Tag Archives: where to go and what to see?

Misfits’ Guide to MUNICH

Let’s begin with the big ones. From the left, this photo shows Frei Otto’s Olympic Hall – one of the 1972 Olympic Park structures – Olympic Tower to the right, farther back on the right is Wolfgang Prix and Coop Himmelb(l)au’s BMW Visitor Centre, immediately to the right are the BMW Museum and BMW Headquarters. That huge white shed is the first BMW factory, and that white shape far away on the horizon is Allianz Stadium.

Olympic Stadium, Gunter Behnisch and Partners (B+P) + Frei Otto, 1972
Munich Olympic Park, Munich

Nothing I’d read or seen about this told me how well this huge thing sits in the landscape that’s the work of Behnisch and Partners (B+P). What I didn’t know was that the landscape is completely artificial – a significant amount of earth has been shifted to make the stadium appear to nestle into the landscape and so avoid an opressive monumentality. The ground is piled up to the west so those higher tier entrances are at ground level.

The stadium seating is therefore asymmetrical east-west, with the larger and western half shaded from afternoon sun. To cover as much of that seating with a large tent is, as ever, the simplest way to shelter people from sun and light rain and this is probably what B+P were thinking when they asked Frei Otto to design something to do that.

The concept is simple and we can be certain all those forces are resolved and with generous safety factors. Herr Otto was displeased at having to use plexiglass sheets that added to the weight and subsequent cost but he did so with aplomb. For such an elegant structure it has a raw materiality that’s difficult to imagine happening today as an understated stadium with an absence of “architectural” expression. In the future, I think I’ll put quotation marks around the word architectural to draw attention to the fact not everybody agrees if it’s even necessary. These days we expect all forces to resolve into curved surfaces with picturesque voids so it’s something of a shock to see the heads of those cigar-shaped cable stays doing the important job of converting multiple tensile forces into a single compressive one. They’re not trying to be beautiful and they’re not trying to be ugly either. It’s us, not them.

Olympic Hall Frei Otto, 1972
Munich Olympic Park, Munich

The roof of this is wonderful but there’s more to a building than a canopy. Olympic Hall is a fully enclosed space with glass walls and an extra layer of roof. It’s now a concert venue.

Everything inside, including the air conditioning ductwork, is part of an independent structure and it’s not surprising it recalls Pompidou Centre because these were the ideas in the air at the time. Frei Otto’s involvement with Olympic Park goes back to 1967. Construction of Piano & Roger’s Pompidou Centre began 1971 and was completed 1977.

Olympic Tower
Olympic Park, Munich

It’s called Olympic Tower but was constructed over 1965–68 well in advance. It’s the usual combination of communications tower, restaurant and observation deck that can’t help but be a landmark. At 291 metres, it used to be one of the world’s bigger ones.

BMW Headquarters, BMW Museum Karl Schwanzer 1972
Petuelring 124-130, 80809 Munich

The exposed rooftop structure of the headquarters allows the floors to be held up by the four suspended “columns” – if that’s the right word. Once the core and suspension structure was in place, the building was built from the top down.

Whether it’s a good or necessary solution I don’t know. With distance, the window detail is lost and the muscular rooftop structure and cylindrical shapes appear monumental on the horizon. Some say cylinders and some say pistons, perhaps because of that gap on the way up that either part could occupy.

BMW Welt Wolf D. Prix & Coop Himmelb(l)au 2007
Am Olympiapark 1, 80809 Munich

A sign misled me into thinking this was the BMW Museum and I went in so I could tell my father about it as at 88 he’d recently decided to get himself a BMW.

There’s no reason for this building to exist apart from provide a place for purchasers to pick up their cars. The “waiting area” with its display turntables and exit ramp are thus the point of the design which takes every opportunity to lean in and swirl around it. There are few verticals and even the few columns are given a horizontal thrust by tapers on one side. Not unrelated to the primary function of the building is the bridge from where onlookers can watch new owners take possession and drive off. New BMW automobiles are on display downstairs (as well as those of Mini and Rolls Royce) where there’s also three large shops and a café. Motorcycles are on the level of the bridge overlooking the handover area and that eventually leads to the 1972 Karl Schwanzer museum. On the upper levels are assorted business centres and reception rooms.

Putting cars and clouds inside buildings creates its own problems but also the opportunity to flaunt the elegance and expense with which they were solved. Making a huge roof appear to hover without visible means of support is one problem. Another is how to maintain air quality when vehicle exhaust is introduced into a space containing people? This I’m sure has been dealt with as nobody seemed to care. It would’ve been simpler to have an external handover area viewed from some glassy gallery but converting envious onlookers into proud purchasers is what it’s all about and the fewer barriers the better.

Realizing a cloud-like building has been a preoccupation of the designers. In 1995 they stated “Clouds are symbols for rapidly changing states. They form and transform themselves through the complex interaction of changing conditions. Viewed in slow motion, the architecture of urban development could be compared with patches of clouds.”

Whether or not the building is a successful symbolic cloud depends upon your expectations of symbolic clouds. Outside, the day I visited, a very real cloud covered all of Bavaria.

Waste Treatment Plant
Münchner Straße 22,85774 Unterföhring, Munich

The North Munich Waste Treatment Plant has a maximum treatment capacity of 2,640 tonnes/day and the very real purpose of treating all municipal solid waste for Munich (pop. approx. 1.5 mil.) and surrounding areas. Munich has no operational landfills. All recovered energy is returned to the city as heat and/or electricity. Impressive.

Karl47 Kuehn Malvezzi, 2014
Karlstrasse 17, 80333 Munich

This little building is an island building and, walking by it as I did most days, was struck by how well it works on all sides and corners. The curves aside, the only other low-key design feature is the curious geometry of the fourth floor. It’s one simple idea that makes each side of this building slightly and differently strange.

The outer layer of glazing is a rainscreen and acoustic baffle for a deep cavity the inner windows open into. [The KPMG building (next up) has a similar treatment at ground level where this outer layer also functions as a security screen.] It only occurred to me later how few buildings in Munich have curved corners, and how welcome these are. It’s worth it because curved glazing isn’t cheap. The cavity space also has operable louvred blinds, and those on the curved windows have curved conical slats. Respect.

Endless Staircase Olafur Eliaason 2018
KPMG Building, Ganghoferstr 29, Munich

Olafur Eliaason’s name is cropping up a lot lately. Last week I mentioned his 2003 Tate Gallery installation The Weather Project in the ART IN SPACE! post. I mentioned his building for the LEGO brothers in The Right Stuff post last month, and I’m about to mention his installation for a particularly gloomy corner of Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation in an upcoming post. He seems to be moving towards the same design pastures as Thomas Heatherwick, Philip Starck and Zaha Hadid (did) but from the direction of art rather than product design/architecture.


In addition to clocks at obvious locations such as stations, Munich also has many towers and steeples and most have at least two clocks.

Wagnisart Cooperative Housing Bogevischs Buero Architekten Stadtplaner + Schindler Hable Arkitekten 2018
Domagkpark, Munich

Domagkpark is a new residential area less than 7 kilometres from the city centre, 1.2 km from a metro station with two lines and 100m from tram stops. The size of the buildings is small enough to give apartments windows on at least two sides but large enough to reduce the surface area and provide efficiencies of construction and heating. I don’t know why humane and generous low-cost housing is so difficult to achieve elsewhere. The three- and four-bedroom apartments are generous.

Both teams of architects know their way around low-cost housing but the Waginsart Housing aims at something higher than an already high standard. At first glance it appears little different apart from some wonky geometry but, in the co-housing blocks, this sensibly converges on the irregularly-shaped shared cooking and living areas.

Elevated bridges are not something you’d expect to find in a housing development like this and it’s not clear what problem they solve. I’m guessing the upper storeys were first set back to give the central areas more daylight. Linking those setbacks with elevated bridges defines the central space as something more than just the space between buildings and at the same time makes the upper storey residents an integral part of it. If so, then its very clever and deserves repeating elsewhere.

Student Housing [2] Bogevischs Buero + Munich ARGE + Professor Werner Wirsing 2010
Olympic Village, Munich

Some of the athletes’ housing for the 1972 Olympics had been used as student housing and this project is a reconstruction since renovation proved unviable. The website says the density was increased but each student still has their own house, their own front door, own bathroom and kitchen. Everyone is allowed to decorate the exterior of their unit as they wish.

Hochbunker München [3] Raumstation Architekten Starnberg [4] 2014
158 Ungererstraße, Munich

I didn’t know what to make of this building when I came across it. It had a strange monumentality from the size and spacing of the quoins being out of sync with the residential floor levels. Things like this were on my mind since, in a draft for another post, I’d been thinking about how architecture could be art independent of function. Overthinking it, I thought the stone might have been reclaimed. It turned out the building was a heritage-protected overground bunker repurposed as an art space and apartments. Not many apartments have two metre thick walls.

The size and spacing of the quoins were always at odds with the floor levels as originally and pointlessly indicated by the ventilation ducts (that must have zig-zagged to dampen blast waves). It’s not often you become aware of a new building typology and, although it’s not like you’ll start seeing them everywhere once you do, the next day I did see this round one not too far from the BMW headquarters. Built in 1941, it could shelter 448. There’s another on the corner of Corneliustrasse and Blumenstrasse.

The Old Technical Town Hall
Blumenstrasse 28b, Munich

I was hoping this building would be of the same vintage as Chicago’s 1892 Monadnock Building but no. A 1919 competition for the design of the building was won by Hermann Leitenstorfer, an architect, engineer and instructor at the Technical University of Munich, and the building was completed in 1929. This competition must have represented a huge and exciting opportunity for architects at the time. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Friedrichstrasse designs were 1921, Gropius, Loos and Hilberseimer’s Skyscraper Chicago Tribune Competition designs were 1922, and Gropius tenure as Director of The Bauhaus was 1919–1928. I’d like to see the other entries.

Nevertheless, The Old Technical Town Hall can be enjoyed for what it is – a serious attempt to define what a high-rise building should look like in Munich when it could be no taller than the 99-metre towers of Munich’s beloved Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Lady). This historic height limit is still respected in the city centre.

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  1. https://www.archdaily.com/29664/bmw-welt-coophimmelblau
  2. https://www.bogevisch.de/de/projekte/projektdetailseiten/082-studentenwohnanlage-im-olympischen-dorf-muenchen.html
  3. http://www.bnkr.space/about-bnkr/
  4. https://www.raumstation-architekten.de/projekte.html; more bunker photos here: https://www.baunetz.de/meldungen/Meldungen-Umbau_in_Muenchen_3942681.html


Misfits’ Guide to BRUSSELS

I have architect Pierre Eyban to thank for most of the information in this post I’ve constructed from recollections of conversations we had while walking around Brussels. Any inaccuracies are mine not his. Big thanks are also due to Raphael without whom my visit would not have happened, and also to Fred, Kaja, Paul, Didier, Mircea and everyone else I had the pleasure to meet.

This was one of  the first things Pierre pointed out. Seven rows of dual-aspect tenement apartments, two to a landing – about 120 in all. I may be wrong, but the polychromatic brickwork suggests 1850–1880. The site slopes down gently to the west, with arched passageways and stairs linking the cross streets and undercroft storage provided in the level difference. Nice.

There’s architectural generosity to be seen and it’s so much the better for many people benefitting from it. The balcony balustrades would originally have been cast iron but their modern replacements have been fabricated with care and painted an apparently authentic colour rather than yellow or red to “brighten the place up a bit”.

The Place du Jeu de Balle and the Marolles flea market are immediately to the north.

It’s impossible not to notice the many fine turn-of-the-century school buildings still in use. I like a place that values education.

Brussels is a city that has been shaped by architectural competions. One of the first was in 1860 for the Palais de Justice (Law Courts) that now overlooks Brussels from the Galgenberg Hill. None of the entered designs was a winner and in 1861 Minister of Justice appointed Joseph Poelaert to design it anew. The first stone was laid on October 31, 1866, and the building was inaugurated on October 15, 1883, four years after Poelaert’s death in 1879. It’s a beast.

The Minister of Justice is probably responsible for the scale of the building, if not its design and, as a consequence, the mammoth building is sinking. A program of repairs was begun in 2003 but the building has been shrouded in scaffolding for so long that the scaffolding is now in need of repair. There are good views of Brussels to be had if you climb the scaffolding at night and risk a €500 fine but entry during the daytime is permitted and free. The grand and intimidating scale of the interiors will make you feel guilty anyway.

Brussels continues to be shaped by architectural competitions, with small or young practices having many opportunities to enter and occasionally win.

Flemish Library, Muntplein, Brussels, B-architecten, 2016

Brussel’s Flemish Library was formerly known as Hoofdstedelijke Bibliotheek Brussel but now goes by the name Muntpunt. The competition for its redesign for was won by Antwerp practice B-architecten [1].

The problem with the 1970s building was that it was not deemed “open” enough because the precast concrete cladding panels obscured the interior and did not invite people in. B-architecten’s solution was to remove them at the lower levels and then reconfigure the interiors now they could be seen. A unique building has resulted from doing the obvious, even if it only seems obvious after someone has done it. The owners now have a building that functions as they want it to and that no doubt cost a fraction of a new building, if that was ever an option. We need to update our definition of adaptive re-use to include selective demolition.

Sans Souci Housing Development, 120-122 Rue Sans Souci, R²D² architects

Next day the skies had cleared and I was walking (lost, as it happened) and saw this inner courtyard housing.

A little further along the street I was happy to see this project for 20 apartments for Brussels social housing provider Fonds du Logement.

This next image is from the website [2] of the architects R2D2 who, like B-architecten above, have solved the problem well and with a minimum of fuss and architecture.

I’ve never been to Vienna but I hear that new and old buildings coexist quite happily in the same street and this is the case here. There’s none of the British obsession with “lining through” or a restricted choice of materials. There is no obvious attempt to make this building fit in, and yet it does. Perhaps because it is similarly unpretentious.

Brussels seems to have a healthy relationship with its old buildings, fixing them and using them for as long as they can, until they can’t anymore. This next street is noplace special but it has six building in a row and I suspect not one of them was built within 70 years of another. Going by the many buildings with dates on them, the period 1580-1680 was a boom time. Many ordinary buildings from that period still exist but not because their builders were building for eternity. They were just building the only way they knew how and it happened to create buildings that didn’t need to be replaced soon.

Grand Place remains a well-preserved treasure but some are displeased the buildings now have much more gilding that they ever conceiveably would have had.

A bit of gilding certainly does look good on cloudy days but having no more than a healthy respect for the old has its benefits. The extension to this building does not apologize for being there.

It’s a tricky act to pull off however and I fear standards will slip.

Flagey Frites, Place Flaget

This unprepossessing little building is Frites Flagey, seller of arguably the best frites in Brussels.

The people of Brussels take their frites very seriously, along with their chipshops that they call frietkot. There’s a painter, Gilles Houben [1] who paints nothing else. This is his painting of Frites Flagey.

The city council apparently thought the freitkot rather shabby and you may have read about the architectural competition held for a freitkot redesign [2]. It was won by architect Thomas Hick but not everyone was won over by his “unassuming” design clad in mirrors – or his referencing Learning From Las Vegas. Now, as then, the new unpretentiousness is neither new nor unpretentious.

Looking east from Frites Flagey you’ll see this building with an elongated form, yellow brick and tower much like Robert Mallet-Stevens’ Villa La Cavrois.

In order to make its café and library appear more accessible to the general public, the front of the building has been “opened up” in the same way as Muntpunt. Models of re-imagined treehouses I saw through a rear window confirmed the presence of an architecture school.

Galeries Royales Saint-HubertJean-Pierre Cluysenaer, 1847

This is a delightful covered shopping arcade that predates Milan’s Galleria di Vittorio Emanuel II by more than twenty years. There’s an unbelieveable lightness to the arcade roof structure. Is it concrete and glass block? I have no idea. It’s lovely.

The apparent length of the arcade is reduced halfway by a slight change in direction where it links to a cross-street and a smaller arcade branches off farther down. I was pleased to see two two floors of apartments above the many chocolate shops.

Houses, [street to be confirmed], Architet B. Leroy (?), circa 1900

It must have been tough being an architect in Brussels working in the shadow of Victor Horta. Mon. Leroy isn’t listed anywhere as an important architect but he designed practically every house along one side of this street. He deserves our respect for making each house the same but different, skilfully varying the quantity and detail of his external motifs and decorations according to budget.

Horta House, 66 rue de l’Hôtel de la Monnaie, 1895(?)~1905(?)

Horta could have learned a thing or two because the construction cost of this next house caused the upper floors to be redesigned into smaller apartments before the house was even completed – perhaps a sacrifice accepted so the ballroom at the rear could be kept.

Outside, you can spend much time contemplating things we don’t contemplate doing anymore. Inside, the stairwell is the main architectural event. The sheer amount and degree of craftsmanship evident in everything is awesome.

I don’t normally think every single item and detail has to call attention to itself but it’s difficult to argue when everything is done with such thought and executed so well – that timber handrail for instance. The house isn’t included amongst Horta’s top four houses so I’m now curious to see what is.

Next time I will visit his 1893 Hôtel Tassel at least. Brussels Station was designed by Horta. The 1908 Magasins Waucquez now house the Belgian Comic Strip Centre and look rather nice. Not too far from the station is Horta’s 1929 Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (BOZAR) in a building showing Horta drifting into Art Deco. I’m interested to see the plans now I’ve just read on Wikipedia that “it took more than a decade to complete the complex, which contains a large concert hall, a recital room, a chamber music room, lecture rooms, and a vast gallery for temporary exhibitions. [Horta] managed to put together this array of different functions on a rather small building plot with restricted conditions using more than 8 building levels with a large part situated underground.” For now though, all this has some place in some other blog. Brussels has a long history of fine art and I’m sorry to not have visited the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Even just walking around the city, you’ll notice Brussels’ new tradition of using buildings as backdrops for murals, art and comics but that too is for someone else to write about.

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  1. http://www.b-architecten.be [well worth a visit]
  2. http://www.r2d2architecture.be/projects/detail/2581
  3. http://www.belgianfries.com/bfblog/?p=798
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/23/battered-chip-shacks-of-brussels-in-taste-tussle
  5. [c.f. The Atomium, 15 April 2018]


Misfits’ Guide to HONG KONG

The previous post began with an exhibition about the Japanese house, architecture and life after 1945. This one begins with an exhibition about the Hong Kong apartment, buildings and living after 1945.

Housing Authority Exhibition Centre
4F, Block 3, Housing Authority Headquarters, 80 Fat Kwong St, Ho Man Tin, Kowloon

The exhibition deals with the story of public housing in Hong Kong. In 1945 its population was 600,000. Over the next five years, 1.5 million people would either return to it or flee to it. 

The exhibition describes the incremental improvements to facilities and increases in floor area per person and the differences they made. It explains how the method of construction changed to keep up with demand and how management and maintenance regimes adapted to extract maximum performance from precious housing stock.

There’s information on changes in housing policy, home ownership schemes, design for the elderly, sustainable practices and site-specific design. Airflow around buildings is now an important part of sustainable practices and site-specific design is becoming more important now it’s no longer possible to create large sites through reclamation.

Over fifty years, tower design has evolved (in the true sense of the word) to embody an enormous amount of intelligence I’ll write about some other time.

The story of Hong Kong is inseparable from the story of public housing and the exhibition was a clear and simple illustration of how people’s lives were changed for the better. A group of junior-school childen was entering as I was leaving. Half of them will live in public housing but for every one of them it’s a part of their history and culture and it cheered me no end to see it being recognized and taught as such.

State Theatre
227-291 Kings Road, Hong Kong

This 1,400 seat theatre with exposed concrete roof truses was the cultural hub of Hong Kong’s classical music scene for many years. Currently derelict, its future is looking very iffy. A developer is circling.

Chungking Mansions, 1962
Lamb Halzeland & Co.
36-44 Nathan Road, TST Kowloon

Chungking Mansions is famous for being a high-density mixed-use housing and retail development although that was never the intention. There are thirteen floors of highly subdivided apartments above two levels of small retail spaces. This is what it looks like without any divisions into retail units, retail spaces, sublets and bedspaces.