The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, has been announced as The Design Museum’s design of the year 2017, from a huge selection of that year’s best designs.
There are six broad categories to accommodate such a wide inclusion. Which range from the almost ludicrous, such as the Premier League on-air branding, to the now outdated Pokémon GO. There are the contemporaneous cultural curios like the “Pussyhat Project” and “Professional Women Emoji”. Then there are the potentially practical and useful such as the “Avy Search and Rescue Drone” and “The Pilot translating earpiece”. The latter sounds inspired from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and I thought the Babel Fish had been around since the 1970’s?
While I do appreciate there are more humanistic and beneficial designs, such as the Warka Water concept, I do like a dash of big bold architecture. But rather than the actual winner, for me it’s the Port of Antwerp.
I love the striking soaring skyline, and somehow the bold structure fits the skyline, or should that be the waterline. It would be fascinating to take the tour and discover what the inside is like, a great posthumous homage to the imaginative designer Zaha Hadid.
So once you get over the shock that the prestigious Stirling Prize for architecture was awarded to a Pier rather than a more conventional building (sic) it’s refreshing that something so English, so old-fashioned with its seaside connotations, should be rewarded for re-invigorating and modernising the concept.
So what can a modern re-working of a pier do? There seems to be limitations to the actual potential of such a building. Really what can you do with a long line of wooden planks facing over the roiling sea?
Well they seemed to have created a rather large space, that is multi-functional. So they can hold various events and activities there. And there is the deck building which provides the ocean vista. Another plus factor for awarding this building is that we like the idea of restoring something. Hastings pier had been destroyed by fire in 2010 and the resulting re-build process, including lottery funding and a crowd-sourced campaign ensured the modern pier re-opened in April 2016.
Mind you the other 5 buildings seemed to offer little in the way of competition. Monolithic concrete blocks, with Glasgow’s audition for a Russian Kremlin building, and a photographic studio you would want to shoot yourself to get out off, and buildings that seemed to just shuffle into designated spaces but not really occupy their own space. So a pier it is.
Don’t drop your ice-cream on it, it’s an award winner!
Plans for the new Google building in London have been released, and while the computer-generated images don’t exactly entrance the eye, it is significant for two things. One, the continued leviathan nature of these corporate temples , and two, the attempt to add a new descriptive word to our language – Landscraper! The term refers to the stated belief that this is a “building on its side”, rather than one just going up. I can’t help but think that someone just tilted the image on their computer screen and thought “OK that will do” and started to add stuff to it, rather than a design philosophy. And no, I don’t think much to the term either!
Following the Apple campus spaceship, these corporate beasts seem to suggest there is no work-life balance, as you can actually live here. With gardens, swimming pools, sports and medical facilities, they create their own gated community of hip young things. Of course, once built they will probably fill it with cubicles, so Dilbert-like. Or maybe worse “hot desks”, though that term is a bit too 90’s, maybe they are referred to now as “co-sharing incubators”. Although that concept defeats me, who gives a damn about the desk, we wanted our own chair! Your floor probably has the latte and chai tea dispenser, so you probably have to wander a few floors up and down, a bit like Tom Hanks (The Terminal) lingering around the place to find a desk, or a coffee machine that does plain black coffee.
These mini-citadels, may not be easy to Create but can be as impregnable to those who work there, as they are to those of us who will never grace their corridors. The sheer scale and complexity defeating the efforts to feel comfortable and familiar. But then you are there to work. So stop staring out those windows!
So central Birmingham is spending £2 million on a clock. Ignoring the contentious fact that this is part of the controversial HS2 project, it does once again raise the question of what public funds should be used for.
The PR spin will say this is a worthwhile project that will provide footfall to Birmingham, based on in-depth analysis that an additional XX visitors will spend YY, that means it will generate Billions and make the £2m a paltry insignificant sum. Except that they are spending an actual £2m, that could be spent on hospitals, libraries, other public services. Any exponential visitors are hard to measure. So here’s a competition – Hull, is the current European city of culture, this year they will get loads of extra visitors. Name one thing that all those visitors are coming for? Thought not, it’s the overall events and activities. Had they spent £2m on a clock, that wouldn’t be bringing in any additional visitors, it would just be one more attraction for those visitors to go too.
But there is another problem with these grandiose schemes. These huge art competitions tend to create a culture of international artists trying to implement challenging schemes to win. And thankfully some of these were overlooked, the train crash one, possibly all too apt with HS2! They are international, they are not local. This clock has nothing to do with Birmingham, it is just an anodyne artwork parachuted into that location. Of course by the time it gets built and modified it will have a developed a local flavour, local voices, but does this really make it unique to Brum? Not really.
Another possible public folly is the garden bridge in London, currently being reviewed to evaluate if it justifies the expense. Couldn’t they just put flowers and greenery on all the existing bridges? Well they could, and that might look really nice. But it wouldn’t be a “concept” would it, so that won’t count.
Murphy House, named after Richard Murphy, the architect and home-creater and owner, won the RIBA house of the year award this year.
Love it or loathe it, a least it’s a fascinating design, and looks like some sort of house. Other shortlisted ones included the ubiquitous endless glass panels of the Outhouse. Oh come on, give in with the sliding glass doors; and for goodness sake at least try and make it resemble a private dwelling rather than a trendy office block with lifestyle fixtures!
Meanwhile the CIOB are showcasing some fabulous photographs in their “Art of Building” competition. I know with Instagram and endless image banks there are already plenty of striking images, but trust me, these are striking images worth looking at. Plus unlike RIBA it’s a public vote so you can have an input into this year’s winner. But only if you’re quick, before 23rd January 2017. And if you’re not quick, you can look at next years!
My favourite? The art deco of “Control”, by Roman Robroek, from Hungary.
The competition attracts fabulous talent, so is a great opportunity for any budding photographers out there.
While I do admire modern buildings, somehow another year of RIBA buildings are here, and yet again expanses of glass, pillars of modern materials be they steel or concrete seem ubiquitous. I grasp the concept that designers have to design for their clients, but surely someone wants a different looking building in the whole of the modern world, and not one that looks as tho you could design it with lego bricks and then do some sort of computer modelling “substitute sheet glass for lego plastic”. DONE.
I mean they’re all quite striking. But just heft and weight. Not something you can really say “wow”. Last week a Vulcan bomber flew overhead, on its last public flight. The Vulcan has been flying for 50 years. You still look at it and go wow, same with a Jaguar E-type, it just exudes sheer design style.
Burntwood School: Nearly £41million. Please can someone pay a bit of attention to the cycle stand outside the school. Presumably quite a lot of kids could arrive on a cycle. What do they get?. A cold windswept corridor of stark metal hoops. Oh and there’s a rubbish bin right beside them, as if to say this is an area for a right mess, the naughty kids and smokers. Oh and you can park your bike here. Not under cover, not protected. No. just against a metal hoop, near a rubbish bin. Great. Actually maybe it is a striking design feature – the blurb says they have “produced grown-up buildings for Burntwood School, which make kids raise their game, instead of pandering to them” so there! Raise your game don’t arrive by bike.