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Opera Houses

Opera was invented in Italy in the 16th century as soon as people had money and power and, for probably the first time in the history of the world, leisure because they weren’t constantly preoccupied trying to hang onto that money and power. And what did they do? They invented opera – a fusion of music, drama, singing and storytelling. And why not? In all fairness, what would you do in a similar situation?

To this day, opera is seen as a global symbol of western cultural values and the aspiration to them. It’s not for everybody. Like architecture, it’s not a popular form of entertainment.

This site has a brief history of opera. It’s full of stuff. Recommended. Me, my preferences hover around Italian bel-canto operas – Verdi, Bellini, a bit of Donizetti. Maybe a bit of Mozart. I’ve no time for Offenbach and complex recitatives in French, or anything Wagnerian. Musically, dramatically and architecturally, I prefer Verdi’s exhilarating invention of multiple perspectives of the same scene sung simultaneously. This next clip is a brilliant illustration of the device. We see it clearly because there’s no ornamentation.

It’s amazing how much joy five people and a piano can make. Even if your living room has a reverberation time of between 1.0 and 1.6, keep it real. It’s probably not going to happen there. That’s why people go to opera houses where they’ll also get some scenery, staging, lighting, costumes, an orchestra, a chance to dress up, see and be seen, and some drinks at interval. It all gets put together in this next clip. Stay with it, it’s wonderful. Focus.

Regrets, I’ve had a few but one is that I never saw Joan Sutherland or Luciano Pavarotti sing live. We forget how electric they really were.

All this has been a roundabout way of saying that wonderful things can and do happen in opera houses. Here’s Milan’s La Scala.


Here’s its 2013-2014 season. I’m actually listening to Il Trovatore as I write this – insane story, beautiful singing.

la scala

Here’s Paris’ Opera National de Paris. Yep, that’ll be the Garnier building.


Here’s Paris Opera’s 2014–2015 season. It looks good.

paris opera

Okay then, so how about The Met?


New Yorkers are spoiled. That’s a very nice programme until early 2015. I hope Bluebeard’s Castle is sung in Hungarian for maximum opacity. The Met is a temple of opera. It exports its performances and makes them available online in real time. It’s a cultural giant, and a friendly giant as well.

hpgrexbonomelliIt doesn’t matter that the New York Metropolitan Opera is housed in a Wallace Harrison [apologies to all] building that by all accounts does its job quite well.


It opened in September 1966, seven years before the Sydney Opera House.

490px-Sydney_Opera_House_at_SunsetLet’s go to to sydneyoperahouse.co, see what’s on and see if Sydney Opera House deserves to be called an opera house. (It’s not the fastest site on the planet, but) they’re doing Rigoletto from June 28 to August 14.


The fires are burning merrily in the Duke’s palace as beautiful people at magnificent candlelit dinners, party on into the night. Meanwhile, in the streets of Mantua, shadows tread softly. Words pass between hooded figures, their meaning drowned out by the sounds of drunken revelry. Are they whispering sweet nothings, or bitter secrets? Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference in the gloom. Verdi’s dark tale glitters with passion and suspense in this glamorous new production. Tell your jokes, lock up your daughters and trust nobody.

Sounds fab. I love a dark tale. The forseeable future is also fairly replete. 

opera australia

The building has had its own well-documented troubles in terms of functioning as an opera house but they seem to be making it work. Unfortunately, the Sydney Opera House started the fashion for opera houses to be added to cities as some kind of cultural bauble. It was the birth of the iconic building, the Guggenheim effect pre-Guggenheim. Opera houses were hot – until cities decided art galleries were cheaper and less hands-on. Not too many opera houses get built these days. Here’s one that famously didn’t get built for the Welsh National Opera in Cardiff


and here’s what did, but since it’s called an arts centre it doesn’t really count.

imagesThe Centre comprises one large theatre and two smaller halls with shops, bars and restaurants. It houses the national orchestra and opera, dance, theatre and literature companies, a total of eight arts organisations in residence.

This next one’s a new and dedicated one – Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House.


Not too many posts back, I linked to this video because it showed what went on inside an opera house. I forgot to say I really liked the central light feature in the auditorium. It’s perfect – a good call. I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere.

So let’s see what’s coming up! Operatically, it’s an assortment of the favourites you’d choose if you wanted to cultivate a culture of opera-going. There’s Madame Butterfly August 15-September 6,


The Tales of Hoffman [urk] October 2-25,


Don Giovanni October 18–November 4,

1_Opera_Don_Giovanni_Mozart_Alexandra_DeshortiesCarmen January 23–March 26,

1_Opera_Carmen_BizetThe Barber of Seville December 21–February 20,

1_Opera_Barberen_i_Sevilla_Rossini_Ingeborg_Gillebo Lohengrin March 8–April 11,


La Traviata April 24–June 8 …


So now let’s go to the Guangzhou Opera House and see what’s on.

20110715113635广州大剧院广东美术馆当代馆_websiteHere’s the 2014 season. If you want any opera then you’ve missed the three performances of Carmen June 27-28-29. What is it with Carmen by the way? Is it the “Spanish heat and gypsy passion” or is there definitely something that translates across cultures and languages?

Missed that? You’ll have to make do with July 13’s Whole Summer’s Fun 2014 Do-Re-Mi Pods’ Rainbow Dream The Ju Percussion Group Concert for Kids.


Or one of the six performances of Whole Summer’s Fun Dora the Explorer Live! Search for the City of Lost Toys in July. There’s no more opera indicated for the rest of 2014.


This post is not about cultural elitism, imperialism or suprematism. People can pay money to see what they like ONLY DON’T SAY IT HAPPENS IN AN OPERA HOUSE! Sure China has a big history of song and drama that’s usually translated as “Chinese Opera” because that’s probably how we’re going to understand it even though it contains ballet and a bit of acrobatics as well. Though audiences are thinning out these days, it’s always been a popular form of entertainment much like music hall, vaudeville and burlesque used to be out west.

001ec94e6546101b1a4916What we are seeing around the world now are music hall acts filling buildings touted as opera houses.  Back in the day, an opera house was planned for Dubai. It was to have looked something like this.


But now it’s not. Instead

The city is set to make a lasting contribution to the performing arts and events sector with Dubai Opera, a 2,000-seat multi-format venue for opera, theatre, concerts, art exhibitions, orchestra, film, sports events and seasonal programmes, within The Opera District, the newest development by Emaar Properties in Downtown Dubai.

It will look something like this.


To be used for opera, theatre, concerts, art exhibitions, orchestra, film, sports events and seasonal programmes, Emaar said it would be the centerpiece of the district to promote the arts, culture and events scene in Dubai.

It’s a far more useful building than the sand-duney one and in a far more sensible location. It is however, a multi-purpose hall even though the area it’s going to be in is now being marketed as “The Opera District”.

photoIt’s futile getting too huffy about it, but a building’s name should at least follow its function. Just saying.

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:




more pics

more visuals



Not these sounds (again) !


Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was scored for a small orchestra (two of each in the wind family) whereas large orchestras (having four of each) were more to people’s taste in the late 19th century as audiences then, liked the volume turned up. The mid-20thC trend was for smaller orchestras and authentic instruments. The style was called HIP – for historically informed performance. It got mixed reviews.

51GqBUd5cBL._SX300_Harnoncourt, of course, made his name as one of the bright lights of historically-informed performance (HIP). He constantly pushed the limits of expression and took huge chances in his interpretations, which, more often than not, paid off in revelatory readings. This set, however, is not HIP. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe plays, for the most part, modern instruments in the modern way. Harnoncourt does make use of the valveless natural trumpet (for a very interesting reason; read the interview in the liner notes) and what sounds to me like natural-skin timpani. In short, the performance falls into the category of “modern, with slightly reduced forces.” 

The same phenomenon exists in architecture. Old favourites are continually re-photographed. I can think of several reasons.

  1. As with music, to suit the style of the times. Sometimes the difference is only slight but sometimes the change is huge.
  2. To obtain new, uncopyrighted phtographs. Later building activity has meant the old views can’t be replicated anymore anyway.
  3. To make them seem new again. Sometimes, the old photographs are just too old. They remind us that the building is slipping into history. I suspect this refreshing of imagery has something to do with rebooting our perceptions and stopping us from losing interest, of keeping the buildings and their myths alive.

New photographs for these three reasons all have the same function in that they are used to create a new media product in the case of books, or used as content on which to hang advertising in the case of magazines and, to an increasing extent, the internet. As a content provider of sorts myself, I’m not going to think about it too much – it’s the world we live in. It’s the world much architecture inhabits.


Tastes in photography swing between the contrivedly dramatic and the apparently uncontrived – and then drift back again. Even buildings with a set money-shot can be photographed in a multitude of ways to freshen them up and make us look at them anew, even if only for a click.


We should be thankful for photo-sharing sites such as flickr. Architects and photographers no longer have absolute control of what images of their buildings are published and circulated. The stage-managed money-shot is soon found out now we have a wider range of visual evidence on which to form our own visual aesthetic opinions. I say visual aesthetic opinions because photographs convey the warmth of timber or the coolness of marble, the aroma of timber, or the sound of a space. (I can’t think of an example where our sense of taste comes into play. This says as much about the essential nature of humans, as it does of buildings.)

Of the four sets of examples below, three are of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and one is of a Le Corbusier building. I’ll order them chronologically.

The Robie House

The Kaufmann House

The Villa Savoye

The New York Guggenheim Museum

With music, and especially with pieces of music such as Beethoven’s 9th, some people know an awful lot about them even though it might sound incredibly pretentious. These days, in addition to scholarly essays and knowledgeable opinion, there are also applications such as this one.

9thBeethoven’s 9th Symphony for iPad presents four of Deutsche Grammophon’s legendary recordings of this iconic work, with the amazing ability to switch instantly between each performance at any point in the piece. As you listen, you can watch the synchronized musical score, be guided by expert commentary, follow Beethoven’s 1825 manuscript or immerse yourself in the hypnotic graphical BeatMap of the orchestra, precisely highlighting every note. The app also includes a treasure-trove of specially filmed video interviews with musicians, writers and great conductors discussing Beethoven and his masterwork.  

Bethoven Autograph of Sym. 9

Will this result in an understanding greater than a lifetime chasing orchestras between concert halls? Or will it perhaps result in a different understanding or perhaps more applicable insights into the process of creating symphonies? I don’t know. I shall find out.

But what would be an equivalent app for architecture?

It’s easy to imagine a virtual model of any building, and for that to be bundled into an app with a set of drawings and a walkthrough with ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPHS and VARIOUS COMMENTARIES by VARIOUS COMMENTATORS. But what new knowledge would this produce, given that we can’t be the original users and have the experience that was theirs alone? (And why should we? They paid for it – we didn’t.)

Such applications exist. 


Just as talking about something endlessly is easier than actually understanding it, collections of the same old visual and audio information re-marketed as ‘interactive’ because it’s on an iPad or something do not represent new understanding. Seeing something from a different angle or on a different device is not the same as seeing something in a new way.

It could of course be that we’re seeing more than there actually is to see. It could just be that the imagined timelessness in these buildings lies in their ability to act as a subject for new people to generate new content on which to hang new advertising. If learning how FLW did it was ever the objective, then we would have more FLW looky-likey buildings as subsequent architects tried and failed, or perhaps bettered the guy. We don’t. People learning how to replicate a real or imagined architectural magic is the last thing an architect’s PR machine wants to see. Especially a posthumous one.

2013 Misfits’ Midsummernights’ Quiz

Welcome to the 2013 Misfits’ Midsummernights’ Quiz! It’s being brought to you from London and so has a bit of a British theme. As is now usual, answers are at the bottom of the post – no cheating! To kick off, we’ll start with a question about out the 2013 winner of the WTF! Prize.

Q1: Name the inspiration for the central design feature on this building at Dubai Marina. 

Q2: Okay, so where’s this then?

caryatids Q3: The construction cost of the Millennium Dome was the largest of these four London buildings. Which of the others weighed in second? Was it City Hall? London Aquatics Centre? 30 St. Mary Axe?

££ Q4: Take a quick look at this next building. What does it remind you of?

st mary

Q5: Do you notice anything special about this set of drawings? 

villa savoye basement Q6: Who said “Money spent to build more than necessary is wasted money”?

  1. Hannes Meyer
  2. Diébédo Francis Kéré
  3. Karel Teige
  4. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe



Q7: Who said “There will always be a place for exuberant architecture”?

  1. His Royal Highness Prince Charles
  2. Dame Zaha Hadid, DBE
  3. Baron Foster of Thames Bank
  4. Peter Zumthor

Exuberant architecture Q8: What do these four ladies have in common?

foour pic Q9: Who said “”It is fine to take from the same well – but not from the same bucket.”

  1. Mickey Mouse
  2. Dame Zaha Hadid, DBE
  3. The Mona Lisa
  4. Huckleberry Finn


Q10: Let’s not talk about La Zaha anymore. Who are the people occupying the same space as La Zaha in these photos? 

A. zaha_smithson 1984




zaha stella



 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

ANSWER TO Q1: Yes, that’s right! It’s John Nash’s All Souls Church of 1824, where Regent’s Park Road meets Euston Road in London. (All Souls Church is now on Facebook btw!)

All_Souls_8014 Nash’s little church was not well liked at the time. One contemporary review went …

To our eye, the church itself, apart from the tower, (for such it almost is) is perhaps, one of the most miserable structures in the metropolis,—in its starved proportions more resembling a manufactory, or warehouse, than the impressive character of a church exterior; an effect to which the Londoner is not an entire stranger. Here, too, we are inclined to ascribe much of the ridicule, which the whole church has received, to its puny proportions and scantiness of decoration, which are far from being assisted by any stupendousness in their details, the first impression of which might probably have fixed the attention of the spectator. Indeed, the whole style of the tower and steeple appears peculiarly illadapted for so small a scale as has here been attempted.

Nash was lampooned in the contemporary press.

nasional taste

ANSWER TO Q2: Just a bit down the road. Yes, that’s right! This is St. Pancras New Church (1822), also on Euston Road, London. Only two years separate this church from All Souls Church. Both formed part of a defensive line of church building along Euston Road to counter the godlessness of anything north. This porch is not to be confused with the Erechtheion which is somewhere else.

ErechtheumOnAcropolis ANSWER TO Q3: London Olympic Swimming Pool came it at £269 mil. – or at least it did as far as the accounting can be trusted. This is only £3 mil. more than 30 St Mary’s Axe which used up £266 mil. of somebody’s money. With a lettable floor area of 516,100 sq.ft this works out at £515/sq.ft, considerably more than the £376/sq.ft for the 130,000 sq.ft lettable floor area of City Hall which cost a mere £49 mil. to build. The Millennium Dome cost £789 mil. – again, if the accounting is to be A) believed and B) has anything like a shared baseline. “According to the UK National Audit Office, the total cost of The Dome at the liquidation of the New Millennium Experience Company in 2002 was £789 million, of which £628 million was covered by National Lottery grants and £189 million through sales of tickets etc.” etc. etc.

ANSWER TO Q4: If your answer was something along the lines of anything in the next image, famously drawn by Rem Koolhaas’ other missus, then you are wrong. Sorry.

gherkin 'meanings'Full marks if it reminded you of Paul Laffoley’s 2003 proposal for the site that came to be occupied by Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center.

It’s a reworking of the “Grand Hotel” that Gaudí designed for much the same site in 1908.

gaudi grand 2 (Muchas gracias por el link, loslugarestienenmemoria.) Laffoley wrote in 2001 

Now that Ground Zero is but a gaping wound on the body of New York City and in the soul of America, many have speculated as to what to do at the site of the violent laceration. I believe one thing is clear, that in order to begin the healing process, whatever is placed there must not proceed from the same living ego impulse that motivated Yamasaki.  That is why I feel Gaudí’s Grand Hotel would be the appropriate solution. Several facts support this idea: first, the Hotel was planned for the site in 1903; second, Gaudí has been dead for seventy-five years; third, the Hotel would function as a celebration of life, for which New York City is famous; fourth, it could act as a permanent memorial for all those who lost their lives in the disaster; and fifth, it would take the combined efforts of the entire artistic and architectural communities of New York City and other areas to bring the building into being.

At the time, I wrote,

“I’ve never thought the world needed another Gaudí building but I do now. His Grand Hotel proposal was an optimistic vision of a bright future in 1908 but is much more now. It reminds us that we still have to build one – and to do that we have to be able to imagine one first. It is already a memorial to what we have lost. This building is as much of a correction as we can hope for. Hats off to Paul Laffoley for proposing it.”

I still think so. My point was not whether the building is a facsimile or simulcrum of what the architect would have overseen, but whether the vision was still valid.  The physical manifestation of an architect’s oeuvre is not the question. It is whether the proposal (by the original architect or someone else) is a accurate reflection of the zeitgeist. I liked to think that Laffoley’s proposal (of Gaudí’s proposal) would have been, but what now stands there is. Sadly.

ANSWER TO Q5: First let’s have another look!

villa savoye basement Yes, the building has a basement that is not normally shown, presumably because it is totally devoid of any kind of architectural invention – apart from the stairs down, that is. Once in the basement, even the balustrade disappears. See Section B-B.

villa savoye chimney That should have been a clue. To the left of the stairs as you go up from the basement must be the boiler since there’s a chimney on all the floors above. That’s it by the radiator. Now that radiator would have been coal-fired. Since the basement is divided into two spaces, the one with the door is probably the coal store. I’d expect to see the opening of a coal delivery chute in the driveway outside the side door but this next photo shows how it could appear, except that what we see is one structural bay away from where a chute would discharge. It’s probably a trap for the bathroom drains. If there had been a coal chute, it was probably covered up in the 1985 renovations – the same ones in which the ground floor washbasin was relocated to the other side of the column. Who’d want to know about a boiler anyway?

villa_savoye_05But this summer, why not go visit and check out the basement? Rent the Monument for your events!‘ Someone’s gotta pay those bills – why not you?


I found the drawing for this question on the Italian site archweb. There was also this which is worth a look as you don’t see very often, perhaps because the proportions are so awkward. Why did The Great Man put windows on the cantilevered bits when he didn’t on the mothership?? The extra window area wasn’t necessary there, and nor was it necessary here. It sort of leads one to conclude that LC was making it up as he went along.

ANSWER TO Q6: This was Diébédo Francis Kéré. Nowhere in any misfits’ post was this mentioned, but you should have guessed from this photograph. Tsk tsk.

Burkina Faso school ANSWER TO Q7: The full answer was Dame Zaha Hadid, DBE, in response replying to a question about the future of her company’s aesthetic in a time of economic downturn. I forget where. Trust me on this.

Zaha Hadid ANSWER TO Q8: They are all British National Treasures – in a manner of speaking. All have received birthday honours from the Queen and have the right to be called Dame. From top left, there is Dame Shirley Bassey who was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2000, Dame Barbara Windsor who received her CBE in 2000 also for her long career in entertainment (a.k.a. the the Carry On series of movies

Carry On Doctor One Sheet 1972 and Eastenders. You can catch up quickly on almost 30 years of episodes here.

EastEnders_Title The last image is of Professor Tina Lavender of the School of Nursing at the University of Manchester, who received hers for services to Midwifery. I think that’s right – the honours list is complicated. See here for the full 2012 list. Dame Zaha Hadid recieved her DBE in 2012 for services to architecture, but there’s no information on what exactly those services were.

ANSWER TO Q9A: The guy with the white hair is Peter Smithson who, along with his wife Alison, were known as The Smithsons. I’m not making this up! At the beginning, they were a bit Miesey,

Hunstanton-Photograph-522x400pxbut then got a bit brutal. Here’s their Robin Hood Gardens project from 1972 – an embarrassing reminder to every British government since, that housing (like education, healthcare and employment) used to once be part of the social contract between a government and its people.

Robin_Hood_Gardens_AP_Smithson The Smithsons didn’t really get the hang of the witty referencing thing. The ivy is doing its university best but wisteria might be better suited to that framey thing happening.

the-smithsons-garden-building-st-hildas-college-oxford-1967-1970_lThe home The Smithsons designed for the 1956 Ideal Sexist Home Exhibition is an enduring internet presence. 

smithsons ideal home ANSWER TO Q9B: That would have to be Remment Koolhaas. Both him and her went on to have  successful commercial architectural practices at the turn of the century.

ANSWER TO Q9C: Stella McCartney. We don’t know what it is they both found so interesting up there.

ANSWER TO Q9D:  Who else but Patrik Schumacher? He wrote a book called The Autopoiesis of Architecture. I haven’t read it yet. You probably haven’t either.


Architecture Myths #7: Purity of Form

1976 was quite a year for houses in Japan. There was Toyo Ito’s White U which we’ve already seen. There was Kazuo Shinohara’s House in Uehara – a steady favourite of mine, for reasons I may one day post.

House in Uehara And there was Tadao Ando’s Sumiyoshi HouseThis next photo was quite popular at the time, although the purpose of those two boxes either side of the light well over the entrance remains a mystery to this day.

485f2ad68aeebe915ed49c499812d6bcb11f3898_m This black and white photo seemed to convey the required association with tradition more than the colour ones of the time did.

Azuma house 住吉 Tadao Ando 安藤忠雄 2 Of course, the area has changed a lot since 1976.

azuma-1 Streetmap tells us it looks like this in 2013.

streetview 1 sumiyoshi 2 That makes this next photograph all the more remarkable. (How did they do that?) Note the 50cm side boundary setback, the meter box.

6152852388_de08e363c6_b Here’s the location map on greatbuildings.com or, if you prefer, 34°36’37.93″N 135°29’32.39″E. It gets you to here. The name on the pin (Azuma-tei) translates as Azuma Residence – which what the house is known as in Japanese.

sumiyoshi house Zooming in now, have a look at the south-east corner (at the bottom right).

closeupOr, on GoogleMaps.


Yes, the Sumiyoshi House is not the shape we always thought it was. Never was, never has been. GoogleEarth service began 2005.



The reason for this missing corner could be the gas-fired boiler for the bath. When space is in such short supply, it’s a major decision to not gain that extra 8 cubic metres or an additional 5% of the total internal floor area. I suspect there’s a regulation for boiler venting at work. In 1980 in Tokyo, I lived in a ground-floor apartment with a similar heater inside the bathroom (but with an external flue) so there might have been some sudden – very sudden – tightening of regulations for the location of such boilers in new-build properties.

Or perhaps the land was never rectangular to start with? This might explain why the upper floor bedroom isn’t cantilevered over the boiler which does, after all, have a concrete roof directly above it anyway. In this next image, there slight kink in the concrete fence means it might be a minimum setback issue.


Or perhaps there was a covenant attached to the land, only discovered at the last minute? It’s been known to happen. Japan, like Britain still has many vestiges of a feudal system of land ownership.

Or perhaps the builders just read the drawing incorrectly and everyone decided to keep quiet about it. You know, like this.


More likely, someone thought “Who’ll ever care? It’s only a boiler! What’s that got to do with architecture?”

This next drawing is the closest to a construction drawing I’ve been able to find. (Thanks ideamsg.

row-house-in-sumiyoshi-7The much-publicised perspective cutaway section shows a complete rectangle. The plan for both levels shows a complete rectangle. The plan shows the boiler as internal, but at least it’s shown. This either implies a last-minute understanding of the regulations, a last-minute change to them, or an unsuccessful appeal if both. The rear bedroom is also rectangular. For the first time we learn that we can access the roof via that rear skylight. Behind/above the beds in the other bedroom are wardrobes – imagine! I feel really sorry for all those students who made physical models or CAD models of this house as part of their architecture course. There are some fine renders and models out there, all wrong.


This incorrect model found it’s way to the 2014 Venice Bienalle.


And I feel sorry for all those people who have redrawn those plans incorrectly for various publications. Forgive me for asking, but from where does misinformation like this spread?

602445_428065923920897_1019664922_n Azumahouse-drawing And I feel a bit sorry for the rest of us too having, since 1976, been led to believe this house was somehow purer than it really is. Part of the myth surrounding certain architects relies upon them being thought of as more exacting, more singleminded in their pursuit of some sort of purity of expression or form. Misguided though that belief may be, it was nice to believe in it and, regardless of Ando’s later work, it was nice to believe in this house. Because of this house, adjectives such as “strong”, “uncompromising” and “pure” became part of the myth of Ando. This doesn’t excuse the conscious deceit and the misconceptions the plans and elevations continue to propagate. Personally, I believe it’s better to know the facts than believe something that’s not true. Some people will want to continue believing the myth of purity, saying that it doesn’t matter since what the house represents is more important than what it is. For them, the fact that the plans don’t represent the reality IS PROOF OF THAT, despite the evidence suggesting a clumsy compromise resulting from a legal oversight.  It looks like Ando got away with it.

建築データ 住吉の長屋(東邸) 所在地/住所 大阪府大阪市住吉区 設計 安藤忠雄/貴志雅樹(安藤忠雄建築研究所) 設計期間 1975年1月-1975年8月 工事期間 1975年10月-1976年2月 – four month construction period! 施工 まこと建設(大阪市西区) 構造設計 アスコラル構造研究所 面積 敷地面積:57.3㎡ – site area 建築面積:33.7㎡ – building area 延床面積:64.7㎡(1階33.70㎡ 2階31.0㎡) – total floor area (I wonder what accounts for the upper floor area being 2.6m2 smaller than the lower?) 高さ/階高 5,800mm/2,250mm – this second value is hopefully floor-to-floor height 建物間口 3,450mm – building width 建物奥行き 14,250mm – building depth 規模/構造 地上2階/RC造 – 2 floors; above ground, reinforced concrete 備考 第31回日本建築学会賞(作品賞)受賞[1979年]



By way of postscript, http://yongoichi.exblog.jp/i4/ tells us that we can find the above image in this book. I doubt you’ll find it elsewhere.


The Things Architects Do #4: Reuse, Recycle, Reprise

Frank Lloyd Wright

elizabeth noble apartments












flower house


熊本駅東口広場西沢立衛 / Ryue Nishizawa2011



















library _of_childrens_literature_11



death star




Arata Isozaki



qatar national library


If you post a comment with your suggestions for further additions to this post, I’ll search them out and add them. I’ve only just scratched the surface here. I’m particularly interested in those ideas that architects recycle and reuse until they either succeed with it or die trying. The unbuilt works of Frank Lloyd Wright are rich in examples of this type. Also welcome are examples of architects continually reprising their greatest hits (e.g. SANAA, FLW again) – until they descend into self-parody (e.g. Daniel Libeskind).   


Moneti$ing Architectural Fame (In 6 Easy Diagrams!)

Diagram 1.

This situation was quite normal prior to 1900 when most architect publicity was by personal recommendation, but it won’t make you any money today. Or if it does, it won’t happen very fast. You need to let more people know about you. What you need to do is get some pictures of your work in magazines.

Diagram 2.

You provide a magazine with some content in the form of photographs and some helpful text and the magazine will publish it for the enlightenment of their readers who would like to know about it. The readers pay for the magazine of course, so the magazine is happy. However, the architect is not making any money in this arrangement. I’ll get to that bit soon.

Diagram 3.

Actually, the magazine makes money in two ways. Once from the readers who subscribe or purchase the magazine, and also from advertisers who pay for space so readers can know about their products. Now, the architect is not providing all this content just so other people can make money out of it.

Diagram 4.

Some of those magazine subscribers learn about the architect and his work from the magazine, and commission the architect. This situation was the norm between 1900-1930. The magazine is happy. The architect is happy. What’s good about this situation is that the new building can become new content and keep the cycle going. The magazines are about to be not very happy because the internet will come along and do whatever they did, better. (Actually, the internet doesn’t do detailed plans and sections very well and it doesn’t do detailed commentary very well either, but they weren’t important anyway, as the following diagram shows.)

Diagram 5.

Notice that Magazines has been replaced by Media. We may as well say The Internet. As before, the architect provides content that the media puts in front of us as news and information, but is really just entertainment so we can amuse or distract ourselves. If we are silly enough to click on any advertising, then some advertiser will obtain some revenue from somewhere to offset the media space they bought. Everyone in this corner is happy. Media has news-out and money-in. Advertisers have money-out, money-in. And the consumers of architectural imagery aren’t bored anymore. They are presented with buildings and architects to idolise and make famous. Interesting things happen once fame occurs.

  1. Notice that the client is separate from all this. All a client needs to do is ask who is famous, and employ them. That bit stays the same. Architect designs building, client pays architect.
  2. As before, the newly-completed building becomes new content to keep the cycle going but, if there aren’t enough newly-completed buildings, then some reject render of a project long abandoned, a sketch for a project that went no further, some theoretical bollocks, a book, an article or anything really can be fed to the media as content to keep the fame alive. This happened a lot in the 1970 when many architects found themselves without much to do – New York Whites, Post Modernists …
  3. In this diagram, the architect makes effort in two ways. One is as a content generator to feed the media, and the other is as the person who designs the building the client pays for. The solution to this is to have two types of architect. One type is the face of the brand and spends all their time on the road. The other type stays behind to mind the store, and does the dull and dirty work of designing buildings. Building the brand is more important. Clients and buildings are merely the vehicles to achieve that. But for what ends? Diagram 6.

Diagram 6.

Once an architect is granted this thing called fame, media consumers can thank the architect in the many monetary ways I mentioned in yesterday’s post. What does the average consumer of architectural imagery get out of this? In what ways are their lives enriched? I can’t think of anything more tangible than them having “something to talk about” – possibly at work with others in a “did you see the pics of so-and-so’s latest?” kind of way, or possibly as “comment” on architectural websites that fling it back immediately as site content. It doesn’t seem like a fair transaction, but it must be catering to some need or else it wouldn’t happen.

• • •

The only way to be a content provider instead of a content consumer is to learn the ways of these people.