One of the first really exciting moments in my Architectural eduction was when I went to the Architecture Winter School of 1990 in Edinburgh around the New Year where lots of Architecture students from all over the UK had gathered to do workshops and hear lectures from the great and the good. I had only been an Architecture student for a couple of months and it was a formative experience.
The Tij observatory (2019) sits in the Haringvilet Dam, part of the Sceelhoek Nature reserve in The Netherlands which was opened in 2018 to help improve the biodiversity of the water and coastline there. Tij is Dutch for tide which is apt as the building sits just on the shore overlooking the water.
The reserve is a nesting area for Sandwich terns and the building is inspired by the shape of their eggs. You enter the building via a tunnel so as not to disturb the birds nesting by the shore.
The Centre National d’Arts et de Culture George Pompidou or The Beauborg opened in 1977 designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers with Ove Arup Engineers. Located in the center of Paris within 1km of the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral, it lies on the edge of the historic Marais quarter.
It Neighbours Les Halles one of the old Parisian indoor markets now demolished and replaced by the shopping center Forum des Halles itself partially demolished and rebuilt in 2018. Les Halles was previously one of the locations of the May ’68 uprisings. The authorities wanted to provide much needed cultural services and bring these as close to the people as possible. They also wanted to reinstitute a cultural relevance and importance for Paris in the fine arts that they felt had been lost to New York.
It was to embody the new pluralist cultural policies of the French state after Georges Pompidou became President. An Academic, he took over from General de Gaulle and took the project under his wing. It is a litmus test, therefore, for the way Architecture relates to culture as it is a building dedicated to bringing that culture to the people of Paris and it’s visitors.
Architects: Leendert van der Vlugt of Brinkman & Van der Vlugt
Address: Van Nelleweg 1, Rotterdam, Netherlands
At 220m long, 8 stories high and 60,000m² in size the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam rises up against the flat landscape surrounding it even if it doesn’t tower above the other buildings like it once did when it was finished in 1931.
Designed and built in the 1920’s on the banks of a canal in an industrial zone on the then outskirts of Rotterdam it was a pioneer of a new form of Construction that the Dutch called literally New Building or ‘Nieuwe Bouwen’. This was a modern factory building made just at the birth of Modernism and incorporating the latest technology plus techniques developed on site by the constructors it became one of the buildings that would go on to define the style of modernism itself. A modernist classic from the day it opened.
Now a UNESCO heritage site it still maybe is not as well known as it should be being both a great influence in early modernism and an beautiful piece of frozen social history that is often overlooked.
Introduction Le Corbusier’s first Unité d’Habitation
The Marseille Unitéd’habitation which literally means unit of habitation is the first of the series of experimental and futuristic housing blocks developed by the Architect Le Corbusier after WWII. It became one of the most influential Modernist buildings of all time with countless iterations tried by other Architects all over the world and developed in different directions and with different levels of success.
Corbusier himself built four more Unité d’Habitations in Europe. The Rough concrete he used ‘béton brut’ became the signature of the style known as Brutalism. Simply put if you are are interested in Modern Architecture or the History of Architecture this is one of the buildings you should know.
One day in early spiring this year I was in Tampere for the day and had a couple of hours to spare so I thought I would revisit a great modern building that I feel is often a little neglected, maybe because it’s a little out the way or maybe because Aalvar Aalto casts such a long shadow over Finnish Architecture or maybe a little of both.
Kaleva Church by Reima and Raili Pietilä the result of an Architectural competition in 1959 won by Reima Pietilä and Raili Paatelainen and built in 1964-66. The building sits on a small hillock at the head of the convergence of two large roads both with postwar apartment blocks lining them.
The plan is immediately surprising and consists of a series of high and narrow concrete wings made from 17 35m high hollow concrete u shapes, with full height windows in-between. Each of these concrete u’s are slightly different.
Malcolm Quantrill has written that the Kaleva Church is derived from the Christian fish symbol, generates a daring interior space, with the single-volume nave capturing a powerful, medieval sense of monumentality. I agree it captures a medieval like sense of monumentality but not about the fish symbolism. The fish symbolism appears to me to be a sop to the Christian church it houses, highly organic in nature it looks much more like a leaf. Look at the early sketches from the Pietilä’s and I think that seals it.
Foto: Simo Rista / MFA
The massive concrete walls were meant originally to remain as bare concrete but I think that someone lost their nerve some part of the way through and pale sand coloured ceramic tiles were used to cover the building instead in an attempt to play along better with the apartment blocks it sits among. It looks a little like a poorly disguised Brutalist construction though I don’t think that label sits completely comfortably for this building. The central space and how it is conceived seems so inspired by nature and pays much attention to the play of natural light and space inside make it an exceptional building, one that inspires a feeling much like that in a medieval cathedral, although perhaps lighter and more naturally flavoured.
I know this building in Finland was a little controversial when it was built, some thought it to ‘natural’ and not modern enough or functional enough for the Finnish Architectural brand but as a church part of its function is to inspire and I find it does just this.
Structures and Architecture: New concepts, applications and challenges´ edited by Paulo J. da Sousa Cruz’
Finnish Architecture and the Modernist Tradition By Malcolm Quantrill
When I lived and worked in Amsterdam MVRDV was one of my favourite Dutch Architects Offices, I loved their experimental bent and when I was back in Amsterdam in 2016 I saw their recently completed Chanel shop a refit of a 19th century Amsterdam town house.
The new shop front is a lovely play on the old brick facade and a modern glass fronted designer shopfront. The bricks of the old facade at the top slowly dissolving into the new glass ones of the shop front.
The shop is in PC Hooftstraat which has since I lived there has been a street for luxury brands and shopping situated beside Vondel park just outside of the old Amsterdam. It’s outside of the 9 streets or the old city main shopping lanes but thanks to that can probably accommodate an older richer clientele.
It is worth noting that increasingly Amsterdam is a major player in the Fashion world. Major brands have their world HQ’s there like Tommy Hilfiger the home of preppy US fashion is based in Amsterdam, and many others have their Euorpean HQ’s there like Nike for example. The Chanel shop is a small piece of evidence for Amsterdams fashion chops.
The tallest timber framed tower in the world (just now).
Treet or Tree in Norwegian is a 14 storey apartment block in central Bergen. At 49 meters its the tallest timber framed building in the world, although there are a few on the drawing board that if built would dwarf it.
The higher cost of the structure in wood as opposed to concrete and steel was able to be offset by the quicker and easier erection time, four storeys per 3 days and it also meets passive house standards. The building was erected in modules of 4 the already completed apartments slotted into the wooden framework as it was erected.
The exposed glulam structure front and back really makes this project, instead of hiding the structure at the ends they are on front and back elevations infront of the glazed balconies providing a striking feature for the building and also for the inhabitants of the tower.
I have been a fan of Heikkinen and Komonen Architects for a while. As one of the few Finnish practices with an International profile, they practice a form of Finnish Rationalism in which clear forms and grids are often juxtaposed in compositions betraying a deep understanding of the program. Their ability to create forms and describe them with clear structures that are simultaneously modern are not at all cold.
The Centre for Systems Biology in Dresden finished in 2017 is a beautiful study in a three dimensional grid in which objects are offset within producing deep, comprehensible, and poetic spaces, even accounting for the fact the building is a laboratory. It follows their Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, also designed by them in 2001 also in Dresden.