Category Archives: Things Architects Do

repeating patterns in the behaviour and career paths of architects

The Things Architects Do #10: Pull Out All Stops

“Pull out all stops” is one of those many curious English-language idioms that seem to exist to torment learners despite hardly anyone ever using them. This one is derived from an organist pulling out all stops on a church organ in order to deliver the full force of its sound. The stops are those knobs on the left and right of the keyboards of this organ at the 1876 First Reformed Episcopal Church at 551 Madison Ave, New York.


In passing, this is the 4/380 Möller Church Pipe Organ installed in 1911 at the Cadet Chapel at West Point Military Academy. It’s a beast. It’s easy to imagine a terrifying fury shaking one to the heart of one’s very soul. Or whatever.

In practical usage, pulling out all stops means doing everything one can possibly do and that’s what Zaha Hadid Architects were doing on August 25 when they uploaded to YouTube a video explaining the logic underpinning their revised design for the New National Stadium in Tokyo and why they should continue with the project. It’s a fascinating video document. We get to learn about all the bits ZHA have gotten into the habit of never mentioning when they present their projects.

It’s neither unkind nor unfair to say that the general public’s perception of ZH is that she plays by her own rules, ignoring the science bits and the money bits in the name of higher art.

This carefully cultivated image has come back to bite and so ZHA the ruthless commercial architecture firm has had to come forward and justify its proposal in terms of everything architects less stellar hold dear. Sunlight. Illumination. Crowd control. Climate control. Structure. Sight lines. Visual impact. Versatility. Reusability. Sustainability. Project management. Delivery.

ZHA might’ve had an easier ride in Tokyo if they had cultivated a history of directly and clearly communicating the logic underlying all their other projects.

• • •

Let’s go through that again and see what humble skills ZHA have been forced to admit possessing and using. We need to remember the video appears to be addressed to some unspoken powers that be in Japan, but the real audience is English speakers with some capacity as opinion formers. These may or may not be the same people but, for the purposes of media management, it’s you and me. We need to accept that uploading a video to YouTube is now a primary means of architectural communication. And we need to question why this video was made for us. We are complicit.


To hammer home the same point, Japanese is not the primary language of this video because (and without getting all autopoietic about it) Japanese is not the primary language of the audience these architectural communications are directed at. We don’t get to see things like this very often but I hope it’s the beginning of a new honesty in architectural presentations. It’s still baby steps for ZHA and we must forgive the odd lapse like the succession of highly contrived money shots six seconds in.

cherry blossoms.jpg


Old habits die hard. In the second viz see how the lens flare indicates the batter’s circle and tells our eye where to start? Our eye goes directly up to the pitcher’s mound highlit by shadows from a different sun prior to the more tumescent building beyond. Once there, infernal but obliging birds and backlit cloud continue the sweep of the roof into the landscape. After that, a short drop down to first base and that diagonal line back to the beginning. It’s a satisfying picture. A baseball could conceivably travel that very path.

Did you notice the cherry blossoms recycled from the first image? I don’t think the sun in Tokyo during cherry blossom season sun sets due north but what am sure of is that those cherry blossoms will cut no ice with the Japanese. Only the most uncultured and insensitive glorify the vulgar and showy display of full-bloom. We’ve been here before.

But who cares? Themoney shots fade to Dame Zaha saying a few words about the importance of the project won in an international competition after two years of hard work by their team. The choice of location/set is intriguing. The visual message of “I’m doing fine without you” is at odds with the act of saying it.


I’m less sure why their team has to be introduced as “credible” [it means even less in Japanese] unless it’s to slight their competitors.


Other than this, we hear no more of Dame Zaha. It was a good call to not have her say too much or Patrik Schumacher say anything. The remainder of the video is delivered in English by what sounds like a robot. Robot says things like:

“ZHA have experience working with clients to deliver projects on time and within budget.”


Media spin: Much is made of ZHA’s experience with stadium design and with the 2012 London Aquatic Centre. Its undersizing is presented as a triumph of legacy planning.

“The project was successfully redesigned to achieve a revised budget.”
“The project has since become very popular and well used by the public.” 

well used.jpg

ARUP’s stadium experience, however, is vast, as is Nikken Sekkei’s. You probably couldn’t ask for a better concentration of engineering and construction expertise.


There is no mention Qatar or the 2022 World Cup. We don’t have time to dwell on it because of this next bomshell.

ZHA can generate PoMo meaning stuff if they have to!  


“The site is the site of the  Tokyo 1964 Olympic Stadium and is an appropriate place to build a building that aspires to exceed mere function and become a symbol of Japan’s renewal and long-term optimism for the future.”

The only purpose of a sentence such as this is to mean whatever people want it to mean. Other sentences prime viewers to appreciate the images they accompany.

“The basic components of stadium design are extrapolated to connect the stadium to its specific context of Gai-En, and beyond to Japanese culture as an expressive but efficient design.” 


“The design is derived from the articulation of structure and circulation, where structure is required to provide roof cover over long spans without columns and a lot of circulation is required to safely move 80,000 people in and out of the stadium.”

design 2.jpg

The second part of this sentence couldn’t be said more clearly. Its suspicious surfeit of illumination is obviously meant to blind us to the iffy first part. It begins to get messy.

Proposed for practical reasons, the primary structure of two keel arches, have a similar intent in silhouette and symbolism to traditional Japanese landscape bridges,

so that the new stadium is based on a key motif from traditional Japanese landscape design

and an appropriate addition to the sports landscape of the Gai-En area.”

keel arches.jpg

Who’d have imagined ZHA would one day be making popularistic associations of location and culture to whip up support?  It gets worse.

“With cross ties, Nature is further embodied in the design where the expressed structure creates a distinctive flower petal geometry so familiar in Nature and to the Japanese public who have a close affinity to Nature and the passing of the seasons.” :o<<

cross ties.jpg

You get a real sense for the mighty having fallen when it comes to this next. This is as low as it gets.


We have this flower petal geometry to thank for the elevated walkway that is an “extension of the Gai-En pedestrian area and allowing extended walks and elevated views over Tokyo.


“All of these public walkways are lined with Japanese timber, giving a tactile familiarity to the stadium which ties it back to the fundamental material of the Japanese environment and experience.”


“The majority of the facade is broken down by the petal geometry and clad in Japanese timber louvres so that the overall effect at pedestrian level is a subtle interplay of Japanese timber cladding giving the experience to the visitor of a direct resonance to the tree-lined landscape of Gai-En, and Japanese culture. 


“The majority of roof structure is provided by catenary beams which resonate the innovation by Kenzo Tange with its catenary beams for the Yoyogi National Gymnasium.”

I’ve got a strong stomach, but this is sacrilege. Even the grammar of that sentence is fighting against the meaning it’s being asked to convey.


“We aspired to make the new stadium connect visually and symbolically with this Japanese icon of optimism so that Tokyo 2020 leaves Tokyo with a stadium as well conceived and as beautiful as this stadium from Tokyo 1964.”


“The roof covered in transparent lightweight fabric will allow daylight in allowing good turf growth whilst allowing spectators to experience the pleasure of daylight as they watch the events.

“At night, the roof will glow and take on the appearance of a Japanese lantern.

“Together, the arches, catenary beams and lightweight fabric combine to create an overall effect that represents the traditional craft and modernist innovation of Japan.”

So much for the design, or at least the bits people react to. That’s the most uncomfortable part of the video over, but also its most illuminating part. ZH/ZHA aren’t used to justifying their proposals but facile cultural associations are just that. The only excuse for making them seems to be that, on some level, they’ve come to be seen as sufficient.

❀ ❀ ❀ 

Time schedule comparison: The video moves on to say “starting the design from scratch is an unnecessary risk that we think the government should reconsider if its aim is to achieve a lower price than ¥250 billion.”  


The solution is to “introduce more competition between the contractors yet not lose the benefits of the design.” It’s true that “the basic requirements of seating capacity and support facilities will remain the same.”  This is what a stadium is. They’re the important bits people pay money for.


We’re told the current design is based on the brief the client has been asking for all this time. If there was ever any doubt, this is proof this video was not made for Japanese. “We gave you what you asked for!” is not something clients enjoy hearing or, for that matter, architects say.


The basic conflict is one between Olympic face-saving and legacy cashflow. Athletics would win because it’s the IOC that sells the television rights worldwide. It’s a rock and a hard place for the Japanese government although, on an ethical note, I don’t see why anyone should care if the IOC can sell rights to suitably illuminated HDTV content worldwide in 2020? Justifying a building in terms of IOC’s potential for profits vs. FIFA’s potential for profits is not a strong argument, let’s face it.


The economic case: At 9:07 you will hear the word “sustainable” which is a first for ZHA. To be fair to their reputation, they use the word in its lesser sense of financial sustainability but THE WORD HAS BEEN USED. From now on we can say that ZHA care about sustainability* (*suitably redefined). What follows is a lesson in the basics of stadium design. We learn that size, cost and sustainability are all linked, and that a stadium unable to shrink for football will compromise financial sustainability. I know I know. Let’s let them first get used to using the word.


We learn that lighting for HDTV “requires” lighting racks 50m above ground but I imagine this is something the IOC demands. Graphic comparisons with Beijing and London are useful and informative but ultimately show there’s more than one way to solve the same problem.


As for the roof, we learn that “the Tokyo summer is hot and humid and that the roof should provide as much solar protection as possible to make the spectators comfortable.”


The serious point is that if one is going to have a roof then it should work for both football and athletics.

And, just in case the government was thinking about shifting the facilities outside like HOK Sport did for London’s Olympic stadium, a plausible economic argument involving travel distances is made against doing so.

“The current design, is designed on this basis, and it should be sustainable not only in terms of usage but in terms of revenue generation.”


The remainder of the video thrashes out options for temporary seating and reasons for not doing it although this too is not ruled out as an option. Again, it all makes sense despite perhaps overestimating the success of the temporary seating at the London Aquatics Centre. My default stance is always to not believe any publicity emanating from this practice, but I was convinced of the rationality of the design of the bowl, seating and facilities. I also appreciated the helpful comparisons.



Environmental impact card + Revenue card: Caught up in this lovefest, I was sustainably surprised to be told the swooshy silhouette is not some design whimsy but the direct result of trying to maximize the number of seats that can be sold at a premium. A maximum height of 44 meters and an apparent low of 24 metres at the ends is a fortuitous side effect .


On the dark side, it also seems to be an opportunity to poison the ground for fellow Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito and his proposal that looks like a breath of fresh air – albeit it not in a good way.


Around the 17:00 mark of the video we start to bring it all together and wrap it up. The structural concept for the roof is now presented as having been chosen so its construction can proceed in parallel with that of the seating bowl, thus saving time. I have a lot of respect for whoever thought of finding and presenting the time and cost advantages of the structural design. It’s something useful we can appreciate. Imagine. We almost never would have known.


Just when you think it’s not possible to move any further away from “I like curves” as necessary and sufficient design justification, the construction efficiency and cost of the keel arch design is compared to other designs employing the same principle. It’s convincing. Less convincing is their explanation of those costs but again, this is meant to convince us, not the Japanese government. I’ll follow the traffic signal conventions to indicate how much of this next I’d accept on trust.

“The determining factor in the price is the market and the demand for materials and labour. The design is not the determining factor in these circumstances. Rather, the design should be seen as the only way to achieve value for money in the market. Without a designer’s contractual commitment as regards time and cost, there would be considerable risk of achieving value and the return on investment. Giving the design responsibility to the contractors means that there is no real definition of value or quality except for a price and a time schedule. A new concept design submitted with a price cannot be trusted after [only] five months of design work. It takes much more time to determine a new design with complete price certainty and by the time that certainty is achieved it will be too late. The Japanese public will get less for their money with this approach. So why take the risk? There is a design that will achieve quality, and it can be changed to meet a new budget.” 

There’s a lot of talk about “the design” but do they mean the sensible bits that seem to work well? Or the flower petals? The first part of this final salvo makes us think they mean the fundamental configuration but the final sentence lets us think they mean DA ROOF

Just before the video ends is some extended criticism of the London stadium. It’s overly long but, to be fair, probably justified. Despite this barrage of negativity, the concluding summary is good and I almost found myself feeling sorry for ZHA. All in all, the video makes some very good points that have been obscured until now.

Specific suggestions for cost reductions include ditching the Skything and the air conditioning [!] for the seating area. It’s hinted that even the roof can be redesigned. Suddenly it’s only a roof after all and it’s the other stuff that’s important. I can’t help feeling this is all a bit late. The most beneficial legacy this project can have on future architectural projects is more honesty about the things that really matter. Truly, we never stopped believing they were the things that really determined a design.


I don’t know who I’m being called upon to tweet my indignation to or solidarity with. Despite whatever positive things I’ve said about this project and the intermittent outbursts of honesty in the video, the real function of this video is to alter how this project will be thought about in the future. Regardless of the actual outcome of the project, this video is intended to remain in our view histories forever proclaiming what will come to be presented as some sort of moral victory.


My fascination with this whole story centres around the valid point that “the design” – if we’re talking about the roof – “should be changed now to get certainty on costs.” This is another sensible suggestion. It also means ZHA are willing to go through another roof redesign in order to keep this job going. Already it’s gone from this


to this.


It might not yet be over. Personally, I hope ZHA does get to continue the project. They themselves have admitted that all that you see in this next image was the brief.


What ZHA have stopped short of admitting is that these bits are “the design” that shouldn’t be changed, and not the flower petal bits. This is disingenuous for they well know which bits can be easily disposed with and redesigned in a flash. Nothing to do with the Skytrail is necessary. With the roof, the main support trusses are essential. The cross bracing is too, but not because it looks like a flower. Whether it needs to have the hell formed out of it like a foam bicycle helmet is for contractors to decide, but now seems to be a good time to explore methods of cross bracing less architecturally expressive of costing a fortune.

For many people, very little of what they once liked about this project will remain. It will all have been disposable. It was all unnecessary to begin with. 

I sincerely hope the result shows to the world in HDTV that the best possible stadium comes from 1) getting the important bits right and 2) less architecture obscuring them.

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

The Things Architect Do #8: Cherry Blossoms

And so, as Japan’s 2015 cherry blossom viewing (花見) season draws to a close , it’s time to reflect upon what these flowers have come to mean to us. 

A cherry blossom is the flower of any of several trees of genus Prunus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, Prunus serrulata, which is called sakura after the Japanese (桜; さくら). Currently it is widely distributed, especially in the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere such as: Europe, West Siberia, China, Japan, United States, etc. (ref.)

Cherry blossoms are getting to be widely distributed in the virtual world as well. Here’s four renders of W57th Street, courtesy of BIG/Glessner Group. “Yikes – they’ve got the joint surrounded!” 1297114794-w57-image-by-big-10-1000x625 img_glessnerA_06-2 cherry West-57th-Street-by-BIG-ARCHISCENE-net-06 Glessner and BIG have history. Here’s their 2009 VIL School With Cherry Blossom.


That same cherry tree went on to have further adventures in America . seeing double

London also has its fair share of cherry trees, most recently those associated with Rafael Viñoly’s 20 Fenchurch Street death-ray generator. bbc-car-2

It’s risky enough on the ground but radioactive cherry blossoms in the Sky Garden up top are a sinister infra-pink.


Eternal spring beats grim realities. We know we’re being cheated, but more on this later. maxresdefault

Here’s some cherry blossoms from a virtual Italy. No vertical forest is complete without a cherry blossom farm.


Render for Bosco Verticale

Just as a side-note, before and during cherry blossom viewing season, Japanese people often make polite conversation about the stage of cherry blossoming they most prefer viewing. It’s taken as an succinct indicator of character type whether one prefers 1) the fresh beauty of barely blossoming and full of promise, 2) the splendrous beauty of promises fulfilled, or 3) the fading memory of promises fulfilled. There’s added kudos for appreciating those sexually charged moments between 1) and 2) or the varying degrees of inevitable pathos between 2 and 3), and yet more kudos for articulating the appreciation of some tertiary stage even more fleeting. But Japanese will be Japanese, aestheticising everything. For us in cherry blossom render land, it’s always full-on.

But cherry blossoms in Arizona – really? This next image has the contrivedly balanced colour palette of a Chinese poster. It may not be accidental.


poster_baby30 copy

This one’s from


You’ll remember this turgid scene from The Third And The Seventh. Or maybe not. roman2

Sensing demand, CGI specialists share their triumphs and notes on how to best render cherry blossom trees. This is Tech Plaza Changsha (claimed to be) “for Austrian architectural company COOP HIMMELB(L)AU in 2013”.


Here’s one from Snøhetta for, it seems, a new kitchen for a French laundry in California.

Snøhetta and friends MIR are responsible for this next. It has a dreamy, surreal whimsy.


Not unlike a Chagall. But overall less gloomy. And with more pink.


Heatherwick (“Best of Class”) Studio isn’t beyond adding what seems to be cherry blossom as the eleventh of Bombay Gin’s famous botanicals although, to be fair, at this distance, it could be an almond tree.


It seems unfair to call this next building a “roadside café” but that’s what inhabitat did. These images are unique in that the cherry blossom trees are real. Imagine that!Mirrors-Cherry-Blossom-Cafe-Bandesign-Japan-2

* * *

On the zero–to-ten scale of EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG IN THE WORLD it’s not that important but have you noticed ArchDaily doesn’t make any distinction between photographs and visualisations? It’s all “photographs” to them. This is not right. The architectural marketplace has been slow to adapt to online selling but is now beginning to fully embrace it like anyone else with product to shift, hoping to convert likes into sales. In ignoring the distinction between reality and image, ArchDaily are going with the flow. In blurring that distinction, they’re really just lowering standards of content and therefore facilitating the flow of imagery from producers to consumers and, in the grand scheme of things, maintaining their advertising revenue.


I don’t know how this advance of the cherry blossom trees is going to end but I have a bad feeling. Like Macbeth had about the forest.

In a last attempt to work out what this all means, I avoid the haiku poets’ poet Bashō, and instead consult poet-for-the-people, Issa Kobayashi (1763-1828). He wrote about 20,000 haiku. Which is quite a lot. Though none are very long.

And what did I learn? Inconclusive conclusions, but I sense a trend. In haiku, cherry blossoms often indicate an ethereal beauty or the transitory nature of existence. Or both. Or something else.

末世末代でもさくらさくら哉 (masse matsudai demo sakura sakura kana)

the world is corrupt, approaching the end of days … but cherry blossoms!

[ how easily we are distracted from what desperately needs putting right ]

米袋空しくなれど桜哉 (kome-bukuro munashiku naredo sakura kana)

I know my rice sack is empty but just look at those cherry blossoms!

[ people stupidly prefer pleasure to nourishment ]

大かたは泥にひつつく桜哉 (ôkata wa doro ni hittsuku sakura kana)

most of them end up trodden over in the mud … those cherry blossoms

[ we choose to not see the bigger picture ]

神風や魔所も和らぐ山ざくら (kamikaze ya madoko mo yawaragu yama-zakura)

their divine wind makes an evil place less evil mountain cherry blossoms

[ renders of shit buildings look better with a few cherry trees ]

The Big Brush

The Big Brush is the practice of treating apartment housing as 20-25 metre wide lines drawn across a site 3D. The 20-25 metres comes from the 10–12 metre maximum depth for a habitable room backed by a non-habitable room plus an extra 2 metres for a double-loaded corridor. Here’s Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Apartments. Detroit, 1956.

Lafayette tower

Here’s SOM’s Lake Meadow. Chicago, 1961. These plans are from that wonderful site, housing

lake-mead-typ-plan_03BThe Big Brush is a winning formula and difficult to improve upon. Here’s an example from Dublin in 2001. Pay no attention to the second entrance lobby on the first floor. The drawing doesn’t appear to have been checked by anyone.


Nevertheless, blocks configured like this can look rather samey


and the corridors can be a bit gloomy.


One solution is to combine short blocks to make A New Shape.


Remember Frank Gehry Beekman Tower?


Here’s a plan of levels 9-22.

“Geez, Frankie, for a supposedly luxury development, those internal corner apartments are f**king nasty!”

Especially M0F and M0G.

“Couldn’t you, with your infinite knowledge, wisdom and benevolence, have combined them into a possibly okay 1-bed apartment?”

From this plan, it’s clear Gehry was just the window dresser. Sure, people can see some sky as they wait for the elevator but the developer knows exactly how much that window is costing. This is another quietly ruthless building. It obviously fulfils some kind of housing need but that aspect of its existence receives no coverage. It’s not the kind of thing an office puts in a press release. It’s innovation is superficial. Window dressing is, sadly, all too accurate.

All that mediacized windy-effect curviness does nothing for the occupants – especially those poor internal corner people. In passing, out of twenty apartments, there is 1 x 2-bed apartment, 12 x 1-bed apartments and 7 x studio apartments. None are any nicer than they need to be. “Architecture” exists in a different dimension, a parallel universe. The reluctance of traditional media outlets to say or publish anything in the form of criticism is deeply disturbing.

To summarise. The Big Brush lets you paint in lines,


around corners,


in curves [one from the personal archive!],


make shapes,



or any random squiggle you like. This next one’s that easily-excited shapeist Oscar Niemeyer’s bootylicious Copan building.

It’s true – there’s no visible advertising in Sao Paulo!

But just look at that unexploited roof space! Whether Pune or New York, we know what to do with that!


Here’s a newish twist! The monetised roof space that is the terraces and balconies, is made to appear as a twisted wall instead of a terraced roof. It’s a brilliant way of disguising a truncated courtyard block. This excellent image is from the website of Allesandro Ronfini.


Here’s a plan. Dits.


It’s actually a bit of an untruth to say all residents have a view of the Hudson River, but this plan is the hardcore application of tried-and-tested property development principles. It’s a predictable shame all the attention will be diverted to the “let-the-roof-be-a-roof” roof.


There’s some more recent pics here.

BIG does have a history of playing down The Big Brush and why not? There’s no need to destroy one’s image as a creative. Developers instinctively understand The Big Brush anyway for anything else is lower return on investment. When Bjarke Ingels says Yes Is More, he’s showing developers he gets it. The real art is is to disguise the strategic commercialism underlying it. This isn’t criticism. As I’ve said, “the history of architecture is full of buildings that got built because the numbers stacked up”. Most of those buildings are famous for the wrong reasons. Let’s check BIG’s back catalogue for The Big Brush! This is the World Village of Women Sports 2009. The above W57 project doesn’t seem such a surprise now.


BIG take The Big Brush to its logical extreme is Yes is More, ever escalating.

If you believe BIG, The Big Brush is the solution to social housing, transportation problems and entertainment voids. As long as buildings have to be built on ground, it can’t get any more extreme. Here’s where MVRDV step up to the plate.

Technically, this isn’t The Big Brush as there’s only one double-loaded corridor at the top where the width finally permits. It’s A Small Brush, in mid-air, extruded.


You can find a full set of plans in the current issue of MARK magazine.

rotterdam market mark

This next photo hints at exciting new property development possibilities once people such as that mother (not to mention the child) think of this as normal. =(

Untitled 2Other rooms on the other side of this double-sided apartment face a conventional outside but here we have a quasi-public space being used to add value. The Big Brush no longer has to have outdoors on both sides. This moves it on a bit from BIG’s so-yesterday perimeter block monetizations premised on two outsides. What we used to know as space-enclosing walls is now money-earning real estate. Respect, MVRDV.

Rather than merely enclosing space, walls have been monetised.  Rather, why not exploit the structure that encloses the space to exploit the property? Brilliant! Why didn’t we think of this before? Why has nobody called it for what it is?

Shopping malls are good candidates for this sort of development. Any atrium could just be extended up a few storeys and the view from it monetised.



Dubai Airport, United Arab Emirates

Hotel lobbies.


Railway stations.


This could be be the final nail in the coffin for Modern Architecture and that schtick about “internal space” as the new subject of architecture. Space was only ever just poor mans’ land anyway not that we weren’t grateful to own a few square metres of it. Now that any large space with a bit of activity can be marketed as a value-adding view, the agenda for architecture this century might be about the monetisation of the enclosing elements themselves.

I have a lot of respect for large global commercial architecture enterprises such BIG and MVRDV. They continue to invent and develop new ways to exploit property space and now, it seems, building elements to secure profits and prestige for their clients and themselves. 


The Things Architects Do #7: Brand Recognition

This is Barcelona’s old bullring, Arenas de Barcelona, completed 1900 in the then-fashionable Moorish Revival style.

foto antigua2

It has or had history, was part of a culture, the people, who they were, etc. Befitting a leisure and entertainment centre, it bordered the important transport hub of Plaça d’Espanya. In 1914, a better bullring was built nearby but Arenas de Barcelona continued to function until 1977. After that, nada.


Whilst the building was deteriorating, the site continued to increase in value but resisted all redevelopment attempts in the run-up to the 1992 Olympics. In 2000, Barcelona-based developer Sacresa appointed RSH+P to redevelop Arenas de Barcelona into a leisure and entertainment complex. I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind why the scheme was taken over by another developer, Metrovacesa, who stayed the distance until completion in March 2011.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the developer offloading had something to do with anticipated return on investment as the city council had imposed a height restriction and also decided the façade should be retained. The reason I think so is the extremes to which RSH+P went to cram as much value into the permitted envelope. Here’s what they did. ¡Ay, caramba! 


Within that facade and height limit are 47,000 sqm of moneymaking including 115 shops, restaurants, a gym, twelve cinemas, a multipurpose event space and Barcelona’s very own ‘Museum of Rock’. A separate four-storey building adds more retail and office space outside the facade but perversely hides perhaps 40% of it. An elevated terrace and walkway is the giveaway attraction to get the people in. There’s a return-on-investment calculation behind this for even if those sightseers don’t spend anything, they make the place more “vibrant” for those who do. Architects like vibrancy [sic.] It’s vibrance, surely? Clients value it. Interestingly and with neither shame nor irony, RSH+P index their projects by it. 

vibrancyDezeen provides its usual reportage along with a project description by the architects.


Even turn-of-the-century bullrings had their own return-on-investment calculations. Arenas de Barcelona was built on an artificially constructed hill so most seats could be inexpensively constructed amphitheatre seating.


Circulation was straightforward and designed to get people in there as smoothly as possible. These things don’t change.

before arenas

Bullfight operators wanted bums on inexpensively constructed seats but contemporary leisure, retail and entertainment operators want maximum exploitable volume. The hill had to go. Simple. Here’s how these economic facts on [in? under?] the ground get reported.

The original 19th century bullring was raised above the levels of the surrounding streets with ramps and stairs within the surrounding plinth providing access. However, the redevelopment – which involved the excavation of the base of the façade and the insertion of composite arches to support the existing wall and create new spaces for shops and restaurants – establishes a new, open public realm around the building providing level access to a wide range of retail facilities.

Here’s a better look at those composite “arches”.


The historic facade has been severed from its foundations and is now supported on exposed underpinning of precast concrete beams post-tensioned to clamp the facade. Basically, an alien structure tames an existing one, in the manner and style of orthodontic braces and to similar visual effect. It’s structural goosing –squeezing from under in order to make the building jump.

Inside is a 67-panel display describing the complete “transformation”.


Check that last image and the section and you’ll see how the post-tensioned concrete clamps are supported on the red V-shaped columns supported by a ring beam [hello!] supported by a transfer beam between columns supporting the retail and parking levels. Fuck.


As for the solution RSH+P settled on, I’m not sure what exactly it does that extending the existing supports downwards to a simple ring beam below grade wouldn’t have done more efficiently, cheaply, soundly, quickly, elegantly and, I might add, prettily.

This is precisely what RSH+P have done for the main entrance and, to be honest, it’s the only part of the existing building that has any dignity left.


You’d think replacing columnar extensions with ground level high-technics would create more openness to the street and yes, you’d be right. But let’s do a quick 270° to see what openness there is. As mentioned, the office/restaurant building and associated compound block 40% of the ground level facade from view and surrounding pedestrians. That’s over one third gone.

Three entrances and four shopfronts account for perhaps 30% of the two thirds left. Two of those shopfronts are opaque. What’s left is taken up by mesh-covered fire-escape exits. As an exercise in openness, it doesn’t wash but it is wildly successful as an excuse RSH+P retro high-tech grandstanding.


Keeping the facades in place was less important than showing us how hard they worked to keep them in place. Here’s some facade stability details. Arcelor Mittal tells us the facades are fully structurally independent. I believe them.


Once the facade was dealt with came the more pressing business of cramming value behind it, under it and on top of it. RSH+P decided four different structures would be just the ticket. Visit Dezeen to find out how clever it all is. More on structure here.

A strange sentence on the architects’ website says

All the constituent parts – the facade, the roof-level spaces, the four internal segments and the adjacent Eforum are structurally independent, allowing for future flexibility and change to encourage a wide variety and changing rotation of activities to take place, including sports events, fashion shows and exhibitions.

It’s a bit of a conceptual leap from independent structures to a variety of events (that are basically the same). The real purpose of this sentence is to remind us that Richard Rogers has built a career on promises of flexibility and change. Mostly broken.


The building works itself out to its grisly conclusion. Towards the top, there are 12 cinemas, the multipurpose space and the deck, all blocking natural light to the intensively cultivated punters below. Richard Rogers is the man whose hagiographies typically refer to “his beloved socialism”. Let us not forget that Las Arenas is contemporaneous with One Hyde Park 

– a building for which few are willing to make excuses. Billed by its brokers, the Candy Brothers, as the world’s most expensive apartment block, the multi-storey west London development perfectly embodies London’s out-of-control property market, distorted by a global oligarchy who use international property hotspots to bank and grow their savings. A similar scheme alongside Tate Modern, NEO Bankside, which deploys decorative structure as a form of brand recognition for investors – ‘you too can have your own Richard Rogers’ – suggests the firm’s socialist roots have long since been ploughed over.

Decorative structure as brand recognition is how to understand Las Arenas. It explains the red V-shaped ornament. It explains the compulsively yellow structural intrusions inside. It explains the precast circular walkways with round glass insets. It explains the triumphal escalator that shows you all this structure.

It doesn’t really matter what the decorative structure supports but, as it happens, it’s supporting more decorative structure


and ultimately the roof.

IMG_1407Along the way, we get to see some RSH+P crane, those eternal symbolisers of Achigramesque change,crane

a nice cluster of RSH+P ventings
IMG_1403some RSH+P window cleaning balconies for walls that don’t have to be opaque windowsIMG_1410 some RSH+P glass elevators on the insideP1010614

and two RSH+P glass elevators and “communications tower” on the outside which, for 1€ will take you to/from the promenade.

This tower of course reprises RR’s famously carbuncly National Gallery extension. As with all the other tropes, architecture solution as brand recognition demanded its presence
from the very beginning – although one should never trust architects’ “concept” sketches.


* * *

Catalonia banned bullfighting in 2010. Barcelona’s last bullfight was held at Bareclona’s other arena, La Monumental, in September 2012.


La Monumental’s approx. 20,000 seats make it suitable for large outdoor events such as concerts. It will probably be spared the indignities Arenas de Barcelona has suffered.

la monumental

But let’s wait and see.

* * *

Further information:,4,25,328,1751

more pics

more visuals




Luxury motor launches (aka. motor “yachts”) are a new, rich and utterly predictable field of architect endeavour. Once again, Philippe Starck was there first. Honestly, the guy’s a genius. Here’s his M/Y “A” (Motor Yacht “A”).


M/Y “A” is a luxury motor yacht designed by Philippe Starck and Martin Francis,[6][7][8] and constructed by Blohm + Voss at the HDW shipyard in Kiel, Germany.[5][9] It was commissioned in November 2004, and delivered in 2008 at a rumoured cost of US$300 million.[10][11] With a length of 119 metres (390 ft) and displacing almost 6,000 tonnes, it is one of the largest motor yachts in the world.[9][12]



“I have to say I was impressed. It’s a very exciting boat to watch. It’s simply unlike anything that’s ever been done before.”

Jonathan Beckett, chief executive, Burgess yacht brokers [check them out!]


Never seen that before but blue LEDs are so 2005.

“…the most extraordinary yacht launched in recent memory. It is stunning.”

David Pelly of Boat International

A 1

“even more desirable than its larger sisters by virtue of lines reminiscent of a nuclear submarine”

Nazanin Lankarini, New York Times2011

Comparisons were made with the Zumwalt-class destroyer.


Others just called it

“bold and eccentric”

The Superyachts, 2011


Opinions were divided, and not just on the aesthetics of it.

sigma starck

“I’m all for innovation—as I’ve said before, the rich are free to spend their money as they like, including by building ugly boats that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But seeing pictures of Sigma [“A”‘s other name] almost makes Tom Perkins’ Maltese Falcon look like an act of restraint and good taste. Now that’s a nautical achievement.”

[FYI, here’s Tom Perkins’ Maltese Falcon


“overall it doesn’t float my boat (sorry, kids, couldn’t resist), but I do quite like the inverted bow design”

Power & Motoryacht magazine columnist Diane Byrne

“[A] …is aggressive, like a giant finger pointing at you. It seems to have nothing to do with the whole idea of yachting, which is about cruising around at a leisurely pace, and enjoying your friends and the sea”

Donald Starkey, British yacht designer

“one of the most hideous vessels ever to sail the seas”

Maritime commentator Peter Mello

“one of the ghastliest megayachts ever created” and “more like a cruiser for Darth Vader‘s navy than a family pleasure boat for the Mediterranean” (January 2008)

“I’ve gained a bit more respect for it. Technically, it’s impressive: Because of its ‘ax-bow’, the boat barely makes a splash in the front when it’s speeding along at 24 knots. And it’s different in a way few yachts are… So even though I still think it’s a monster, A gets a tip of the hat for taking a risk and being different”. (July 2008)

Robert Frank, Wall Street Journal

Next up, in our consciousness, was Foster+Partners’ 2009 Ocean Emerald which was one of four boats for rental. (I think it’s called charter when you rent the captain as well.) Here’s Ocean Emerald with the great man himself.

YachtPlus-Event-01-bigHere’s some more and better images.

At the time, it was mentioned that the design of Ocean Emerald resembled the design of a 1951 motor launch, Scherezade. This comment was dutifully noted and respectfully buried.

great minds yacht design database

Here’s three of Foster’s boats (Ocean Emerald, Ocean Sapphire, Ocean Pearl, etc.) off-duty in Monaco.

page_5_89Post 2009 has been a magical period of anything-goes motor yacht design. This is what a Post-Modern motor yacht looks like.



Alternatively, if you want to send a clear and irony-free message to pesky pirates then this muscular bad boy is what you need.
Prelude-superyacht-rear-viewBack in Dezeen-land, next up in October 2012 was this baby – Venus by (hello again!) Phillipe Starck, for the late Steve Jobs.


The yacht was impounded on 21 December 2012 at the Port of Amsterdam following a dispute over payment. The designer, Philippe Starck, claims that Jobs’ heirs owe him €3 million of his €9 million fee for the project.[5]

The yacht was freed from its Amsterdam dock on 24 December 2012 after his estate paid off the last of its bills.[6]

Last to the party, whether fashionably or embarassingly so, is ZHA with its five different contributions to global madness. What we see next is


The point of departure for developing a unique circle of five exclusive 90m yacht designs

Asymmetry is suddenly a bold new design statement.

Zha, Jazz

Costs aren’t announced and interiors are to be designed to suit intended purchasers. It’s all no-risk publicity for the price of a few renders to test the water. One of Five is the 90-metre Jazz genetically linked, no less, to the mothership yet suddenly symmetrical all the same.

zaha hadid jazz

Let’s have some perspective here.

Sigma (M/Y “A”): US$300 mil.
Ocean Emerald: US$10 mil.
Venus: US$100 mil.
ZHA yacht range: TBA

This next is the largest yacht in the world, the Azzam, probably designed and built for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi.


His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Ruler of Abu Dhabi. He is one of the world’s wealthiest monarchs, with a net worth of USD 15 billion. At an estimated cost of $605 mil., Azzam is 17.3m longer and more than twice as expensive as the world’s second largest motor yacht, the Eclipse (owned by Roman Abramovich).

With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches.

Adam Smith

Thus, a $650 mil. boat has to look like a $650 mil. boat. ZHA don’t have a track record of creating the simply communicable value that high net-worth individuals prefer. Hence Round Two: the downmarket 2012 Z-boat ($457,000).


The asymmetrical design is sculptural in appearance while practically affording more seating accommodations. In a sense, the bespoke boat is as much a work of art as a Cisitalia sports car in the permanent collection of the museum of modern art in New York.

The idea is to think of vessels and vehicles as highly individualistic expressions of art, architecture and design reflecting the edge of what is possible using the most advanced means, including materials, software systems and methods of fabrication.

Design statement from Zaha Hadid Architects

[FYI: a Cisitalia cisitalia ]

In 2006 ZHA announced the Z-car, but the plans stalled and the plans never actually made it into production. Now here’s a strange turn of phrase. It seems to mean the project lost momentum until we read it was the plans that never made it into production. I suspect the client hated the design and decided the easiest way to kill the project was to cry financial circumstances. Suicide for ZHA’s PR to say that outright.

Image converted using ifftoany

Philippe Stark has had better luck with his Volteis.

volteisHe seems to know when not to design and that’s a valuable skill.


Zoomorphic Architecture

I hinted at zoomorphic architecture briefly in a recent post. If Art Nouveau took advantage of plants for novel architectural stylings, then ZA did it with animals. The V&A exhibition is long gone, but the website lingers.

V&A zoomorphicHere’s that splash text again.

Zoomorphic presents a startling new trend in architecture – buildings that look like animals. Animal resemblances arise for various reasons. An architect may wish to create a symbol, as architects have always done. Or, there may be a functional explanation for why a building comes to share elements of its design with that of some living creature.

Until now, the Art Nouveau was perhaps the high water mark of architecture’s attempt to embrace nature. Today, with computers and new materials, architects are able to design and build more freely so they are exploring the natural world once more.

hmm. Given that I believe, as all good misfits do, that to attempt to design a building to appear like it is a natural object is going to be extremely uneconomical – unlike Nature which, contrarily, prefers economy of design – I doubt Art Nouveau was really the high point of architecture’s attempt to ’embrace’ nature. More like, it was an exceedingly low point in architects’ attempts to selectively represent nature and claim some God-like authority/inevitability for those representations.

Is it from here that architects’ obsession with the creation of NATURALISTIC forms really derives? Could this perhaps be the big unspoken Q?

I totally agree with the Islamic prohibition on the representation of God’s creatures. I’d like to add to that list leaves, plants, flowers, rocks, miscellaneous crystalline formations, sand dunes, hills, mountains, caves, waves and clouds.

Anyway, check out the site. Enjoy zoomorphic architecture for what it is.