Re-presenting Hadid

Hadid Silver Painting

Hadid Silver Painting

Hadid Silver Painting

Here are a few recent paintings by Zaha Hadid, from a show at the Galerie Buchmann. (see Flickr set here). There were also some of these silver prints on display at the recent Zaha retrospective at the Design Museum.

While visually stunning, they are little more than a striking way of re-presenting computer renderings, rather than design explorations. Does the act of producing these images change the design approach?

The place of design is now within the computer, not the drawing.

These paintings are pure surface.

"The Silver Paintings are executed on a polyester skin treated with chrome and gelatine then mounted on to an aluminium DI-BOND to resemble polished metal.

Different media are used depending on the desired effect. Stained glass paint offers transparency while acrylic and Chinese lacquer generate opaqueness. UV-resistant ink combined with vinyl gives the highest degrees of reflectivity. These techniques combine to suggest a gradual intersection between reflectivity and opacity, from one architectural feature to the next."

Introducing Superspatial

Zaha Hadid parametric urbanism

Just a quick note to mention the launch of a new collaborative weblog, called Superspatial, that I am involved in.

Superspatial will focus on architecture, urbanism and architectural speculation, while Kosmograd will hopefully become more refined in tackling issues of disurbanism, urban representation and virtual space.

Currently the only other author on Superspatial is Lewis Martin, from the excellent Helsinki-focussed archi-blog lewism. If you are interested in joining in, get in touch.

Some recent posts on Superspatial:

004. The urban futures of rising tides

003. A bridge too far?

002. Parametric Urbanism on the Thames Estuary

001. Seattle Art Museum Sculpture Park

CJ Lim homage to Heath Robinson

Sky Transport for London

CJ Lim, experimental architect and Director of International Development at the Bartlett School of Architectre, has created ‘Sky Transport for London’, commissioned by BBC Radio 4, in homage to the work of Heath Robinson, and to coincide with an exhibition about Robinson at the Cartoon Museum in London.

“ ‘Sky Transport for London’ seeks to reconfigure London Underground’s Circle Line, by lifting the footprint of its tracks eighty metres above ground as a continuous ‘sky-river’ flowing through the great metropolis,” he explains. “In this scenario, long, narrow boats, usually with a crew of twenty-two, would traverse the urban sky-river. It would alleviate some of the ground-level traffic congestion, while offering a low-carbon, environmentally efficient way for employees to get to and from work as well as catch up on some much needed exercise. Apart from the daily commute, this system would play host to an annual race in the tradition of the dragon boat festival, pitting teams taken from London’s boroughs in races across the city on the fifth day of the fifth month.”

Lim compare the experimental nature of the Bartlett to Heath Robinson's work:

"Heath Robinson’s wildly inventive propositions – that do not always quite go to plan – also summarise for CJ the spirit of the Bartlett: “We are architectural inventors at the Bartlett. Sometimes our bold avant-garde proposals share a similar fate to Robinson’s but they are always powerful enough to spark off other ideas and creative conversations.” "

The exhibition Heath Robinson's Helpful Solutions is on until 7th October at the Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, London.

More on the CJ Lim and Heath Robinson to follow, inevitably.

Sunnydale trailer park



Awesome wallpaper design from David Monsen, called Sunnydale, and inspired by watching too much Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This would make a brilliant font. I'm compiling a list of urban/architectural fonts so any suggestions would be gratefully received.

[Via Wallpaper magazine, which seems to be returning to form, and the website is well worth a visit too.]

The London Array

London Array

London Array

Just been given the go-ahead is the world's largest off-shore windfarm, to be constructed in the Thames Estuary.

The London Array, when completed, is expected to generate enough electricity for a quarter of all the homes in Greater London. Postioned 20 km off the Kent coastline, it will consist of up to 271 turbines.

The only issue now is to stop the Nimby's who don't want the onshore substation anywhere near them.

This is not architecture


Inspired by the rant at BldgBlog about architectureal criticism, here are some more things that may or not be architecture:

Projections and illuminated signage, translucent materials, desert land art, graffiti and stencil art, The Incredibles, Lego, SketchUp, Google Earth, Google Maps, Iain Sinclair books, psychogeography, Neuromancer, billboards, mega-projects, the works of Paul Virilio, disurbanism, Judge Dredd - the boardgame, Sim City, Mikhail Okhitovich, Established & Sons, Mir space station, post-urbanism, The Fountainhead, Apple computer, giant squid and other cephalopods, Baikonur/Kosmograd, 'elephant cage' listening posts, exurbia, Maunsell towers, Chek Lap Kok Airport, Blade Runner, Times Square at night, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, the work of Italo Calvino, garden centers, garden cities, Sealand, Kathryn Gustafson's Diana, Princess of Wales memorial fountain, the work of Martha Schwartz, situationism, the work of Adriaan Geuze and West8, The Swimmer, Prada, the M25, Starbucks' "the third place", Tesco's, Poundbury, origami, topology, suburban sprawl, big-box reuse, moons of Saturn, green-belt, pop surrealism, brownfield sites, Thames Gateway, Wipeout 2097, airport car-parks, Broadacre City, shipping container architecture, Wembley Stadium, the Olympic Games, the Millau Viaduct bridge.

You could also take this to be a pretty good depth of field for Kosmograd over the coming months.

[Image is cover of Envane by Autechre, just because, really.]

[first posted May 22, 2006]


Six reasons why London rocks in 2006

Le Corbusier

Need reasons why London is the best city in the world right now? Here are six of them.

Pixar: 20 Years of Animation
Science Museum
until 10th June

Olivo Barbieri, Site Specific
Blloomberg Space, Finsbury Square, London
until 20th May
More info and review at: Metro, Metropolis, Guardian.

The Tragic Genius of Joseph Michael Gandy
John Soane House, Lincoln's Inn Fields
until 12th August
More info and review at: Guardian, Observer

Jacob van Ruisdael: Master of Landscape
Royal Academy
until 4th June
Reviews from: Observer

Modernism: Designing a new world 1914-1939
until 23rd July 2006
Raging debate across the pages of the Guardian: Robert Hughes serves, Simon Jenkins volleys, and Deyan Sudjic returns

Michaelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master
British Museum
until 25th June
Guardian review

Field reports from the frontlines of culture to follow.
[First posted April 21, 2006]

The Megaproject paradox.


As reported in The Guardian, the new Wembley stadium might not be ready in time for it's planned opening date of 13th May - the FA Cup final. The FA have already made alternative plans to hold the final at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, and presumably the League will follow suite for the divisional playoffs.

Meanwhile, the BBC's trio of grand projets also seem to have fallen by the wayside, with the redevelopment of the flagship Broadcasting House severly set back. This follows the removal of the architects MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, after a heavy dose of 'value engineering', as doublespeak a euphemism for cost-cutting as you are likely to hear. Meanwhile the BBC Scotland headquarters by Chipperfield has suffered a similar fate, while the White City Music Box home for the BBC Orchestras by Foreign Office Architects is still stuck firmly to the drawing board.

There's an air of inevitability that big complex projects will come up short, lost the Bermuda triangle that exists between Cost, Quality and Time (famously, you can only ever hope to acheive two out of three).

In the book Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambition (excerpt here), authors Bent Flyvbjerg, Nils Bruzelius, Werner Rothengatter trace the evolution of the megaproject:

"Megaprojects form part of a remarkably coherent story. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman perceptively calls it the 'Great War of Independence from Space', and he sees the resulting new mobility as the most powerful and most coveted stratifying factor in contemporary society. Paul Virilio speaks of the end of geography while others talk of the 'death of distance'. Bill Gates, founder and chairperson of Microsoft Corporation, has dubbed the phenomenon 'frictionless capitalism' and sees it as a novel stage in capitalist evolution."

and their all-to-often disappointing outcome:

"There is a paradox here, however. At the same time as many more and much larger infrastructure projects are being proposed and built around the world, it is becoming clear that many such projects have strikingly poor performance records in terms of economy, environment and public support."

In the end, perhaps, it is better to be late than to take shortcuts on quality; after all, who remembers that the Millennium Wheel/London Eye wasn't ready in time for New Years Eve 2000, nor was the Millennium Bridge.

More to follow.

[first posted Dec 21, 2005]

Megaprojects 2: Carry on Cumbernauld


"LOOK AT THAT!" shrieks loudmouth TV presenter/gob-for-hire Janet Street-Porter, as she approaches what passes for the town centre of Cumbernauld in Scotland. Later on, in a rare quieter moment, she admits that when she studied architecture in the Sixties this would have been the kind of thing she designed.

Welcome to Channel 4's Demolition program about Cumbernauld Town Centre in Scotland, voted the worst building in Britain. But is it really that bad, or just a victim of shifting architectural fashions?

Of course, most disurbanist projects and utopian socialist experiments fall firmly into the Megaproject category, overblown architectural and enviromental projects as well as social engineering schemes and economic sink holes. Cumbernauld's creators certainly had the vision-thing going on.

As described on Gair Dunlops excellent site Cumberland: Town for Tomorrow:

'Conceived as a giant megastructure to accommodate all the retail, municipal, and leisure needs of a town of 50,000 people, and topped off by penthouse 'executive' apartments, the multi-layered centre straddles the main dual carriageway below, dominating its surroundings. With the completion of the first phase in 1967, the town centre's architect, Geoffrey Copcutt, gave Cumbernauld Britain's first indoor shopping mall, and "the fullest realisation of megastructure as an avant-garde urbanist conception."'

Inevitably, the scheme was never fully built as intended, and the shortcuts and cut-backs led to a compromised, flawed megastructure. But having delivered a half-baked distopian nightmare, with badly constructed concrete maze, derided as a "rabbit warren on stilts", the planners of Cumbernauld compounded the problem by selling off the centre to a private company, who then demolished half the centre, leaving it beached on a sea of rubble. The council then allowed the area beyond it's perimeter to be developed as a series of big box retail outlets, contrasting the streets-in-the-air concept of the rest of Cumbernauld with purely ground-level circulation (as previously noted Wal-Mart, the leaders in big-box retail, like the Daleks or Mariah Carey, don't do stairs). More polar opposed approaches to urbanism would be hard to find.

Main presenter and Kevin McCloud briefly points the finger at the banal tin shed of the giant Tesco's (in a rare moment of role-playing he imagines he's just done his shopping and needs to catch a bus) before attempting to cross the 4-lane highway that races through Cumbernauld, via the shopping centre.

"Uh-oh, some lads in hoodies, lurking down there" warns McCloud, going the other way, and inevitably getting horribly lost inside the maze of stairs and spaces. But given that there are no signs or maps, this is hardly surprising. Would his experience have been any better at Bluewater, visited later in the program and lauded as the right-way to do a shopping centre, with it's panopaly of psychological devices. Perhaps in 30 years time, Janet Street-Porter can wail "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?" about Bluewater or The Trafford Centre instead.

Even desolate Cumbernauld, despite 'winning' the Channel 4 Demolition vote as Britain's worst building (not to mention coming 2nd in the Idler book of Crap Towns - beaten only by Hull) has it's defendants, and has been awarded a UNESCO listing as an architecturally significant 20th century landmark, and not because Gregory's Girl was filmed there. McCloud and a rag-tag team of professionals attempt a quick design appraisal, but this is going to take more than a Changing Rooms makeover.

Demolition, in focussing only upon the failures of the 60's shopping centre, goes for the easy target, and fails to address the equally heinous failings of the 90's tin sheds, which litter not just Cumbernauld but the hinterlands of just about every town in Britain. In throwing out the bathwater of Brutalism we seem to have also lost the baby of visionary thinking.

[First posted Dec 23, 2005]