Koolhaas never objected when Jencks wrote [p.111 of his The Iconic Building] of his CCTV building

“the distant view looks like a moon gate, the ornamental surround that punctuates every Chinese garden. This frame also bears resemblance to the pi-shape that goes back to the origins of China, a form that was normally made in bronze or jade. Even more suggestive is the exposed structure. This recalls the famous Chinese bracket construction, as well as the lattice windows that can be found in traditional homes”.

If I remember rightly, I believe Koolhaas’ wife produced some of the illustrations. All of the above associations may well be true for Jencks and I have no problem with that – he can write what he wants – but I’ve also no interest in whether or not this building suggests something far less esoteric and infinitely more universal to others, Chinese and the rest of the world included.

But by his now historic silence to Jenck’s gushings, Koolhaas showed had no problem with his building being labelled an enigmatic signifier yet he was later compelled to say its shape had no hidden meanings. But he can’t say that. He can only say it has no hidden meanings he was aware of having designed into it. This shows him to be a post-modernist – someone who believes meaning is something architects design into a building, and not something people ascribe to a building. 

This website encourages people to post images of what the CCTV building means to them. This may be against the spirit of Post Modernism but it’s fully in line with Post-structuralist Pluralism where  ‘building as text’ is read as what YOU want it to read, not what an architect says it does (or does not). At one stage, “Big Underpants” was favourite. 


We either have to accept that architects design meanings into buildings, or that people are free to make whatever associations they choose. Jencks’ track record places him clearly in the former camp. Remember double coding? One meaning for the cognoscenti and another for the hoi-polloi? And how clever architects were for sneaking in some intellectual allusion ‘under the radar’ of the less knowing? 

This was all very eighties when you think of it. Suddenly, there was a apparent freedom of choice as to what buildings could mean but there was still an elite imagining themselves in charge of what the choices were. It also mirrors the political-economic concept known as ‘privatisation’ – another eighties concept architecture is still suffering the consequences of.

Architects may enjoy the plaudits when they make a good design call that happens to “resonate” with a local audience and that bounce around the internet and reverberate in their own way and to their benefit back home, but they simply have to take it on the chin when people think for themselves. 

• • •

This next image appeared on the RIBA website to illustrate the news that the 2016 annual Charles Jencks Award went to Niall McLauglin. The essential shed-ness of this building made me think McLaughlin was a good choice for an award but that this was perhaps the wrong award.


On second thought, I’m not so sure.

The metal shed roof is a red herring for, in time-honoured tradition, this building uses excess to represent simplicity. “Why does a building above water needs guttering in the first place?” is a question worth asking. It could be to stop rainwater from destroying the timber beams supporting the guttering. [!?] Or it could be the real function of the unnecessary guttering is to extend past the roof to complete the parallel line of the deck and so bring out its essential Farnsworth-ness.

I’m surprised to find I don’t even care to find out what this building actually is or does – I’m guessing sunset-viewing platform, and that McLaughlin received the award for using tried and trusted references to indicate the presence of serious money and property to some, and to represent economy, simplicity and appreciation of nature to others.

Different strokes, as ever.

Brands as Architectural Legacy

I never expected to look back at the 1990’s and think it was a kinder, gentler era.

Behind the Postmodern Facade
Architectural Change in Late Twentieth-Century America
Magali Sarfatti Larson, 1993

How architecture has changed and how the systems for its production have changed along with it is an important topic but the book itself is somewhat dated. This post will attempt to update it but first, a bit of background.

Many people imagine the making of buildings to take place in a situation where a group of architects is happy working away for a figurehead personality who is the creative force. This is partially correct.

Le Corbusier

In the case of Le Corbusier however, we’re not even aware of there ever having been an office and a largeish team of people getting all those buildings drawn, detailed, site-managed and built. History is only concerned with authorship and not the process or mechanics of getting it done. On the other hand, with Le Corbusier, we can reasonably suspect he was the author of projects attributed to him.   


Who were these people? What happened to them?

Frank Lloyd Wright

With Frank Lloyd Wright, the contributions of employees such as Marion Griffin have been systematically underrated or misaccredited. It wasn’t he who did those lovely drawings he took on his extended trip to Europe.


Of the Taliesin alumni, John Lautner is the one who most made a name for himself. As mentioned in What happens when architects die?, Wright’s office continued on for a while after the posthumous completions were exhausted.


The Architects’ Collaborative

In Dessau, Walter Gropius detached the teaching of architecture from its documentation and construction quite literally as well. The much-photographed design students and their various antics in the workshop and studio buildings were architecturally separated from the income-generating students learning drafting and construction skills in the standard classrooms of the technical school.  

In America, Gropius extended this innovation into the professional sphere by detaching the promotion of architectural ideas from their generation, allowing figurehead personalities to sell themselves and their brand without having to be involved with the tiresome processes of building creation, documentation and construction. [This seems to have been a consistent and lifelong theme of his.] The Architects’ Collaborative (1945-1995) consisted of seven architects led and guided by Walter Gropius as figurehead personality. It’s impossible to name any member who was not Walter Gropius. 


Originally, each of the eight partners [!?] would hold weekly meetings on a Thursday to discuss their projects and be open to design input and ideas. However, as the firm grew larger there were many more people on a team and it was more difficult to consolidate into one group. Therefore, many other “groups” of architects within the firm were formed and carried out the same original objective.

The status quo

This system of nested hierarchices is what we have today with offices divided into teams with a team leader and those who execute their instructions.  


A design idea is still likely to come from a Head of Architecture outside the team, but more likely to have met the clients and had a hand in winning the commission in the first place. When a job is landed, the Head of Architecture assesses each team’s skills and stage of completion of their project, and chooses to either reallocate staff or projects or, if the project is a major one, to cannibalize teams and configure a new one having the appropriate skills and size.

Frank Gehry

At Frank Gehry’s office, designers are encouraged to design in the style of Frank Gehry and those designs are then run by him for approval. Sometimes he even changes them completely [!], it is said. This is no different from any commercial practice with a house style.

Of course it’s frustrating for workers to be taken off one job and assigned to another so, in order to motivate those who became architects because they wanted to design, they’re tossed occasional design bones in the form of an internal competitions for some new project. They work on this in their own time and so reveal to their boss the degree to which they have bought into the myth of the ambitious yet overworked and underpaid creative.

The system initiated by Gropius has left us a situation where it’s no longer obvious where architectural ideas are coming from. This has its advantages. If a practice wants to win work from high-profile competitions, one design brain simply isn’t enough.

Has there ever been a time in the history of architecture when there are so many competitions? This is where the theme of the book at the head of this post becomes relevant. An environment rich in competitions produces a system of architectural production exquisitely evolved (with all the pros and cons that that implies) to produce architectural firms that feed off them. Competition-driven practices like to call themselves research-driven practices. They also like to tell us they are research-driven practices as this makes it seems a noble endeavour to have much activity yet nothing to show for it. Clients, for their part, like competitions not only because they increase their options and allow for a ‘prescreening’, but also because the promotional efforts of several practices contributes to the media circus that anyway surrounds high-profile competitions. [c.f. Celebrity Shootout] It’s a symbiotic relationship.


Back in the 1990s, practices that could afford to, formed ‘elite’ teams for the purpose of winning competitions, but when the ideal form of practice becomes the kind that produces the kind of architecture that wins competitions, every project starts to be treated as a competition and all staff start to get tossed design bones on a regular basis in order to keep them keen. This leaves figurehead personalities free to concentrate on curating those ideas and marketing them, and the workers happy to generate concepts and live the dream. A large number of interns guarantees low overheads, a freshness that grizzled and experienced staff don’t have and, importantly, wild ideas that, if ever realized, make us wonder anew at the mystery of architecture by making us redefine yet again what it is a building can be. Over and over again. It’s a new kind of hell, basically. 



Occasional reports such as this by a former intern at OMA’s Hong Kong office do the media circuit. The story is always the same. Intense. Long hours. Pressure. Exilarating. Unforgettable. Burnout. 


Bjarke Ingels describes his experience at OMA in these now standard terms and, despite claiming to have left because he disapproved of the relentless pressure to produce, seems to have replicated OMA system of battery farming ideas for buildings. He now describes himself as a curator of ideas.

 • • •

Many employees, especially those who have just graduated, accept such high-pressure work as normal until they realize they are 1) overworked, 2) underpaid, and 3) under-appreciated. It’s not just the minions. Senior staff also jump ship if they have observed the food chain long enough to understand how it works and have come to the conclusion “I can do that!” They’re not driven by the desire to create architecture but by the desire to have the benefits of  having their own branding machine. [c.f. Monetising Architectural Fame] Ken Shuttleworth famously departed Foster + Partners in 2004 to set up MAKE. How many of F+P’s designers jumped with him was never made public but rumours at the time put it around 30%. Within weeks, MAKE’s debut press release was a multicoloured building conspicuously shaped not like a gherkin.

Architecture Building of The Vortex in London by Make Architects copy

Equally sensationally, Joshua Prince Ramus, departed as head of OMA’s NY operation in 2000 to set up REX. The then website took pains to put some distance between them and OMA. Their current About page is not much different.

We design collaborations rather than dictate solutions. The media sells simple, catchy ideas; it reduces teams to individuals and their collaborative work to genius sketches. The proliferation of this false notion of “starchitecture” diminishes the real teamwork that drives celebrated architecture. REX believes architects should guide collaboration rather than impose solutions.

We replace the traditional notion of authorship: “I created this object,” with a new one: “We nurtured this process.”We embrace responsibility in order to implement vision.The implementation of good ideas demands as much, if not more, creativity than their conceptualization. Increasingly reluctant to assume liability, architects have retreated from the accountability (and productivity) of Master Builders to the safety (and impotence) of stylists. To execute vision and retain the insight that facilitates architectural invention, REX re-engages responsibility. Processes, including contractual relationships, project schedules, and procurement strategies, are the stuff with which we design.

Former OMA partner Ole Scheeren has trod the same path.



Of all the OMA spawn, ZHA is unique in leaving no confusion as to where authorship lies – although the definition of authorship is stretched somewhat when the original creative idea is not even called a concept. 


It is called an irritant – in the hope of evoking notions of oysters and pearls and of something initiating a process to creates something of value. The big advantage of the irritant is that it allows its generator to technically claim the right to be recognised as author.


• • •

If one is going to stop one’s best people drifting off to set up shop for themselves, it pays to keep them on a long leash. Shohei Shigematsu, current partner and head of OMA’s NY operation since 2008 is allowed to outline his plan to bring new dimensions to the NY OMA brand. Let’s see how that goes.


There’s no denying the number of people who have worked for OMA and thought “I can do that!”


OMA seems destined to never become the brand umbrella of architectural design in the same way that LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) is for luxury goods, or architecture behemoth AECOM is for the less glamorous side of the building business.

• • •

I’ve come to admire Asnago & Vender all the more for buying into none of this. Instead, they left us a large and coherent legacy of useful buildings designed and built over five decades, mostly in the same city. I admire them for refusing to conceive of their buildings as vehicles for their self-promotion. They made themselves a reputation, not a brand. This distinction is no longer important. It’s not even that having a strong brand is now seen as better than having a good reputation. Having a strong brand is seen as an end in itself. Nothing else exists or matters.

• • •

23 Oct. 2016: Thom Brisco kindly tweeted me this today, saying it gives “an insight on the Corb-gap from Polish-born Swedish architect Léonie Geisendorf who worked in his office in the 1930s.” It does indeed. 


Imagery as Architecture

It’s not just me who’s thankful the most egregious examples of CAD architecture will never get built, but it’s pointless being thankful if we’ve already imagined them. It’s entered our lives already and is already as real as it ever needs to be. When imagery of architectural propositions is debated, discussed and consistently reacted to as if it were real, it makes absolutely no difference. It still feeds this new monster we know by the same old name Architecture.


Sure Chernikov produced his 101 Architectural Fantasies


and Sant’Elia did some drawings too but we understand that building them was never on the cards. They were illustrations of theoretical positions, not unbuilt proposals. The now quaint term ‘paper architect‘ used to refer to an architect whose designs repeatedly failed to get built. The term has lost its air of sadness along with the paper for designs now exist independent of any validation functional economic or for what it’s worth architectural.

Design has now atrophied to imagery alone but that’s a tangential point. Once we have architectural reputations built on imagery alone then we have to admit that images are architecture. If we don’t want to do that, we could always admit it’s possible for architectural reputations to be formed on the basis of images alone but this leaves us with the tricky issue of the building bit being obsolete. This seems a better fit. The unfortunate corollary is that, in the absence of any coherent intellectual or moral challenge, what gets presented as architecture gets perceived as architecture.


I first learned of Klyukin and his work at the 2013 Cityscape Global exhibition here in Dubai. I’d put him down as the kind of chancer you usually find lurking around property, furniture and design fairs here or anywhere else for that matter. I know how easy it would be for some dude with too much money to swing by his stand and exclaim “Now that’s what I call Architecture!” and before you know it there it is, in a city near you.

Klyukin and his architecture have received spatterings of media coverage these past years. Some recent mentions how ‘designs like Klyukin’s point to the toll that weird design has taken on the public’s conception of what architecture means’. In an elephant-in-the-room kind of way, there’s no discussion of the toll this has taken on architects’ conception of what architecture means. It’s not as if Klyukin is doing anything vastly different from any of the other chancers out there and this is why, even as ideas, his architecture makes uncomfortable viewing.

This is OUR problem. We’re the ones who’ve been groomed to form opinions and make judgments about architecture on the basis of images alone. In our minds, images are architecture. By this I don’t mean they’ve become another type of architecture. They’re it. All there is. A is B. Making some analogy to online pornography vs. actual sex would be trite if the medium, process, addiction, commodification and resultant dysfunction weren’t all exact matches.


Personally, and as far as the architecture of Vasily Klyukin is concerned, I don’t go much for the forms, but accept it’s a natural consequence of the system. Gotta take the bad with the good, etc. But where’s the good? Who gains from such a system?

There’s never much evidence of construction or internal function on display but hey we don’t want to be living in the past do we?  The proposition above, for example, could be for offices, mixed use, apartments, a hotel – nobody cares and certainly not Vasily Klyukin or the rest of the world. He creates artistic statements out of building volumes in the same way as Michelangelo once used blocks of marble.

I cringed when I wrote that. Please tell me you did too. It means there’s still hope, that we’re still alive and sentient, that we’ve discovered a line we’d prefer uncrossed, a door opened we’d prefer firmly shut again. But how would we feel if a sculptor who was Michelangelo’s equal or better came along with a similar proposition? How would we feel about it today if someone had decided Midtown was the best location for Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi‘s The Statue of Liberty?


Or how would we feel if The Colossus of Rhodes was still standing? Or rebuilt, as it may yet be? – there’s plan afoot.


These are just speculations on one of Vasily Klyukin’s many propositions. What they all have in common is they’re big, not tiny like the piano and violin music school building or the book library building we all laughed smugly at.

What’s more, they’re not intended for somewhere in China, some Gulf or country with a name ending in -stan. These proposals are provocatively montaged into locations that include some we know. We’re immune to this.


Here’s one of Klyukin’s takes on a superyacht – seen worse.  (c.f. Showboating).

Here’s Zaha Hadid’s.
Conceptually, it’s a fine line in sea creatures inhabiting the shallow end of biomimicry. Back on land, here’s Klyukin’s In Love.
Here’s Gehry’s Fred and Ginger.

I prefer the Klyukin – it’s less contrived. I can’t hate it even though we probably have the Gehry to thank for it. It could just as easily be called Fred and Ginger were it not for the fact that, at 5’9″, Fred was never that much taller than any of his partners. Gehry probably added the head feature to the corner tower in order to make the name work with the building volume and stop Ginger being a head taller. The more I look at the abominable Gehry … the arm-balcony … the doubled shapely legs …  yes, I definitely prefer In Love but I could happily live without knowing both exist as equivalent ideas in the virtual world of architecture.

Confession time: I once designed a building to partner SOM’s Rolex Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai. The idea was to have a slightly ‘feminine’ building adjacent, a muted rose pink to Rolex’s sea green etc., together dominating the board. As far as aesthetically efficient concepts go, it’s not bad IMO but I’m still waiting for that call.

But whether singles play or doubles doesn’t time just fly! It’s only been a short hop, step and a jump from this
to this,arabian_performance_venue_03_dream1885
and this.

And so on.

It’s all flashing before me as Vasily Klyukin forces us to reflect upon where architecture is at. We may dismiss his propositions as architecture but we do so uneasily. This isn’t because we know our luck won’t last forever, but because we know in our hearts how little different they are to anything else posited as architecture these days.

This, as I said, is our problem but, when anything can be proposed as architecture and be considered such, it’s architecture’s problem as well – not that anyone cares. The world of architecture as represented by its media overlords has embraced the instant production and dissemination of imagery as if it is architecture, as if the provocatively proposed is somehow superior to the intelligently realised, as if the difference between the built and the unbuilt, and between fantasy and reality no longer matters.

We should all thank Vasily Klyukin for reminding us why it should.

• • •

Further reading: 

The Things Architects Do #9: The Dating Game

There’s a lot of lonely architects out there, beginning and ending their days alone. Nobody knows they exist. They look at their weekly calendars and see complete elevations of windows for lunches unlunched, meetings unmeetinged. They never set their mobile phones to silent.

Many businesses have sprung up to help solve this problem and team up lonely architects with their fantasy clients.


As with any dating site, the only ones who make any money out of it are those that run them.


Lonely architects upload photos of how they want to be seen, and hope someone will fancy them. Comments are invited. Typical comments are “Beautiful!” or occasionally, “Ugly!” ArchDaily users have to filter so they can head straight for Houses if that’s their thing or to Public Buildings if they’re into that. If looks aren’t that important, they can head straight to Articles where they might meet someone equally desperate to have those long conversations.

 • • •

There’s many traps for clients in this dating business. Despite wanting their love, some architects are only in it for the short term. Some are only in it for the money.


For some, it’s all about being in control.


Equally, there are also traps for architects. Some clients just want to be seen with a piece of architect candy.


Sometimes both sides simply can’t admit they need each other.


• • •

Speaking of neediness, this past week, DEZEEN has been harassing me to vote for them so they can win a Webby award. I don’t actually care and can’t help but wonder what their state of mind must be if they feel I ought to.


In passing, Dezeen’s watches are spin-off merchandise. As with chairs, it’s easy to design dubious value into a watch. Watch mechanisms and designers are cheap, watches have a high design to volume ratio, don’t take much space to store, require little packaging, and postage or delivery costs are low. They’re the ideal internet earner.


The trouble with websites is that they attract all the wrong sort of people. You never know who’s looking. What architects are really looking for is somebody like themselves. The competition circuit is the speed dating of the architectural world. Your project gets put in front of real people. Possibly even for a minute.

• • •

Currently in my inbox is an invitation to participate in the INSIDE awards. Pass.


What’s this? BREAKING NEWS!! Reduced-rate early bird rate of US$660 to enter for INSIDE ends this Friday. After that, it’s $698. Better hurry!

earlyl 2

A few days ago was a notification from Architectural Review to make sure to submit my project for their annual house awards.

AR house

Prizes are:

  • The chance to donate £50,000 worth of content
  • The chance to be in an online video
  • The opportunity to have your building analysed in both print and online versions of AR.

• • •

And what’s this now? A quick reminder from WAF before I even get to write about them “Reduced-rate early bird rate of US$660 to enter for INSIDE ends this Friday”.


This next reads like a scam preying on the needy and vulnerable.

Untitled Untitled 2

WAF’s earlybird rate is US$880 went up to US$930 yesterday. Here’s the full price list.

early b ird

These are the people who will want to see how sincere you are. Seriously?

• • •

It’s common knowledge that some of internet’s biggest businesses don’t generate any of their own content. And that the search engines and social media sites cream advertising revenue off user-provided content. I don’t see that much difference here. No architectural website needs 70,000,000 page views per month.

It’s obviously not about architects swapping useful information on how to make buildings better as there’s simply not that much new information OF WORTH that the world of architecture can process, let alone supply, every month.

In some whale and plankton kind of way, these sites and competitions must function as advertising in the traditional sense as architects email each website mention to their entire client base as if it were somehow equivalent to sending signed monographs as indicators of accomplishment. And good luck to them.

• • •

Meanwhile, the pressure to hook up continues without interruption or mercy. New competitions raise new hopes the next one is going to work.

• • •

misfits’ advice for lonely architects

 Happy ending!
the end

Smoke & Mirrors

At least 20 hours have passed so the entire architectural universe must now be familiar with this image.


It’s the new headquarters of the waste management company Bee’ah, based in Sharjah, UAE.

Although there’s a lot of sand around that way, it’s not exactly desert. The Bee’ah Waste Management Complex is on the same side of Al Dhaid Road* as Emirates Industrial City. Across the road is the new Al Juwaiza’a suburban development that promises to be like the Al Suyoh Suburb further away.

Al Suyoh

It was a lazy Friday morning so I drove over to take a look. Here’s the Bee’ah Waste Management Complex.

This is Al Suyoh Suburb.


The Bee’ah Waste Management Complex is 39km (24 miles) from Burj Khalifa and precisely downwind from Sharjah International Airport.


Here’s the yearly average wind direction and strength data for Sharjah International Airport.


This tells us that prevailing winds are west-north-west, with occasional squalls from due west and none from the north, northeast or south. Here’s the wind direction data for February.

OMSJ_febIt would be incorrect for me to say this building is not shaped in response to the wind for the wind is occasionally from the north. Even a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day. However, I’d be correct in saying the building is not shaped in response to the prevailing winds.

Some commenters have gone as far as to say that the building is shaped in response to the Shamal winds The trouble is, the shamal winds characteristically come from the west or north-west. Not north, even though shamal is Arabic for “north”.


But all this misunderstanding could just be mindless repetition of a press release. Let’s try to get to the bottom of it.

designboom has the following sentence.

formal context

ArchDaily has this, noting that it’s “From the architects”


It didn’t take long to find the source, did it? Shall we just google “informed by its desert context as a series of intersecting dunes orientated to optimize the prevailing Shamal winds”?

ADF Architects’ Data File notes that the information was submitted by ZHA.

dezeen places it in quotation marks.


architect magazine at least rewrites it, even if it doesn’t make sense.

architect magazine

As we’ve seen, the words “surrounding desert context” and “oriented according to the prevailing Shamal wind direction” play fast and loose with the truth. “Conceptual driver” is a scary new concept. On the other hand, the phrase “settling upon the notion of …” seems to me to accurately describe the creative process at work here.

As well as the poor grammar and sentence structure, there’s also a logic error in the source PR release, if not the concept itself, or – God forbid! – its driver. How can two intersecting dunes both be oriented according to the same wind direction? Or to put it another way, aren’t adjacent dunes formed by the same wind? And even if they weren’t, wouldn’t they just combine rather than intersect? Life’s short. Let’s talk about the renders.


They were done by the Norweigian firm MIR. MIR have a philosophy of Natural Visualisation. Its core principles are:

  1. Natural light
    A sensible relationship between light and shadow is the foundation of every Mir image. Architecture “becomes itself” when lit naturally.
  2. Unforced process
    All our best work has started with the freedom to explore and invent. The industry standard of ordering specific viewpoints with mood references does not take into account the interdependence of lighting, composition and colour.
  3. Unstaged entourage
    Staged and unnatural-looking people can reduce art to kitsch in an instant. We believe that entourage should be an integral and unimposing part of the story in the image.
  4. Natural setting
    Nature provides a sense of time and place. Natural elements from the specific location sets the scene for the architecture.
    – A rugged urban street in soft morning fog.
    – Heatwaves from a scorching sun in the desert.

This is the first philosophy of visualisation I’ve come across and it seems good. The results are certainly amazing. What this philosophy doesn’t mention is also interesting. The only connection with reality is the logical relationship between light and the shadows it produces.

  • Here’s the aerial render. We’re looking south-east. Not. The angle and length of the palm-tree and vehicle shadows in the lower right imply sun from due east in June or thereabouts but the azimuth is too high for that time of year. So much for philosophy.


  • “Natural elements from the specific location set the scene for the architecture.” Okay. Here, my question is “how specific does specific have to be?” Yes, there is wind in the UAE and yes there is sand and yes there are palm trees. A scene is set but, once again, it’s total fiction.


  • Thankfully, those trees do look more like date palms than coconut palms. MIR have not made that all-too-common error. Unfortunately for the naturalistic approach to visualizations, there’s not a palm tree to be seen anywhere near the site. The water table in that area is too low to support trees as thirsty as date palms. There’s a reason palm trees grow in oases such as Al Ain.

Al ain


  • There’s also rimth (Haloxylon salicornicum). The next image shows some rimth outside the waste management facility.


Both the ghaf tree and the rimth are extremely clever plants but not very attractive and so they are of no value for visualisers as internet content. Besides, scene setting only works with what people think they know. Or want to think they know. Either way, it’s the raw material for scene setting inasmuch as it constructs the image of the building in the greenfields of our minds.

Here’s what I make of all this.

The proposal won a competition so on some level it must work. It doesn’t work on the level of artistic concept for there’s nothing essentially artistic about two intersecting dunes. And it doesn’t work on the level of a building responding to its environment for the environment this building is depicted as responding to doesn’t exist.

It seems to work best on the level of iconography. The impression generated from a few images and a few thoughts put into our heads, is that a building has been shaped in response to its environment. This is true only for the dimension of iconography as perceived by the competition organisers, how they want to perceive themselves, how they want to perceive we perceive them, and how they want to perceive each other. Oddly, none of this is odd. We lived through the eighties. I never thought I’d say I long for the days when signifiers were enigmatic.



As a stab at bigging ZHA’s scientific cred, the press release claims the building will have zero net energy. ArchDaily parrots:

The building systems of the new Headquarters have been developed in conjunction with Atelier Ten to minimize both the energy required for cooling and the need for potable water consumption. In milder months, the façade is operable to allow natural ventilation – minimizing the need to provide cooling to the building.

“Operable facade elements that allow natural ventilation and minimise the need to provide cooling” eh? What strange new world is this? Soon we’ll be invited to marvel at glazed facade elements that allow sunlight to penetrate so we don’t need to turn the lights on. Has nobody yet invented an emoticon for despair?

In conclusion, this recent news snippet is just another example of the imagery production behemoth that is ZHA. It was distributed to media outlets worldwide and, within 18 hours, is now part of our common cultural heritage. This is not a story of lazy or ill-conceived concepts. It is not even a story of sloppy editing or poor PR management practices. Whatever was done was good enough to do whatever job it was meant to do. It wouldn’t have happened if it had been otherwise. And that includes the design of the imagery, the design of the press release and, finally, the design of the building. The building comes last. We’ve yet to find out about how it will work and how those palm trees are going to get watered.

• • •

This link will to take you to the Bee’ah company site where you’ll find information about all the good things they do, such as constructing a plasma-arc gasification plant that will generate 85MW from every 400,000 tonnes of waste as well as a LEED Platinum rating for the project within the LEED boundary. The website also has other images more descriptive of their new headquarters even though they don’t have the panache of MIR’s. It’s now clear that mother dune shades a drop-off area and that baby dunes shade plants and 16 parking spaces. It’s also clear how little building there actually is.



Personally, I think it’s a shame Bee’ah chose to give hackneyed imagery another life instead of showing us how to make buildings out of recycled rubber tyres and the many other products they process.

• • •

June 2016: I’ve learned that this building is now not going to be built on the competition site alongside the Bee’ah Waste Recycling Facility (just up the road from the Sharjah Cement Factory), but across the road where this sign now appears.



This means that the shamal wind narrative makes slightly more sense even if the prevailing winds are still from the west. On the other hand, it also means that the large glazed surfaces face south. This must also complicate the energy evaluation. Some high level of building performance rating was being aimed for by linking the building energy use to plasma arc gasification plants and such but I imagine achieving this (let alone claiming it) is going to be more complex now all the fun stuff is on the other side of the road.

There will be scope for better pictures as it will take a while for the Al Suyoh Suburb housing subdivision to fill in.

here 2

Whether on the north side of the road or south, the water table still won’t support palm trees. Even grass and petunias do not grow naturally there.





Moneymaking Machines #1: 432 Park Avenue

432 PARK AVENUE has its detractors. A certain type of web forum frequenter finds it “boring” and seems to think these things are built to entertain them. True, there’s not much of an architectural statement other than stating it’s arrived, but this very absence annoys aesthetes who admire skylines as a Jane Austen character would a landscape.

VF6STR1261CJ70.pdONE 57 is already there, with its quiff and gradated glazing suggesting to residents (and onlookers) the direction in which they should (or would like to) be looking.

P1020246I can see how 432 PARK AVENUE appears superficially uninteresting and temporarily prominent but, like Edward, take pleasure in ordinary things done well. Most of what I like about 432 PARK AVENUE is related to its economics. I’ve always taken it as fact that buildings occur when the three elements of land, money, and a will to build are in place. Much of the time, the will to build comes from anticipated return on investment. With NYC’s recently more promiscuous attitude towards supertall buildings, there’s obviously a return to be had.

The 432 PARK AVENUE marketing site is a great site. It does what it does and it does it well. It gets straight to the point. Here’s the splash page.


This next graphic shows why the splash page offers Russian, Portuguese and Spanish languages. Including French is traditional. Chinese can’t be ignored. Hindi and Arabic speakers prefer local displays of wealth. Japanese speakers don’t spend.


Not that words matter anyway if you’re an ultra-high-net-worth individual with a net worth of at least US$30 million AFTER you’ve spent what you can on company shares, art, planes, fast cars and a few houses in welcoming countries around the world.

The thing I most like about 432 PARK AVENUE is how integrated all the things I like are. It’s not easy to isolate them, even for discussion, but here goes.

1. Height

If height and the views that come from height are what’s being sold, then the marketing site leaves you in no doubt. The first page after the splash page offers a selection of views from various heights.


The implication, of course, is you get what you pay for.

432-Park-Avenue-view-from-1271Meanwhile, views from ONE 57 up the road are being marketed as on axis with Central Park, suggesting that a false definition of quality trumps a false definition of quantity.

The remainder of the website falls into place.

My only quibble is its mention of “Palladian proportions”.


Views attract windows and preferably big ones. Lots of ’em. The windows of 432 PARK AVENUE are 10 ft. square, implying Palladio found perfection in the number ten as well as squares. However, Palladio used the Vincentine foot which is 13.66 US inches. If our man Andrea had been called on to design 432 PARK AVENUE, he would have made the windows US 12’4″ x 12’4″.

2. The Free Plan

By this I mean free in the sense we understand Corby to have meant, not what he did. 432’s column-free sellable space is made possible by the small depth between the core and perimeter – a span of about 10m. In theory, the floors could be sold as open “loft” space but I doubt that high- or ultra-high-net-worth individuals could really be bothered. The generic plans do all the right things. Here’s the plan of the 91-96th floor penthouses – the 92nd floor one is still listed as available at US$82,500,000.


It doesn’t matter. It’s all arbitrary walls. Master bedroom with his and hers bath and dressing rooms. About ten toilets. A fab powder room. Some not particularly large bedrooms. A somewhat tiny kitchen and an unimpressive foyer. None of it matters. Apartments like this are designed around the wow moment when visitors are ushered into the living room. Here’s some SOM examples with furniture artfully arranged around pesky structure that complicates the apartment planning incredibly. SOM does the wow moment well.

With 432 PARK AVENUE, floors 77–84 have two unequally-sized apartments per floor.

Floors 62-73 are split into two roughly equally-sized apartments,

with further variations lower down. It’s easy to imagine living in any of them.

Here’s a live link to what apartments are still unsold, with floor plans. The 28 and 29th floors are studio apartments that, as far as studio apartments go, are window rich. According to

Developers CIM Group and Macklowe Properties have shoehorned 25 units with an average size of 472 square feet into the building’s lowest residential floors, on 28 and 29.

Here’s some plans. I particularly like the last one with its separate living and sleeping areas, defined kitchen and 200 sq.ft of glazing. Or the top left one with 300 sq.ft of glazing!

When it gets this small, it’s difficult to say “column-free” anymore. I can relate.

The challenge is to incorporate the significant columns into the layout and I’d say Viñoly’s team have done okay. Any studio apartment having more than one place in which to be is an excellent studio apartment.

3. Slenderness

It’s impossible to talk about height without noting 432 PARK AVENUE’s slenderness ratio of 15:1 – well outside the accepted limit of 11:1. It’s its slenderness, rather than its height that makes it so striking. We are unused to buildings looking like this. I mention slenderness after Free Plan because I first thought this slenderness ratio had been achieved by an increasing number of shear walls as one goes down the building. I assumed upper floors would be full-floor apartments, and that below them would be increasingly smaller apartments separated by an increasing number of shear walls affording lateral rigidity. It doesn’t seem so. It’s columns and core all the way up.

4. Structural Stability

I admire structural stability in a building. WSP are the engineers.


Engineered by WSP, the structure consists of an architecturally-exposed concrete tube system, coupled to a central core with concrete strength of more than 14,000 psi.

To control the perception of lateral motion under high wind conditions, a series of openings throughout the structure have been used to improve its aerodynamics, the design of which was achieved by means of wind-tunnel testing.

These are every 15 or so floors whereas if the location of mechanical floors had been determined by the mechanicals alone, there’d be a double-height mechanical floor every 20. Wherever there are these double mechanical floors, there are “outriggers” to tie the core to the columns.


The name implies they’re some sort of open triangulated truss – which they’d have to be to not impede airflow. They don’t seem to be in place yet.


Whatever they turn out to be, it seems they’ll will work to reduce sway and bring the building sufficiently in line so two tuned mass dampers can deal with the rest.

Page 39 of the structural analysis peer review report reveals the tuned mass dampers to be big tanks of water sloshing around on top. The amount of water is equivalent to (a whopping) 1% of the mass of the building whereas TAIPEI 101’s famous tuned mass pendulum is only 0.1%.


Although the core uses 14,000 psi high-strength concrete (which is getting towards the top end of the scale), the real work is done by the perimeter which is essentially a tube shell with windows punched through it.

Imperial Strength Metric Equivalent
2,000 psi 14 MPa
2.500 psi 18 MPa
3,000 psi 20 MPa
3,500 psi 25 MPa
4,000 psi 30 MPa
5,000 psi 35 MPa
6,000 psi 40 MPa
7,000 psi 50 MPa
8,000 psi 55 MPa
10,000 psi 70 MPa
12,000 psi 80 MPa
19,000 psi 130 MPa
36,000 psi 250 MPa

The floors and outrigger structures link core and perimeter to create yet more rigidity but the peer analysis of the WSP engineering report says that only 12% of the resistance to the “overturning moment” is carried by the core. Nice work, guys.


4. Residential terraces

The section drawing contains the text “residential terrace beyond” wherever there is a mechanical level.

We don’t yet know where or how all the mechanical stuff will fit in but if these spaces have to be open to the air for reasons of air handling and wind loading, then why not give the residents a place to feel the wind on their faces and perhaps even have a cigarette if their ultra-high-net-worth partner won’t let them smoke in the apartment? Nice idea.

5. Symmetry

Symmetry is good – especially with structure. You never know which way the wind’s going to blow. But also, you never know which direction people might prefer to look. Sure, a majority will probably want to look at Central Park or show people they have a view of Central Park. Of course, for the people with the full-floor penthouses, direction of view doesn’t really matter. However, if you check the north point on the full-floor penthouse plans above, the living rooms face south east which probably means that direction lights up better at night when the proper entertaining and visiting is to be done. In the end, it’s a matter of personal preference. Some people like their bedrooms to face east, others any direction but. Me, I’ve always found there’s more of a sensation of height if there’s another tall building close by to look at or into. Another thing I’ve found is that being able to see a long distance only counts on days when it’s possible to see a long way and your windows are clean. This is unlikely to be a day you have visitors.

But treating all directions equally is a good thing. Marianne and Edward show us how people can find the same joy looking at different things. ONE57 assumes that all people must find interest in and see value in visually owning Central Park but that isn’t the case. Although apartment plans may dictate what gets viewed from what room, the shape and surface of 432 PARK AVENUE don’t infer any preference for any one direction over another. This is good.

6. Smoothness

Philip Johnson once said re. tall buildings that, “whatever you do, you get a plaid”. I think we’ve moved on. It’s not about mullion proportions now anymore than it is about load bearing walls. It’s about window openings, columns, slabs and core working as an integrated structure. Reducing the wind load means ridding the facade of decorative protuberances that increase it.


We can expect more refined iterations of this typology to be smoother still, with windows more flush. There’s still room for graphic posturing such as ONE 57 but now we have a structural case for the elimination of 3D ornament. Hurrah!


7. The Absence of a Conscious Facade

It’s no accident that the building elevations look like this, but although the above render looks like cladding, it is actually unadorned concrete. The window units fit into gaps between the structural members. Technically speaking, the entire outer wall is a shell

150524606.DiEcUgvX.hm1and the window units fit into openings punched into that shell.


It’s the elimination of an entire building element because it’s a functional redundancy. I suspect this is what Ludwig Hilberseimer was getting at with his Chicago Tribune project


although people could only see it in terms of a claimed aesthetic redundancy without realising they were the same thing.

8. Floor Plan Efficiency

Much art went into shrinking the size of the core of 432 PARK AVENUE. Only five elevators for a 92-storey building!

432park4 tells us that, because they have fewer apartments per floor, slender buildings have the advantage of requiring fewer elevators.

A compact core is desirable to the developer, because the core represents costs, while all the other floor area that the new owner will purchase represents revenue..

In order to create the most compact service core, the architects developed their own design for a prefabricated switchback scissor stair that utilised the minimal stair height clearances in the most minimised footprint. Working with the stair industry, a shallow steel-framed stair was designed with rated high-impact shaft wall enclosure that achieved the thinnest profile possible.


9. Vertical Efficiency

Despite its concern for the world of physical forces, 432 PARK AVENUE shows none of its regard for them. It rises resolutely vertical for 420 metres and then stops. It neither narrows nor tapers as it rises, and acknowledges neither gravity nor its own weight. Its shape and structure resist analogies to plants and spires and the metaphorical baggage of growth, faith and hope they carry. Rather than ‘reaching’, ‘climbing’, or ‘striving’ in Deco-gothic aspiration to greater heights, it simply towers.

Importantly, none of its space is wasted on vanity space or uninhabitable spires. CTBUH has had a bee in its bonnet about this topic. Perhaps a sense of proportion and a % breakdown in terms of gross floor area might be more informative.


Although, I’d respectfully suggest they quit championing tallness for tallness’ sake and stop producing diagrams like this.


10. Marketing Innovation

According to

Developers CIM Group and Macklowe Properties have shoehorned 25 units with an average size of 472 square feet into the building’s lowest residential floors, on 28 and 29.

Here’s some plans. I particularly like the last one with its separate living and sleeping areas, defined kitchen and 200 sq.ft of glazing. I’ve lived in worse.

The units, meant to house staff for the owners of the apartments above, have seen the largest appreciation in asking prices for any individual units in the last year, information from the New York Attorney General’s Real Estate Finance Bureau shows.

And indeed it does. Apartment 28B (546 sq.ft; 50.7sqm) is now being marketed for 50% more than its original offering price a year ago whereas Apartment 39D at twice the size has appreciated in value by only half that. The price of the uppermost penthouse has risen only 15% $82.55 million to $95 million, in the two years since July 2012.

per sqft

What does this mean? Does it mean that rich people want to give their staff the best accommodation possible? I don’t think so. It might just be a way of squeezing some value out of residential space without much of a view. I’ve always been intrigued by this apartment interior by Maya Lin. It was mentioned in on of those Architecture Now! books circa 1995.

maya lin washington

The accompanying text said the owner bought it as a surprise present for his wife to use to rest when on shopping excursions into Manhattan. Much value has been added to this windowless space. The mountain of what I imagine to be travertine gravel is a nice way of saying you have floor space and dollars to waste. Genius! I also admire the photo of a view substituting for a real one. It’s a reminder that one’s in Manhattan but thankfully removed from the visual noise. Much more restful that way. A minus was converted into a plus.

Elsewhere, it’s often the case that gyms and other leisure facilities are on the less desirable lower levels. Other developments are offering lower-level office spaces to residents.


The studio apartments at 432 PARK AVENUE can be marketed in many ways.

Kirk Henckels, director of the high-end-focused Stribling Private Brokerage, said he expected buyers at 432 Park to purchase staff units for uses other than housing their employees.

After decades of promoting size and view, real estate brokers seem suddenly dumbfounded, as if they don’t really know how to market this exciting new real-estate product. Imagine that! A spare room with its own lease! It can be used as an office, boudoir, camera obscura or S-M dungeon. Some people with no shame might even want to buy them to live in! The possibilities are endless.

Whatever happens in these remote rooms, they’re hot property. Given the profits to be made, we can expect to see more of the same. Perhaps we’ll soon see full towers of 500 sq.ft studios for $1.5 mil with only a token full-floor penthouse at the top to supposedly add prestige when it’s really the loss-leader?

11. A New Building Typology

Structural efficiencies mean economic advantages. Viñoly’s outfit is planning something similar at 125 Greenwich Street. This time the engineers are DeSimone Consulting Engineers, PLLC.


It looks much like 432 PARK AVENUE. And so it should! At last we have a new building typology with known parameters that can be continually improved upon. It’s an opportunity to perfect something for once, to focus on making something better, and without getting distracted by the next diverting thing.


Much like 12th century Bologna.