Tag Archives: how is architectural media complicit?

Death of an Architect

I’m glad I’m not a journalist expected to, at a moment’s notice, rush out an obituary summarizing and making sense of an architect and his/her career while often simultaneously introducing them to the general public. The architectural historians and bloggers of yesterday weren’t without their biases but the only responsibility of contemporary architectural journalism is to place some content in a framework in which it can be readily comprehended. At least that’s how I regard this dreadful headline and lead that, to be fair, are probably a sub-editor’s summary of what they thought the main thrust of the article was. Perhaps it was.

Oliver Wainright in The Guardian, Friday 14th January

Just consider. If Bofill had died before his La Muralla Roja (Red Wall) in Calpe, Spain as chosen to “influence the aesthetic of Monument Valley video game and the cult TV show Squid Game, then this 850-word obituary would have been 213 words or almost exactly 25% shorter. If he’d died before his Espaces d’Abraxas was featured in the 1985 film Brazil or even before The Hunger Games, then it’d be another 84 words (10%) shorter. We live in a world where the importance of architects is judged by their number of popular culture retweets. Pad the rest out with equal parts biographical detail and architect quotes and job done.

Things I liked:

“Bofill initially shunned the architectural canon and turned instead to studying vernacular buildings on his travels around the Mediterranean and north Africa. “I’ve never liked architectural theory,” he told me. “So, from the beginning, I’ve always looked at traditional and vernacular buildings.”

“When I was 35, I was the most fashionable architect in the world,” he told me, … but I was always an outsider, never fitting in with architectural culture.”

Turns of phrase I didn’t

“A self-styled outsider”

Being an outsider architect is not a look. Rather, it’s the insiders who are self-styled or, to put it more precisely, respond to external forces to style their lives for architectural fame.

“Looking like a Stalinist Disneyland, his Espaces d’Abraxas project…”“neoclassicism on steroids”

Bofill’s proposal for a Neo-Palladian prefabricated villa is a gem that could only be thought of by someone who undePost-modernism neoclassicism and prefabrication were made forrsw each other. Arc du Lac and some of the office building projects also show his mastery of both.

“the excesses of puffed-up postmodernism”

I can think of a few architects more deserving of this accusation. There are no Bofill projects in Orlando, FL, for example.

“his projects wouldn’t always turn out as he hoped”

Bofill was not the first or last architect to experience this, but saying it makes him sound like like he was.

Words that aren’t untrue:

“as fashions changed his expressive work fell out of favour”

he developed a style that was very much his own”

ArchDaily, January 14th 2022, Nicolás Valencia

It had to be done, even though I’m not due to look at ArchDaily again until this coming June. I’ll quote it in full. ArchDaily were quick off the mark with these 125 words but, as far as I can search, I haven’t been able to find any follow-up piece.

“Ricardo Bofill, the Spanish architect founder of Taller de Arquitectura (RBTA), designer of the iconic Walden 7 and more than 1,000 projects in forty countries, has passed away at 82 in Barcelona on Friday, January 14, as officially announced by his own firm through a statement.

“The firm praised Bofill’s ability to “question the mainstream thinking in architecture. [His works] ranges a style expression, connected to the context, featuring a strong dose of innovation and risk.” Moreover, RBTA has confirmed that his two sons, Ricardo Emilio and Pablo, will continue leading the firm founded in 1963.

“His office has announced a public act to be held next January 26 and 27 at the headquarters in Barcelona for those who want to pay homage to Bofill. 

At the end of the article is an invitation to “Explore some of Ricardo Bofill’ most iconic architecture projects” on ArchDaily. Too much time has passed to even debate what the word “iconic” means anymore but I’m guessing it now means something like “backdrop”.

The New York Times, January 19, 2022, Fred A. Bernstein

Over at the New York Times, Fred Bernstein files 1,242 words, beginning with some facts.

“Ricardo Bofill, a Spanish architect behind some of the world’s most startling buildings, died on Friday at a hospital in Barcelona. He was 82. The cause was Covid-19, his son Pablo said.”

It’s a fine article and a fitting obituary, interspersing biography and history with descriptions of projects and their often mixed reactions such as

“Among Mr. Bofill’s best known works were public housing projects, most of them built in France in the 1980s, with vastly overscale classical elements, which were both derided as kitsch and hailed by critics as the long-awaited middle ground between historicism and modernity.”

Things I agreed with:

His goal, his son Pablo said in an interview, was “to demonstrate that at a modest cost you can build social housing where every floor is different, where people don’t have to walk down endless corridors, and where different populations can be part of one community.”

Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic of The New York Times at the time, wrote in 1985 that it was Mr. Bofill’s gift “to be able to unite the French instinct toward monumentality, which has lain dormant since the days when the Beaux-Arts ruled French architecture, with the country’s more current leanings toward populism.”

Things that aren’t untrue:
I was surprised to learn Bofill told Vladimir Belogolovsky in a 2016 interview for the website ArchDaily. “When Post-Modernism became accepted and popular in the United States and worldwide, it also became a style,” “And with time it became ironic and even vulgar. I was no longer interested.” I’d always seen Boffil’s Post Modernism as a style suited to the prefabrication of concrete components, much as Classicism was suited to carved stone ones. In both, the monumentality of the elements disguises the joins. Styles are never about the arbitrary whims of fashion, although many would have us believe otherwise.

This article is also not immune from mentioning that the jarring juxtapositions [of his Les Espaces d’Abraxas] made it seem dystopian — and it served as the perfect backdrop for Terry Gilliam’s 1985 movie, “Brazil,” and the last of the “Hunger Games” movies. Again, the notion is reinforced that being referenced in popular culture as an Instagram backdrop or a set for a TV series is the only indicator of architectural success we have.

“In an unexpected twist, Mr. Bofill’s older buildings found new fans in the 21st century. “Westworld,” the HBO sci-fi series, was shot in part at La Fábrica, and “Squid Game,” the Korean TV juggernaut, featured sets that closely resembled La Muralla Roja.

Upon re-reading that, I think it’s a bit odd to discuss an architect’s career as if it were a movie plot with “an unexpected twist”. I don’t suppose I should be surprised, if we talk about architects as if they’re movie stars then why shouldn’t their careers have “plot twists”? Mr. Manuel Clavel Rojo is not helping. He’s either expressing the will of the epoch or simply going with the flow.

Those Bofill buildings and others became familiar Instagram backdrops — or in the words of Manuel Clavel Rojo, a Spanish architect and educator, “His buildings became pop icons at the very end of his career.”

The process had begun well prior to Bofill’s death.

Creative Bloq, October 16, 2021 , Joseph Foley

Creative Bloq posed the question below, before helpfully informing us that apartments in La Muralla Roja are available to rent on Airbnb. 458 words.

(Image credit: Sebastian Weiss / Netflix)

There’s also this Martin Solveig music video from 2016. [Thanks V!] – https://youtu.be/wQRV5omnBBU

Niall Patrick Walsh on Archinect, Friday, January 14th 2022

This article mentions how “in the 21st century, the scale, complexity and unapologetic optimism unique to Ricardo Bofill’s work has made it an ideal backdrop for contemporary culture, be it photography, cinema, music, or fashion.” This may be true but at least it’s not suggesting that’s the sole worth of the buildings and career.

The remainder of the article is functional, providing biography and history but also mentioning that Bofill “embraced vernacular details from Catalan architecture” and a “bold experimentation with modular geometries”, using Walden 7 to illustrate.

Walden 7 by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura

It’s a polite article and with sufficient images and links for the reader who would like to know more. The end of the article has links to similar articles I might be interested in. It’s a bit weird, but such is the way of algorithms and keywords.

Suspicious of some ingrained prejudice, I wondered how Richard Rogers’s death fared on ArchDaily. His life and career were summed up in 214 words which, although not many, is 89 more (41%) than Bofill. I don’t think these mini-obituaries indicate anything more than ArchDaily’s meanness in paying for original content when people supply it for nothing. Over at The Guardian however, Oliver Wainwright managed 2,600 words for Richard Rogers which is 1,750 (200%) more than he did Bofill. We can only speculate what might have happened to the careers of both if Bofill’s plan for Les Halles had been completed, instead of Rogers+Piano’s Beaubourg.

The history of architecture has always been an arbitrary construct, continually reshaped according to what we think we value from the past. These obituaries are examples of new history being laid down. They don’t encourage us to remember buildings for what they meant at the time, or architects for what they did or aspired to do, or if those aspirations might still be valid. The past 60 years saw architectural history mined for references to be used in architectural objects but there was still a sense of worth attached to them. Our immediate future looks like being the same, except the only metric of worth will be the number of instances something can be used as a reference for anything. It’s happening now, but we should’ve seen it coming.

The https://ricardobofill.com/ website is one of the most generous and informative architectural websites you will ever find. It is a true resource that also says a lot about the man and his regard for what he did.

• • •

Mon. 7th Feb., 2022: This obituary in Curbed does the man and his work more justice. https://www.curbed.com/2022/01/ricardo-bofill-obituary-social-housing.html?regwall-newsletter-signup=true

The Function of Architecture

Shipping containers have a simple structure that encloses space yet is strong enough for fully-loaded ones to be eight to ten high. They have structural redundancy because any one container may have to bear the load of eight to ten others above. They have no aesthetic redundancy. They are not algorithmic, parametric or programmatic.

What they are is easily connected and stabilized vertically and horizontally by what’s called a twist lock. Special fittings fix base containers to decks of ships. Maximum staking is determined by the structural integrity of the lower containers and the bearing capacity of the ship’s deck.

Ports handling a greater volume of imports than exports tend to have a surfeit of shipping containers, and vice-versa. American and Chinese ports regularly have shortages. Wikipedia tells me there are 17 million shipping containers in the world but only a third in use at any one time. Many are unused because they’re not in the right place at the right time. A used shipping container costs US$2,000–4,500 and, because of their human-compatible dimensions, their potential to create building space has long been recognized.

An entire industry exists to customize shipping containers for storage or site offices.

Shipping containers can also make architectural statements with very little customization. The Zurich headquarters of the Freitag company was perhaps the first to use shipping containers this way. It’s a misfits’ classic.

With many other buildings however, the amount of customization and contrivance must negate most if not all of the cost advantages of these readymade and relatively inexpensive spatial enclosures. The dominant architectural driver seems to be to show how much one can ignore the inherent qualities of the resource to make it into something it isn’t. It’s as if the highest compliment is “OMG I can’t believe it’s made from shipping containers!”


Shipping containers aren’t trying to be beautiful or attractive. As long as their coating protects them from harsh marine environments it makes no difference what colour they are. They are of course painted various colours and some have logos but these are incidental to their identifiers.

  • The owner prefix (BIC code): three capital letters of the Latin alphabet to indicate the owner or principal operator of the container,
  • The equipment category identifier: one capital letter as follows:
    • U for all freight containers,
    • J for detachable freight container-related equipment,
    • Z for trailers and chassis,
  • The serial number: six Arabic numerals, left at owner‘s or operator‘s option,
  • The check digit: one Arabic numeral providing a means of validating the recording and transmission accuracies of the owner code and serial number.

This image shows a typical dockyard pile. If similar colors are adjacent it’s just because they were unloaded that way.

In the world of shipping container architecture however, kindergarten colors such as yellow and red are popular choices to jolly them up.

Shipping containers have no set colour and any steel other than Corten™ has to be coated with something that’s going to have some colour but I like that both these next two projects are grey. It makes me think of steel. In passing, the house on the left below has stairs, balustrades and air-conditioner compressors that appear almost ornamental. Both remind me of Danish Modernism.


Cladding shipping containers in anything but corrugated steel plate makes them look less like shipping containers. Timber is good at doing this but it also tends to make them look like bad architecture.

This next project is not desperate like the two above but it does lead us to the next point.


Shipping containers are designed to be stacked one on top of the other in rows

and so partially unstacking them is a common way of making them appear something other than what they are. Extreme cantilevery is celebrated.

But even the Freitag Headquarters is an unusual shape for shipping containers. The unlikeliness of a single stack of nine shipping containers is what makes us think this is architecture, as well as that eye-catching stack being visually stabilized by balancing blocks of a 3×2 and a vertical stack of four. Both tell us something’s up.

Freitag Turm, Zurich, Switzerland


Part of the architectural effect of this project also derives from the containers not being at a container port. (This is an idea of Position to SEPARATE but it only works if you know what a shipping container is and what it does. Similarly, the repurposing of the shipping containers with their original Colour and Pattern has meaning if you are familiar with Freitag merchandise.) As far as Position goes, buildings like this that make use of the inherent structural properties of shipping containers are the exception.

Instead, supported containers and containers reinforced by secondary structures that carry loadings in unexpected places proliferate. These next two examples have an independent structural frame shipping containers were designed to do without. 2010 Cité a Docks by Cattani Architects does all the right things as far as Colour and Pattern are concerned but its containers are supported by an independent structural frame producing an arrangement that allows some syncopated displacement.

Whether concealed or not, a secondary structure allows an openness – or, if you will, a transparency – of stacking and this is also something we don’t associate with shipping containers that bear loads at their corners.

If shipping containers are designed to bear loads at their corners, then it’s important to show as many unsupported and unsupporting corners as possible. Kengo Kuma is not above such weightlessness and transparency hijinks. The uniform and pristine white screams that this is about architecture and not shipping containers.

And even then, shipping containers can still be connected in conventional ways yet stacked in unconventional ways such as Shigeru Ban’s Nomadic Museum. At first glance it looks uncustomized yet 10-foot containers like those at the ends of the wall don’t exist – they’ve been specially made. We’re now in the realm of representations of the clever repurposing of shipping containers.


Shipping containers are designed to be stacked and used horizontally and so we get vertical containers!

“These buildings also reflect the image of freight containers: internationality, standardisation, multi-functionality, and the transport of goods.” (Not My Words)

We also get containers at anything but right angles.

Design for Hechingen Studio, 2010. Credit: James Whitaker
“The elaborate supporting structure is varying widely from the normal load of freight containers. The inside allows for different views in all directions and promises an extraordinary spatial experience – inside and outside. The contrast between nature and the building at this container project strengthens this effect.” (Not My Words)


Size-wise, this one takes some beating – hat’s off to CRG Architects! “I can’t believe it’s shipping containers!” I’m assuming a secondary structure.

“Columns of vertically stacked containers in the core of the towers would house an elevator, while empty containers could be used for circulation and vertical gardens as well as medical services, schools, entertainment areas and small markets.

“Service pipes and cabling would be threaded through the existing cavities in the base designed for to allow the lifting of the containers with forklift trucks. Gaps between the structures would provide natural ventilation.”

In passing, and separately from all of the above, many people opt to create the appearance of a large space that hasn’t been constructed from modules. This is an entirely separate dimension of container denial.

What hope authenticity? It’s not all bad. There’s the The Wenckehof container village in Amsterdam. It’s student housing, as is often the case.

The Brighton Housing Trust has had these low-cost apartments built. Each apartment looks like three x 20-foot containers.

There’s this project for 140 affordable housing units in Johannesburg by LOT-EK architects. Despite the surface patterning, there’s no doubting what it’s made of.

The most exuberant student and low-cost container housing gets is this project in Johannesburg by Citiq and which, despite the Hundertwasser overtones, is a straightforward stack of containers that happens to rest on some repurposed silos.


Like decorative seashells or amusing pets, container architecture is one those terms one must think twice about before entering it into a search engine. This last project runs the full gamut of container denial yet still includes every other media architecture trope bar 3D printing. The caption makes no promises.

Repurposed Shipping Containers May Be Building Blocks for Modular Vertical Urban Farms

It’s not all hopeless but, on the whole, the bad guys are winning. I’m forever trying to convince myself the function of architecture isn’t to neuter good ideas before they multiply. I’m not surprised this particular project was chosen to front this book that encourages us to regard it as an atlas, no less. It is a practical guide to container architecture. It is not a guide to practical container architecture.



I didn’t win or even get
an honorable mention in the
2020 Architectural Fairy Tales Competition.
I know, I know. I know

I shouldn’t have written
an architectural parable
in which everyone got
what they thought they wanted
and lived happily for a while.

The Red Igloo

Once upon a time,

all Inuit people made igloos the same way. They made them out of snow because snow didn’t cost anything, it was there, they had a lot of it, and there would always be more tomorrow. They shaped the snow into blocks and laid them one by one in a spiral that became smaller and smaller until it made a dome.

They made a little entrance to keep the wind out. It always faced away from the wind. And they made a little hole in the wall to let the light in. It always faced the sun. Their igloos were as perfect as they could be.

Every now and then there was some small change such as putting a piece of plastic over the hole. It was better than a sealskin curtain as it let the light come in but kept the wind out. Apart from tiny changes like this, igloos stayed the same. Nobody could really make them that much better.

Inuit people still tell stories of a man called Nanouk. He is famous. He is part of the history of igloos. This is what happened.

One day while Nanouk was out hunting, he found a dead polar bear. He took two bowls of its blood and mixed it with enough snow to make himself a red igloo. He thought it would be easier to find his way back to if it started snowing hard. 

People came to look at Nanouk’s red igloo. They were all silent as they didn’t know what to think. Eventually, a child said, “It’s red! Everything else is white. It looks DIFFERENT!”

Then one of the adults suddenly said, “It’s NEW!”

Almost immediately, another person said, “It’s MODERN!”

Another person said, “It’s BEAUTIFUL!”

People were now all saying things at the same time. “You’re a GENIUS!” “It’s so ORIGINAL!” “You’re so CREATIVE!”

One person, holding a pencil and paper, said it was, “A TRULY BOLD AND ORIGINAL ARTISTIC STATEMENT!”

One old woman said, “My grandmother used to tell me a story about a red igloo. Nanouk! You have made this story real for me. I feel RECONNECTED WITH WHO I AM!”

Another person said, “People, that snow out there isn’t all white. It’s got polar bear blood, whale blood, walrus blood and seal blood splattered everywhere. We live with white but red is WHO WE ARE! Red is HOW WE LIVE!”

While everyone was cheering this, someone at the back said, “I don’t like it.”

Another said, “Nor me. That is NOT AN IGLOO!”

The man with the pencil and paper explained, “Don’t you see? This red igloo opens up a new world of possibilities for igloos! It REDEFINES IGLOOS FOR OUR TIMES! It makes us REIMAGINE EVERYTHING AN IGLOO CAN BE!”

Nanouk went inside his igloo and sat down. He remembered how much EASIER it had been to shape the snow when it had polar bear blood mixed in. It had SAVED HIM TIME. He thought about all the time everyone else could save. They could spend more time hunting for more food, or being inside their igloos eating ice cream and sharing stories with their friends and families.

He remembered how much STRONGER the red snow had been. He hadn’t needed to use as much snow. He had been able to leave more of it where it was, looking pretty.

He remembered how polar bears stayed away from his red igloo and how much SAFER he was because of that. He thought about how much safer everyone else could be.

He remembered how the red snow made his igloo WARMER inside. He knew he didn’t have to use as much whale oil to keep it warm. He thought about all the whale oil the others would save. He thought about all the whales that would not have to be killed.

He remembered all these things but, most of all, he remembered how SIMPLE it was. All he had to do was tell everyone to mix two bowls of polar bear blood into enough snow to make an igloo. He stood up and went outside.

There was a big crowd now. They all rushed towards Nanouk. “I want a red igloo!” “I want one too!” “Please tell us how to make one!”

Everyone went quiet when Nanouk spoke. He said, “I’m sorry, I can’t teach you. You have to know how to choose the right polar bear and kill it in a certain way and at a certain time. I can’t explain how I know this, but I do. Only I can make red igloos.”

Everyone was sad but one big person suddenly shouted, “It doesn’t matter! I’ll pay you to make a red igloo for me.” Another, bigger one, said, “I will pay you more!” The man with the pencil and paper said, “Once I tell everyone else, you will be FAMOUS. You will never have to hunt again!” And he rushed off to tell everyone else.

And so, apart from the occasional seal for blood to make his igloos red, Nanouk never had to hunt again.

[853 words]


Architecture In The Emirates

Architecture In The Emirates is one of those TASCHEN books with words by Philip Jodidio. Published on the 1st of November 2007, it’s an historic document. Given the book’s title, I was surprised to find it included buildings in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The contents suggest Architecture In The Gulf Countries ought to have been the title but it lacks shelf appeal. Architecture In The Middle East suggests something totally different. Architecture In The GCC Countries won’t mean much to many.

The year was 2007 so the purpose of the book was to whip up excitement for rampant development and a world where anything seemed possible. Jodidio voices a few reservations in his intro but the overall and overriding message is how wonderful everything is going to be. The book is divided into chapters not by country or city but by 20 practitioners and their 32 projects. Odd.

This book once purported to show us the future. It’s now February 2020, some twelve and a quarter years on. Let’s see how much of that future came to pass. In the following, I thought it better to respectfully disregard buildings not in the U.A.E. than to disrespectfully regard them. Quotation marks around dates indicate stated expectations in 2007, but we will never know if they were ever realistic.

#1 Dancing Towers Abu Dhabi, AEDAS “2005–2010”

These are a rare example of construction beginning in 2008 of all years, and completing in 2012 but as Shining Towers instead of Dancing Towers.

#2 Pentominium Dubai, AEDAS “2006–2015” (2012)

Construction of this 122-storey building began in 2009. Completion was expected in 2013 but the holding company fell behind on loan repayments and construction stopped at the 22nd floor in 2011. A further nine years on, the building is as you see in in the photo at right.

As long as we’re talking about AEDAS, it’s curious their Dubai Metro stations weren’t mentioned as the designs (by a Serbian architect whose first name was Goran, still working at AEDAS in 2009) were finalized in 2005. I suspect they weren’t fantastical enough to be the future the editors of the book had in mind. I’ve always liked how the design visually absorbs and slows down the linear thrust of the track and its trains viz. the design is such that the stations look like places where trains will come to a stop. It’s also good that that’s all the design does but perhaps other people see that as a fault.

#3 Maritime Museum Abu Dhabi, Tadao Ando “2006–”

These two images from the book are still floating around the internet. The museum was part of the second phase of the Saadiyat Island development, now rescheduled to come after Nouvel’s Abu Dhabi Louvre, along with Hadid’s performing arts centre, Gehry’s Guggenheim and Foster’s National Museum.

#4 Strata Tower Abu Dhabi, Asymptote “2005–2009”

Construction of this 40-storey luxury residential building was to have been completed by 2011 at first, and then by 2013. I’m not finding any images of a completed building and can’t tell you where it was supposed to have been or if construction ever commenced.

#5 Burj Al Arab Dubai ATKINS 1994–1999

This is the one that started it all. It’s still there. Completed in 1999 it turned twenty last December 2. People forget how amazing it was.

#6 Acropolis Universe Behnishch Architects, Dubai, “2004–2005”

With a name like that, this can only be a concept for a sustainable resort city with a name like Senscity and planned for Las Vegas and that won an Architectural Review/Cityscape award in 2005. On page 58 is an amazing example of boomtime architect mediaspeak. It’s difficult to believe anyone ever took it seriously.

Rather than creating traditional buildings, the architects sought to design “elements firmly embedded in the landscape, including a large artificial lake and extensive vegetation. A series of 37-metre-high, 91-metre-wide “flower-like” structures were designed to provide shade and cool air.

The project doesn’t seem to have gone beyond what you see here. It might never have been intended to but you never know.

#7 Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi, Frank Gehry “2006 – “

If this one was anywhere near being completed we would know about it.

#8 The Gate Building Dubai, Gensler 2003

This one is safely a part of Dubai’s built history now. It’s a very handsome building – probably Gensler’s best in Dubai.

#9 Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Master Plan Dubai, Gensler “2001–2004”

The Gate Building was the signature building for this masterplan that included a series of office buildings (mostly built), a hotel (built) and a retail arcade stretching in the direction of what was to become Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. In 2008 ATKINS were appointed architects for the retail arcade and perhaps half its length had opened by last year.

#10 Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Center Abu Dhabi, Zaha Hadid “2007–2012”

We’re going to have to wait a bit longer for this.

#11 Opus Office Tower Dubai, Zaha Hadid “2007–2010” (2019)

This one took forever but was eventually completed, more or less, last year as a hotel and mixed-use building. It’s almost there. The lobbies are currently being fitted, as are some offices. At night, the hole in the middle has an ever-changing twinkly light display. [c.f. The Vertical City]

#12 Signature Towers Business Bay Dubai, Zaha Hadid “2006 – “

I remember seeing some rather labyrinthine basement car parking plans but construction never began. The site was the very same one as Rem Koolhaas’ prior rotating tower. It remains empty to this day.

#13 Dubai Autodrome Dubai, HOK Sport 2000–2004

This exists as, amongst other things, what seems to be some sort of corporate go-karting place. The phase I building was probably completed in 2004 but, oddly, photographs are few. A curious inclusion. HOK Sport were to later design the stadium for the London Olympics.

#14 ADIA Headquarters KPF 2001–2007

This one is quite a landmark on the Abu Dhabi corniche. The image on the left is the one in the book, the one on the right more recent.

#15 Louvre Abu Dhabi Jean Nouvel “2007–2012” (2007–2017)

Completion was delayed but it exists and looks much as you imagine, although not much expensively dappled light gets past the many-layered dome. The image on the left is in the book, and the one on the right I took a couple of years back. [c.f. AD Louvre vs. LV Foundation]

#16 RAK Convention Exhibition Centre OMA/Rem Koolhaas “2006– “

RAK stands for Ras Al Khaimah, the northernmost of the seven emirates. UAE capital cities have the same names as their respective emirates. e.g. Dubai is the capital city of the emirate of Dubai, etc.

Even back in the day, I don’t think anyone ever expected this one to get built. Some called it The Death Star and, a few years later, it did circle around to show up in the masterplan for the third palm development at Jebel Ali in Dubai’s south.

#17 Porsche Design Buildings OMA “2007–2009”

I don’t know the history of these buildings but there’s something amiss when a design brand outsources the design of a building. It’s a missed opportunity, for a building designed with the intelligence that goes into the design of a Porsche is something I’d like to see. I don’t think it ever broke ground. No new images exist.

It looks like it was to have been somewhere across the road from the O–14 building. And that the large red “self-shading” opening in the office building faces due west.

In passing, here’s the O-14 building (Reiser+Umemoto, completed 2010), and a typical floor of the Porsche Design Buildings apartments. I haven’t seen one like this since Ponte Tower, Johannesburg, 1975. [c.f. More Poor Doors] It’s essentially a deck-access slab curled in on itself. The curiously contrived plans allow for studio, 1-bed and 2-bed apartments in the manner of Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City.

#18 Automotive Complex ONL Abu Dhabi, “2006– “

This are all the images I could find of this one, and all of which are in the book. The client and estimated cost were never disclosed. The deadpan text describes it as an architecture influenced by speed.

#19 Manhal Oasis Abu Dhabi “2006– “

This was conceived as a destination city with the three major attractions of (1) a Cultural Gate with two museums and an Experience Landmark Structure, (2) a South East Gate with a shopping mall and wellness centre, and (3) a Downtown and Souk district with four 60-storey towers. I’m paraphrasing the breathless text, the meaning and point of which is now lost to us.

#20 National Bank of Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi, Carlos Ott 1997–2000

I hadn’t known of Carlos Ott (born Montevideo 1946) but this building is decent and has aged well.

#21 National Bank of Dubai Dubai, Carlos Ott, 1996–1998

This is also one of Ott’s, is also a bank, and has definitely aged well. It’s convex facade compresses water, land and sky into a single picture. It’s a simple idea well worth copying anywhere with similar conditions, but I don’t think it ever was. It’s perhaps my all-time favourite building in Dubai and if I’m passing by I make sure I catch a glimpse of it.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

#22 Shams, Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi, RNL “2006– ” 2012

Masterplans take time and are often the first casualties of an economic crisis. I can’t find the original images anymore, but left, below is an updated image of something similar to the one in the book. The image in the middle is googleearth and casting the long shadows at the bottom is Arquitectonica’s Shams Gate development. It won an award in 2009 and, at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Cityscape, was judged best completed mixed-use development in the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region although only one half of the low-rise elliptical building has been completed.

#23 Burj Dubai Dubai, SOM 2004–2009

This happened, and was renamed Burj Khalifa.

Taken through the tinted windows of a Volvo XC90 the first time I visited Dubai in 2006.
Taken while driving a Ford Focus in 2013.
Taken from Dubai Mall Metro Station in 2019.

So what does all this mean? I’ve mentioned 23 out of the 32 projects in the book. The two notable omissions due to them not being in the UAE are Bahrain World Trade Centre in Manama, Bahrain (ATKINS 2003–2007), and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar (IM Pei, 2003–2008).

Of the 23 projects (72%), twelve were completed either fully or partially so let’s say 50%. This built–to-cancelled ratio stays the same even if I include the non-UAE projects. Of the eleven not built, eight were cancelled outright and the three rescheduled are Gehry’s Guggenheim, Ando’s Museum and the Zaha Hadid building in Abu Dhabi. Here’s the completed twelve.

1998#5 Burj Al Arab
#21 National Bank of Dubai
2000#20 National Bank of Abu Dhabi
2003#8 The Gate Building
2004#9 Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Master Plan
#13 Dubai Autodrome
2007#14 ADIA Headquarters
2009#23 Burj Khalifa (this could not not have been completed on time)
2012#1 Dancing Towers (delayed two years)
#22 Shams Abu Dhabi (delay not disclosed)
2017 #15 Louvre Abu Dhabi (delayed five years)
2019#11 OPUS Office Tower (delayed nine years)

Any survey of architecture in a place and over an era is inescapably as subjective as an end-of-year top ten list and the buildings I’ve bolded in the table above are ones I think ought to be included in any survey – an essential 5 out of 23. To be generous, I could add Arquitectonica’s Shams Abu Dhabi (#22) and Hadid’s OPUS Office Building (#11) but that still leaves two thirds of the book’s contents as either filler, bad calls or media ephemera. True, not everything that’s designed gets built and the book’s editors weren’t to know what would and what wouldn’t but can anyone say they seriously believed any of these three would? [c.f. The History of Forgetting]

They’re just three of the many fantastical things that were around at the time and that deserve a book of their own, hopefully as a caution. I see them as examples of a sunset effect – a spectacular display occurring just before an inevitable darkness.

The most curious thing about this book is how it has historical selections that are safely built and fantastical ones that never would be. The lack of content in the middle makes me think the role of the former was to provide something on which to hang the latter.

Construction of Foster+Partners’ The Index began in 2005 and the building was completed and opened in 2011without the usual fanfare.

When buildings, helped by the media, come to represent economic “exuberance” then carbon form is always the preferred way to go. We’ll have to reckon with this one day and, when that day comes, there’ll be sufficient evidence without these next three that were reasonably fine designs. In late 2008 when economic storm clouds were gathering, the middle one was under construction and the other two were being documented. Strange as it may seem now, they represented reality and, more than any NDA, I suspect this is why they’re not in this book. In my next post I want to talk about a sub-category of these buildings that almost were – The Uncompleted.


Triennale Hang-over

The first difference I noticed in my recent ArchDaily bingewatch [c.f. Misfits’ Trienniale] was how less intrusive text was. It was now optional with a “Read more” link that, to be accurate, should probably more correctly read “Read?” Clicking it loaded the “story” as images interspersed with text mostly describing those images – the captions, basically. At the very bottom was still space for comments. I had a few interactions there once but it was never that great a forum.

We know the internet doesn’t do text well but sentences like these next don’t help. “Constructions are proposed with a mesured density to provide the highest continuity between woods and neighborhood, and create an unifying landscape axis in varying sequences of ambience.” ? Or how about this? “The theme of the wall is an integral part of the neighbourhood. The project draws inspiration from this theme, taking its cue from existing structures. The wall blends in with the lie of the land, before undergoing a transformation into a sculpted monolith that rises from the top of the hill.” Please – allow me. “The building has a wall, as many do. This wall follows the contours, and then so doesn’t.“ Complementing the general horribleness of textual information is an incredible homogeneity of graphic information. It’s as if architects around the world have adopted the same standards for online presentation of projects. When did this happen? More to the point, why?

I found out I could now save favourite images and projects, so generating data sets that become new content as “interesting groupings by registered users”. Pinterest, basically. There were frequent and frequently repeated “AD Classics” and “Spotlight” features as well as desperate padder content such as “Ten buildings that feature the colour green” or “Five buildings that look like the ArchDaily logo”. It’s not so much a case of everything being architecture but one of there being insufficient interesting or even new buildings to generate new architectural content daily. Unsurprisingly for a platform intent on blurring the difference between promotion, journalism and scholarship, some pieces have authors and citation links while others have “curators” who seem to have their work cut out for them.

On occasion, I found that my browser was incredibly slow and I had to try not to scroll faster than projects can load. One problem is that the ad-servers must do their work first. [With no stronger basis than my IP address, I was targeted as a customer for laser-cut decorative metal sheets.] Another problem is that many projects had more than 35 images, and some over 70. For a small project – or even a large one – it should be possible to communicate the intent of a design with far fewer. It’s one thing to have an image-based media promoting an image-based architecture but even that’s not done efficiently or intelligently. Or even memorably.

Such platforms are one corner in the triangular trade(offs) between architects, platform and users. In return for freely-provided content, architects are given the promise of publicity, of being “discovered”, or of getting more and bigger work. In return for visiting the site and boosting visit numbers and generating other metrics of interest to advertisers, users get to pass some time and leave with a feeling of having passed some time and feel as if they are a part of something bigger. Finally, in a simple transaction, the platform is paid by advertisers for being a platform for advertising. It’s significant that between every two projects on ArchDaily is a list of the three products architects click on the most often.

To be fair, I did see elegant sheds in Australia and some very competent houses in Chile, Brazil, Mexico and China, perhaps reflecting ArchDaily’s four languages of English, Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin but this doesn’t explain the disproportionate amount of projects from Japan, as ever. Clever and sophisticated conceits were everywhere.

Despite statements like “It is now expected of architects to turn away from designing iconic buildings/objects and focus instead on creating engaging built environments; from imagining idealistic, form-driven projects driven by the artistic pursuit to focusing on downright pragmatic solutions” [14th Jan. 2019] it’s not like architecture’s fascination with the object was any less evident. I began to wonder about the purpose of all these houses in the grand scheme of things, and why so many of them had to try so hard. I put it down to the continued faith in the belief that some Exciting Young Talent will burst onto the scene with some amazing design, and be immediately commissioned to do some larger project, and so on until global fame and mega-projects. It’s probably an accurate perception but the preponderance of small houses trying too hard reveals a widespread understanding that media attention is proportional to the degree a project shocks and breaks the rules. This is architecture played out in microcosm and architects that display an understanding of this mechanism will soon find themselves part of an intern farm at some global starchitect practice, and then as regional business development manager, before leaving to replicate the ecosystem for themselves. [My only advice is to sell out as soon as you can. The only problem is to find a level you’re happy with.]

This is probably why I saw much that was attractive or engaging but little in the way of good ideas that deserve to be repeated and perfected. I’m not averse to contemplating the sublime but there wasn’t much of that on show either. I saw some wonderful buildings but I also saw much I wish I hadn’t and can’t unsee.

Another odd thing is how hollow the field is. About 40% of the projects on show were small projects by architects we will probably never hear of again, and another 40% was by the huge commercial juggernauts BIG, OMA, ZHA, UNStudio, Henning Larsen, Foster+Partners, and Arquitectonia [a second time around!] and whose names we’re never allowed to forget. Carlo Ratti Associati are everywhere. Stefano Boeri is on a roll. MAD and Studio Gang are knocking them out. I still have to find out who Bee Breeders are.

So what were the takeaways from this inaugural Misfits’ Trienialle?

It only takes a day to skim through a year of ArchDaily, paying no more attention than what is expected. This is nice to know. It will save a lot of time.

I saw exquisite buildings constructed from locally-sourced and renewable materials put together with vernacular construction techniques. It’s a shame they were luxury resorts in sensitive ecologies. This is business as usual.

I don’t think we’re going to see ethical intention or social payback as criteria for evaluating the worth of buildings anytime soon.

There were many private houses and much big stuff for monied clients yet not much in-between. There were few schools, fewer clinics and fewer hospitals. Nobody seems to be building municipal facilities anymore. Whatever architecture has to offer, it’s clearly got little to offer the middle, and even less for the bottom. All around the world people are being born, educated, living, healed, dying, imprisoned, entertained and cared for in buildings that are not architecture.

Mostly, nobody much notices or cares about architecture.

Apart from the practices of Sergei Tchoban and Sergey Skuratov, there was no news from the Russian Federation other than that competition for new standard housing. For a site in English, the US and the UK were underrepresented compared with Australia, Chile, Argentina and Mexico that were well covered. My three-year sample contained little from Germany, Austria, Italy or Switzerland.

I like to think architects in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland this are more concerned with making their particular corners of the world better.

Disappointingly few buildings in my three-year sampling were actually necessary for the functioning of any society anywhere. I formed the opinion that whether houses, luxury eco resorts or superslenders, buildings that represent private economic surplus are considered architecture, and buildings such as hospitals and schools, fire stations, police stations that are a public economic defecit (a.k.a. social investment) aren’t. This seemed pretty clear.

It’s not going to happen overnight but I would like to find a website that highlights buildings and building typologies actually representative of our built environment, and in proportion to their actual prevalence. Unlike “Ten buildings featuring the colour green,” this would tell us something useful about the state of the art, and the world. Admittedly, “Ten buildings featuring the colour green” also tells us something about the world.

Another important thing I learned from the selection process for this 1st Misfits’ Trienniale is how often certain themes or topics bubbled up the surface and stayed there. These topics enter our consciousness and, after seeing them often enough, they become real – at least in the sense of being part of our intellectual landscape. This ebb and flow is most likely invisible to a daily user. I saw a disturbing number of proposals for 3D printed buildings and can only watch in horror as new generations of architects bend over for industry. Architecture has a long history of media posturing in anticipation of the needs of industry. It’s often called visionary’ and you can usually find it in any project making a show of “showcasing” new materials and technologies.

The theme of the 2nd MISFITS’ TRIENALLE in August 2022 will be “How is it possible for an architect to do anything worthwhile if recognition and reward are reserved for those who pander to the successive needs of industry (the mechanisation of production, the globalisation of commerce, the ubiquity of telecommunications, the universality of data … ) ??”

Submissions or information on architects and projects attempting to answer this will be welcomed.

It’s a search for more misfit architects – living ones. We need more.


The 1’st Misfits’ Trienalle

Bucharest Architecture Triennale JULY 10th – OCTOBER 2019
Seoul Architecture Biennale SEPTEMBER 7th – NOVEMBER 10th 2019
Tallinn Architecture Bienalle SEPTEMBER 11th – NOVEMBER 30th 2019
Sao Paulo Architecture Biennale AUGUST 15th – SEPTEMBER 20th 2019
Chicago Architecture Biennial SEPTEMBER 19th, 2019 – JANUARY 5th 2010
Oslo Architecture Triennale SEPTEMBER 26th – NOVEMBER 24th 2019
Lisbon Architecture Triennale OCTOBER 3rd – DECEMBER 2nd 2019
Buenos Aires Architecture Biennale OCTOBER 15th–26th 2019
Sharjah Architecture Triennale NOVEMBER 9th, 2019 – FEBRUARY 8th, 2020
Shenzen Bienalle DECEMBER 15th, 2019 – MARCH 15th 2020
Venice Architecture Biennale MAY 23rd – NOVEMBER 29 2020 
Tbilisi Architecture Biennale OCTOBER – NOVEMBER 2020

A quick look at the calendar shows the final quarter of 2019 oversupplied with biennali and triennali as everything but Venice and Tbilisi overlap no less than four others – and these are just the major ones. It looks like there’s going to be a dry patch between March when Shenzen ends and May when Venice picks up. What’s an architecture obsessive to do?

Football addicts have no choice but to watch European friendlies in that six-week gap they like to call a “run-up” until the next season. Architecture addicts have a similar system of denial, making do with a stream of updates regarding the theme, content, personalities and preparations in anticipation of HOW FANTASTIC THE NEXT ONE IS GOING TO BE! With such a crowded calendar and resultant enlightenment churn, there’s never any time to reflect upon whether any particular event lived up to its expectations.

It’s no less ephemeral for being physical things viewed in physical space. We’re still not allowed time to digest the information or lapse into the habit of thinking about it. The more bi/triennali there are, the more they dumb down thought and discourse globally. This is the way of the modern world and why, about three years ago, I closed all social media accounts, first Facebook and Pinterest and then Instagram and Twitter. I was tired of the tyranny of newsfeeds, I suspected their purpose and I refused to equate knowledge with diversion.

In this respect, the production and consumption of “live” architectural content is no different from the production and consumption of that electronically delivered.

The last time I remember looking at ArchDaily was the time of that brouhaha over the competition to build a wall on the Mexico-US border. Accusations of lack of editorial oversight and lack of ethics were followed by counteraccusations claiming the problem was one of content and not The Platform. There was the same polarisation of stances we’ve since become acquainted with courtesy of the more “social” of the social media platforms. All that was in March 2016 – more than three infinite-scrolling years ago.


The break happened around the time of the Home Improvement post.

Life went on. I still managed to find things I thought interesting and worth writing 1,500–1,800 words about each week. Some posts were about architectural propositions based on some current interest, sometimes prompted by teaching preoccupations at the time. Others were reflections on history, often suggested by a book I’d either been given or come across in a store. Some were the result of a reader kindly suggesting I look into a particular architect and, though I might not always have done so immediately, I always did. Through such recommendations I learned about the wonderful architect Josef Frank [c.f. Josef Frank] and more recently about The Mechanics of Fame [c.f. Architecture Myths #25: The Creative Spark].


Or so I think. It’s time to see if that’s true and, if so, by how much. I’m going to binge-scroll the past three years of ArchDaily and list everything I genuinely wish I’d known about earlier. Unlike biennali and triennali never called to account for misinterpreting the present or/and the future, this inaugural Misfits’ Biennale will curate the past three years of ArchDaily content into a single post. I’m interested to see what survives the “test of time” once being top of the newsfeed is no longer a metric of worth.

31 July 2019: Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, Co-Founder of the Radical ‘Superstudio’ (leftmost, below), dies at 78. This is news, but me knowing it changes nothing. I admire Superstudio no more or less.. [c.f. Architecture Misfit #4: Adolfo Natalini]

[1] 31 July 2019: Nowhere but Sajima, Yasutake Yoshimura Architects
This is a house available for weekly rental – a kind of pay-per-stay architecture. I know that’s not new or even a good trend and I did ask myself if I wasn’t getting too excited too early. Nevertheless, I lingered a while over this because I’ve never seen a facade like this before. Somehow, it challenges our (or at least my) notions of what a facade can be. Taking the trope of shuffly windows and reinventing it as a bizarre and pretty advent calendar, it made me think a bit of Gio Ponti and his obsession with surface. [c.f. Career Case Study #8: Gio Ponti] Unsurprisingly, it’s in Japan. I was curious to know more about its construction but there was none of that kind of information.

[2] 25 July 2019 The Deformed Roof House of Furano / Yoshichika Takagi + associates
Another house. This one is all about construction, and extending a single-family house into a two-family house. As is often the case in Japan, it’s an example of a single logic relentlessly pursued to its conclusion.

16 July 2019: Four Finalists Selected for Cottesloe Beach Pavilion in Australia
I’d known about this. The competition is for a pavilion to replace the building known as the Indiana Tea Rooms, and will attempt to reconcile a beach amenity with year-round dining as well as various “experiences” to be decided.

20 June 2019: Adaptative Plans: An Algorithm That Predicts Spatial Configurations
I’d found out about this via LinkedIn. I’ll have more to say about it in a separate post. For now, it’s enough to note how inept all the “spatial configurations” are.

30 May 2019: Higharc Startup Aims to Automate Home Design
To go with the adaptative spatial configurations, we now have something for the exterior. I’m only two months into two years of ArchDaily and already I’m getting distracted by this rubbish. The plan was to discover things I really wish I’d known about earlier. This ain’t one.

28 May 2019: Arata Isozaki Accepts the 2019 Pritzker Prize

[3] 22 April 2019: Building LL 2474, Arqtipo
I like this. It gets the apartments onto this narrow site and without waste or pretence. The compromises it makes are understandable for what looks like the sharp end. I admire its architects for naming the building by what looks like a job number or a plot number, something we’ve not seen for a long time.

15 April 2019: Major Fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris
This was global news. I ignored all the proposals produced by mercenary architects wanting us to mistake prompt response for considered judgment. Macron was little better, promising a rebuild in five years. Even if it took fifty, I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to ponder the symbolism of Notre Dame as a ruin, and then watch it being rebuilt with all the care and thought we could muster. The thing about buildings feted as symbols of city, country, society and humanity is that when the building loses its integrity it’s symbolism takes a hit too and we don’t like it’s new meanings,

[4] 5 April 2019: Infra-Space 1, Landing Studio
It’s a good idea to make better use of the spaces beneath flyovers, as with this initiative in Boston.

[5] 2 April 2019: House Maison Individuelle, Perraudin Architectes
At last – some construction! This house shows what can be done when care is taken to get the basics right. It’s spacious, well constructed and looks like a pleasant place to be. Money is not saved on poor-quality materials only to waste it on finishes. There’s no architectural pretence – it’s raised because it’s in a flood plain.

[6] 25 February 2019: Affordable Housing in Zurich, Gus Wüstemann
I’d like to know more about the economics of this scheme for affordable housing in Zurich, not known for being a cheap city. You’ok have to like concrete, and who doesn’t?

[7] 4 January 2019: Cottage in Las Herencias, OOIIO Arquitectura
I see a lot of sense in a new building that neither tries too hard to be new nor opts for a simplistic mimicking of “what’s already there”.

[8] 17 October 2018: Challenge Studio’s Award-Winning Design Envisions a New Residential Typology 
I’m not quite sure how this works as there’s no plan but, as a principle, the idea of “stacked units that act as tri-axis modules, [so that the] … cohesive interlocking of these modules enables the creation of different unit types and deviates from the ordinary double-loaded corridor strategy” sounds good. 

30 September 2018: Serious Question: Should We Call Them Slums?
I think we should call them the future. So far I’ve seen proposals for smog-filtering towers, floating cities and 3-D printed buildings on Mars, all of which are stock responses of the technology-got-us-into-this-mess-and-technology-will-get-us-out kind. On the other hand here we have self-build, low energy, recycled/salvaged materials put together with vernacular intelligence. There’s a lot to learn from settlements such as this.

[9] 15 November 2018: Garage Hall House, Tsukagoshi Miyashita Sekkei + Keitarchi
My younger brother would like this. But the idea of having a view of a previously neglected space, and one that mediates yet connects the world outside is a good and useful idea. It’s sort of what I’ve been trying to achieve with apartments having views of access corridors. [c.f. The Universal Apartment, The Uncompleted Apartments]

[10] 20 July 2018: Asma Bahçeler Residences, Martı D Mimarlık
Here’s something I haven’t seen before. It’s not exactly an inclined mat building but it’s a decent attempt at giving apartments the garden amenities of detached houses. The only downside is that it takes a fairly steep site to make it work. [c.f. The Mat Building]

[11] 21 May 2018: Car Park Katwolderplein, Dok architects
This is not the cheapest way to build a car park but it’s not as if money has simply been thrown at it. I included this to illustrate that every project has the potential to be something it hopefully wants to be. I would have appreciated a plan so I could check traffic flow and efficiency. Car parks have some way to go before they can be called the caravanserai of our times as the architects claim, but they’re not a bad inspiration for any kind of building. Note how the ornament is achieved by the simple manipulation of bricks. [c.f. Caravanserai]