Thursday, 31 May 2012

feature : Fiat Lingotto Factory, Torino, Italy (1923)

Designed by engineer Giacomo Mattè-Trucco, the Fiat Lingotto Factory in Torino, Italy took seven years to build, finally opening in 1923 and instantly becoming Europe’s largest automobile factory, second only in the World to Ford’s River Rouge Complex, Michigan, USA.
Raw materials would go in on ground floor level, pass through 5 floors along a unique upward spiralling assembly line, finally emerging as finished cars onto the rooftop test track.
The building itself was one of the first reinforced concrete ever constructed. 
Le Corbusier famously called it "one of the most impressive sights in industry", and "a guideline for town planning". For over 50 years Lingotto was the birthplace of many classic models such as the Fiat 124 sport spyder and the 1936 Topolino.
Sadly the car-building technology inside this landmark building became outdated and the plant finally closed in 1982, as Fiat moved production elsewhere. Thankfully architecture won the day and the building was saved by massive public demand. Renzo Piano won a competition to redesign the factory, turning the 16 million square feet of shop-floor into a shopping centre, theatre, concert halls and a hotel, completed in 1989. In 2002 Renzo added Lo Scrigno, a modern art gallery perched on the top floor with its 16,000 piece floating roof.
The rooftop test track has been preserved as a tourist attraction, but the only laps these days are done by the jogging hotel guests.
by Darren Maddison
photos thanks to : areadeescape
Lo Scrigno art gallery
photos thanks to : skyscrapercity
photo thanks to : andrewFI

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

feature : Neues Museum, Berlin


It’s not often that an architect gets an opportunity to make his mark on a bomb site without demolishing what’s left standing and then designing a new building.  But David Chipperfield has not only made his mark, he’s also created stunning spaces that chime perfectly with the Neues Museum’s multi-millennia-old exhibits.


Obviously with such a project the restoration presented just as big a challenge as the architecture, and with the Neues Chipperfield was expertly supported by one of the best, Julian Harrap.  Together the two men have created something quite breath-taking, irrespective of the fact that much of what confronts visitors is still bomb-damaged.


Render and plaster are often still missing.  Where whole sections of wall were lost, just brick replaces them.  But not any old brick, or any old mortar.  The new sections blend perfectly with the old, it often being hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.


As for the architecture, well even Chipperfield was surprised at the quality of surface his German suppliers achieved when mixing his chosen marble chippings with cement.  The surface is sublime, something to be gloried in.


The staircases, an echo of those destroyed, offer an architectural experience like no other.  The polished concrete with it’s marble chippings positively coruscates against its exposed brick background, making ascending to the upper floors an almost ethereal experience.


When you arrive at the uppermost of these floors you encounter a completely different material.  Beautiful dark oak planking runs beneath doors of the most wonderful walnut, all possessing a quality it would be hard to better.


After an absence of almost 70 years Berlin’s pride, its 3,300 year old bust of the beautiful Queen Nefertiti, has been joyously returned to its plinth in the midst of Chipperfield’s brilliantly reborn Neues.  


by Richard Woollen, guest author

all photos by Richard Woollen

Thursday, 17 May 2012

feature : Visionary Architecture

Future Structures of the Korean Demilitarized Zone by Lebbeus Woods (1988)

image thanks to : bldgblog

In the search for original architecture architects have often begun with the most fantastic of schemes, most of which are either practically impossible to build or impossible to live in. In many cases this is quite deliberate as there is no intent to actually build it. The ideas remain as paper architecture, some depicting visions of the future (good and bad) & some reflecting escapism to an ideal, Utopian world. All of them graphically represent the imaginary buildings and places that exist in the minds of the authors. Theirs is the world of the unbuilt environment.

Over the years, many have dreamed up grands projets. Often credited as being the forefathers of visionary architectural thinking, Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728-99) and Antonio Sant’Elia (1888-1916) may have set the ball rolling, but in my opinion were simply imagining the massive up-scaling of traditional building methods.

1919 proved to be a prolific year and the beginning of when more abstract & imaginative ideas came to the fore. German expressionist Hermann Finsterlin (1887-1973) imagined living within organic forms, whilst the Russians Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) and Iakov Chernikhov (1889-1951) produced  “Monument to the Third International” and “Architectural Fantasies ” respectively, including dynamic structural images of large volumes carried in the air by “impossibly” thin legs.

Whilst dreaming continued through the war years, the next significant unbuilt works were in the midst of 1964 pop culture. Archigram, notably otherwise financed, demonstrated a glamourous future machine age and a direct refusal to be shackled by the past. Hugely influenced by Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983 - not mentioned in detail here because he actually built his designs !) and the concept of survival, they had lit the touch paper for many other architects to think out of the box, namely Italians Superstudio and Archizoom, who famously produced designs that were arguably often more art than architecture. In particular it was Rem Koolhaas (OMA), Jan Kaplicky (Future Systems 1937-2009) and Zaha Hadid, whose graphically powerful drawings would become their signature and eventually lay the path for each to become highly successful.

However, it is Lebbeus Woods (b. 1940) who is possibly the most devoted of experimental architects. Influenced by the real-world threat of earthquakes and war, Woods’ early ground-breaking work depicts a mechanical, apocalyptic age. One of his pieces “Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber” (1987), was famously copied (without permission) and used in a sci-fi film scene in Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys”. His anarchic style paints a very gloomy picture of the world ahead of us. Visionary or realist ? Only time will tell.

by Darren Maddison

Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton by Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728-99)

 image thanks to : rosswolfe

by Antonio Sant’Elia (1888-1916) 

image thanks to : lebbeuswoods

Casa de Vetro II by Hermann Finsterlin (1887-1973)

image thanks to : nickkahler


Monument to the Third International by Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953)

photo thanks to : dieselpunks

Architectural Fantasies by Iakov Chernikhov (1889-1951)

image thanks to : guntherstephan 

Walking City in New York by Ron Herron, Archigram (1964)

image thanks to : lagraphicdesign

Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber by Lebbeus Woods (1987)

image thanks to : curetheblind

feature : Schulman and Soriano

Julius Schulman (1910-2009) and Richard Neutra (1892-1970)

photo thanks to : hugeasscity


Raphael Soriano (1904-88)

photo thanks to : modernsandiego


On the day he first met architect Richard Neutra, photographer Julius Shulman also met architect Raphael Soriano; Neutra sent him to meet his thirty-two year old former assistant on the site of Soriano’s first house.


That was in 1936, before Shulman’s name was mentioned in Californian modern architectural circles.  By 1947 it was a very different story.  Thanks to photographing the works of Neutra, Soriano, and other architects, he’d become celebrated, and in a position to build his own house on a plot he’d bought in Laurel Canyon, high in the Hollywood Hills.


Suffice to say Shulman had the pick of the bunch when it came to choosing an architect to design his house.  He might have been expected to hire Neutra or Schindler, but instead hired Soriano, someone he’d admittedly become friendly with, but someone who was not everyone’s cup of tea (read his Katz House saga).


But Shulman knew Soriano had innovative skills to offer.  The architect was at the forefront in the design of steel framed houses, and this proved crucial when, early in the life of the house, a small earthquake caused a landslide that brought tons of rock tumbling into his living room.  The steel structure, much to Shulman’s relief, remained totally undistorted, without even a crack being suffered by any ceiling.  What did get broken was one of Shulman’s legs, unfortunately.


Shulman lived on in Soriano’s house, quite uneventfully it seems, right up to his death in 2009, having reached the ripe age of 98. 


In 1998 he said of his architect and friend “.....the reverence for Soriano is almost overwhelming as I view the garden through a 30 foot wall of glass.....I cannot begin to express my gratitude for forty-eight years in this Soriano-created sanctuary”.


Soriano died in 1988.



by Richard Woollen, guest author


photos thanks to : socalarchhistory

photo thanks to : tabletmag

feature : Going Underground

Charles Henry Holden (1875-1960)

photo thanks to : charlesholden

Every day over 3 million people use the London Underground. For the vast majority going to work is an unpleasant drudgery, full of stress, selfishness and imposed haste. It does not have to be like that. Take a moment to look around you. There are some architectural jewels to be found.

Charles Holden was born in 1875 in Bolton. After leaving school he briefly worked as a railway clerk in St. Helens, a poignant beginning to a subject matter that would later become his legacy.

At 16 years of age his first step on the architectural footplate was in his brother-in-law’s practice. In 1899 joined H. Percy Adams Architects as Chief Assistant, where he would later become a partner and remain for the rest of his life.

Charles was a shy, modest man and his career spans a dramatic time of change. Led by the fashion of the day, his early, celebrated designs are at first glance traditional.  Look more closely at the massing and proportions and you can see the first signs of him breaking free.

He believed that the principal aim of design was to achieve “fitness for purpose”, stripped down from any unnecessary architectural adornment.

In 1923 Holden would get his chance to demonstrate this when he was commissioned by Frank Pick, champion of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL), to design a façade for Westminster Tube Station, quickly followed by seven new stations on the City and South London Railway (now Northern Line).

Over the next 16 years, Holden and Pick worked closely together on integrated designs for new stations, refurbishment of old stations, new facades, bus shelters, platform benches and even the UERL headquarters itself.

The early stations typically included double-height ticket halls, clad in Portland stone framing a glazed screen, each incorporating 2 thin columns and the Underground logo. The latter stations (notably after a 1930 trip to Northern Europe & Scandinavia) followed new principles of either a tall, rectangular or circular brick box with a large strip of windows and a concrete flat roof.

Subsequent architects tried to follow Holden’s design template, but few could match his attention to detail.  In total Holden is attributed to the design of 50 Underground stations, the majority still in use today, most are Grade II listed whilst one, St. James’s Park, is Grade I. The Jubilee Line extension aside, we are unlikely to ever see such a prolific period of beautifully detailed railway architecture again.

So, next time, don’t get caught up in the rush to work. Look up and respect one man’s dream for a commute of calm !

by Darren Maddison 

Tooting Bec (1926)

South Wimbledon (1926)

Piccadilly Circus (1928)

Sudbury Hill (1931)

Arnos Grove (1932)

Southgate (1932)

Boston Manor (1934)

photos thanks to : urbandesign

feature : Mackintosh & Me

As a student entering my first year of a four year course at the Glasgow School of Art in the early 1960s, I was aware that the building had been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, this gleaned from an old school friend who had already been studying there himself for eighteen months or so.

He encouraged me to apply for a place and to my joy I was accepted.

I had noticed previously that, in several of his Monthly Compositions, as they were known - that is to say, paintings set with a different theme each month which were subject to constructive criticism by the lecturers & students in the particular group or class in which the student found himself, the aforementioned friend had employed interesting architectural devices and motifs in several of these works.

I found these stylistic felicities most intriguing, despite the fact that they were being used largely as backdrops to the main subject. Subsequent enquiries on my part elicited from him the information that he had been influenced by the work of Mackintosh, the architect of The Art School.

As one of a hundred or so first year students, the beauty and wonder of our surroundings was imprinted & marvelled at on a daily basis, and reinforced by our lecturers at every opportunity; we were fortunate to be studying in such an architectural masterpiece.

During that four years of study, my fascination, and indeed, almost religious admiration for his work grew more profound, and has stayed with me all of my adult life.

In those, my student days, Mackintosh was largely unknown outside of Glasgow, except to a few devoted followers.

All this of course has changed in the intervening period, and he is now at last recognised for his undoubted genius, and must rank as one of the seminal architect / designers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

by Jim Rafferty, guest author

photo thanks to : Adrian Welch

photo thanks to : The Midgie

photo thanks to : Andrew Lee

photo thanks to : Adrian Welch

feature : Judicious Jerwood

I once lived a short pedal from Cambridge’s wondrous Kettle’s Yard and became, in a very short time, hooked by modest, intimate art spaces. So imagine my joy when I discovered that a new interpretation of my favoured type of gallery had opened amongst the fishermans’ unique high-rise huts on Stade Beach in Hastings.

Thanks to architects HAT Projects, the Jerwood Foundation have created a sympathetic structure that blends beautifully with the surrounding huts, boats, and fishing paraphernalia of the Stade. Designing such a structure was obviously a tough challenge for the architects, yet they’ve succeeded quite brilliantly, and all for a cost of £4million, a positive bargain by today’s standards.

Gallery visitors are greeted by a mixture of single and two storey orthogonal masses, all clad in very sympathetic, very sensible (seagull poo, and lots of it) black-glazed tiles, which they enter by a light-filled ticket area with wonderful little courtyard beyond.  The rest of the ground floor comprises a large gallery space, from which you pass into two smaller spaces before taking the stairs up to the four gallery spaces above.

But it’s upstairs where you feel the soul of the building, with oak-planked flooring giving the spaces an harmonious feel, much helped in a couple of rooms by down to the floor windows that offer tremendous views out over the beach and town.

As for what brought about the creation of the gallery - the Jerwood Foundation’s permanent collection of 20th century art - all I can say is that I was surprised, and in a most gratifying way.  None of the paintings were big-ticket purchases, yet the collection, from Spencer and Sickert to Lanyon and Lowry, is highly impressive. Did anything stand out from the crowd? No question. A great Alan Reynolds. 

by Richard Woollen, guest author

all photos by R. Woollen

feature : Sir Evan Owen Williams – Let There Be Light (1890-1969)

photo thanks to : npg

When it was officially opened in 1933 Building D10 (Packed Wet Goods) of the Boots Pharmaceutical Factory in Beeston, Nottingham, was one of the world’s first reinforced concrete buildings. Back then American-owned and influenced, it is still a true celebration of just how good concrete can be.


During his lifetime Williams was a prolific structural designer, who came to fame when he worked as chief engineer on the British Empire Exhibition of 1923, forming a successful partnership with architect Maxwell Ayrton to design the largest ever exhibition, attracting 27 million visitors (!) and earning him a knighthood in 1924. Although only ever intended to be temporary, two of Williams’ buildings that survived were later renamed into the more familiar Wembley Stadium (formerly Empire Stadium – sadly demolished in 2002) and Wembley Arena (formerly Empire Pool).


Between 1924 and 1930 Williams’ concrete designs included : Findhorn, Crubenmore, Carr, Spey & Montrose Bridges in Scotland; Wansford and Wakefield Bridges in England; and the Wadham Road and Lea Valley Viaducts (both in England).

His hugely successful contribution to British transport made him a natural choice in post-war Britain to work on the UK Motorway system, in particular the first 53.5 miles of the M1 (1959) and all 130 underbridges and overbridges that cross it.


More famously he worked on the Dorchester Hotel, London (1931) and the Daily Express Building, Manchester (1939), but it was the work on Building D10 that will be most remembered in architectural circles. Still the largest Grade 1 listed industrial building in Britain, its four stories of deliberately emphasized, reinforced concrete slabs on set back mushroom-headed columns were almost entirely clad in 5 acres of continuous ribbons of Crittall glazing. This enabled huge amounts of natural light straight into 2 large packing hall atriums – unheard of in an industrial Britain still caught in an architectural quandary, uncertain and afraid of whether to stick or twist from its traditional national heritage.


Interestingly D10 is considered a Masterpiece of the Modern Movement. However, whilst Corb & co were designing nice white boxes in central Europe, the relatively lesser-known Williams took a lesson out of American factory building and gave Britain one of its bravest ever buildings, cutting through indecision and caution on an unprecedented scale. We should be forever thankful to a great man, who brought Britain kicking and screaming into the Modern Age.


by Darren Maddison



photo thanks to : imagesofengland


photo thanks to : crittallwindows

photo thanks to : industryinform

photo thanks to : Steve Cadman