Short films about sustainable architecture

December 8, 2009

Have been working with, doing subtitles for ten short films about sustainable architecture, to be shown at the Copenhagen climate summit, Decmber 2009.

Links to each one, plus a brief intro blurb I wrote to go with each:

Siebengeschossig bauen – in Holz Seven-storey building – in timber. In 2008, Berlin saw the construction of the first seven-storey timber-framed apartment building. Tom Kaden, of architects Kaden + Kligbeil, takes us through the project from top to bottom, as the building nears completion.

Jahili Fort in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi Jahili Fort in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi – Refurbishment, conversion and repair, by Roswag & Jankowski Architects. A visitor centre within a historic fort, including exhibition space, as well as the design and integration of “Mubarak bin London: Wilfred Thesiger and the Freedom of the desert” – an exhibition for the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH).

Das Kinderhotel am Neuklostersee The kids hotel at Neuklostersee. Once upon a time there was a little house… where you could spend a free night sleeping beneath the stars.

This is the story of a small disused transformer building, lovingly converted in every detail into a magical place for children (and for the inner child in us all). A real pleasure to make a short film about…

Ein Strohballenhaus entsteht.. Building a home from bales of straw… The Esserhof’, South Tyrol. Load-bearing straw bale construction? Prize-winning modern architecture? Are both these things possible in a single building? The answer is yes, and this film shows how…

The Esserhof holiday home was built in 2006 with a construction period of only four months. It achieved the ‘KlimaHaus A+’ rating, meaning that it uses less than 30 kWh/m² of energy to run each year.

Europäische Investitionsbank, Luxemburg European Investment Bank, Luxembourg
Ingenhoven Architects.
In early June 2008 the European Investment Bank opened its new 70,000 sq m administration building, which will be home to nearly 800 employees. The entire building is built on sustainable principles, and is the first building on the European continent to score a “very good” rating under the British “BREEAM” eco-standard.

Speaking from Luxemburg’s Kirchberg Place, architect Christoph Ingenhoven explains his position on sustainable construction and how it can be implemented in a modern, humane and environmentally-oriented architecture.

Werkerweiterung der Fensterfabrik Extending a window manufacturing plant – a landscaped building. A window manufacturer in Hagedorn needed to extend their plant – but how to do this in a protected landscape?

The architects came up with a compromise: allow elements of the landscape to become part of the building. A grass-covered (sedum) roof offsets the large scale of the building. The facade is surrounded by a perimeter frame wall of tall foliage – reminiscent of a typical forest edge – which allows the building to merge into the landscape.

Mrs. De Haan Mrs De Haan: A ‘Slow Development Plan’ for happy eco-entrepreneurs, Zwartluis, the Netherlands. The tale of Mrs De Haan, who so hated her work at an industrial slaughterhouse that she gave it up and changed her life completely – now she has her own piece of land and uses it to raise her own chickens, outdoors.

She’s one of many who use the choice given to residents of Zwartluis to combine living and farming on a small scale – a interesting possibility for leading a new, more sustainable life.

One day on a building site A day on a building site. An extension is added to a 1940s building on the outskirts of the city, using a timber system.

The film shows how much can be done in one day, using the tremendous efficiency of prefabricated timber elements: some detailed planning, plus about a week of prefabrication, results in an amazingly short construction time on site.

and also…

Werdwies Estate, Zürich – Building with social relevance. The Werdwies housing estate in Zürich’s old quarter neede to be redeveloped – the process around the planning and construction of the replacement buildings shows how such development can also be seen as a social and cultural process.

One of five project portraits as part of “Umsicht – regards – sguardi” by Schwarz Pictures.

Vrin – an Alpine village moves with the times. To counter the brain drain, and to secure its long-term viability, Vrin has refocused on its own qualities and strengths. Over the last 15 years, a pioneering model has been developed to allow the villagers to continue on an economically sustainable basis. The model includes a variety of new and significant additions by local architect Gion A. Caminada, who has become a driving force for co-ordinating and redeveloping the village. His motto: “Give your space a special quality!

Modell Bauhaus

October 13, 2009

Review of ‘Modell Bauhaus’, a major Bauhaus retrospective held in Berlin July-October 2009, published in Blueprint Magazine, October 2009:

Given the importance of the Bauhaus as a founding institution for 20th century modernism, it’s surprising that so few retrospectives have been held, and certainly nothing approaching the scale and ambition of Modell Bauhaus. The exhibition sets its sights high: a reappraisal of the Bauhaus legacy that both acknowledges and critiques the brand it has become, bringing together over 1,000 objects from the New York’s MoMA and the three major german Bauhaus collections: the Bauhaus Archive Berlin, the Bauhaus Foundation Dessau and the Weimar Classical Foundation. 

The timing is apposite; 2009 is the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, and also the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a division which kept so much of this collection apart in the post-war period.  Coincidentally, 2009 is also the 80th birthday of the New York MoMA, which became a home for many members of the Bauhaus after they fled the Third Reich, holding the first Bauhaus retrospective there in 1938.

With so much material, Modell Bauhaus could easily have been overwhelming, viewed only as an endless display of objects removed from their context.  To counter this, the curators have been keen to emphasize that the Bauhaus was not a static design office turning out branded products, but rather a continually evolving and changing project.  Its brief 14-year life saw three directors (Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer and Mies van der Rohe), and three consecutive homes (Weimar, Dessau and finally Berlin), due in part to constant attack from the reactionary right.   It was also not always harmonious.  Gropius began early on to turn away from the Bauhaus’s founding idea – a modern equivalent of a group of medieval craftsmen – towards an alliance of art with technology, disappointing many of its co-founders.  The ever-apolitical Mies utterly rejected Mayer’s communist leanings.

The eighteen rooms are chronologically arranged, with each room focusing on a different aspect of the Bauhaus’s design output and its changing nature.  The rooms also follow a gradually changing colour scheme representing each year with a different hue, the order based on Bauhaus teacher Johannes Itten’s Colour Sphere system. The design, by Berlin-based chezweitz & roseapple, is almost faultless, apart from the slightly cluttered and strangely 1970s feel of the final room, which features various examples of Mies’ tubular steel furniture,  confusingly set against rather too many mirrors and dark wooden panelling.  Occasionally, you can’t help feeling that you’re in a branch of Habitat, with tableware and lamps displayed in minimalist surroundings, although this says more about the long-term influence of the Bauhaus’s designs than any failure in the exhibition’s approach. 

There was always a tension between mass production and elitism at the Bauhaus; its slogan under Hannes Meyer was “The needs of the people, not the dictates of luxury”, and it is ironic that a strictly limited edition Mart Stam S43 chair is being produced as an exhibition tie-in. This paradox is acknowledged as part of the show with Christine Hill’s tongue-in-check contemporary installation, DIY-Bauhaus, where visitors are given advice on how to bring Bauhaus style into their homes.

The exhibition really comes alive though when it focuses less on the domestic design objects  and more on the Bauhaus’s overlapping work in advertising, sculpture, theatre and architecture reminding you what an incredible scope of activities the Bauhaus encompassed in striving for total art. Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator is placed in a translucent cube within a darkened room, with coloured lighting playing fantastical shadows over the cube’s surface from within.  Nearby, video screens play re-stagings of Bauhaus theatre and dance pieces, one of which features a robotic figure performing an early but unmistakable moonwalk.  A new model of Mies’ famously unbuilt (and equally unbuildable) glass skyscraper for Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse is a stark contrast to the rather lacklustre new building going up on the same site today. 

The term ‘Modell’ in the title is translated as ‘conceptual model’ – signifying both the Bauhaus’s intention to create model designs, but also to establish itself as a model for other institutions.  With such ambition to present a new perspective on the Bauhaus, it’s disappointing that explanatory text is so limited – generally each room has a single board of text with individual objects labelled with only name and designer.  There’s also a risk that Modell Bauhaus could imply a neatness and continuity which its curators are striving to avoid, but despite this the show is not to be missed.  Given that the last major Bauhaus retrospective was in Stuttgart in 1968, and that the forthcoming New York version will be in much reduced form, the sheer scale and completeness of Modell Bauhaus is unlikely to be repeated for many years. ‘More is more’, as Mies wouldn’t have said.

Berlin’s 1987 IBA

October 13, 2009

Comment piece for October 2009 issue of Blueprint magazine (not published online), on how there’s much to learn from the former West Berlin’s IBA housing projects of the 1980s:

By the 1980s, Britain was in the process of withdrawal from state funded housing, atomizing the design of domestic architecture and leaving no real models, good or bad, for housing design on a large scale.  But while we were busy disposing of our public housing stock, over in West Berlin they’d gone back to the drawing board. The city had had its fair share of grim sub-Corbusian housing projects, which finally ran out of funding and public patience in the (then) backwater of Kreuzberg – a poor district, but also the heart of the city’s alternative and squatter scenes.   Luckily, the situation coincided with the planning of an international housing exhibition – the IBA (International Bauaustellung) 1987, which  morphed at an early stage from the planned ‘International Expo’ approach (put some new buildings in a park, photograph them, forget them) into something more ambitious.  The IBA became an attempt to repair an entire failing city quarter.

From the beginning of the 1980s up to the point when the Berlin Wall fell, the exhibition was responsible for over 5,000 new residential units, largely integrated into Berlin’s 19th century urban form of five-storey high density buildings around a network of internal courtyards and communal spaces.  A high proportion of the designs were procured through international competitions, resulting in work by Álvaro Siza, Mario Botta, Peter Cook, John Hejduk, Aldo Rossi, Frei Otto, Arato Isozaki, James Stirling and many others.  Zaha Hadid did her first building here; blocks by Rem Koolhaas and Peter Eisenmann face each other across a street.  The use of so many apparently disparate architects leads to some interesting contrasts not found elsewhere on this scale, and not at all in the monolithic planning which preceded it.  The Altbau (old building) element of the exhibition became a case study in sensitive urban renewal, rescuing and refurbishing around 7,000 apartments as well as providing schools, community centres and extensive landscaping, with projects often resident-led.

Curious then that the IBA is so rarely studied, or heard of, at least in the UK.  Perhaps it’s an issue of style; many of the designs are just too postmodern – that unacceptable face of the 80s – for contemporary tastes.  The IBA includes masterplans and several buildings by Rob Krier, brother of Poundbury designer Léon Krier, both of whom were known as postmodernists at the time, but have more recently been rebranded as ‘new traditionalists’.  Both are strongly linked to the New Urbanism movement, whose concerns about the urban environment and often appear sound, but is let down by an insistence on taking historicism to a slightly creepy level; visions of new towns dominated oddly Roman and other neoclassicist buildings, often designed by Rob Krier himself.

IBA buildings present a curious medley of postmodernism and other emerging styles such as deconstructivism (the Hadid block being one of the more recognizable).  Some buildings feature wholly unremarkable, almost bland, street facades.  But take a wander through the entrances to some of these blocks and you find yourself in communal gardens or overgrown Italianate courtyards, with some incorporating cafes, playgrounds and schools.  There are genuine elements of sustainability, from before a time when the pointless strapping of wind turbines and photovoltaics onto buildings became fashionable; in one large courtyard space you find yourself on a series of bridges over fields of reedbeds – the surrounding blocks recycle all their waste water.

Although a majority of the housing is public, there’s a complex mix of tenure, with the IBA stretching from the wealthy embassy district, eastwards toward the poorer areas of predominantly social housing.  Most of the housing seems to be genuinely liked by its residents, who are sometimes bemused by visiting architecture students and critics questioning them on matters of theory or style.  It helps that the buildings on the whole seem have weathered well, despite Berlin’s tradition of graffiti on every surface (Álvaro Siza’s pristine white walls were the most notable early casualty).

The wall that divided Berlin for over 28 years was gone by the time the final IBA projects were being completed.  Much has been written about how many of the key players in the IBA took the policies forward into what became known as the ‘Critical Reconstruction’ of the scarred city.  Yet curiously, looking back it appears that the reconstruction of the 1990s fell  mainly into the traps of either bland corporate towers (Potzdamerplatz) or obsessive historicist restrictions (Pariserplatz).  Lessons from Berlin’s IBA have been learnt elsewhere in Germany (a new IBA is currently underway in Hamburg), but the real legacy is perhaps proof that urban regeneration can be achieved on this scale, with architecture in a leading role.  It is ironic that back in Kreuzberg itself, the work of rescuing of failed neighbourhoods by the IBA laid the foundations for their increasing gentrification.

Proofing and editing for Springerin magazine

July 15, 2009

A number of pieces for Springerin, an Austrian art magazine, who publish English versions online.  A few samples below: each piece rewritten from a rough draft in English.  Sometimes very rough.

The Metaseminar – Theses on education and the experience of critical thought. By Boyan Manchev, from Springerin 02/09.

Architectures of Spectacle – Facets of the exhibition boom in South Korea and China in the context of the strategy of globalism.  By Anna Schneider, from Springerin 01/09.

Art with (or without) the art market.  By Alessandro Ludovico, from Springerin 01/09.

Christopher Frayling + Ken Adam

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #235, 5th March 2008

We know Ken Adam as a prolific movie set designer, most memorably for the Bond films (Moonraker — worst movie, best sets). Yet you could argue that Adam was as much an “unbuilt architect” as he was a set designer; there were great architects of the 20th century whose projects remained mainly on paper, but not so many whose projects lived entirely on screen. Like early modernist architects Erich Mendelsohn, or Hans Poelzig, he was a German Jew (born Klaus Adam) who emigrated in the early 1930s to escape fascism. The two worlds overlapped; these pioneers were no knew their set design (Poelzig for one was responsible for the expressionist sets of The Golem) and Adam actually trained as an architect at the Bartlett. A certain Norman Foster has cited him as an influence more than once (which makes a lot of sense: compare and contrast). Christopher Frayling, author of Ken Adam: The Art Of Production Design, is no stranger to interviewing our man; most recently in conjunction with a screening of Kubrick‘s classic Dr Strangelove, where the set of the war room is a virtual part of the cast. Frayling and Adam make an obvious, but excellent, choice as part of the RCA’s Double Take lecture series.

NB: Also of note is the Lacaton & Vassal lecture at the Bartlett on 12/03 (6:30pm).

Link to original item at:

Jean Prouvé

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #231, 7th February 2008

These days, the idea of an engineer who’s also an architect is almost unheard of, as the world of building things becomes ever more specialised. So Jean Prouve‘s work signifies a lost age; metalworker, engineer, inventor, architect, furniture maker. His name is little known outside architectural circles, but his influence is huge, and arguably greater than Buckminster-Fuller‘s influence on the work of the British high-tech boys — his fascination with mass-produced building systems is evident in the buildings of the young Richard Rogers. Interesting, then, that linked to the Design Museum‘s current Prouve show, one of his prefab Maison Tropicale housing prototypes has been reconstructed in front of Tate Modern. The house was designed for Brazzaville, in tropical west Africa (where it was rediscovered in 2000, in a bit of a state, apparently), so it may feel a little ill at ease in London’s chilly surroundings. Mass-production never followed (it wasn’t economically suited to its purpose) and this raises the question: is the house an unusually large museum piece, an example of Europe’s attempt to impose its approaches on its former African colonies, or a genuine archetype for 21st century cities?

NB: Maison Tropicale is on view in front of Tate Modern till 13/04. The Design Museum’s Jean Prouve retrospective also runs till 13/04.

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Architecture Week 2007

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #207, 6th June 2007

So much to do and see this year that it’s hard to resist the temptation to sprint from one event to the next, pausing occasionally to ponder on the nature of sustainable urban communities (green is this year’s theme). After all, only shallow, list-obsessed media types would try to suggest that you could pick out ten “must see” events from the rich spread on offer.

So here’s ours…

Frank Gehry + Sydney Pollack In Conversation
Fri 15/06 (7pm)

Not exactly underground, we admit, and a degree of mutual back slapping expected between the master of shiny-curvy and his filmic chum, but surely not to be missed?

Wind To Light (installation)
15/06 till 24/06
Commissioned by RIBA and onedotzero, light man David Bruges plans to have mini wind turbines powering hundreds of LEDs on the South Bank. On 21/06 (7pm) at RIBA catch Bruges as he and other speakers discuss the project.

Mind The Gap (tour of an Eco house under construction)
Sat 16/06 (1 – 5pm)
Our list is a bit light on the green theme so far, but this looks interesting. Especially if you’ve never witnessed the glory that is a building site, albeit an unusually narrow one.

Brave new world? The Barbican And Golden Lane Estates (tour)
Mon 18/06 (6:30 – 8pm) and Fri 22/06 (6:30 – 8pm)
If you pride yourself on your knowledge of London’s architecture, sooner or later you need the lowdown on Chamberlain, Powell & Bonn‘s Barbican, and its forerunner, the Golden Lane Estate. Now is good.

Guided Tour Of White Cube, Mason’s Yard
Tue 19/06 and Fri 22/06 (10am)

Forget art and trophyism, as in anything Damien Hirst makes is an automatic commodity, but do think of his lack of humility and of an adolescent with a God complex. Back to architecture… new minimalism and Jay Jopling‘s rather OTT penthouse office and roof garden.

The Building Futures Debate: This House Believes London is Full
Wed 20/06 (6:30pm)
Full, as in a Northern Line tube at London Bridge in rush hour. Or not full, as in Greenwich Park at dusk on a winter’s evening. More London debate, in case you couldn’t get enough.

Architecture In A World Of Climate Change
Wed 20/06 (6 – 8:30pm)
Ken Shuttleworth, Foster‘s former designer-in-chief, now head man at Make, will talk about his practice’s eco-leaning work, rather than how he designed the Gherkin. He’s not bitter.

21st Century Architecture
Wed 20/06 (6:30 – 8:30pm)
Not only a debate worth going to, but a chance to see Allies and Morrison‘s new observatory makeover.

Bartlett School of Architecture Summer Show 2007
Fri 22/06 (6 – 10:30pm), Sat 23/06 (10am – 8:30 pm), Sun 24/06 (10am – 5.30pm)…

Strictly speaking they’d be doing this anyway, but always worth going along to check out the work of budding young Alsops and Allfords.

Debate London – The Architecture Foundation Presents Five Major Debates
Fri 22/06 – Mon 25/06 (7:30 – 9pm)
A stellar line-up of highly opinionated folk, including Zaha Hadid, Zoe Williams, David Adjaye and others. Will our Ken be scandalous? Will Nigel Coates be arcane? Will Jacques Herzog be asked about his unsightly extension?

NB: Architecture Week 2007 runs from 15/06 till 24/06.

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Chris Wilkinson

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #179, 4th October 2006

It’s worth strolling down Floral Street once in a while, not to see the inexplicably popular standy-still-statue people, but rather to gaze skyward at a rather ingenious and beautiful footbridge by architects Wilkinson Eyre. A series of squares rotate across the void to connect two awkwardly offset openings — anything but pedestrian. In an age of architectural hyper-production, it’s tempting to make sense of things by inventing an “ism”. (Deconstructivism, anyone?) At best, the labelling of architects can favour style over substance. At worst, it’s just plain wrong. You could claim that Wilkinson Eyre’s work has its roots in high tech — true in a sense, but it doesn’t help to describe their work. Best known for some of their bridge designs, which include that most delicate of Stirlingwinning structures, Gateshead Millennium Bridge, as well as some closer to home, there’s a strong theme of poetry rather than prose. Chris Wilkinson has described himself and partner Jim Eyre as “more artists than technicians”, and as their projects become increasingly expressive, it’s easy to see what he means.

NB: Wilkinson Eyre: Architecture On The Ramp is on display at the RA till 13/11.C

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Summer Nights 2006: the Europeans

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #175, 3rd August 2006

London’s been feeling decidedly Mediterranean lately — some of us have even been leaving the house without socks on. So what could be better than some truly continental culture, in the form of the Architecture Foundation‘s Summer Nights series? Each features a genuinely up-and-coming young European practice, with the bonus that one day you’ll be able to say “I remember them ages before they were famous…”.

Jakob Dunkl – Querkraft
Wed 09/08 at 7pm

Querkraft are award-winning Austrian architects who already have a considerable portfolio of realised work under their belts.

Silvia Ullmayer and Allan Sylvester – Ullmayer / Sylvester
Wed 16/08 at 7pm

London based practice (although one half is German) who’ve already made an impact with their first building.

Teresa Sapey – Teresa Sapey Architects
Wed 23/08 at 7pm

Madrid based Sapey joined architecture’s big hitters when she designed the carpark for Madrid’s starchitect-drenched Hotel Puerta America, but her “independent” work is becoming increasingly well known.

NB: for architecture flashers make sure you catch the Barbican’s Future City exhibition (runs till 17/09).

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Peter Cook & Wolf D Prix

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #173, 19th July 2006

“Our concept of the design describes an approach to the explosive nucleus of the tension-charged area of complexity.” Most radical visions of future urbanity never really make it off the drawing board, but Wolf Prix is that rarity among architectural thinkers and urban theorists; a lot of his ideas get built. Working through Coop Himmelb(l)au, the practice he co-founded in 1968, Prix claims that almost nothing changes between sketch stage and final realisation. Sounds hard to believe, but there is a certain mad directness about his buildings — you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d discovered a shortcut past the world of engineers and other such distractions (making it seem that way, of course, is the clever bit). Anyway, we’re being unfair to Peter Cook here, whose ideas have inspired at least two generations of architects, and who has managed to turn his hand to the odd realised building once in a while. Hopefully an interesting clash then between the theories of (so-called) neo-constructivism and pop art.

NB: this talk has been programmed in conjunction with Future City – Experiment And Utopia In Architecture 1956-2006 (runs till 17/09).

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