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Icon - February 2018

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Designers
tackle pollution
Don’t fear the robots
Why the rise of the machines
is nothing to be scared of
Farrell on the
legacy of pomo
OMA’s very
Dutch urbanism
Flores & Prats
rewrite history
Jason Bruges
lights up Hull
ISSUE 176
FEBRUARY
2018
UK £5.00
EUR €9.99
USA $15.99
00-COVER-Feb18-FINAL_JM.indd 1
14/12/2017 15:50
CONTENTS
February
54
Architecture
Review
84
Delirious Netherlands
The unadulterated Dutchness
of OMA hides in plain sight
122
Review: Ward Bennett
monograph
The overlooked American
modernist’s career
documented
92
Flores & Prats
A profile of the Catalan
restoration masters
102
Model citizen
Bloomberg’s not-so-glitzy
HQ isn't that bad
Front
Design
110
Icon of the month
Otto Saumarez-Smith
celebrates the AA Files
23
Scene
Hill House hysteria and dodgy
donors’ cash
46
Pollution solution
With dirty air now a ‘national
emergency’, can designers
stop the smog?
112
Q&A: Terry Farrell
The architect reflects on
the brutalist revival and his
contribution to British pomo
25
Global Grad Show
Ingenious ideas from the
world’s bright young things
33
Show round-up
Highlights from UKCW,
Design Joburg and Design
Shanghai
38
Diary
The V&A floats a show on
ocean liners, and more
41
Crimes Against Design
The ugly ego of personalised
number plates
43
Opinion
Keep London weird, says
Rohan Silva
54
Don’t fear the robots
Reasons to be cheerful
about the upcoming
automation overhaul
125
Review: Jacques Hondelatte
Betts Project showcases the
ethereal French architect
128
Rethink: Brit-tech
What if technology had a
more British sensibility, asks
NB Studio
130
Obsession: Braun
Peter Kapos has a serious soft
spot for the champions of
german functionalism
112
71
Emerging studio
Switzerland’s Egli Studio
wants you to get how
things work
74
Icon of the month
Peter Ghyczy’s cult creation,
the Garden Egg chair, is 50
76
Q&A: Jason Bruges
The lighting designer’s
6m robot arms embrace Hull
on the cover
Collage by
Seattle-based
artist Jesse Treece
February 2018
00-FRONT-Contents-Feb18_JM_NJ_JM.indd 17
17
14/12/2017 17:14
FRONT
Leader
IMAGE: BILAL FAROOQUI VIA TWITTER
James McLachlan
Editor
punch the word robots
into Google and you will be
confronted by a myriad of
overwhelmingly negative
headlines. Here is a sampler:
Robots could take 4 million
British jobs (Daily Mail);
Rise of the Robots: 600k
construction jobs could be
lost to automation (Cityam); Will a robot take
your job? (BBC); Robots are racist and sexist (The
Guardian, obvs). Apart from being a neat little
experiment in media bias, there is no disguising the
general sense of panic. It is due, in no small part,
to the types of job that are now perceived to be
under threat.
Once upon a time it was the lower skilled who
had the most to fear from automation. I suspect
what is prompting much of the current anxiety
is that it now appears that middle-class jobs
face extinction. But, as this month’s cover story
asks, how realistic is this proposition? As with
the industrial revolution, technology has brought
February 2018
00-FRONT-Leader-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 19
upheaval before and yet we are all still here.
To take one example, the ratio of humans to
robots on Toyota’s factory floor is the same as it
was 15 years ago, which suggests the argument
is not so clear cut as some would have us believe.
In truth, most of us know little about the world
of robotics and, in our ignorance, robots have
become a cipher on which we place all our fears
about economics, societal status quos and the
future. As such we tend to grossly underestimate
our own unique capacity for intellectual enquiry
and invention. And there is no shortage of footage
showing robots failing spectacularly at the most
mundane tasks. One of my favourite moments of
last year was the fate that befell a security robot
in a Washington office, which, possibly disillusioned
with a life of patrolling bland corporate workspace,
simply toppled into a water feature. The images of
Knightscope K5’s corpse bobbing about in algaeinfested waters, as three human observers glumly
looked on, deservedly went viral. Prophetic?
james.mclachlan@icon-magazine.co.uk
19
14/12/2017 16:17
FRONT
Friends
1
2
3
editor
James McLachlan
publishing director
Justin Levett
deputy editor
John Jervis
group publisher
Yvonne Ramsden
architecture correspondent
Douglas Murphy
editor-in-chief
Lisa Allen
contributing editors
Tim Abrahams, Anna Bates
Crystal Bennes, Daniel Charny
Edwin Heathcote, Sam Jacob
Riya Patel, Peter Smisek
Laura Snoad, Will Wiles
Julian Worrall, Liam Young
publishing & events director
Daren Newton
sub editor
Nick Jones
publishing assistant
Jennifer Trigg
art director
Carlo Apostoli
4
designer
Morwenna Smith
production manager
Nicola Merry
production assistant
Gemma Harvey
5
design and production
Anja Wohlström
Milena Kanakova
creative director
Elliott Prentice
studio manager
Justin Clarke
directors
Richard Morey, Mike Dynan
chief operating officer
Lee Newton
senior marketing manager
Sarah Potter
circulation
and marketing manager
Mark Kenton
senior marketing executive
Sophia Blackwell
marketing executive
Gemma Parkes
marketing and publishing
designer
Chris Moore
Icon is published monthly
by Media 10 Limited
production director
Tim Garwood
studio director
Lee Moore
syndication manager
Kerry Garwood
special thanks is due this month to founder of product
strategy consultancy Plan Kevin McCullagh (2), who wrote our
cover story this month on automation: ‘What’s striking is how
doom-laden the debate has become, and how little it references
lessons from history and economics – I felt time was ripe for a
progressive and humanist case for automation.’ Second Home’s
Rohan Silva (4) hurls a metaphorical hand grenade in the
direction of London’s bland architecture: ‘I’m sick of all the
generic new architecture projects that are making our cities
more boring and less attractive.’ Elsewhere, curator Kunty
Moureau (5) investigates the genesis of the legendary Garden
Egg chair by Peter Ghyczy ahead of her planned exhibition of
the designer’s work: ‘His elegance and dedication to his work
has really resonated with me.’ Peter Kapos (3) of Das Programm
explains his love of Rams-era Braun products: ‘What I find most
fascinating is that the possibility of such restraint depended on
the absence of externally imposed constraints.’ And finally, the
intrepid Laura Mark (1) trekked through icy wastes to visit the
Jacques Hondelatte exhibition at London’s Betts Project: ‘I heard
tales of a cheeky, Tetris-loving, Peter Cook-admiring French
architect overlooked in the British architectural canon.’
commercial manager
Tim Price
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20
00-FRONT-Friends-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 20
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iconeye.com
14/12/2017 16:56
FRONT
Scene
SEXY SCAFFOLDING →
Hysteria broke out in design
circles as Carmody Groarke
announced proposals to
protect Charles Rennie
Mackintosh’s crumbling Hill
House with a big industrial
shed. Such are the heights
to which the profession now
aspires that this temporary
‘cage’ is the biggest news
on the block, pushing office
revamps, Garden Bridge
scrapings and imperilled
brutalist lumps off front pages.
And, to prove the point, we’re
even featuring it here.
PIER PRESSURE
Victorian piers burn down
with depressing regularity.
Modern piers prefer quiet
decay, as with Deal’s likeable
1950s example. But one
constant is that they all,
invariably, go bust. Hastings
Pier, fresh from its Stirling
Prize win, has done so with
impressive alacrity, entering
administration less than a
month after this moment
of triumph. The real lesson
would seem to be that towns
need rather more than a
tourist curio to thrive.
← JOURNEY’S END
A thriving subculture of printmakers and ceramicists has
been crushed by Battersea
Power Station Development
Company. Its new design store
will ‘pay homage to the iconic
station through a curated
selection of products that
celebrate its history’. These
include Battersea-inspired
lycra sportswear, handmade
candelabras and an ‘exclusive
Battersea scent’. Thus dies
the credibility of generations
of craftsfolk specialising in
simplified silhouettes.
CORRIDOR CONQUEST
Congrats to Kay Hughes,
Annalie Riches and Sarah
Featherstone, architects
on the all-women VeloCity
team that has just won the
Oxford-Cambridge corridor
competition. Their strategy
for the high-tech arc, which
also includes Milton Keynes
and Northampton, focused
on a low-impact blueprint
for villages with generous
common land and shared
amenities. It does, however,
seem sad that in 2018 their
gender is still of note.
February 2018
00-FRONT-Scene-Feb18_NJ.indd 23
DANGEROUS PURSUIT
The V&A joined Tate in tossing
away a little self-respect for
Trump donor Len Blavatnik’s
cash. Now it’s being kicked for
dallying with a more reputable
sponsor. It seems the family
fortune of the Sacklers is linked
to a prescription drug prevalent
in the US opioid epidemic, and
its continued presence on the
market has been assured by
paying victims and corrupting
doctors. Pleasurable flings
with odd folk who want their
names on gallery extensions
can come back to bite you.
CAPITAL COCK-UP
Post-Brexit, British cities
can no longer be European
capitals of culture – a
programme devised and
overseen by the EU. This may
cause disappointment from
Dundee to Derry, but it is
hardly unexpected. Nor is the
manufactured outrage of
Brexiteers. Iain Stewart,
Tory MP for Milton Keynes
South, condemned it as a
‘very bitter decision’, claiming
the EU ‘are turning their
backs on us’. No hypocrisy
there then.
← LOGOS SUCK
Rebranding stories are the
gift that keeps on giving.
The latest brand to bless us
with a momentous reveal
is Kickstarter, slipping into
a more ‘mature’ style by
combining sophisticated teal
with an indistinguishable
cluster of blobs. Yet even dull
logos have devoted adherents
– Wieden+Kennedy’s slick
new F1 logo has been severely
dissed by design pundits
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian
Vettel, both now in mourning
for its clunky 90s predecessor.
LOGOS MATTER
Finally, a more serious logo
story: the great designer Ivan
Chermayeff, son of Serge, has
died aged 85. The co-founder
of Brownjohn, Chermayeff
& Geismar produced famed
corporate identities for
HarperCollins, Chase Bank,
the Smithsonian and Pan
Am, introducing simplicity,
colour and abstraction to the
logo game. His pursuits also
included playful collages and
bold sculptures, including the
bright red ‘9’ on Manhattan’s
West 57th Street.
23
14/12/2017 16:21
FRONT
round-up
–––
Dubai Global Grad Show
Final projects selected from 43 different countries tackled
everything from AR to street football, writes Laura Snoad
part of dubai Design Week,
Global Grad Show brings
together 200 of the best
final projects from graduates
worldwide, chosen by curator
Brendan McGetrick. Chiming
with Dubai’s rapid expansion,
the show has ballooned to
cover 92 design schools from
43 different countries – a
significant growth spurt from
the ten largely European,
North American and East
Asian institutions present
when it launched in 2015.
The works ranged from
dementia aids and infant
electronic prostheses to
drone-powered earthquake
rescue systems. McGetrick
picked those projects that
presented new ideas, and
favoured those with a
positive environmental or
social impact – especially
for communities that are
often under-served or
under-represented. His
final selection is a litmus
test of the challenges
(and solutions) that a new
generation of designers
think will be important to
their world, from migration
and ageing populations to
health issues and dwindling
natural resources.
February 2018
00-FRONT-Dubai-Grad-Show-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 25
Folks kitchenware
for the blind
Kevin Chiam ▾
This system of kitchen
utensils incorporates nifty
tactile features to make
cooking easier and safer for
visually impaired people.
National University of
Singapore graduate Kevin
Chiam developed a knife with
a clip-on finger guard that
pivots upwards when slicing,
a pan lid that’s also a spoon
rest, a chopping board with a
detachable tray for scooping
up and moving diced food,
and a spoon equipped with a
float so users know when to
stop filling their glass.
▴ MIKO+
Ewa Dulcet and Martyna
Świerczyńska
Hailing from the School of
Form in Poznań, designers
Ewa Dulcet and Martyna
Świerczyńska wanted to
destigmatise physiotherapy
aids by designing a collection
of seven supports that
double up as luxury jewellery.
Made from gilded pink
brass and a mineral acrylic
composite, the pieces
brace the wrist and hand,
allowing auto-massage and
encouraging better typing
positions in order to help
treat conditions such as
carpal-tunnel syndrome.
25
14/12/2017 16:10
FRONT
Loight
Zahra Ghiaci ▸
Iranian designer Zahra
Ghiaci’s portable lamp
encourages users to preserve
electricity by carrying it with
them through buildings rather
than leaving lights on. The
design by the Arts University
of Isfahan graduate benefits
developing countries or rural
communities, where multiple
lights can be charged by
a central solar-powered
docking station. She has
also designed ceiling and
wall fixtures for hanging
the lamps, allowing them
to be clustered for social
gatherings where brighter
illumination is needed.
▴ Polyglossia
Tony Cho
One of several projects
responding to the refugee
crisis, RCA graduate Tony
Cho’s Polyglossia is a voiceassistant app to improve
communication between
doctors and patients who
don’t speak a common
language. After discovering
that many migrants
report distrusting or
misunderstanding medical
advice because of language
barriers, Cho worked with
doctors to develop a system
of animated illustrations that
communicate core symptoms
universally, helping in both
diagnosis and treatment.
▴ Co-Life water
purification system
Tuomas Burakowski and
Tuomas Jussila
Co-Life has been designed by
Aalto University graduates
Tuomas Burakowski and
Tuomas Jussila to generate
clean water in environments
with little infrastructure. The
portable unit screws on to
plastic bottles, and uses a
bicycle pump to force water
from one bottle to the next
through a low-cost ceramic
filter, which removes harmful
bacteria. The middle of the
unit can be be unscrewed to
replace the filter.
February 2018
00-FRONT-Dubai-Grad-Show-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 27
◂ Golzinho
Artur Porto
In a rapidly developing city,
land – on which traditional
football goals can be
anchored with pegs – is fast
diminishing. Golzinho by
Artur Porto of the Pontifical
Catholic University of Rio de
Janeiro is a portable goal for
Brazilian street football that
is stable on hard and soft
ground alike. It’s weighted
by two water- or sand-filled
tanks, and packs down rapidly
using quick-release levers and
a lightweight frame.
27
14/12/2017 16:10
FRONT
Reagiro
Reto Togni ▸
The backrest of the Reagiro
is cleverly connected to the
wheelchair’s front wheels,
meaning that users can steer
its direction using just the
upper body rather than the
arms. RCA graduate Reto
Togni developed the tilt
motion system to free up
the hands for holding things
like an umbrella or phone,
something that is difficult
to do with a traditional
wheelchair’s stop-andturn steering method. The
backrest itself is 3D-printed,
meaning that it can be
customised in response to
the user’s body shape.
▴ Gomi
Anmol Gupta
In rural India, the job of
collecting dung usually falls
on women, who scoop it up
by hand into buckets. Anmol
Gupta, a graduate from
the Pearl Academy in New
Delhi, has designed a twopart collection device with
a detachable scraper that
neatly slots into a dustpan,
preventing manure spilling
out when carried. The design
completely eliminates any
contact, improving the health
of women in the countryside.
◂ All PET shoes
Jules Mas
Responding to the high
turnover of sports equipment,
ECAL graduate Jules Mas
has developed a football boot
that is entirely recyclable.
Whereas most sports
shoes are made from nonrecyclable plastic, leather
and resin, Mas’s design uses
polyethylene (PET) to make
the hard soles, flexible uppers
and textile inserts of the
typical shoe. The end product
can be recycled just like a
plastic bottle.
28
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Loga
Alexander MacKay, Chris
Wheeler, William Held and
Utku Unlu ▾
A joint effort from students
at NYU Abu Dhabi, Loga is a
smartphone app that allows
refugees to generate income
on the move by digitising
Arabic-language documents.
Libraries, governments
and businesses can upload
their image-only PDFs via a
central portal for refugees
to transliterate via their
phone keypad, making the
documents searchable.
Due for roll-out next year,
a pilot scheme is ongoing
at Za’atari refugee camp in
Jordan, in collaboration with
the UN High Commissioner
For Refugees.
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 16:10
FRONT
Portable kitchen hood
Maxime Augay ▾
Designed with small kitchens
in mind, ECAL graduate
Maxime Augay’s portable
extractor fan removes
cooking odours in spaces
where a large cooker hood
is unfeasible due to the
architecture or services of the
room. A lightweight motor
drags smoke and grease
through a stainless-steel oil
filter, before releasing it back
into the kitchen scent-free.
Bora
Adrian Woo ▸
Although it may appear to
be a standard fan, Bora
by ECAL graduate Adrian
Woo is a multifunctional air
conditioning unit that also
contains an air purifier and
humidifier. The function of
the standing unit can be
changed by exchanging the
internal plate, saving on the
storage space needed for
three separate products.
Woo has been snapped up by
Lausanne studio BIG-GAME,
which designs products for
Hay, Alessi and Magis.
▴ Scroll
Nathaniel Martin
RCA graduate Nathaniel
Martin’s ring for navigating
augmented-reality
environments is an antidote
to the often clunky (and
unwieldy) controllers currently
on the market. It is fitted
with a gyroscope, a thumboperated scroller and a haptic
sensor that sits between
the index and middle finger,
which allow users to interact
with the various different
interfaces encountered in
AR – from browsing menus
to picking up objects.
◂ Learning to Ride
Spar Patton
Conceived after the parents
of six-year-old Emily reached
out to Rochester Institute of
Technology graduate Spar
Patton, Learning to Ride is
a device designed to help
children with missing limbs
cycle with more stability. The
customisable handlebar-grip
kit can be locked on to any
bike, providing additional
support when learning, and
can be extended as the child
(and bike) increases in size.
30
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iconeye.com
14/12/2017 16:11
FRONT
uk construction
week
–––
Blank
Architects
IMAGE: ELEMENT
Following their appearance at UK
Construction Week, Laura Snoad
speaks to the Russian practice
about the new wave of public
consultation sweeping Moscow
moscow is entering a period
of rapid transformation.
Spearheaded by the city’s
young and energetic chief
architect, Sergey Olegovich
Kuznetsov, the growth spurt
has not only focused on a
large-scale rethink of public
spaces such as the Zaryadye
park by Diller Scofidio and
Renfro (Icon 175), but has
also handed over some of
the commissioning power
to the people. Rjevskaya
metro station, designed by
Blank Architects, is one such
project where a shortlist
of three proposals from an
international competition
were put to the public
via online portal Active
Citizen, notching nearly
220,000 votes.
Metrogiprotrans had a
monopoly it came to a, let’s
say, safe design, which only
offered function but no
identity for the stations. The
chief architect of Moscow
ICON What’s the context
behind the decision to open
the decision-making process
up to the public?
Tatiana Leontieva Recently
all the new metro stations
in Moscow were designed
by just one company,
the government agency
Metrogiprotrans. Because
decided with the new metro
line that he wanted diversity
and to have other practices
participate.
February 2018
00-FRONT-UKCW-BlankArchitects-Feb18_JM_NJ_JM.indd 33
“We appreciated
that we
got feedback,
but frankly
I don’t think
the final decision
should be given
to the public”
Lukasz Kaczmarczyk
Generally the history of the
Moscow metro was very
different. Lots of famous
architects such as Dushkin
and Yakovlev were involved
and each station was unique.
Dushkin’s Kropotkinskaya,
for example, was richly
decorated, featuring
artworks by Aleksandr
Deineka and beautiful
mosaics inspired by Soviet
sports teams.
ICON What inspired your
design for Rjevskaya station?
TL There were some technical
limitations because the
building was 70m below
ground. We couldn’t use
glass, for instance, because
of the vibrations. Rjevskaya
is located on one of the
main roads leading to the
city centre so the main idea
was to repeat an iconic
architectural element, the
arch, which we discovered
was historically the symbol of
the entrance of the city. There
is a sequence of these arches
that you pass through from
the entrance right to the
main platform.
ICON Why do you think your
concept was so popular with
Moscovites?
TL We really thought about
how the station would be
used and how to save people
time. We’ve used an intuitive
navigation system, using less
obvious visual cues – such
as colour at one end of the
platform (linking with the
metro lines), a big multimedia
screen showing the station
above at the other, and
lines on the floor to show
passengers the way.
ICON Do you think that
public competitions are a
good way to commission
architecture?
LK The public should have
the ability to give their
opinion. We appreciated
that we got feedback, but
frankly I don’t think that the
final decision should be given
to the public. Architecture
is not a simple thing, it
involves a lot of aspects,
and it needs the familiarity
with those issues. The public
tends to be interested just
in different pieces of the
puzzle, sometimes they do
not have the whole image
in front of them.
33
14/12/2017 16:25
FRONT
design
joburg
–––
below DAM’s Blue
chairs in ultramarine
and natural timber
Gold Mine
Johannesburg’s thriving youth
culture and ‘Wild West’ attitude
have set the conditions for an
explosion in product design,
says South African studio
Dokter and Misses
above The DAM team
in their Johannesburg
showroom
most product designers in
Johannesburg are designermakers. But this involves a
workshop and tools: there’s a
lot more capital investment
needed than designing for an
existing brand.
Our market is 99% local,
and that’s always going to
be tricky. People are so used
to importing low-quality
design that explaining price
points can be a challenge.
The reason we cover so many
markets [from collectible
gallery pieces to chairs for the
University of Johannesburg]
is firstly because we can,
given our manufacturing
process, but also we have to
in order to survive.
There are some great
interior designers in this
country, and this in turn is
driving the product design
industry. More and more,
we’re finding that South
African interior designers
want to use South African
products. Nando’s, for
example, has become one
of the biggest supporters of
South African design. About
two years ago, it committed
to using a percentage of
South African products in
each restaurant here, and
to make our work more
accessible internationally.
Some people think about
Joburg like the Wild West.
You can almost do anything
here. If you want to set up
a shop, just put up a sign.
There are bylaws but nobody
cares. There’s a real energy
to the creative industry right
now. There’s a thriving youth
culture and fashion is a big
thing. The younger generation
34
00-FRONT-DesignJoburg-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 34
“More and more,
we’re finding
that South
African interior
designers
want to use
South African
products”
hasn’t quite got into product
design yet – there are some
challenges to getting involved
as it’s expensive, but it’s on
the verge of happening.
This year we’re launching
99 Juta Street, a designcentric building to house
like-minded brands. We’ve
purposely kept the rent as
low as possible to fuel new
ideas. The truth is there are
far more product designers
in Cape Town, but Joburg
has a lot more creativity. Plus
here’s there’s a strong sense
of community. If you’re doing
well, people will be happy for
you. It’s not about trying to
be cooler the next guy. ◆
IMAGE: BRETT RUBIN; DAVID ROSS
when we started out
ten years ago, the design
landscape in South Africa was
sparse. We did everything
from production to selling,
manufacturing from a small
factory in our back garden.
We had to open our own
store as there was no-one to
stock our stuff. It would take
about three months to make
products, and anything we
wanted to get our hands on
production-wise we had to
source in Johannesburg. We
had a small shop of 60sq m
and that was it. The first
night we opened we didn’t
even have price tags.
One of the challenges is
that there aren’t that many
South African brands, and
the big ones tend to develop
products in-house. It means
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 16:06
FRONT
design shanghai
–––
Jamy Yang
The Shanghai-based industrial designer discusses the launch
of his private design museum, which aims to explore Chinese
identity through objects, traditional craft and virtual reality
after studying in Germany
and working at Siemens in
Munich, Jamy Yang founded
his studio, Yang Design,
in 2005. Today it is one of
China’s most successful
research-led design studios,
developing electric bikes
for Peugeot, AR glasses for
Lenovo and human-centric
tech and products for the
likes of Boeing, Audi, Bosch
and Steelcase. Two years ago
he launched lifestyle brand
Yang House, which aims to
revive traditional Chinese
craft techniques by applying
them to contemporary
products. He speaks at
Design Shanghai in March.
ICON What are you
presenting at Design
Shanghai this year?
Jamy Yang I recently finished
my second museum in
Suzhou, the Yang House
Museum. It is a museum
dedicated to design and
craftsmanship, transformed
from a Suzhou park. At
Design Shanghai Forum, I
will discuss the museum, my
brand Yang House plus a
series of new works such as
the Hans Cake armchairs.
above The Yang
House Museum’s
courtyard combines
virtual materials
with a traditional
Suzhou garden
ICON What’s the thinking
behind the new museum?
JY We’re deconstructing
the logic behind the
appearance of artefacts and
reconsidering how Chinese
people can present selfidentity in design. Part of
this is considering how to
give up the inner desire for
materialism and abandon
external noisy and symbolic
surface form. It also covers
how, in an interconnected
virtual era, we are blending
36
00-FRONT-DesignShanghai-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 36
traditional culture and digital
civilisation. For example, in
the Yang House Museum, we
have created a super-realistic
courtyard called ‘Xushanshui’.
It translates as virtual
mountain – the traditional
rockery has been replaced
with virtual and futuristic
materials, to combine with
the real texture of Suzhou
traditional gardens.
ICON How has the Chinese
design industry developed
since you first set up your
studio?
JY When Yang Design
was founded in 2005, the
recognition of design in China
was still in its infancy. The
past decade has seen fastpaced change. Businesses,
the government, academics
and the media have a more
mature understanding of
how design can change our
lives, cities and societies. The
backwardness of China’s
previous two industrial
revolutions and the rapid
development of the internet
technological revolution
have made subsequent
development in China
very different from other
countries. At Yang Design
we’ve worked closely to bring
design thinking to many of
these emerging markets,
especially the IT industry.
ICON Social responsibility
has long been integral
to your practice. How is
the conversation around
sustainability evolving
within the design community
in China?
JY When we design for
humans, we must think
about sustainable design
strategies and whether a
design could communicate
a positive social message to
the public or not. This is the
highest level of a designer’s
thinking and practice.
Saying that, sustainable
development and an
attention to social issues are
based on a country that has
completed its fundamental
development. China is just
beginning to happen.
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 16:07
FRONT
10 Feb
— 6 May 2018
Actions: The Image of the World Can
Be Different ▸
Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge
3 February — 10 June 2018
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Ocean Liners: Speed & Style
The first show to explore the cultural
impact of ocean liners, re-imagining the
golden age of ocean travel from Brunel’s
Great Eastern to the QE2 over 100
years later. All aspects of ship design
– engineering, architecture, interiors,
fashion and lifestyle – will be showcased
in over 250 objects, with work by Albert
Gleizes, Le Corbusier, and Eileen Gray.
vam.ac.uk
Why do you think ocean liners captured
designers’ imaginations?
In their time, ocean liners were the
largest moving objects ever built.
They became symbols of technological
progress, providing models for new ways
of living, and they were often described
as great, floating cities. They inspired
artists, engineers, architects and
designers throughout the 19th and
20th centuries.
What are the most unusual pieces
included in the exhibition?
There are some extraordinary survivals.
A 5m-high gold lacquer wall from the
smoking room of the Normandie was
removed shortly before she caught fire
and sank in New York Harbour in 1942,
while a Cartier tiara belonging to Lady
Allan survived the 1915 sinking of the
Lusitania, in which 1,198 people died,
including Lady Allan’s two daughters.
What impact did ocean liners have on
the wider visual aesthetics of the time?
Liner style had a huge impact on
architecture during the 1930s and
after, as buildings adopted the curves,
portholes and railings of maritime
design. In Britain and around the world,
seaside hotels and apartment blocks
emulated the chic of ocean travel in their
sleek, streamlined architecture.
38
00-FRONT-Diary-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 38
After a £11m revamp by Jamie Fobert
Architects, Kettle’s Yard reopens with
Actions: The Image of the World Can Be
Different, encompassing major figures
past and present such as John Akomfrah,
Richard Long, Cornelia Parker and Julie
Mehretu, and works from its collections by
Naum Gabo and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.
kettlesyard.co.uk
16 Feb
— 13 May 2018
Flats, Flats, Flats! Housing in Bavaria
1918 | 2018
Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
The Free State of Bavaria was founded
100 years ago – to celebrate, the
Pinakothek der Modern is exploring
the political and social context of its
pioneering housing and construction
programmes – in particular the
concerted, innovative efforts to boost
living conditions throughout society.
architekturmuseum.de
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14/12/2017 16:08
IMAGES: FOREST + FOUND; COURTESY OF PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM, SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS; PAOLA NAVONE ; JOHN AKOMFRAH © BASEL ABBAS AND RUANNE ABOU RAHME; COURTESY ASHLEY BICKERTON / LEHMANN MAUPIN
Diary
FRONT
IMAGES: FOREST + FOUND; COURTESY OF PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM, SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS; PAOLA NAVONE ; JOHN AKOMFRAH © BASEL ABBAS AND RUANNE ABOU RAHME; COURTESY ASHLEY BICKERTON / LEHMANN MAUPIN
Diary
5 Feb
7 Feb
9 Feb
— 11 February 2018
◂ Stockholm Design Week
Various venues
— 11 March 2018
Peter Ghyczy: 50 Years of Functionalism
ADAM – Brussels Design Museum
A combination of city-wide festival and
trade fair, Stockholm Design Week is
the most important annual gathering
for Scandinavian design. Italian designer
Paola Navone will be guest of honour
at this year’s furniture fair, creating a
unique installation for the event, while
60 young designers will be showcased in
the ever-impressive Greenhouse exhibit.
stockholmdesignweek.com
This is the first retrospective of German
designer Peter Ghyczy, most famous for
his Garden Egg chair designed in 1968 to
explore the potential of polyurethane.
His technological innovations across
furniture and industrial products will
be explored, providing an unparalleled
insight into his life and work, alongside a
full-scale recreation of his studio.
adamuseum.be
— 9 May 2018
Danh Vo: Take My Breath Away
Solomon R Guggenheim Museum,
New York
The first comprehensive US survey of
Vietnam-born artist Danh Vo – best
known for his fragmented replica of the
Statue of Liberty at the Brooklyn Bridge.
It offers an overview of Vo’s oeuvre, as
well as new projects created especially
for the show, with a focus on the status
of America in the collective imagination.
guggenheim.org
14 Feb
— 13 May 2018
Brand New: Art and Commodity in
the 1980s ▸
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture
Garden, Washington DC
Brand New details the rise of a group of
artists – including Ashley Bickerton, Felix
González-Torres, Jeff Koons and Cindy
Sherman – in New York’s East Village
who first used the language and objects
of commerce to formulate a radical new
approach to art in the 1980s.
hirshhorn.si.edu
19 Feb
21 Feb
27 Feb
— 25 February 2018
Arctic Design Week
Various locations, Rovaniemi
— 24 February 2018
Design Indaba Conference
Artscape Theatre Centre, Cape Town
— 6 May 2018
Forensic Architecture
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the
world’s northern-most design festival
is back with exhibitions, talks, pop-up
shops, fashion shows and, in particular,
its Mishmash conference. This focuses
on connecting entrepreneurs and design
professionals, and this year boasts an
‘Out-of-the-box’ theme exploring future
design and boundary-breaking.
arcticdesignweek.fi
The South African design extravaganza
is back with three days of top talent and
young creatives from around the world,
including Icon favourites Studio Swine,
landscape artist Peter Veenstra and
Afrofuturist director Sunu Gonera. Local
talent features in Emerging Creatives,
while a series of premieres is promised
at the accompanying FilmFest.
designindaba.com
Formed in 2010, Goldsmiths-based
research agency Forensic Architecture
uses spatial analysis, mapping and
reconstruction to investigate human
rights violations, from collusion between
the Mexican government and drug
cartels to US air strikes in Syria. The
practice’s first large-scale UK show
presents its recent work.
ica.art
February 2018
00-FRONT-Diary-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 39
39
14/12/2017 16:08
FRONT
crimes against design
–––
Personalised number plates
IMAGE: PETER PHIPP / TRAVELSHOTS.COM / ALAMY
No matter what clever arrangement of letters and numbers are used,
they invariably say only one thing about their owners, writes John Jervis
visiting old friends of
my wife’s in Surrey, I was
gratified to arrive at a robust
little arts and crafts villa
in dark red brick – these
were my sort of people. My
heart sank a little when I
saw the black Mercedes in
the drive. Then I noticed the
fancy plates, with a touching
celebration of their love, and
I knew an afternoon of pain
was on the cards.
At university, after finally
admitting that Mark E Smith
was not delivering the joy I
claimed, I decided to adopt
more catholic tastes and
more generous attitudes to
others’ choices. Yet some
prejudices have proved too
ingrained to shed – people
who wear athleisure gear,
eat Nutella or listen to the
Manic Street Preachers, for
instance. But one antipathy
runs deeper than all:
personalised number plates.
Working in Essex, this
particular squeamishness
undergoes constant assault.
A gloss-white Range Rover
sporting L2USH greets me
as I leave the tube station in
the morning; a larger black
rival with 38DD is usually
parked up when I head off
for lunch. This catalogue
could be endless, and I’m sure
everyone has suffered similar
wince-inducing moments.
Yet, a more profound
shift is evident in an everincreasing disdain for our
number-plate system, a
malaise that first took hold
in the acquisitive 1980s. The
number plate – a functional,
anonymous combination
of region, year and serial
February 2018
00-FRONT-Crimes-NumberPlates_JM_Feb18_NJ.indd 41
“To then defile the one piece of solid,
egalitarian design that cars offer
with vulgar displays of profligacy
is just too much”
number – has done its
classless job since 1963, with
antecedents stretching back
60 more years. Information
is transmitted in the robust,
utilitarian font first devised
by the metal-pressing firm of
Charles Wright, Edgware, in
the mid-1930s. This chunky
‘Charles Wright’ typeface
stands pretty much in
the same relation to its
underpowered continental
equivalents as Margaret
Calvert’s excellent Transport
does to the delicate
typefaces that prettify
continental motorways.
I like British number
plates. It’s bad enough that
people advertise character
and cashflow through
the choice of something
as trivial as a car. To then
defile the one piece of solid,
egalitarian design that cars
offer – a blunt reminder that,
whatever hulk of metal we use
to bolster our ego, we are all
equal – with vulgar displays
of profligacy is just too much.
I pondered these sad
matters as I sat on a
Chesterfield sofa in a gutted
Surrey interior beneath a
print of the Singing Butler,
and let tales of Cecilia’s latest
triumphs at nursery wash
over me.
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14/12/2017 15:55
FRONT
opinion
–––
Bland London
IMAGE: SLUDGE G VIA FLICKR
Our cityscape is becoming ever more boring – and the
consequences could be disastrous, writes Rohan Silva
if you drive around Austin,
Texas, you see the same three
words emblazoned absolutely
everywhere. On billboards,
road signs and bumper
stickers, the motto of the
local area is truly ubiquitous.
It may be a simple phrase, but
it reflects perfectly the city’s
approach to architecture,
urbanism and cultural life:
‘Keep Austin Weird’.
Austin is proud of
its weirdness – and
understandably so. Local
politicians and entrepreneurs
alike have fought to protect
live music venues and LGBT
spaces, and championed
raucous festivals that take
over the entire city, like South
by Southwest and Austin
City Limits.
February 2018
00-FRONT-Opinion-RohanSilva-Feb18_NJ.indd 43
And when it comes to the
built environment, Austin has
done a great job of protecting
the weird, unusual and outof-the-ordinary – not only
by promoting experimental
architecture, but also by
ensuring a diverse mix of
uses and strong protection of
independent retailers.
Sadly, London and other
UK cities are going in the
opposite direction. Instead of
keeping our cities weird, we’re
making them bland – which
is exactly the wrong thing
to do if we want to attract
the brightest and best talent
from around the world.
For starters, our cities are
being blighted by generic
corporate architecture
commissioned by short-
termist developers whose
financial model depends on
selling projects to pension
funds and other institutional
investors. As a result, they
choose the safest architects
and designs possible to keep
costs low and minimise their
downside risks.
That’s why a handful of
large – but fundamentally
generic – architecture
practices get to design
so much of our built
environment, and why there
are so few opportunities
for ambitious architects
that want to do more than
churn out bland cladding and
characterless building design.
There are no shortage
of examples, but a good
place to start would be the
dismal new developments
in places like Nine Elms in
south London, where the new
buildings have been carefully
designed to be as bland as
possible, but the collective
effect is truly repulsive.
As Richard Rogers wrote
recently: ‘You only have to
look at the architecture that
lines the River Thames to see
the impact of the cheapening
of the public realm, as urban
development becomes a
money machine, uninterested
in environmental, aesthetic
and social impact.’
That’s what blandification
is all about: corporate
cynicism at the expense of
the common good.
Of course, it’s not just
the developers who are to
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14/12/2017 16:20
FRONT
blame – our bureaucratic
planning system stifles so
much innovation, and makes
it incredibly difficult to use
new materials, forms and
colours in our cities.
Planning officials are
obsessed with ‘calm’ designs
– meaning the same grey
generic boxes or cheap
brick-clad buildings you find
popping up in every corner
of every British city. And
of course, developers want
to get their projects built
quickly, so it makes sense
for them to choose the path
of least resistance, and give
the planners the derivative
buildings they seem to want.
It’s the same when it
comes to injecting nature and
biodiversity into our streets,
which is a wonderfully lowcost way of dispelling the
uniformity that’s blighting
our urban realm.
I remember when we told
our local planning authority
we wanted to plant fruit
trees in front of our first
Second Home building.
Instead of getting a pat on
the back, we had our planning
permission revoked – because
the planners thought that
fruit trees make a mess. How
bonkers is that?
If all the nondescript
architecture wasn’t
depressing enough, British
cities have seen an alarming
loss of music venues and
independent retailers –
with 40% of London’s
music venues closing in the
past decade, and chain
stores proliferating. This
is disastrous if we want to
make our urban areas more
attractive to global talent,
and drive economic growth
and job creation in the years
ahead. As Jane Jacobs put it
so well in the Death and Life
of Great American Cities:
‘Dull, inert cities, contain
the seeds of their own
destruction and little else.’
This agenda matters.
Fifteen years ago the US
academic Richard Florida
published his influential book
The Rise of the Creative
Class, showing the economic
impact of workers in
fields such as engineering,
computer science, media
and design – who move to
cities they find attractive,
starting businesses and
sparking regeneration
wherever they go. This ‘global
creative class’ prefers to
live in neighbourhoods with
real urban texture, in places
full of live music, bars and
cultural goings-on. And it is
these industries – including
the digital sector – that
are significant drivers of
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00-FRONT-Opinion-RohanSilva-Feb18_NJ.indd 44
economic growth today.
Yet, at Second Home, we’re
constantly approached by
developers offering us space
in soul-destroying new-build
projects that are anathema
to the creative communities
we hope to build.
Developers, architects
and politicians alike need to
understand there are real
consequences to our cities
becoming steadily blander
and more boring. If we want
our cities to attract skilled
workers, we need to take
a leaf out of Austin’s book.
That means fighting the
steady blandification of our
urban landscape by soulless
corporate developers and
architects – and championing
the radical, out-of-theordinary and special.
In other words, let’s climb
the barricades, lock arms, and
keep our cities weird.
IMAGE: SLUDGE G VIA FLICKR
“That’s what blandification is all about: corporate cynicism
at the expense of the common good”
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 16:20
CLEAR
THE
IMAGE: ARJAN BENNING
AIR
As cities from Delhi to London gasp for breath, product designers are coming up
with novel answers to a growing public health emergency
By Elizabeth Choppin
01-DESIGN-Pollution-Feb18_JJ_NJ_JM.indd 46
14/12/2017 16:33
IMAGE: ARJAN BENNING
01-DESIGN-Pollution-Feb18_JJ_NJ_JM.indd 47
14/12/2017 16:33
previous page Smog
particulates collected
by Daan Roosegaarde
in Beijing
above and opposite
The Smog Free Tower,
which uses ionisation
technology to clean air
48
01-DESIGN-Pollution-Feb18_JJ_NJ_JM.indd 48
T
here’s no argument:
UK cities have filthy
air. Figures show that
pollution causes over
40,000 early deaths per
year, and at the start of
2017 a road in Brixton
broke its annual nitrogen
dioxide limit within five measly days. Since
then, experts have lambasted ‘woefully
inadequate’ government plans to tackle
the problem, and the High Court has
twice ruled the UK’s air-pollution crisis
a violation of EU law. Cue Sadiq Khan’s
promise to get more diesel and petrol
vehicles off London’s roads and a raft of
national targets and initiatives to reduce
air pollution – now a certifiable ‘national
emergency’ – by 2020.
It’s not a UK-specific issue, of course.
The World Health Organisation has said
that 92 per cent of the global population
live in places that exceed recommended
limits – with cities such as Delhi, Beijing
and Doha spewing out some of the dirtiest
air on the planet. It is in the midst of
this political hornets’ nest that product
designers have quietly entered the fray,
coming up with their own ways to combat
this colossal threat to public health. It’s
uncharted territory, and with that comes
a mixed bag of ideas ranging from
plausible and thought-provoking to the
slightly absurd.
There is a lot to be encouraged by,
however; at one end of the spectrum we
have compelling, commercially viable
products like Brizi, an air purifier and
smog monitor for prams developed in
collaboration with London-based Map
Studio – known for design competence
and sniffing out a good idea. There are
experimental projects such as Julian
Melchiorri’s Bionic chandelier, which
uses biomimicry to purify air; or Nikolas
Bentel’s range of clothing that changes
colour when exposed to pollution. Perhaps
less useful are the flower-printed airpollution masks by Marcel Wanders at
$30 a pop, but there we are.
Arguably the most controversial
ideas are from Dutch designer Daan
Roosegaarde, whose Smog Free Project has
aspirations to drastically cut air pollution
in cities. This month his studio will launch
a working prototype of Smog Free Bike in
Beijing – this aims to purify polluted air
through a mechanism on the handlebars,
and then pumps it back towards other
cyclists. Of the handful of anti-pollution
designers out there, Roosegaarde certainly
has the loftiest ambitions: ‘When I tell my
grandchildren about the Smog Free Project,
I want them to ask, “what is smog?”’ So
goes the well-worn sound bite.
IMAGES: HASY
DESIGN / FEATURE
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14/12/2017 16:33
IMAGES: HASY
01-DESIGN-Pollution-Feb18_JJ_NJ_JM.indd 49
14/12/2017 16:33
IMAGE: CLARE LEWINGTON / MAP
DESIGN / FEATURE
Roosegaarde’s efforts began in 2015
with the Smog Free Tower, a 7m-high
structure that works a bit like a giant
vacuum cleaner, sucking in polluted air
and removing particulates using ionisation
technology – he says the tower can clean
30,000 cubic metres of air per hour. The
initial aim is to have a localised effect on
air quality in parks and public spaces,
though the long-term goal is to scale up
and make entire cities cleaner. He was
struck with the idea while peering out
from his Beijing hotel room several years
ago, aghast at how smog obscured the
view. The first self-funded Smog Free
Tower was tested outside his Rotterdam
studio, and before long another had
been commissioned for a Beijing park,
with more to follow in China, Columbia,
Mexico, India and possibly the UK. ‘We
can be sad and blame government and do
nothing, or we can design our way out of
the problem. The Smog Free Tower and
Bike are about that. I’m not a politician,
I’m a designer. What can I do? I can design
something,’ he told me from the chaos of a
Beijing street corner.
Needless to say, Roosegaarde’s
pronouncements have been derided in
some quarters and his critics point out
that, really, his studio has only designed
the metal-louvre casing that sits around
the true innovation – air-purification
technology developed over 17 years by
scientist Bob Ursem, who collaborated on
the project. There have also been doubts as
to how effective something like the Smog
Free Tower or Bike could be, and whether
they confuse the issue. Frank Kelly,
professor of environmental health at King’s
College London, has doubts: ‘These types
of things wouldn’t be effective enough to
make any sort of dent in the problem. The
real solution is to reduce the emissions at
source – to have cleaner and fewer vehicles
in cities. The only good that all these
devices can have is to raise awareness that
we have to change our behaviour.’
To be fair, Roosegaarde is the first to
say his inventions won’t solve pollution:
‘Design cannot save the world but it can
help. There are no shortcuts. This is a
campaign as much as anything else.’
February 2018
01-DESIGN-Pollution-Feb18_JJ_NJ_JM.indd 51
this page Brizi air
purifier and smog
monitor for prams.
The company has
been approached
by two major pram
manufacturers
Supporters can even buy Smog Free
Jewellery – rings and cuff links containing
a bit of the black grime caught in the
tower – via the studio’s website.
While the effectiveness of oversized
outdoor air purifiers remains to be
seen, experts including Kelly are saying
that evidence points to indoor units as
a legitimate way to lessen the impact
of pollutants, and the design world has
responded. Start-ups such as New Yorkbased Molekule and Livsdal, a Swedish
company launched during London Design
Festival last year, are producing a new
breed of super-efficient air purifiers for the
domestic market. While Molekule stands
out for its sleek, minimal design,
“Design cannot
save the world
but it can help.
There are no
shortcuts. This
is a campaign
as much as
anything else”
51
14/12/2017 16:33
above Livsdal in
walnut – at 10kg, the
unit is so large that
it has to double as
a sculptural piece of
furniture
right Molekule uses
nanotechnology to
break down pollutants
at a molecular level
“Growing
consumer
awareness will
weed out the
companies that
aren’t serious
about what
they’re doing”
Livsdal’s product is so powerful – and
gigantic at 10kg – that it needs to double
as a sculptural piece of furniture. Both use
nanotechnology and are a departure from
the moulded plastic forms seen up to now.
Livsdal founder Andreas Murray says
he first became concerned with indoor
air pollution in the late 1990s, but a lack
of awareness meant it wasn’t the right
moment for his idea. Nearly 20 years
later, the market was ripe, so Murray and
his brother Tobias decided to partner
with Camfil, a 50-year-old company that
makes industrial-strength air filters. The
resulting product is now available for the
first time in Harrods, and its customisable
mid-century Swedish styling is the cherry
52
01-DESIGN-Pollution-Feb18_JJ_NJ_JM.indd 52
on top of a seemingly powerful piece of
kit. ‘We decided to develop something
that has the best filter capacity possible
– that was the only goal – and what
we’ve produced makes rooms 50 times
cleaner,’ Murray says. Livsdal purifiers
can capture fine particle matter, but
go further by using activated carbon
to capture the tiny molecules – mostly
from car emissions – that are among
the trickiest to catch. Livsdal purifiers
may be efficient but, at a price tag of
£9,000, are not for the undecided. ‘It’s an
immature industry,’ says Murray. ‘Growing
consumer awareness will weed out the
companies that aren’t serious about what
they’re doing.’
The same is likely to be true for baby
products, an industry that relies heavily
on trusted brands. Map Studio’s head, Jon
Marshall, believes the Brizi air purifier for
prams will become one of them, though
it’s not on the market quite yet. In October,
it failed to raise funds via Kickstarter, but
has now been approached by two major
pram manufacturers. The battery-charged
unit sits within a u-shaped pillow around
the baby’s head, creating a loop of clean
air that cuts out ambient pollution around
the face. This works in tandem with a
monitor that is triggered in problem areas,
and captures data to create a pollution
map for parents so they can avoid certain
routes, while sharing information with
other parents via an app. Marshall is most
excited about these mapping possibilities:
‘That data is available for free and parents
can use it to lobby local government for
change. It’ll take time to map on a local
level but the hope is we can use it to
address the larger problem.’
With campaigners set to drag the UK
government to court for a third time for
failing to go far enough with its clean
air regulations, it seems a wise move for
designers and businesses to invest in new
technology that could help citizens on an
individual level. Common sense suggests
it’s the next frontier of the industry;
not just a culture shift toward electric
vehicles, which is vital, but a new breed of
product to battle the ill effects of the filthy
air most of us are breathing every day.
IMAGE: ALEXANDER CRISPIN
DESIGN / FEATURE
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15/12/2017 09:44
The rapid rise of artificial intelligence has sparked fears of
mass human obsolescence. But history tells us that automation
actually creates better jobs – and more of them
By Kevin McCullagh
Collage by Jesse Treece
01-DESIGN-Robots-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 55
15/12/2017 09:46
DESIGN / FEATURE
right Looming large:
textile manufacture
is an example of an
industry that grew
following automation
– creating new jobs
IMAGE: HULTON-DEUTSCH COLLECTION/CORBIS/CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES
“Automation need not be stirred into a doom-laden soup
along with Brexit, Trump and climate change”
a recent new Yorker cover by R Kikuo Johnson painted a
dystopian scene. Robots pace and trundle past a homeless human
kneeling at their feet, while one deigns to lower its gaze to
flip a few coins in his cup. The image expressed perfectly the
pervading, and misplaced, pessimism around the impacts of
automation not just among East Coast sophisticates, but across
the USA and the developed world. In fact, it is a view that has
even infiltrated one of the last pockets of optimism about the
future: the wide-eyed utopianism of Silicon Valley. When even
technorati are starting to agonise over the future of artificial
intelligence and the perils of automation, you have to wonder.
Elon Musk – often a champion of the human ability to improve its
condition through material progress – is becoming fearmongerin-chief of the artificial-intelligence apocalypse: ‘There certainly
will be job disruption. Because what’s going to happen is robots
will be able to do everything better than us ... I mean all of us.’
The most widely held fear, and one that taps into our earliest
fears about industrialisation, is of mass unemployment as
robots take most of the jobs. Other critiques of the proliferation
of artificial intelligence and increased automation are more
nuanced. Some say that it will drive even greater inequality
between the ‘cognitive elite’ and the deskilled masses. The
Guardian reflects a widespread concern over the potential
concentration of power by the robot-owning corporations:
‘If you think inequality is a problem now, imagine a world
where the rich can get richer all by themselves.’ These concerns
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lie behind growing calls for universal basic incomes and robot
taxes emanating from figures as diverse as Jeremy Corbyn and
Bill Gates.
But the situation isn’t as grim as we might think. Automation
need not be stirred into a doom-laden soup along with Brexit,
Trump and climate change. In fact, if we step back from
the narrow focus on technology and take a wider historical,
economic and humanist view, the picture is far from bleak.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, automation can play a key
role in creating more and better jobs, and rising prosperity.
There are broadly three reasons to be cheerful about the march
of the robots.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the automation of human
labour has run hand-in-hand with productivity gains, economic
growth and an increase in the number of jobs and prosperity.
It is productivity growth that largely accounts for why most of
us are six times better off than our great-grandparents. As Paul
Krugman put it, in economics ‘productivity isn’t everything – but
in the long run it’s almost everything’.
How can automating work create more jobs? A classic example
of how this process can work is that, during the Industrial
Revolution, 98 per cent of the manual labour involved in weaving
cloth was mechanised. But, despite the concerns of the Luddites,
the number of textile workers in the UK exploded. As costs
plummeted, demand grew, and so did the size of the industry
– and therefore job numbers. The cake got bigger. The jobs also
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changed from hand-weaving to operating the weaving machines.
A more recent example is the impact of Electronic Discovery
Software (EDS) on junior lawyers and paralegals, who
traditionally spent the bulk of their time sifting through piles
of documents. EDS was first applied in the 1990s, and did the job
more quickly and more accurately than humans. Yet paralegal
and junior lawyer jobs have grown quicker than the rest of the
workforce since 2000. How so? As searching became cheap and
quicker, law firms searched more documents and judges allowed
more expansive discovery requests. Economists have a name for
the intuitive, but mistaken, idea that there is a certain amount of
work to do in an economy, and if productivity increases there will
be fewer jobs to go around – the lump of labour fallacy.
There are, of course, counter examples of occupations that
fared less well in the face of technology, such as typesetters
once graphic designers adopted desktop-publishing software in
the 1990s. But the general pattern is that machines take over
mundane tasks, and humans move on to do more sophisticated
work that machines can’t do yet. And the net effect in a buoyant
economy is job growth. A long view reveals that each round of
automation brings similar fears – when the first printed books
with illustrations began to appear in the 1470s, wood engravers in
the German city of Augsburg protested and stopped the presses.
In fact, their skills turned out to be in higher demand than
before, as more books needed illustrating.
The general assumption is that if the robot doesn’t replace you,
it will deskill you. Yet a recent study by the Boston University
School of Law into the impact of automation on 270 occupations
in the USA since 1950 found that only one was eliminated – lift
operators. The other jobs were partially automated and in many
cases, this automation led to more jobs, often more skilled
positions. The impact of ATMs on bank clerks is a case in point.
The number of branch employees has grown since cash machines
were first installed: ATMs allowed banks to operate branches at
lower cost, enabling them to open many more. At the same time
banks morphed into financial-service providers, giving clerks
more opportunity for upward job mobility. Machines generally
take on the simple tasks, as humans move to more complex – and
often more meaningful – work.
In 1979, Fiat ran a television advert for the Strada with the
tagline ‘Handbuilt by robots’. In the 1980s, the march of the
robots was seen as inevitable and, as with the assembly line,
car production would lead the way. Forty years later, Toyota,
the guru of manufacturing innovation, has robots doing less
than eight per cent of the work on the factory floor – a ratio that
hasn’t changed in 15 years. When asked why, the president of
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, replied that ‘machines
are good for repetitive things, but they can’t improve their own
efficiency or the quality of their work. Only people can.’ Even in
manufacturing, automation isn’t as easy as many assume.
IMAGE: BETTMANN / GETTY IMAGES
“Machines generally take on the simple tasks, as humans
move to more complex – and often more meaningful – work”
right Despite
leading the way in car
innovation for the past
40 years, Toyota still
uses robots for just
8 per cent of its
factory operations
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left The rise of
automated systems
for selling petrol
or dispensing cash
has not had the
anticipated negative
impact on jobs
Pessimists tend to overestimate the extent to which humans
can be replaced and how fast will happen. They share a faulty
assumption with artificial-intelligence optimists, who look
forward to ‘singularity’, when computer intelligence will
supposedly surpass our own. They see impressive breakthroughs
in narrow and bounded machine-learning problems, like beating
humans at board games, and extrapolate that this singularity
is inevitable and around the corner. This assumption runs far
ahead of current knowledge. Neuroscientists are only scratching
the surface of understanding how our brains perceive, learn and
understand, while human consciousness is still a highly contested
topic in both philosophy and psychology. We’re a long way from
understanding human intelligence, never mind surpassing it.
Gloom merchants tend to imbue technology with superpowers,
while running down human ingenuity. Surely our perception,
curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, judgement and adaptability
will drive the world forward – aided by more automation.
We shape technology and, of course, it shapes us, but it does
not define our future. Social and political forces are pivotal. The
fatalism around robot-driven inequality suffers from peering at
the future through technology blinkers. If robots drive inequality,
how is it that Sweden has three times as many robots as the UK as
a proportion of manufacturing workers – and much lower levels
of inequality? Many other factors feed into the UK’s relatively
high levels of inequality, such as low investment in education and
in research and development, an over-reliance on cheap labour,
and an erosion of union power. It is no coincidence that inequality
in the UK soared between 1979 and 1990, during Margaret
Thatcher’s assault on the unions. Fretting about robot-induced
impoverishment tomorrow obscures the real policy-related causes
of wage suppression today. With living standards stagnating
across the developed world, boosting productivity growth should
be a pressing priority. Far from running scared of it, we should be
ramping up our investment in automation.
Of course, the road to semi-automated economic renewal will
not be pain-free – many jobs will be lost in parts of the economy,
while others will be created elsewhere. But even more will be lost
if the economy continues to ossify. This is where the state has
a key role to play in devising and implementing an industrialrenaissance strategy to navigate the disruption caused by the
next wave of automation. This should include investing in R&D
in job-creating sectors such as autonomous transportation,
virtual and augmented reality and data security, as well as
introducing automation to the backward construction industry
as part of a desperately needed expansion in housebuilding.
There is, after all, no shortage of problems to solve and work to
be done, including in human-intensive sectors that desperately
need revitalisation, such as healthcare and infrastructure. An
ambitious programme to support and retrain workers for the
parts of the economy that will grow as a result of automation is
also needed. In short, timidity, not technology, is the problem.
We have nothing to fear, but the fear of robots itself.
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IMAGE: DOUG GRIFFIN/TORONTO STAR VIA GETTY IMAGES
“The fatalism around robot-driven inequality suffers from
peering at the future through technology blinkers”
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 17:49
DESIGN / EMERGING STUDIO
Egli Studio
A drive to rethink industrial processes and
to make efficient, understandable products
underpins the Swiss duo’s output
PORTRAIT: JEANNE MARTEL
By Laura Snoad
slick and efficient, Egli Studio’s
Hypercollection is a practical response to
a personal conundrum. When designing
the interior of Hyperespace, a new Renens
co-working space that the Swiss duo,
Thibault Dussex and Yann Mathys, set
up with a band of fellow creatives from
nearby design school ECAL, they soon
discovered that producing their own pieces
would not only better meet the needs of
all of Hyperespace’s inhabitants but, given
Switzerland’s expense, would also work
out a whole lot cheaper.
The situation was an ideal opportunity
for the young studio to prototype a
modular furniture concept inspired by
perfectly slicing up off-the-peg industrial
tubes with zero waste. Starting with the
shelf, a graceful configurable unit made
from Swiss CDF and the aforementioned
stainless steel tubes, the intention was to
create a human-scale room divider that
screened co-workers from each other when
seated but allowed easy communication at
standing height.
‘We were really interested in making
products that were not only for us but
that could be intelligent in the market,
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above The Hyper low
table, which can be
converted to create a
TV unit
right Egli Studio’s
Thibault Dussex (left)
and Yann Mathys
left The complete
Hypercollection,
including shelving
divider, coat rack, chair,
suspended lamp, desk
lamp and low table
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left The Hyper lamp
bounces light from
an LED off an oval of
Swiss CDF
“People love products more when
they get how they work”
above The collection
is based on a process
for cutting industrial
stainless-steel tubes
right The table lamp
uses an LED light
source and has a
low profile
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01-DESIGN-NewStudio-Egli-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 72
and that’s why we were quite attached
to the idea of flatpack,’ says Mathys. ‘It
was one of the things that influenced the
structure and the type of components we
used.’ Attempting to keep costs as low
as possible, Egli even created their own
machine (a rotating motorised axel fitted
with abrasive paper) to make the small
notch that allows the vertical tubes to sit
snugly against the horizontal ones before
welding – a process that would have been
prohibitively expensive to outsource.
The collection has grown outwards to
include a round coffee table (with a top
that can be switched for the Hypershelf’s
rectangular planks to create a TV unit), the
Hyper lamp (made by bouncing the light
from a heatsink-encased COB LED off an
adjustable oval of Swiss CDF), a table lamp
with a low profile using the same COB
LEDs, plus a chair and coat rack designed
by collaborator and fellow Hyperespace
resident Matthieu Girel.
The Hypercollection is typical of how
Egli Studio works. The range combines
rethinking available components with a
curiosity for industrial processes, all the
while embodying a desire to keep the
aesthetic clean. ‘If you design something
that is supposed to be produced in large
quantities, in some way you are dictating
to the manufacturer how to make it,’
says Dussex. ‘If you don’t understand
the technical side, then you’re going
to design something really badly.’ This
comprehension of a product’s workings
is not something Egli limits to designers.
‘When we design stuff we want people to
understand every part of the piece,’ adds
Dussex. ‘We like to make products as
simple as possible – people love products
more when they get how they work.’
This quintessentially Swiss delight in
clever engineering (think USM’s Haller
system or even the Swiss army knife) is
present throughout Egli’s work. Its Chill
Eiche table, designed for Geneva’s NOV
gallery, repurposes large tunnels made
from skateboard ply, whereas its Reverso
architectural screen for Création Baumann
is created from die-cut scales of Tyvek that
can be flipped by hand to make a pattern.
‘We follow the values of Swiss rational
and functional design but with a more
contemporary approach,’ says Dussex. ‘We
want to create products that are precise
and technical and last for a long time.’
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 16:31
Garden
Egg chair
Designed 50 years ago,
Peter Ghyczy’s folding seat
still captures the excitement
of the pop age, when plastic
offered endless possibilities
By Kunty Moureau
the garden egg chair epitomises Peter
Ghyczy’s long quest to create simple yet
innovative furniture. His success was
such that, even now, 50 years after it first
appeared, his design remains a bold and
contemporary statement.
Born in Budapest in 1940, Ghyczy
was forced to flee Hungary after the Red
Army’s invasion in 1945, in which his
father was killed. After a year spent in
Belgium thanks to a Red Cross refugee
programme, his family moved to
Germany, where he attended university,
studying architecture and specialising
in construction engineering. He now
lives in the Netherlands, where his design
studio is based, but the political upheaval
and forced relocations that shaded his
youth still influence Ghyczy’s design
philosophy and creative practice. As many
refugees, past and present, have found,
when your home has been taken from you,
the only way to reclaim your past is to
build it anew.
Ghyczy graduated in 1967 and the
following year began work at Reuter – a
plastics factory in Lemförde, Saxony –
where he managed the development of
polyurethane furniture. This experience
led to the creation of his first piece of
furniture – the Garden Egg chair. As
the name implies, Ghyczy adopted a
form reminiscent of an egg, but with a
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01-DESIGN-Icon-EggChair-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 74
carefully engineered folding top. When
open, this top forms the backrest,
exposing a soft cushioned seat inside
the rounded plastic shell.
The malleability of polyurethane as a
material echoes the chair’s freedom of
form and application – it can be moved
inside or out, its seat open or closed. It
can be lifted and carried as a suitcase,
or left static as a garden sculpture. It is
functional – the opening mechanism
ensures that the chair will withstand
wet weather – yet supremely attractive,
its colourful, eye-catching form a result
of Ghyczy’s instinctive design talent.
Its status as both a work of domestic
furniture and a sculptural object has
ensured that it has become a pop icon in
its own right.
At the time of its creation, plastic
was heralded as a material with endless
possibilities, and the Garden Egg chair is
in many ways a testament to this midcentury moment of experiment and
endeavour. Thanks to rigorous prototyping
with the Reuter engineers, the quality of
the polyurethane foam was improved,
enabling its thickness to be reduced by a
significant 2cm. Since then, the Garden
Egg chair has gained a cult status and is
featured in the permanent collections of
numerous museums worldwide, including
the Victoria & Albert Museum, California’s
Wende Museum and the Design
Museum Holon.
The moulding and hinge techniques
used in the Garden Egg chair contributed
to the design principles that shaped
Ghyczy’s later work after leaving Reuter
and founding his own studio, GHYCZY,
in 1972. While each collection since has
demonstrated a consistent evolution,
his designs maintain a strong yet subtle
continuity. And, when confronted with
challenges, he has always adapted
and innovated. Although he had
predominantly worked in plastics in
his early career, the 1973 oil crisis
prompted Ghyczy to focus his design
attentions on the interaction and
concordance of metal and glass, a sphere
in which he invented a patented clamping
technique that has since resulted
in collections of furniture, lighting
and homewares.
Ghyczy is now celebrating the 50th
anniversary of the Garden Egg chair
with his first solo exhibition, at the
ADAM-Brussels Design Museum. This
will pay homage to the significant role
that he played in late 20th-century design
history, and demonstrate his continuous
quest for absolute simplicity in use of
material and elegance of shape, from the
Garden Egg chair to current works.
IMAGES: COURTESY ADAM - BRUSSELS DESIGN MUSEUM
DESIGN / ICON
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IMAGES: COURTESY ADAM - BRUSSELS DESIGN MUSEUM
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PORTRAIT: DANNY LAWSON / PRESS ASSOCIATION
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14/12/2017 16:35
DESIGN / Q&A
Jason Bruges
“I could list 50 extraordinary
things invented in Hull, so it’s
rather fitting to invent
something new”
PORTRAIT: DANNY LAWSON / PRESS ASSOCIATION
Interview by James McLachlan
February 2018
01-DESIGN-Q&A-JasonBruges-Feb18_JM_NJ_JM-CA.indd 77
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DESIGN / Q&A
ighting designer Jason Bruges
brought the curtain down on
Hull’s year-long city of culture
programme with a series of
robotic arm installations placed
at four locations across the town. Taking
inspiration from the city’s maritime
history, ‘Where do we go from here?’
forms a route through the historic quarter
with the 6m-high repurposed robots
responding to their surroundings by
manipulating sounds and light. Icon spoke
to Bruges about what the project means for
Hull, his studio and his wider ambitions to
integrate technology into our cities.
ICON W
hy did you call it ‘Where do we go
from here?’
Jason Bruges The reason Hull is on the
map is because of its provenance in terms of
generating maritime navigation technology.
It prospered through all of the places it
traded with as a result of that. So the idea
of navigation and actually finding your way
around the city came from that, and the
idea of creating these robotic beacons came
from thinking about navigation – which
way do you turn, which way do you go?
ICON And the city’s link with innovation
– was that why you decided to use robots?
JB We were looking at dynamic, moving,
illuminated kinetic beacons, and as well
as being a technique of creating moving
light, we felt that it helped to explore the
theme of transforming the old town by
adding something quite different. The
robots are a major juxtaposition with the
medieval setting. Quite often we’ll work
with technology in an environment that is
actually quite different to it, and it is that
tension between the old and the new that
brings it to life. It really makes people look
at what’s around them and reflect on it. The
robot arms are repurposed industrial robots
with six axes of movement, so we can
control them in six places. It immediately
puts you in a world of inverse kinematics,
in terms of understanding how these things
move, how they self-glide, their limitations
“My first impression was of this
amazing architectural heritage”
above left The Trinity
Square installation
featured surroundsound speakers
IMAGES: CHRIS PEPPER
left The robots
followed a
programmed routine in
the garden behind the
Streetlife Museum of
Transport
February 2018
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DESIGN / Q&A
parks quite a few years ago, but really
I was coming to the city with fairly
fresh eyes. The old part of the city I
hadn’t really explored and my first
impression was of this quite amazing
architectural heritage. We really delved
into the history and found out a lot
about the moments that sparked the
English Civil War; the founding of Hull;
the development of the town malls; the
development of the docks and the history
of the docking companies; the kind of
schooling and training and knowledge,
all around navigation; and all sorts
of weird and wonderful facts about
inventions created here. I could list 50
“It’s something I’ve dreamt
about, sketched and
researched for 25 years”
IMAGES: JAMES MEDCRAFT
of movement. That’s a whole kind of rule
system and algorithm system. But the
original technology was quite different, so
we’ve had to piggyback on old technology.
The physics, the movement, the kind of
base technology is not different, but how we
interact with it is very different.
this page Dichroic
Blossom interactive
feature wall for
the Guo Rui Real
Estate Development
Company in Beijing
February 2018
01-DESIGN-Q&A-JasonBruges-Feb18_JM_NJ_JM-CA.indd 81
ICON Hull is quite outward-facing in its
genesis, navigation and trade, but we are
in Brexit country. Did the political climate
feed into what you were trying to do with
this installation?
JB The main aspect that fed into it was
the idea of really looking forward, and
thinking about all of the opportunities in
terms of technology, industry, training.
The piece is certainly a reflection on how
it is changing already in terms of training
and industry. There are further education
universities, institutions that are looking
at technology and its place within the
workplace, within industry. And for me
as well it is an opportunity to look at how
this fits into the cultural aspect and the
city itself.
ICON And Hull itself, what were your
immediate impressions?
JB We had worked in Hull before, on
a smaller intervention in one of the
quite extraordinary things that have been
invented here – the liquid crystal display
for example – so I thought, well, it’s rather
fitting that we invent something new.
ICON And how new is your intervention?
JB As far as we know, what we’ve created
here in terms of a network of urban sitespecific interventions that are primarily
using repurposed industrial robot arms
is a world first. In terms of spatial
exploration, in terms of scale, we’ve
certainly done far bigger works, but not
ones that move or have such a presence
from an engineering point of view. In
working out a process, we’re testing
completely new boundaries. For example,
how do you create planning drawings
with things that move in them? How do
you take something that sits in a factory
behind safety glass and cages and put that
in a public space? How do you design the
process to integrate that as a system that
can sit in the real world?
ICON What have you learned from this
project?
JB It gives us some really interesting
tools in terms of exploring spaces that
can be transformed and reconfigured,
not just in a digital media sense but in
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DESIGN / Q&A
“It animates the space –
it’s another layer of more
ephemeral architecture”
this page Platform 5
in Sunderland a virtual platform
filled with passengers’
shadows within a
glass block wall
ICON And how do you see your role as a
designer in how we develop our cities?
JB I feel we are in quite a lucky position.
My trade is an architect, but I call myself a
designer, I call myself an artist. I work in
interaction design so I’m trying to learn
how to do these things and keep a team
of 25 people of quite diverse disciplines
working together, so there’s a kind of
theatre around doing all of that as well.
We can also be quite experimental –
whereas some of our peers may want
to be, I think we have the freedom
to test ideas out, so hopefully I see us
influencing others and getting people
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to think about how we can integrate
our built environment. For example, we
are launching a project in Toronto – an
underground station in collaboration
with Norman Foster. We have created a
digital clouding system that animates and
maps the trains. It’s embedded into the
architecture of the engineering of space.
It’s permanent and it’s a composite liquid
crystal that responds literally to the person
in the station, so you get this sort of
animated, digital wallpaper. It’s spatial, it’s
ephemeral, its part of space, its generative,
but it works with a captive audience. It
animates the space – it’s another layer of
more ephemeral architecture.
ICON And your hopes for Hull? It feels like
a pressing moment.
JB We are exploring the work in quite a
few different forums. I am giving a lecture
at Hull University about the project, so
I really hope it sparks off some good
conversations. No doubt there will be
conversations about where this installation
might go. But ultimately, it will have
originated here and will kind of belong
to Hull.
IMAGES: JAMES MEDCRAFT
a large infrastructure sense. We quite
often get involved with projects where
people say, for example, this square needs
to be empty one minute and then full
of animation and activity the next. And
rather than just having light, movement,
sound at your disposal, having things
that can transform and change and
animate and create new forms is of real
interest. It’s something I’ve dreamt about,
sketched and researched for probably the
last 20, 25 years.
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 16:36
Delirious Netherlands
Rem Koolhaas and OMA have always been the most international of architects but, as recent
projects in their homeland show, their inherent Dutchness has been hiding in plain sight
IMAGE: OSSIP VAN DUIVENBODE
By Tim Abrahams
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IMAGE: OSSIP VAN DUIVENBODE
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IMAGES: MARCO CAPPELLETTI
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IMAGES: MARCO CAPPELLETTI
ARCHITECTURE / FEATURE
I
n 2012, thieves broke into the Kunsthal in Rotterdam
and made off with a haul of great 19th- and 20th-century
paintings. The event was a huge embarrassment to the
museum, which immediately charged the original architects
OMA with refurbishing the building and reinforcing the
security, a task they completed in 2014. Visiting the Kunsthal
today, it is hard to make out what that increased security might
be. If anything, the renovation of the building – so key in the
evolution of OMA – has opened it up even further. Individual
parts of the structure can now be used simultaneously by
different users. The security systems must be deeply embedded.
Like the large ramp that brings Rotterdam’s internationally
renowned bicycle network right through the heart of the
Kunsthal, OMA’s Dutchness hides in full sight. We tend to
think of the practice’s internationalism, partly because of its
intellectual and commercial commitment to the urbanisation
of China and the Gulf states. More recently, through work
in Milan and Venice, it has made a major contribution to the
evolving global discussion about the importance of history. And
transnationalism is, of course, part of its origin myth in the
heady international melting pot of Alvin Boyarsky’s Architectural
Association. The EU flag they designed is still painted on a plaza
between the Kunsthal and the Het Nieuwe Instituut.
Yet OMA’s recent renovation of Rijnstraat 8 – a massive
100,000sq m building in The Hague from the 1990s for
several different government ministries – ironically puts this
transnationalism in a national perspective. Much is made of
“Much is made of the rebuilding of the Netherlands following the war,
but we perhaps forget how long that rebuilding took”
previous De
Rotterdam, OMA’s
‘vertical city’,
overlooking the
Erasmus bridge
above left Rijnstraat
8, originally completed
in 1992, houses several
ministries across
100,000sq m
left OMA’s renovation
has created a passage
through the building
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02-ARCH-OMA-Feb18_JJ_NJ.indd 87
the rebuilding of the Netherlands following the war, but we
perhaps forget how long that rebuilding took. This is largely
because the commercial development of Rotterdam’s docks
and the government buildings in the Hague today provide the
architecture of commercial endeavour and modern statehood so
well that its history seems longer.
Yet, when the huge slab of Rijnstraat 8 was completed in
the 1990s, the only comparison for a government building of
that scale was Herman Hertzberger’s nearby Ministry of Social
Welfare and Employment. To avoid organising offices of endless
corridors, Herzberger had articulated that complex into separate
buildings that would accommodate sub-departments. It is an
archetype of the Dutch structuralist approach, described by
Hertzberger in 1973 as ‘a complete set of relationships, in which
the elements can change, but in such a way that these remain
dependent on the whole and retain their meaning’. The hope
with the Ministry was to match the urban scale of The Hague.
It was successful in that but, whereas structuralism worked so
well for housing, providing each family with a unit that they
could identify as theirs within a larger complex, for big office
blocks it proved to be overly proscriptive. Tellingly, Hertzberger is
currently converting it into apartment blocks.
Rijnstraat 8 was huge not out of any wilfulness but because
it needed to be. It was a moment in which the architectural
profession convinced the Dutch government that the
requirements of the burgeoning state – huge government and
administrative departments in one continuous space – required a
new kind of scale. The building was constructed around dense
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ARCHITECTURE / FEATURE
cores that supported a concrete structure, off which hung the
floors plates down to a three-storey plinth. It also capitalised
on the Dutch talent for civil and structural engineering. You
don’t reclaim 17 per cent of your nation’s land area from the sea
without being good at that sort of thing.
In addition, it attempted to marry this new need for scale
with a certain drive for openness: a keen eye for the democratic
in the visual sense, if not always in the literal. Returning to that
embarrassing art theft at Rotterdam’s Kunsthal, the institution
was criticised at the time for the way in which one could see art
worth millions of euros from outside the building. And this is
still the case. Similarly, Rijnstraat 8, which post-renovation now
houses the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management
and the Immigration and Naturalisation Service among others,
originally had three high atriums. These created a visible sense of
openness in an urban sense, breaking down the huge volume that
utterly revolutionised the urban setting of The Hague.
But, while the atriums were open, the floor plates were closed.
This created a building that appeared to be open but was, in fact,
anything but. The pedestrian passageway through the building
linking the station behind to the city beyond was too narrow. The
atriums created spaces in which civil servants who worked in the
buildings could mingle with the populace but in reality never
did. Meanwhile, within the building, the same staff and their
ministerial colleagues worked in offices off long corridors.
Yet the building was much respected and highly regarded,
partially because it was the first building of its scale and size in
opposite De
Rotterdam – an
exercise in reconciling
difference into
one block
the Netherlands. Joost Ector works for the original architect of the
building, Jan Hoogstadt. He didn’t work on Rijnstraat 8, but puts
the building in perspective. ‘The Netherlands in the 1980s was
very different. It was so much smaller. You should remember that
is the country of “spruitjes” [Brussels sprouts]. The Netherlands is
a small country, and when this building was being built, we were
really liberal but we were also narrow-minded in the sense that
we were inward-looking and small-scale.’
OMA has undertaken a surgical strike on the building,
introducing a thinner structural spine, which also hosts the
circulation. The passage through the building has been widened
and the fourth floor has been opened to double height and
becomes the welcoming point, with the ground floor now
merely an entrance. A new restaurant and cafe space has been
provided around the apron of the building. Colour is everywhere.
The Dutch seem to be a nation in which humour emerges as
respite from serious work and the frequent yellow escalators –
referencing the Seattle Public Library – are an example of this, as
is the Ken Adam-esque conference chamber for the Department
of Foreign Affairs. This conference room is one of the only office
spaces in the building with a fixed purpose and programme.
The conversion by OMA necessitated a keen understanding
and appreciation of the building’s engineering, and it celebrates
that understanding. The project architect, Bart Nicolaas, accedes
to the description of the conversion as an act of ‘structural
archaeology’ with a grin. ‘We loved it,’ he says. Removing cores
necessitated the introduction of huge trusses across the building.
At certain points, floors between the cores were removed to
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IMAGE: OSSIP VAN DUIVENBODE
“The Netherlands is a small country, and when this building was being
built, we were really liberal but we were also inward-looking”
IMAGE: OSSIP VAN DUIVENBODE
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IMAGES: MARCO CAPPELLETTI
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IMAGES: MARCO CAPPELLETTI
ARCHITECTURE / FEATURE
introduce height and light, while former atrium space was filled
with flooring. The conversion reveals the structure of the original
building, off which the floors hang, but now with added lateral
support that is painted black and is legible throughout as a
distinct system.
The building is a fascinating historical dialogue, and a prism
of how key principles have evolved in the Netherlands since the
1980s. The desire to allow public and government officials to mix
easily is an obvious statement of the nation’s liberal approach.
Look closer and one can see two types of liberalism emerge. In
the post-war period, the nation’s liberalism has been of a familial
rather than metropolitan nature in that everyone is granted
access to each other, as those in a family might be, and in a
fashion that allows no one to get too big for their position. A more
metropolitan approach to liberalism allows everyone to do what
they want as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of anyone
else, as per the rules of a city – even to the degree that it makes
an art gallery vulnerable to theft.
OMA as a practice is engaged in this process of mediating
between the role of the individual and the wider collective
in, as its name suggests, a more metropolitan fashion. In
the Netherlands, one can see how Hertzberger’s ideas about
legibility have influenced its work. OMA’s De Rotterdam
complex dominates the skyline in the former dock area. It is
three interconnected mixed-use towers accommodating offices,
apartments, a hotel, conference facilities, shops, restaurants and
cafes. Operating at an urban rather than a suburban scale as
“The arguments that Koolhaas once played out cross the Atlantic in his
book Delirious New York have for a short time come home”
above left OMA’s
Kunsthal renovation,
carried out to
improve security,
has maintained the
gallery’s openness
left Originally
completed in 1992, the
Kunsthal was one of
Koolhaas’s first major
projects
February 2018
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Hertzberger did, De Rotterdam ultimately reconciles difference
into one block, although the various programmes are still legible
as distinct, providing, OMA says, ‘both clarity and synergy’. After
all, residents and office workers alike in one block can use the
fitness facilities, restaurants and conference rooms of the hotel.
The arguments that Rem Koolhaas once played out across the
Atlantic in his book Delirious New York and those that Reinier
de Graaf riffs on in his recent book Four Walls and a Roof have
for a short time come home. It is the work of Ellen van Loon, the
partner in charge of Rijnstraat 8 and other Dutch projects, that
is getting the chance to shine. A recent proposal, which matches
the global ambitions of Feyenoord football club with its role as a
team that emerged out of the social bonds between dock workers,
is particularly exciting. It is an architectural and infrastructural
meditation on the global and the local writ large.
In 2015, OMA contributed to an exhibition at the Het Nieuwe
Instituut called ‘What is the Netherlands?’ documenting the
history of Dutch contributions to World Expos. It revealed some
fascinating latent aspects of the national character such as a
constant balance between modesty and big-headedness – the
1915 pavilion, for example, was condemned as boastful for
featuring six flags. Yet its main thrust was a criticism of the
Dutch state’s withdrawal from the Expo movement. Architectural
articulation of nationhood, it suggested, is a means of exploring
identity and in doing so engaging with wider international
networks and proposing futures. Regarding a new European
landscape – certainly from these shores – it is an optimistic model
to consider.
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Flores
&
By Douglas Murphy
Portraits by Catherine Hyland
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Prats
The Catalan duo’s
visually complex, finely
detailed buildings stem
from a passion for the
act of building and a
constant engagement
with the role of history
in public space
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T
he shortlist for the
architecture category of
the Beazley Designs of
the Year is a remarkably,
perhaps consciously
varied bunch. From Zaha
Hadid’s stunningly overthe-top building at the Port of Antwerp
to the design of refugee shelters at the
Calais ‘Jungle’, from luxury shopping
in Venice by OMA to a memorial to the
victims of the Utøya massacre, it’s a highly
diverse selection.
But, alongside the silly and the serious,
there’s a project by Barcelona practice
Flores & Prats that’s harder to pigeonhole.
The Sala Beckett, a conversion of an old
co-operative building into a contemporary
theatre, is an exercise in the manipulation
of existing material, a complex mix of
refurbishment and new construction
that demonstrates virtuosic handling
of natural light, and ingenious, strange
and sometimes witty reconfigurations of
elements from the original building.
The architects, Ricardo Flores and Eva
Prats, are not superstars but, since the late
1990s, have been building a remarkably
consistent body of work together, mostly
in Catalonia, that has been accumulating
admirers along the way. A passion for the
act of building, an intellectual engagement
with how memory works in urban space,
and a methodology based upon handdrawing and large-scale model-making are
the hallmarks of their work.
‘We met at Enric Miralles’s studio,’
says Prats, visiting a rainy London for
the awards. She had been working for
Miralles during her studies in Barcelona
in the early 1990s, including on his classic
Igualada Cemetery project, while Flores
joined after arriving from his native
Argentina. At that point, the world didn’t
quite know what to make of Miralles’s
architecture, regularly lumping it in with
‘deconstructivism’ because of its spatial
complexity, when its joy in building and
in detail was a world away from desiccated
pontification or digital whimsy.
Flores and Prats absorbed much from
Miralles, especially drawing techniques
and methods of maintaining control of
formal manipulations, but after a few
years decided to set up in practice together,
taking advantage of an enlightened
commissioning culture in a lean period
after the 1992 Olympics. ‘Something
important in Barcelona that is still going
on is the trust in competitions,’ says Flores,
‘and in winning them you can go on to
build them.’
Two early projects speak of their
ongoing concerns: a public square in the
north of Barcelona incorporated ruined
walls, bricks, stones and other demolished
material in its new construction, forming
whiplash curves and pergolas that traced
across the site. In Mallorca, for a museum
of local windmills, they carved and sliced
openings into the thick stone walls of an
existing mill, coaxing the light in with
new forms detailed with a bespoke finesse
on a par with Carlo Scarpa or Sverre Fehn.
‘During my studies in Barcelona, I saw
how urban planning dealt with the old
town, and how they were pulling down
beautiful houses,’ says Prats. ‘It was as
though they didn’t know exactly the
precious things that were inside.’ This
focus on refurbishment or rehabilitation
is even more clearly stated by the
above Offices at
the Sala Beckett,
Barcelona (2016) –
the conversion of a
co-operative building
into a theatre complex
IMAGES: ADRIÀ GOULA
right A half-moon
opening cut into a wall.
The building’s interior
is defined by high
levels of visibility and
continuity between
spaces
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IMAGES: ADRIÀ GOULA
right Flores & Prats
describe the Sala
Beckett as ‘growing on
top’ of the decorative
qualities of the existing
building
January 2018
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below Ground-floor
changing room at the
Sala Beckett
above A patio in
between the Sala
Beckett’s classroom
areas
IMAGES: ADRIÀ GOULA
“We try to
convince the
clients to get
into the process
with us, so
that they are
convinced this
can give them
an extra quality”
Palau Balaguer, a project to convert a
dilapidated bourgeois mansion in Palma
into a cultural centre. Ingenious rooflights
bring daylight deep into the building, new
construction runs up against previous,
sometimes with extreme juxtaposition but
sometimes so subtly as to make it difficult
to distinguish what’s new and what’s old.
It’s not all refurbishment: the firm has
projects including villas, social housing
and a number of brand new public spaces.
But in all their work there is a real focus
on the sequence of spaces: projects may
not have a single photogenic angle, an
overall structural conceit or provocatively
minimal plans, but in motion they unfold
January 2018
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in shifting and subtle ways, bursting with
complexity but also tightly controlled,
and always finely detailed. References and
touchstones are numerous, including – of
course – Miralles, but also designers as
diverse as the Smithsons or John Soane.
Palau Balaguer (featured in Icon 162) was
a 20-year project originally commissioned
in 1996, which, despite being executed
in stages, is still an almost glacial
pace. But this demonstrates one of the
defining aspects of Flores & Prats, which
is a painstaking and deeply methodical
working method. ‘It’s kind of an artisan
way of thinking,’ says Flores. ‘It’s not really
possible to have more than two or three
commissions at a time, because we want to
give them time to get into the process. We
try to convince the clients to get into the
process with us, so that they are convinced
this can give them an extra quality.’
This slowness is made apparent when
visiting their office, spread across a
number of small rooms in a block near
the Plaça de Catalunya. Sheets of tracing
paper lie flat on tables under anglepoise
lamps, gradually coalescing into huge
pencil drawings, while models sit all over
the place, at every scale right up to 1:1. A
custom concrete formwork mould hangs
from the wall, next to a life-size drawing
of how to cut slivers from reclaimed
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below The auditorium
ceramic floor tiles so they can be laid in
a curve, while bespoke wooden cabinets
open out to reveal fragmented models of
various schemes. These cabinets are used
both as transportable exhibits and as
archives of the thought processes that
go into a design.
‘In every thing that we make, the scale,
the fragments, everything is a project,’
explains Prats, and this attitude extends
right through construction and beyond.
The drawings themselves are incredible,
with plans and sections at multiple scales
crowding onto the page and shooting off
at multiple angles, finely composed yet
always informational, whereas the card
and timber models are so carefully made
they can be delicately pulled apart into
their constituent finely detailed pieces.
Starting from the cabinets, which are
built after the end of a scheme, Flores and
Prats continue to work through ideas as
time goes on. ‘The client is not asking you
for that, of course,’ says Flores, ‘but when
the project opens a window to something,
a kind of construction in itself that
represents a reflection or an observation,
we just do it.’ This kind of work includes
workshops with residents on how a socialhousing block the practice designed works
in real life, films made as documentation
of the Mills Museum,
Palma de Mallorca
(2002)
IMAGES: DUCCIO MALAGAMBA; ADRIÀ GOULA
“In every thing that we make, the scale,
the fragments, everything is a project”
above Edificio 111
social housing in
Terrassa, Barcelona
(2010)
left Aerial view of
the Mills Museum and
entrance piazza
January 2018
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below Yute’s Textile
Warehouse, Sant Just,
Barcelona (2005)
above The project
was an extension
to an existing
warehouse and
made use of a variety
of prefabrication
techniques
“We like reading things with a
continuity, we like to bring history
in front of us”
above The corrugated
steel skin refers to the
drapes of coloured
fabric stored within
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IMAGES: HISAO SUZUKI
of the use of its buildings, as well as
individual bespoke items. For example,
the Flores & Prats website features a
delirious choose-your-own-adventure
journey around the office, complete with
giant models building themselves in stopmotion. In addition, each of its projects is
concluded with the production of a largescale axonometric drawing explaining the
entirety of the building, a methodology
that bears comparison to the paintings
Zaha Hadid made after her early designs.
Flores and Prats are not regulars on the
Biennale circuit, and they are not part of a
close-knit movement advancing their cause
through publications and manifestos. But
their work is becoming the focus of greater
interest, including in the UK, as their faith
in construction and scholarly attitude
to reinterpreting previous architecture
chime with a wider mood in contemporary
design. ‘You know, TS Eliot used to say, you
build up your own tradition,’ says Flores,
and Prats agrees: ‘We like reading things
with a continuity, we like to bring history
in front of us.’
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 16:44
Model citizen
Foster + Partners’ Bloomberg Building may not look a billion pounds,
but it shows the value of solid citizenship over corporate glitz
By John Jervis
Photography by Nigel Young
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N
o one really cares
what an office looks
like inside. It should
be energy efficient,
easy to refit at tenyear intervals and – in
an ideal but unlikely
world – cope with a
major overhaul every 30 years or so. Only
employees, occupiers and owners need
concern themselves with more. So let’s
concentrate on what matters.
Architects will struggle a little with the
exterior of Foster + Partners’ Bloomberg
Building, fantasising about what a young
architect – even a young Norman Foster
– might have done with its prime 3.2-acre
site in the City, and its rumoured £1 billion
budget. And it’s true that, stylistically, the
Bloomberg is not particularly ambitious.
Its chunky structural sandstone frame
is given a certain interest by occasional
irregularities and by the jutting bronze
fins framing its recessed windows. These
‘gills’ vary in angle, density and size,
and can be discreetly opened and closed,
providing ventilation, filtration and shade.
It’s clear that they are also intended to
imbue the building with class and, despite
their heft, on the whole they succeed.
And that is no small achievement.
Few modern buildings in the vicinity
(half a mile east of the cluster) bear close
inspection. Whinney, Son & Austen Hall’s
Crédit Lyonnais and Stirling’s No 1 Poultry
are the obvious exceptions, aided by their
Flatiron sites and considered response to
their surroundings – an entire district
of such gestures would, however, be a
mess. Elsewhere, modernist peacocking
has miscarried: Foster’s Walbrook next
door is a prime example; Jean Nouvel has
wreaked his damage behind St Paul’s.
The impressive exoskeleton of Foggo
Associates’ Cannon Street Station could
hardly be considered contextual, but its
brazen engineering does work well given
its status as a transport hub. At the other
end of the scale, a swath of depressing,
drab efforts in gridded Portland by run-ofthe-mill British practices contribute only
profitable ciphers to the City’s streets.
So the ability to encompass over
100,000sq m of floor space in a manner
that is neither egregiously overweening
nor offensively bland should not be
dismissed. In addition, the Bloomberg
consciously rejects the 15-storey height
of its 1950s predecessor (the City’s first
February 2018
02-ARCH-Bloomberg-Feb18 NJ.indd 105
skyscraper, Bucklesbury House) or the
22 storeys proposed by Atelier Foster
Nouvel for the site in 2006 (‘Darth Vader’s
Helmet’). The final scheme strains to
achieve comparable square meterage,
resulting in an undeniably solid presence –
there are no 1960s setbacks here, just eight
ample storeys, with a further two recessed
above. Despite this, the Bloomberg fits
surprisingly well into the grain of the
City when viewed from a distance – at
street level at least – aided by its division
into two connected blocks. Up close, its
magnitude is more evident, despite the
mildly undulating arcade at its base.
Bloomberg’s materials – both stone and
bronze – will (apparently) age ‘gracefully’
to match surroundings, and their quality
and durability are certainly evident.
These are commendable attributes, as
is the implied aspiration to longevity.
Equally important – and with the minor
benefit of reducing apparent bulk – are
opposite The two
triangular-planned
buildings are fronted
by a public square
below A ‘sculptural
walkway’ clad in
Japanese bronze links
the six upper levels
a handful of generous external gestures.
There are new public squares at three of
the Bloomberg’s four corners, the largest
directly in front of the surprisingly
modest main entrance. The other two are
somewhat compromised by a tri-partite
sculpture-cum-water feature by Cristina
Iglesias composed of large, futuristic
swamps in patinated bronze. The intention
is to bring the buried Walbrook to mind
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14/12/2017 16:38
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“The glittering profusion of tiny aluminium ‘petals’ lurk
a little too close for comfort on the ceilings above”
above The oak shells
of the foyer are topped
by an aluminium
installation by Olafur
Eliasson
February 2018
02-ARCH-Bloomberg-Feb18 NJ.indd 107
but (coincidentally I’m sure) they also deter
the indolent by funnelling determined
office-workers into corridors around their
edges. As well as an impending new tube
entrance, which promises to be rather
superior to No 1 Poultry’s public toiletstyle effort, there is a covered canyon
between the two blocks. This reinstates
a ‘lost portion’ of the ancient Watling
Street (although, rather churlishly, it
has been named Bloomberg Arcade).
The final erasure of the medieval Budge
Row from maps has been rather less
publicised. But such cavils are inevitable
in City developments, and this is an
accumulation of additions to the public
realm that few projects outside the cluster
can match.
Moving inside, there are two major
setpieces. The sinuous foyer achieves the
ideal office combo of the monumental
and the bland. Its three intertwining,
interdependent oak shells are topped by
a regrettable, rippled aluminium triangle
by Olafur Eliasson – I guess he needs the
cash to fund his charitable ventures. The
other focus is a ‘sculptural walkway’ at the
heart of the building, a spiralling ramp
clad in Japanese bronze that connects
the six upper floors. It achieves striking
views across the building, while aspiring
to foster interdisciplinary collaboration,
chance encounters and all those other
things that office experts have earned
their keep by banging on about for the last
couple of decades.
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right The structural
frame of Derbyshire
sandstone echoes the
magistrate’s court
at the apex of Queen
Victoria Street
Service cores are pushed to the edges,
and columns minimised thanks to a
triangular grid, leaving deep, open
floorplates. These can be a little oppressive
given both the distance to windows – with
views further occluded by all that stone
and brass outside – and the glittering
profusion of tiny aluminium ‘petals’ that
lurk a little too close for comfort on the
ceilings above. These bespoke components
act as light fittings and reflectors, as lowenergy cooling elements and as acoustic
panels all in one, and thus are among the
interior’s main claims on the outsider’s
interest. Such innovations helped the
Bloomberg to secure what is claimed as the
highest design-stage BREEAM score of any
major office development worldwide. Even
so, it will need to reach a venerable age
to overcome the hefty carbon footprint of
its weighty construction.
Finally, to give the lie to my disdain
for office interiors, there is something
of genuine importance buried beneath
the Bloomberg Building. The ridiculous
situation of northern Europe’s bestpreserved Mithraeum being stuck in
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02-ARCH-Bloomberg-Feb18 NJ.indd 108
bastardised form on a nearby car park
since its chance discovery during building
work in 1952 has finally been resolved.
The temple has been restored and
returned to its original location under the
Bloomberg – seven metres below today’s
ground level – and is now open to the
public free of charge. The interpretative
spaces (and the staircases) could have
been a little more generous – although
an enchanting selection from the 14,000
related discoveries is displayed – and
the sound-and-light show won’t be to
everyone’s taste. Even so, I found the new
London Mithraeum to be understated,
dignified and moving, avoiding glitz and
interactivity in favour of accuracy and
simplicity – less is still sometimes more.
In short, despite its ten-figure price tag,
the Bloomberg is not a masterpiece, and
the prolonged mediocrity of architecture
in the City of London is undeniably
frustrating. But Foster + Partners has still
produced a better building than anyone
else has managed outside the cluster in
recent years. And – for better or worse –
that comes as a significant relief.
IMAGE: JAMES NEWTON
“The Bloomberg consciously rejects the 15-storey height of
its 1950s predecessor or the 22 storeys proposed in 2006”
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 16:38
AA Files
The AA’s witty, eclectic journal reminds us how
essential good writing is to a healthy architectural
culture. Its rumoured demise should worry us all
By Otto Saumarez Smith
aa files, the in-house journal of London’s
Architectural Association School of
Architecture, gives the following urbane
advice to those considering submitting
an article:
The preferred model for AA Files texts is
that they are conceived and written as essays
not academic papers – that is, the journal
encourages writing that privileges ideas over
references, an originality of argument over the
reiteration of existing positions, a good title and
anything with a sense of wit, nuance or style.
The contents of this stylish journal
gloriously come up to the mark of this
stated ambition. Appearing twice a year
from its home in Bedford Square, and
expertly edited since 2007 by Thomas
Weaver, AA Files has been a forum for
informed and entertaining writing on
architecture; a subject conceived in a
remarkably broad way. Its eclectic and
global range is eye-popping, and each
issue leaps joyously from the beautiful
to the bonkers. Last year’s Issue 74 was
indicative: with Francesco Borromini
rubbing shoulders with Mies van der Rohe;
and Victorian gasholders finding space
alongside Soviet zoos, drive-in cinemas,
a nightclub designed by an eminent
architectural historian, and a city-sized
megastructure.
If the subjects on offer can sometimes
appear recondite on first sight, their
importance is emphasised in writing
that avoids the jargon and obscurantism
that plague much of the writing about
architecture that comes out of academia.
The journal’s mixture of scholarship and
fun leaves a reader reeling yet invigorated
by the thrillingly diverse ways in which
buildings can affect the world. AA Files
has helped nurture some of the very
best long-form writing on architecture
being produced anywhere in the world.
Each issue includes articles that it would
be difficult to imagine finding a home
anywhere else.
AA Files is the descendent of a series
of in-house journals, starting with AA
Notes in the 1880s, that have provided a
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02-ARCH-Icon-AAFiles-Feb18_NJ.indd 110
forum for vehement debates about the
direction of architectural culture and
the Architectural Association’s place
within it. The AA is an institution with a
powerful self-mythologizing streak. Set up
in 1847 by students rebelling against the
prevailing system of articled pupillage,
its institutional history is shot through
with moments of high drama. In the 1930s
the students forced the school to adopt
a radically left wing, team-work driven
approach, making the school a seedbed
of British modernism. These ideas were
given a thrilling provocative mouthpiece
with the student-run journal FOCUS.
AA Files was launched in 1981 Alvin
Boyarsky. Boyarsky had taken the reigns
of the school during a period of crisis. He
reaffirmed the school’s independence,
and reoriented it towards a new role as a
fulcrum for global architectural culture.
AA Files has been sustained by this
institutional tradition, and it is a glorious
expression of the same independent spirit.
It has used its position to inveigle many
of the superlative roster of architectural
talent that passes through the doors of 36
Bedford Square to contribute.
In November, it was reported in the
Architects’ Journal that the Architectural
Association was threatening to make
16 staff redundant, including the entire
publications department. The school
has stated that this does not necessarily
entail the end of AA Files. I don’t have the
necessary information to do more than
speculate on its future, but if this piece in
praise of AA Files risks ending up serving
as an obituary, it should be a protest too.
Architecture is made up of more
than just buildings. Writing about
architecture, whether it is history, theory
or criticism, provides foundations on
which a healthy architectural culture is
built. The potential demise of AA Files is
a single iteration of a much wider crisis
in architectural publishing. One thinks
especially of the recent impoverishment
of Yale University Press’s once peerless
academic publishing operation. This crisis
matters. Serious architectural writing
benefits immensely from dedicated
editorial rigour and high production
standards. The growth of blogging has
provided a richer and diversified dialogue
surrounding architecture, but it doesn’t
make up for the institutional support that
makes a production like AA Files viable.
The journal has provided a platform for
much vital writing on architecture, in a
world where there are ever fewer outlets
for such writing. The fact that it carries
out this essential role with incandescent
élan means that its uncertain fate is deeply
worrying, and also immensely sad.
iconeye.com
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IMAGE: MICHAEL HARVEY
ARCHITECTURE / ICON
IMAGE: MICHAEL HARVEY
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14/12/2017 17:03
ARCHITECTURE / Q&A
Terry Farrell
“The British postmodernists were
eclectic and small-scale. It was only
me that did anything big”
Interview by John Jervis
Portraits by Tori Ferenc
February 2018
02-ARCH-Q&A-TerryFarrell-Feb18_JJ_NJ2.indd 113
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ARCHITECTURE / Q&A
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IMAGES: COURTESY FARRELLS
“I really didn’t like the
on-site, rough nature
of brutalism”
iconeye.com
15/12/2017 09:48
IMAGES: COURTESY FARRELLS
I
ARCHITECTURE / Q&A
t’s the day before the launch of Terry
Farrell’s Revisiting Postmodernism.
Written in collaboration with Adam
Nathaniel Furman, the book combines
the personal with the panoptic,
providing the most enjoyable, and
most convincing, overview of the
movement to date. We settle down in
his extraordinary flat – once the office
of Farrells, now home to a glorious
profusion of books, models (architectural
and aeroplane), cacti, knick-knacks and
mementoes (including eggcup finials
rescued from his TV-am studios) – to talk
about the project, and discuss the current
interest in the postmodern era. But we
kick off by looking at the wider deluge of
revivalism – and in particular the brutalist
resurrection of the last few years.
Terry Farrell I’m thinking aloud here, but
I think some of it goes with Jeremy Corbyn
and the rise of a more left-wing, earthy
kind of honesty politics – of commitment
politics. But it seems that everything is
defined as brutalism now – the brutalism
that is loved today is much broader. For
example, Dennis Lasdun’s Royal College
of Physicians I would never have called
brutalist. I saw brutalism as fairly specific,
and I didn’t think much of it at the time
– I didn’t like the rarification that went
with it. In fact, I was reacting against
it – I worked at the LCC [London County
Council] for six, nine months, where I met
Nick Grimshaw. The Southbank Centre
right Side elevation
of Embankment Place,
London (1987–90)
02-ARCH-Q&A-TerryFarrell-Feb18_JJ_NJ2.indd 115
ICON Didn’t you have a pretty long
relationship with the Southbank?
TF I did a lot of work there in the
1980s, but that was labelled Thatcherite
because I proposed bookshops, record
shops, restaurants – I was castigated for
commercialisation. There was a survey at
the time and quite a few people said that
they really liked the Southbank Centre
because it put others off. When they sat
in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, they knew
the audience were committed, serious,
cultural people who came out in the rain
and the dark – there was no other life
around and they liked that … I needed to
act as an advocate because people hadn’t
quite woken up. It took another 10, 15 years
for the Southbank Centre to become as I
had proposed. Now it’s full, it’s popular.
ICON Did you feel, in many ways, that you
were a voice in the wilderness?
TF Well, I’ve always argued that the spirit
of postmodernism predated architectural
postmodernism by decades, even half a
century – it was a movement in art, and
films, and was treated as a very creative
and fulfilling thing. But in Britain, in
architecture, it was quickly pigeon-holed
as an American or overseas invention,
and it was always niche – Jim Stirling
found what I would call a more classic
postmodernism, but he was international
… The British postmodernists were
eclectic and small-scale. It was only me
that did anything big. And some, like
TV-am, I don’t call postmodern. But it
all got thrown together as postmodern
by critics who felt that it was American,
foreign, Thatcherite.
above SIS (MI6)
Building, London
(1990–94)
February 2018
was being proposed, and I was doing
ventilation buildings for the Blackwall
Tunnel – those were sprayed concrete, so
were sort of the high tech of the day.
But I really didn’t like the on-site,
rough nature of brutalism. The Southbank
Centre was deliberately designed to be
dark, to be brutal. And it was a complete
exaggeration of pedestrian and vehicle
separation, because there were no vehicles
on site. It failed to get through the LCC’s
own planning committee, so a group of
us were drafted in for two or three days
to tart up the drawings. I worked with
Warren Chalk and Ron Herron doing girls
in bright frocks all over the place.
ICON Is that frustrating?
TF Yes, it was, because I was arguing as
a meritocracy kid. I grew up on a council
estate, I just found this elitist view of
ideological restraint in brutalism, and then
in high tech, was not for me. I just thought
that it was missing out on so much of life.
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ARCHITECTURE / Q&A
Structural Steel Design Award, which had
only ever been won by obvious candidates
– high tech or expressive engineering. It
was extraordinary – a clear span, it was
all suspended, the columns were entirely
on the outside, and you get a clear station
below it. And then it’s all held up by nine
pairs of columns. And the engineering of
Alban Gate was extraordinarily complex,
expressed in its bracing. I like that mixed
language – the atrium’s diagonal bracing,
which went up through the building, but
also the ideas of symmetry for the gateway
– a kind of symbolism that isn’t just ‘Isn’t
technology wonderful?’
opposite The atrium
at TV-am. The interior
was planned as a
series of spaces from
around the world
ICON Do you feel that, if critics had been
a little more measured at the time, you
would now be doing projects like the
Bloomberg Building in London, instead of
in China and Hong Kong?
TF Interestingly, I won the Bloomberg as
a masterplan in 1998, against Fosters and
SOM: I re-masterplanned it, based on streets
and so on, which I think influenced what
they did. But high tech was well-suited to
a methodology of component building –
it took me a while to catch up with that.
I think that approach to design had a
longer shelf life than mine. Not that I did
small buildings – I did MI6 and Alban Gate
and Embankment Place, but they were
mostly pre-computer. They were handdrawn and crafted, not the production line
that has become the norm now.
ICON I hadn’t appreciated how important
engineering was in those buildings. There’s
something quite Victorian about them.
TF Yes. I was very proud of the fact that
Embankment Place won the European
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ICON But those big projects dropped away.
Are you sad about that?
TF Well, I didn’t get any commissions
in London in the 1990s. Simon Jenkins
said to me, ‘Terry, you’ve had your turn.’
But I went to Hong Kong and made ... I
wouldn’t call it a new reputation, but it
was an evolved reputation. We opened an
office there after winning the Peak [Tower]
in 1991, and it’s still vibrant. We have a
completely different position there – we’re
known for railway stations and tall towers.
ICON There’s a good quote from Charles
Jencks that postmodernism was conceived
as a minority approach, an oppositional
movement, and then lost it’s direction
once it reached the mainstream.
TF Well, there’s an element of victimhood
in postmodernism, in that it was trying
to correct the mistakes of modernism. It
was looking back and it was concentrating
too much upon the mistakes – they were
IMAGES: RICHARD BRYANT
above Rear elevation
of the TV-am studios
in Camden, London
(1981–83), complete
with rooftop eggcups
ICON You seem to be unusual among
postmodernists in highlighting
engineering in this way.
TF Well, most of the others hadn’t gone
through the modernist era that I had with
Nick. We started off in high tech, which
was all about factory-made parts – I spent
15 years looking at factory designs, at
methodologies of construction, of how the
contractor and the architect work together.
We were inventing – it’s surprising to
think of it now. Bathroom pods, cladding
systems, neoprene knobs, we were
inventing it all. And it then got taken up
by the component makers, with designers
in-house – you start buying off-the-peg
bathroom pods. And then, you’re really
fulfilling the Bauhaus dream, because
you’ve got almost all of it factory-made.
And that, as a methodology, won out in
the end. But I didn’t abandon any of that
know-how when it came to what is loosely
called postmodernism, and it’s the reason
why I got these big complicated buildings –
because I knew the game.
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 17:04
IMAGES: RICHARD BRYANT
ARCHITECTURE / Q&A
“We were inventing – it’s
surprising to think of it now”
February 2018
02-ARCH-Q&A-TerryFarrell-Feb18_JJ_NJ2.indd 117
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ARCHITECTURE / Q&A
reacting to something. But, I think that’s
life, you know. Brutalism reacted to the
Festival of Britain.
ICON You mention the monolithic
narrative of architectural modernism,
which architects diverge from at their
peril. Why do you think we still cling to it?
TF I have my own theory. The Bauhaus
was the leading movement in all the arts,
with the Russian constructivists. During
that era – the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s
– architecture was in the lead. It changed
films, it changed clothes, it changed design.
But I think architects clung onto this
leadership role for far too long – they had
been the heroes once, the pioneers, the
revolutionaries once, the Che Gueveras,
whatever, and they didn’t want to lose that.
ICON But postmodernism did get a
warmer welcome in the States.
TF The flag was being carried here by high
tech – it became the British style, at Expos,
banks, insurance companies – at HSBC and
Lloyd’s. But yes, there was a much freer
spirit in the States. And it was such a big
market – it was possible to be a classicist
operating in Washington DC, and the
world goes on. But, in the UK it’s different,
and particularly in London, which is very
incestuous – I have a completely different
reputation in towns in the north, in
Edinburgh and so on.
ICON Do you find that we’re quite myopic
as critics?
TF I think you could, with all due respect,
exaggerate the role of critics. I think it’s
“There’s an element of
victimhood in postmodernism”
IMAGE: COURTESY FARRELLS
above Terry Farrell
in his flat, a former
Spitfire factory in
Marylebone, London
left The Peak Tower in
Hong Kong (1993–97),
where Farrell has built
a strong reputation for
tower design
February 2018
02-ARCH-Q&A-TerryFarrell-Feb18_JJ_NJ2.indd 119
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14/12/2017 17:04
ARCHITECTURE / Q&A
“I think you could, with all
due respect, exaggerate
the role of critics”
above right Exterior
detail of the Thames
Water building
clients, it’s the market, it’s self-perception, it’s
fellow architects, it’s the culture. Critics have
become less influential. I think the world’s
got so much more intense, there’s so much
more architecture and designing. It was once
two or three critics, and they were the only
critics. You had to win, say, Colin Amery over
or else you were dead. But, nowadays, there
are critics here and critics there, because
there are so many more architects. And so
many projects are done without architects
– look at Thomas Heatherwick – and go into
and out of architecture and masterplanning
in different ways. So, there’s a much
greater diversity and a fuller field.
ICON As you walk round London, do you
feel your lessons have been taken on board?
TF I think a lot of it was, and not just
urban design – modernism had become
very stale and rigid. Utilitarianism and
earnestness was everything. But even
the out-and-out modernists who resisted
outside influence have changed. As early
as the late 1980s, I saw a presentation by
Norman Foster where he was proposing
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designs for the Sackler Gallery. And I said,
‘This is just like one of my presentations.
It’s about the history, the growth, the
changes – how Burlington House was built
around the courtyard, and how it evolved.’
ICON Is that change gratifying?
TF Yes, because the overall environment
doesn’t benefit from buildings that reject
history, reject context. Cities are the poorer
for it. A whole group of architects who didn’t
have modernist convictions beforehand,
growing up almost in the postmodern era
– Rem and Zaha, Frank Gehry and so on
– were freed up. And they started raiding
the history boxes in a postmodernist style.
But they started much earlier, looking at
Russian constructivism, which is the case
of Zaha, or, in the case of Rem, at New
York art deco and skyscrapers. They were
completely free – they were the ultimate
winners. Norman and Richard and Michael
Hopkins have learnt from that change and
have adapted. And I think that freeing up
wouldn’t have been possible without the
whole spirit of postmodernism.
IMAGES: COURTESY FARRELLS
above Interior of
the Thames Water
Authority Operations
Centre, Reading
(1981–82)
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 17:04
REVIEW
book
–––
Ward Bennett
Andrew Ayers welcomes a long overdue first monograph on the New York designer
who quietly defined East Coast good taste in the 1960s and 70s
above Bennett’s
buildings included two
Barragán-influenced
houses in Long Island
Charlotte Perriand and Pierre
Guariche all saw their work
pushed by auction houses from
the 1990s onwards — and now,
inevitably, more recent work
is ripe for the same fate. The
latest ‘forgotten’ designer to get
the treatment is the American
Ward Bennett (1917–2003) who,
for his centenary, is the subject
of a monograph — the first ever
— published by Phaidon.
Bennett is a little different
from many of those listed
above in that his career
lasted far longer — almost
50 years — and, despite
having disappeared from the
limelight, he never really
went away: as early as 2004,
a year after his death, Geiger
launched the Ward Bennett
Business Classics collection
(now produced by Herman
Miller). Rarity value is not
necessarily a characteristic of
his legacy, and his relaunch
is unlikely to trigger
astronomical hammer prices.
And something about Bennett’s
approach also sets him apart,
for as John Pawson puts it in
his foreword, ‘He exemplified
the ways in which the roles
of architect and designer
overlap with those of the editor
and curator, meticulously
assembling the elements of
a physical environment with
combinations of his own
designs and carefully chosen
furniture and art.’
Probably born Howard
Bernstein to a vaudeville
performer in New York City,
Bennett began working at
the age of 13 in the fashion
industry. It was as an assistant
for womenswear label Joanne
Junior that he first visited
Europe, a trip on which he
firmly caught the travel bug;
he would return to the Old
Continent on many occasions,
seeking out figures such as
Ossip Zadkine, Le Corbusier
and Constantin Brâncuși.
While still working in fashion,
he began to branch out into
sculpture, jewellery and
window dressing, a lateral
move that took him, via
evening classes with artist
Hans Hofmann, into interior
design. ‘What I learned from
him was the actual handling
of space,’ he would later say of
Hofmann. His first full interiordesign commission — a Fifth
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03-REVIEW-Book-WardBennett-Feb18_NJ.indd 122
Avenue penthouse for his
sister-in-law’s sister — came at
the age of 30, in 1947, and he
never looked back.
Phaidon’s handsomely
produced volume gives, visually
at least, a comprehensive
overview of Bennett’s output,
from interiors and architecture
to furniture, fabrics, tableware
and other objects. Since he
had no formal architectural or
industrial-design training, he
“Arguably
Bennett is
remarkable for
what he isn’t.
A minimalist,
he’s never
severe. Pared
down to the
essential, he’s
not quite what
you’d call bold”
relied heavily on models,
in Styrofoam for his buildings,
life-size where his furniture
was concerned, and literally
moulded around him when
it came to his chairs. ‘You
can’t design a chair on paper
so I create a cardboard
pattern, full-size, and then
add forms and shapes out of
muslin or bamboo that I can
stick on the frame and take
off the way a fashion designer
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 17:06
IMAGES: COUTESY OF PHAIDON
the history of design over the
last 40 years has been marked
by the frequent rediscovery of
‘lost’ modernists — designers
whose star burned bright,
then dimmed, and was later
rekindled by fashion and/
or cunning art directors
and editors. Indeed with her
company Écart, founded in
1978, French interior designer
and tastemaker Andrée
Putman made a career out
of resurrecting ‘forgotten’
interwar designers such as
René Herbst, Jean-Michel
Frank, Pierre Chareau, Rob
Mallet-Stevens and Eileen
Gray. Then came the turn of
1950s design — Jean Prouvé,
REVIEW
IMAGES: COUTESY OF PHAIDON
works with a dummy,’ he
would later explain.
By the 1970s, to judge by
the advertising produced by
furnishings company Brickel —
for whom he was sole designer
from 1964 to 1987 — he had
become something of a star,
since his solemn yet genial
grey-bearded face frequently
featured in its advertising (most
memorably with an angora goat
to promote its Ankara fabric).
His interior-design clients
included the Agnellis and
Chase Manhattan Bank, while
his architecture projects count
two Luis Barragán-influenced
Hamptons houses, one for TV
producer Marvin Sugarman,
and the other, enormous, for
stockbroker Hale Allen.
But perhaps Bennett’s
best client was himself, as
demonstrated by his exquisite
1961 barn conversion in Easton,
Pennsylvania, his 1968 East
Hampton weekend retreat,
and his highly original 1963
Dakota Building apartment,
carved out of the attic spaces
of the real star of Rosemary’s
Baby. In all three, but
particularly in the houses, he
achieved a Gesamtkunstwerk
of space, materials,
above His New York
apartment, beneath
the Dakota Building’s
mansard roof
February 2018
03-REVIEW-Book-WardBennett-Feb18_NJ.indd 123
furnishings, landscaping and,
above all, lifestyle.
Arguably Bennett is
remarkable for what he isn’t.
A minimalist, he’s never severe.
Pared down to the essential,
he’s not quite what you’d call
bold — too subtle for that.
There’s never a wrong note
with Bennett; and indeed
sometimes everything is in
such quiet good taste that he
flirts with the dull. But there’s
always something entirely
satisfying in the look of his
work. Pawson is right when
he says, ‘In the end, it was
the space itself that was the
thing’ — an aspect of his work
that Bennett attributed to his
spiritual inclinations.
Mixing historic images with
some specially commissioned
photography, Phaidon’s
volume is admirably thorough
in documenting Bennett’s
achievements. While the
texts are rich in telling
anecdotal detail, the project
descriptions are tantalising
summary, and written
in the glossy, deferential
tone familiar to readers of
Architectural Digest — of
which Pilar Viladas, author
of the book’s main essay, is a
former contributing editor.
Somehow we never quite get
beneath the surface. (The one
exception is Paul Cumming’s
1973 interview with Bennett,
but that raises more questions
than it answers.) If the Bennett
relaunch does indeed take
off, there’ll be plenty of room
for others to attempt the
more in-depth study that this
deceptively simple designer
surely deserves.
Ward Bennett
edited by Elizabeth Beer
and Brian Janusiak
Phaidon
£59.95
123
14/12/2017 17:06
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14/12/2017 15:47
REVIEW
exhibition
–––
Jacques Hondelatte
IMAGE: COURTESY THE ESTATE OF THE ARTIST AND BETTS PROJECT
The Bordeaux architect is more famous for the projects he didn’t build
than the few that he did, writes Laura Mark, but as a pioneer of computer
design, his dreamlike screen images tell a story of what might have been
few people outside of a
handful of acolytes have heard
of Jacques Hondelatte. The
cultish French architect died
in 2002 with little in the way
of a built legacy and, despite a
band of high-profile admirers,
including Jean Nouvel, Anne
Lacaton and Jean Philippe
Vassal, he remains largely
unknown beyond his home
turf. Yet his ideas, which have
drawn comparisons with Peter
Cook, undoubtedly deserve
greater recognition. Serving
as a long overdue corrective is
an exhibition at London’s Betts
Project, curated by Colombian
artist Juan Perez-Amaya
and Hondelatte’s grandson,
February 2018
03-REVIEW-Exhibition-Jacquettes-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 125
architect Felix Beytout. The
show is the first solo outing
since the critically acclaimed
Jacques Hondelatte: Des gratteciel dans la tête at the French
Institute of Architecture in
1998, which was shown shortly
after Hondelatte was awarded
France’s National Grand Prize
for Architecture.
With few buildings to
show from his 40-year career,
it is perhaps inevitable that
Hondelatte was categorised
by his contemporaries as
an ‘agitator of ideas’ – a
moniker that pleased the
Bordeaux native so much that
he adopted it. Fittingly, his
approach to architecture was
“He would
take photos of
his computer
screens, which
would become
the visuals for
his projects”
above Digital collage
of the competitionwinning design for
Bordeaux’s law court
(1988-90)
instinctive, drawing on the
liberal arts – poetry, literature
– for inspiration rather than a
formality of a textbook.
Hondelatte’s approach
to design was also fittingly
different. He was a computer
pioneer who rarely drew
anything by hand. His
architecture emerged from the
digital realm and he struggled
to translate his ideas from the
computers within which they
were being created. Instead,
he would take photos of his
computer screens and these
would become the visuals for
his projects. The resulting
hybrid collages mixed reality
with fantasy. It is these,
alongside his minimal plans,
which form the bulk of the
Betts show. In most depictions,
the computer was cropped
out and if you didn’t notice
the dirt and dust of the screen
picked up by the camera lens
you would have no idea of this
analogue method; however, one
image gives the approach away,
showing the late-1980s visuals
of the Apple Mac interface on
the edge of the screen. It is the
only clue to how this inventive
architect went about creating
his surreal imagery.
‘His projects sketch the
setting of our dreams,’
commented Patrice Goulet,
author of the only monograph
of Hondelatte’s work. Of
course, dreams regularly melt
away when faced with hard
reality and much of the work
on display here is a vision of
projects that went unrealised.
On the walls of Betts Projects’
tiny gallery space can be seen a
handful of these projects.
The Millau Viaduct in France
(1994), which is the image the
gallery has chosen to promote
the show, features in smallscale images across one wall.
Hondelatte’s designs placed
large conical columns, akin to
those used on oil rigs, across
the valley – a bold move in
a site where the client had
expressed a desire to blend in.
Predictably, it was Norman
Foster’s slender and elegant
proposal that triumphed.
His competition entry for
Le Mont Saint-Michel
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14/12/2017 17:07
(1991) proved similarly
uncompromising. Here,
Hondelatte proposed a bridge
to link the tourist hotspot
with the Normandy mainland.
But this wasn’t any old bridge
– it would be a car park
encouraging the island’s hoards
of visitors. It was an almost
cheeky rebuff to the other
more traditional approaches
and again it was cast aside by
the competition organisers. It
nevertheless became one of his
best-known works.
Hondelatte’s career is a tale
of what might have been. His
above Hondelatte’s
Bordeaux law court
proposal featured
a semi-translucent
facade of marble slabs
below Collages,
plans and computer
drawings are displayed
against the Betts
Project’s simple white
backdrop
proposal for a new law court
in Bordeaux (1988-90) featured
two triangular buildings with
a semi-translucent facade
of marble slabs. But before
he had the chance to realise
the project, it was cancelled.
When it was relaunched in
1992, the Bordeaux authorities
had added a clause – that
the winners of the cancelled
competition no longer had
the right to compete. It was a
controversial move that saw
the end to Hondelatte’s dreams
of designing this scheme in
his hometown. It was later
awarded to Richard Rogers.
The exhibition displays the
scheme’s worked-up drawings
– rendered streetscapes placing
the building in context and
detailed facades that set it aside
from the fantasy-like images of
other projects.
The Betts show is a welcome
and thoughtful re-introduction
of Hondelatte’s work. The
architect’s collages, plans and
computer drawings have been
carefully framed and displayed
against traditional white walls,
while downstairs a projector
trails through slide after slide
of his work. However, for
126
03-REVIEW-Exhibition-Jacquettes-Feb18_NJ_JM.indd 126
an architect so immersed in
technology and in creating
poetic dreamlike imagery there
seems to be a slight disconnect.
It is, however, encouraging that
the gallery has seen the value
in highlighting a forgotten and
under-appreciated architect.
Hondelatte died at just
59 years old – apparently of
a heart attack at 2am while
playing Tetris. His passing
prompted glowing eulogies
from France’s then minister of
culture Catherine Tasca who
praised him as ‘a visionary
who introduced lightness and
dreams into our urban space’.
Perhaps if Hondelatte had
lived longer and into a time
when computer-aided design
was becoming the norm, more
of his work would have been
realised. But one suspects
his ideas were too different,
too challenging, and he was
always destined to be a paper
architect. The exhibition at the
Betts Project – although small
– could trigger a rediscovery of
Hondelatte’s work.
Jacques Hondelatt
Betts Project, London
Until 3 February 2018
IMAGES: COURTESY THE ESTATE OF THE ARTIST AND BETTS PROJECT; JUAN PEREZ AMAYA / BETTS PROJECT
REVIEW
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 17:07
REVIEW
rethink
–––
Brit-tech
Our trailblazing digital entrepreneurs should try to be less West Coast and
embrace our gossipy, grumbly, hangdog, completely contradictory national
character, writes London-based NB Studio
britain leads the way in
financial technology. No-one’s
better at raising, lending and
jiggling digital money about.
We’re home to 40,000 tech
businesses and more software
developers than San Francisco
– a humming, buzzing hive of
entrepreneurialism. But we
have no vernacular to call
our own.
Instead, homogeneity rules.
Our digital accent comes
from 5,000 miles west of here:
business casual, macrobiotic,
passive-aggressive, easy-over
interface design, straight
outta Cupertino.
In the early days of digital,
a potent combination of
technology and music helped
the likes of Neville Brody
to turn British art direction
upside down. Today, where’s
the evidence of British
counter-culture? Even Silicon
Roundabout imports its
attitude from the other side
of the Atlantic. We’re all
lumberjacks now.
So what should an authentic
British tech personality look
and sound like? Why couldn’t
British fintech be a little less
Mountain View and a bit more
Karl Pilkington?
It’s time we embraced our
British contradictions. As a
nation we’re the first to moan
but the last to complain in a
restaurant. We’re overly polite
– ‘sorry’ – until we get behind
the wheel of a car. We’re
uncomfortable talking about
our salary but shameless when
it comes to boasting about how
much our home is worth.
If only we could design our
national contradictions into
the way our technology
behaves: the irritable service
filter; the rabid bargain-hunter
mode; the mortgage tool
bragger; the nosey neighbour
function; the two-faced gossip
feature; the plucky underdog
investment tool.
Perhaps once fintech grows
some meat-and-two-veg,
we’ll have our own British
game-changer to compete
with the likes of Facebook,
Google or Apple.
nbstudio.co.uk/what-if/
“Even Silicon
Roundabout
imports its
attitude from
the other side
of the Atlantic.
We’re all
lumberjacks
now”
this page and
opposite Symbols of
Britishness such as
pubs, bingo and TV’s
Karl Pilkington would
become synonymous
with world-leading
financial technology
128
03-REVIEW-Rethink-BritTech-Feb18_NJ.indd 128
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 18:13
REVIEW
February 2018
03-REVIEW-Rethink-BritTech-Feb18_NJ.indd 129
129
14/12/2017 17:10
OBSESSION
Braun
as a collector and
researcher of Braun Design,
I am most drawn to the years
1960-68. By 1960, following
six years of intense searching
with the Ulm school of
design, a coherent plan for
a product programme had
been established. It was then
implemented without reserve
(or economic caution) on the
decade-long spasm of consumer
enthusiasm known as the
German economic miracle.
Braun Design at this time
was heroic in the scale of its
programme, and rigorous to
the point of severity in its
product forms. What I find
most fascinating is that the
possibility of such restraint
depended on the absence of
externally imposed constraints.
Projects were initiated on a
designer’s intuition and carried
through on the personal
conviction of a handful of
individuals. Following Braun’s
acquisition by American
multinational Gillette in
1968, however, things took
a different turn as market
research began to encroach
upon the design process with
increasing force.
Dieter Rams’ audio
designs, in their emphatically
technological presentation
and systematic modularity,
certainly express the heroic
tendency of the 60s Braun
programme. However, for
me, Reinhold Weiss’s designs
of this period most embody
its underlying creativity
and speculative freedom.
Weiss’s special expertise
lay in radically rethinking
typologies. He dispensed with
preconceptions about how
a product, say a desk fan,
should appear. Weiss began
with the mechanical facts,
breaking a device down into
functional elements and then
articulating these units as a
sculptural assembly of masses,
volumes and densities. The
HL 1 desk fan (pictured) is
subtle, even beautiful, in its
formal abstraction, but does
no more than disclose its own
mechanical conditions.
Weiss served as the head
of the Braun Household
Department between 1961 and
130
03-REVIEW-Obsession-BraunMultiwind-Feb18_NJ.indd 130
1967, producing numerous
designs, from toasters and
kettles to hairdryers and
coffee grinders. Formally,
these designs are precisely as
different as their mechanical
operations and uses. Taken
as a group, their high degree
of coherence derives not
from the application of style
but the clarity of Weiss’s
attention. It’s hardly the
fault of manufacturers and
designers today that prevailing
conditions seem stacked
against design in this mode.
But it seems to me that Weiss’s
work for Braun in the 1960s
still offers a model for practice:
it’s just what design that
takes useful things seriously
looks like.
IMAGE: DOUGLAS TAYLOR / DAS PROGRAMM / PETER KAPOS
The company’s heroic 1960s output showed the
world how ruthless rigour could be creatively
liberating, writes Peter Kapos
iconeye.com
14/12/2017 17:09
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