Wednesday, 23 May 2012

City glazing fashions - get the look

The glazing at 125 Old Broad Street in the City of London - the former Stock Exchange building - is undergoing a makeover.   This is presumably something to do with the problems that have been reported about glass falling out (a less abstract threat than a falling FTSE).  

The present look, at first glance, bears quite a close resemblance to one of those fashionable facade treatments with diagonal lines that echo (allegedly) the stress patterns in the glazing, such as OMA's CCTV building - or more purely decorative versions of the same sort of thing by FOA and others.   But on closer examination, the pattern here appears in fact to be no more than protective tape to glass awaiting replacement.  Quite neatly done, though - and if you think about it, the visual resemblance to the stress diagram is probably not accidental. 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Chipperfield on housing

Good to read of David Chipperfield speaking out about affordable housing in the AJ - and the general difficulty of getting decent housing built at all in this country.

Chipperfield complains correctly about greenfield sprawl, but much brownfield housing, which he says is preferable, is poor as well - usually for rather different reasons.  Another high-profile architect whose views are generally worth listening to, Rem Koolhaas, once observed that there are two kinds of airport: too large and too small.  Housing in this country is going that way too: we build pixie f**k-hutches in the middle of nowhere, and we build monster condos, but the middle way - good, ordinary, medium to high density housing comparable with what already exists across most of central London - while not unknown, seems a lot harder to achieve. 

And what is even harder, and really matters even more - when most sites allocated for housing are not very suitable for housing, but are the only ones where there are no nimbies will moan about it - is joining up the new bits to the old bits.  If it's not near anyone's back yard, it will probably be hard to get to and get from - since we don't plan for infrastructure any better than we plan for housing. 

Building affordable housing, as Chipperfield suggests, 'not as an adjunct to unaffordable housing, but as an aim in itself', sounds like something we should all agitate for. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Shard - the architect was right

Renzo Piano has spoken of his design for the Shard as reflecting the sky, disappearing into the background, and at the top, tapering away to nothingness.

Sceptics pointed out that the glass buildings on London's skyline generally look black - it is the stone ones that look white - and that talk of the visual 'lightness' of glass cladding often turns out to be nonsense when the thing is built.

But now we can see for ourselves and Piano was right - at least in respect of some weather conditions and some hours of the day (this picture was taken yesterday evening, from Centrepoint).

A lot of discussion about how realistic or reliable computer-generated images are misses the simple point that buildings, particularly glassy buildings, vary very greatly in their appearance at different times of day and different times of year.  The honest answer to the criticism that 'it won't look like that really' is 'sometimes it will, sometimes it won't'.

Piano always acknowledged this, saying that the Shard would change with the weather and that that would be part of its appeal.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Pop up stairs at the South Bank

At the back of the South Bank Centre this rather handsome flight of stairs provides a new way up to the terraces around the Hayward Gallery.  Pop-ups, temporary installations, meanwhile uses etc etc seem to be all the rage and this stair, supported on standard metal containers, feeds off that zeitgeisty, recession-friendly aesthetic, though I've no idea if it's planned to be temporary or not. 

Sadly, there is a history of rather unsatisfactory temporary solutions lasting several decades at the boondoggle that is the SBC's estate - this one is far superior to many of the the various lash-ups that have come and gone, often outstaying their welcome, over the years.

A previous post discussed the variable quality standards applied when structures are envisaged as temporary - and we can expect plenty of that this summer, with Trafalgar Square already filling up with unsightly tat, and a giant upside-down purple plastic cow occupying the car park on the other side of the rail tracks from the Hayward (which may cause some puzzlement to visitors when the lavish new Jubilee Gardens open shortly).

What the SBC stair suggests, as have some other recent pop up projects, is that a willingness to treat a modest intervention as a proper commission, and the application of a lively design intelligence, can enhance the city and lift the spirits without the need for big budgets, or the intention to build for posterity - and that there's no need for the ephemeral to be tatty and thoughtless.