NYTimes article on the "mania for flamboyant skyscraper

Discussion in 'Buildings, Architecture & Infrastructure' started by alklay, Dec 5, 2006.

  1. alklay

    alklay Guest

    NYTimes article on the "mania for flamboyant skyscraper

    Towers Will Change the Look of Two World Cities


    The current mania for flamboyant skyscrapers has been a mixed blessing for architecture. While it has yielded a stunning outburst of creativity, it has also created an atmosphere in which novelty is often prized over innovation. At times it’s as if the architects were dog owners proudly parading their poodles in front of a frivolous audience.

    This mad new world was much in evidence last week when planners announced the results of two major international competitions that included some of the world’s brightest architectural luminaries. In each case, a tower design will significantly alter the skyline of one of the world’s most beloved cities. But while the design for the Phare Tower in Paris is a work of sparkling originality that wrestles thoughtfully with the urban conflicts of the city’s postwar years, the other, the gargantuan City in St. Petersburg, Russia, is a bone-chilling expression of corporate ego run amok.

    Together, they train a lens on the range of architectural approaches to a daunting problem: the clash between the classical city and the inflated scale of the new global economy. And they underscore the limits of the creative imagination when it is detached from historical memory.

    Designed by Thom Mayne of the Los Angeles-based firm Morphosis, the Phare Tower will rise amid the office towers of La Défense, the western business district conceived in the late 1950s as a way of expanding the city while protecting its historic core from overdevelopment. Embedded in this maze of generic towers and blank plazas, the tower will overlook the hollow cube of the 1989 Grande Arche and the elegantly arched concrete roof of the 1958 C.N.I.T. conference center.

    Given the array of talent involved in this competition, the results overall were surprisingly tame. The lipstick form and vertical gardens of a tower proposed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron are virtually a cliché of contemporary architecture at this point. And while Rem Koolhaas and Jean Nouvel made sincere efforts to address the nature of the site, both capped their towers with brutish geometric forms that feel strangely tacked on: in Mr. Koolhaas’s case, with four blocks that cantilever out from near the top of the tower, and in Mr. Nouvel’s with an upside down U-shaped mirrored form that suggests nothing so much as a gigantic magnet.

    By comparison, Mr. Mayne dug deeper into the site’s convoluted history to create a building of hypnotic power. Viewed from central Paris, the building’s gauzy skin, draped tautly over the tower’s undulating form, will have the look of luxurious fabric. But as you draw closer, the forms will appear more muscular, with massive crisscrossing steel beams supporting a perforated metal surface.

    The aura of the veil has a titillating vibe, but there is nothing superficial about this design. By drawing on what energy the site has — a tangle of roadways and underground trains — the tower transcends La Défense’s deadening urban reputation. Supported by a series of gargantuan steel legs evoking a tripod, the tower straddles the site, allowing pedestrian and train traffic to flow directly underneath. The skin lifts up to envelop a nearby plaza, linking it to an underground train station. Beneath this perforated metal skirt, gigantic escalators shoot up more than 100 feet to a lobby packed with restaurants and cafes.

    The approach recalls the machine-age fascination with physical and social mobility that yielded masterpieces like the Gare de Lyon in Paris and Grand Central Terminal in New York. Pushing the idea further, Mr. Mayne rips the top off an existing plaza to reveal the trains and traffic passing underneath. As you ride up escalators linking the plaza to the lobby, seams open up in the building’s skin to create vertiginous views of both an underground world of shadowy figures and the monuments of the beloved city past the Arc de Triomphe to the east.

    The notion of building as machine is tempered by the structure’s earnest environmental agenda. Double-layered skin on the south side of the building will deflect the harshest sunlight. On the north side, the surface peels apart to reveal transparent glass skin. The tower’s peak, conceived as an extension of the skin, seemingly fraying apart in the breeze, consists of a cluster of antennas and a wind farm that will generate electric power.

    By embracing a populist lineage that stretches back through the Pompidou Center’s exoskeletal structure to the grand lobby of Charles Garnier’s Paris Opera, Mr. Mayne extracts unexpected beauty from this psychologically isolated site. In so doing, he redeems a scorned area of the city while forging one of the most powerful works Paris has seen in a generation.

    If the Phare Tower demonstrates architecture’s potential as a civilizing tool, the design for the Russian energy conglomerate Gazprom matches Paris’s catastrophic 1972 Montparnasse Tower in its disdain for the architectural legacy of a world city.

    The competition, won by the London office of RMJM, involved many of the same architects as the competition for the Phare Tower, from Mr. Koolhaas to Mr. Nouvel to Mr. Herzog and Mr. de Meuron, but its obscene scale dwarfs that of the Paris site. Dominated by a lone 77-story tower, the project includes more than two million square feet of office space on a site at the edge of the Neva River overlooking the Baroque dome of Smolny Cathedral. Gazprom plans to triple the size of its development there in subsequent phases of construction.

    RMJM’s design is conceived as a pentagon that twists as it rises, culminating in a point akin to a spire. A second skin is wrapped around this structure with the goal of giving it a sleeker, more organic appearance. The tower rests on a banal corporate winter-garden lobby covered by a rooftop garden that slopes down to meet the ground at each end, in an intended echo of the classical gardens of St. Petersburg.

    The architects claim that the tower’s form echoes the glorious spires that puncture the city’s skyline; they compare the second skin to a fur coat that would create a buffer zone insulating the interior from the city’s harsh winters. No matter how they seek to mask it in metaphors, however, this is a conventional corporate tower of the sort that can be found in abundance in Dubai, Singapore and Beijing. The mixed metaphors are a painful trivialization of history — and a sorry attempt to hide uncomfortable realities behind postcard images and trite advertising.

    But RMJM was not the only culprit in this regard. Mr. Nouvel submitted a design for a row of slender towers encased in a transparent glass shell — a skyline frozen in a block of ice. A proposal by Daniel Libeskind consists of two asymmetrical towers whose swooping golden forms join to form a so-called “welcoming gateway†for the city.

    Mr. Koolhaas doesn’t pretend that such a mammoth project can relate to the classical city. Instead, he proposes to compete with it. Conceived as a cluster of towers of uneven heights, some of which seeming to hover above the ground, his project churns with all the desires and fears of the traditional city. Huge floor plates that connect the towers at midpoint are conceived as vast social mixing chambers packed with auditoriums, cinemas, restaurants and bars. A series of smaller office structures are scattered around the building like stacked ice cubes.

    The design is derived from an unblinking analysis of St. Petersburg’s darker history — from the regimented architectural planning under Peter the Great, an expression of the barracks mentality of a despot, to the city’s relative detachment from Modernism after power shifted to Moscow during the Soviet era. Mr. Koolhaas’s blocky forms, for example, are an echo of Kasimir Malevich’s abstract urban visions for a revolutionary society. His stacked cubes, arranged in a neat grid at the center of the development and more haphazardly along its edges, nod to the Soviet-era housing slabs that flank the site to the north.

    RMJM’s winning design bypasses that history in favor of the banal reductivism of the global marketplace. But not even Mr. Koolhaas’s critical eye could have overcome the profligacy of this project, whose scale and grandiosity Stalin might have appreciated.

    If Paris is proof that it is still possible to build big buildings that enrich a city’s meaning, Gazprom may finally reveal the limits of colossalism.

    A quick Google search will find pictures for the Gazprom proposal, which I prefer to the Mayne building (I really do not like any of his work, Toronto's included). Just my 2 cents.

  2. alklay

    alklay Guest

    Re: NYTimes article on the "mania for flamboyant skyscr

    December 2, 2006 NYTimes as well

    A Russian Skyscraper Plan Divides a Horizontal City

    ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, Dec. 1 — Russia’s largest company, Gazprom, announced on Friday that it had chosen the architecture firm RMJM London to design this city’s tallest building, brushing aside arguments from preservationists and residents that the project — whoever the architect — would destroy the city’s architectural harmony.

    RMJM’s winning proposal includes a twisting glass tower that would anchor a business and residential center planned for a site on the Neva River opposite the Smolny Cathedral, one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

    As now designed, it would rise 1,299 feet — higher even the Peter and Paul Cathedral, built 300 years ago by Peter the Great, which is just over 400 feet tall.

    Gazprom’s chief executive, Aleksei B. Miller, hailed the project as a “new symbol of St. Petersburg†akin to city landmarks including the Admiralty, St. Isaac’s Church and the Peter and Paul Cathedral.

    “This new, modern project will give birth to a new mentality for St. Petersburg, which lives in a new, modern civilization,†said Mr. Miller, appearing with the city’s governor, Valentina I. Matviyenko. “And its citizens will feel the pulse of the new economy, the pulse of the contemporary world.â€

    Gazprom selected the RMJM proposal over five other designs by the noted architects Jean Nouvel of Paris; Massimiliano Fuksas of Rome; the Swiss team of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron; Rem Koolhaas of Rotterdam; and Daniel Libeskind of Berlin.

    The competition stirred weeks of ferocious debate. Even as Gazprom’s executives met with city officials and experts on the selection commission at the company’s headquarters on the English Embankment, a small group of protesters passed back and forth aboard a small trawler in the Neva, dressed as clowns and mental patients and holding a sign deriding the project. “Lunatics City,†the sign said. (The project is referred to as Gazprom City.)

    There was also dissension within the selection panel. The Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, who was invited to serve as a member of the jury, read a two-page statement on Friday describing his vision for St. Petersburg, which would preserve its cityscape on a lower scale, and opposing any of the projects under consideration. He then resigned from the jury and left. In a telephone interview later, he said the city’s current limit on building heights was “the most sensitive issue to keeping the existing cultural value of the old city center.â€

    Before the architect was chosen, the project came under attack on several fronts, and potential challenges remain.

    The St. Petersburg Union of Architects, the director of the State Hermitage Museum and other preservation groups have threatened to challenge it in court. This week three members of the city’s parliament appealed to the country’s prosecutor general, saying the project would violate budget rules and a city zoning ordinance that restricts buildings in that part of the city to 157 feet.

    One of the lawmakers, Mikhail I. Amosov, said on Friday that the construction of a skyscraper, as Gazprom specified when it solicited proposals, would intrude into St. Petersburg’s horizontal cityscape, which has remained largely unaltered for two centuries.

    “Eventually we are going to lose the shape of St. Petersburg that we inherited from previous generations,†Mr. Amosov said after Gazprom announced the decision.

    With offices throughout Britain and in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok, RMJM ranks among the world’s top 15 architecture firms in size. The St. Petersburg commission will significantly expand the firm’s presence in Russia, where it is already building a 46-story office tower in Moscow called the City Palace.

    RMJM’s managing director in Britain, Tony Kettle, said in a telephone interview that the firm designed the tower with St. Petersburg’s cityscape in mind, evoking the city’s Baroque architecture, especially its punctuating spires.

    “We’ve created a new spire that elegantly breaks into the sky,†he said.

    Mr. Miller and Ms. Matviyenko said the decision to select RMJM had been unanimous and made no mention of Mr. Kurokawa’s resignation. Planners said that RMJM’s design had also drawn the most votes from visitors to the project’s Web site, www.gazprom-city.info.

    They emphasized that while they had chosen a design, the exact details remain undecided. Philip Nikandrov, RMJM’s Moscow director, said the project’s most controversial feature — its height — could still be reconsidered.

    Ms. Matviyenko, the St. Petersburg governor and a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin, the city’s most prominent native, strongly defended the project against its critics. She said the project’s site was outside the historic center, which is recognized by Unesco as a cultural landmark. She added that Gazprom’s willingness to build a business center for its newly acquired oil company would inject sorely needed revenue into the city, which has not enjoyed the energy-fueled boom that has transformed Moscow.

    “Without big companies coming, without turning the city into a financial andconomic center, we shall never have these resources,†she said, “and the unique architectural heritage in the center of the city will be quietly falling apart before our eyes.â€
  3. alklay

    alklay Guest

    Re: NYTimes article on the "mania for flamboyant skyscr

    Here is the link to the competition in Russia. Some unique designs.

  4. Bogtrotter

    Bogtrotter Guest

    Re: NYTimes article on the "mania for flamboyant skyscr

    Posted hours ago courtesy of Buildingbabel: New Morphosis tower in Paris to rival Eiffel Tower. :)

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