Posts tagged with "London":

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Architectural Association threatens to slash staff, publications to cut costs

The prestigious Architectural Association (AA) has sent letters to 16 staff warning that a consultation period had begun and that they were at risk of being fired to cut costs. The London-based school notified two employees in the membership department, two in exhibitions, two in HR, four in development and six members of the publications department. While the AA has not come to a final decision, critics of the move fear that this will spell the end of the much-lauded AA Files, the school’s journal of record. Founded in 1981 by Alvin Boyarsky, director of the AA at the time, the AA Files have grown to become what some consider one of the best architectural magazines in print today. Featuring essays, criticism, and writing that conveys original ideas with a sense of wit, the journal frequently featured articles unlikely to be found in any other publication. Speaking to the The Architect’s Journal, Architecture Foundation Director Ellis Woodman lamented the AA Files’ possible demise. "Under Tom Weaver’s editorship, they’ve been enjoying a golden period producing the best long­form writing about architecture in the world," he said. Woodman also called the dissolution of AA exhibitions a "tragic diminution of architectural discourse in London." Interim director Samantha Hardingham announced the cuts as the AA continues to search for a new director after the departure of 11 year veteran Brett Steele in 2016. An AA spokesperson issued a statement to the Journal, saying that the non-academic restructuring was done in such a way as to minimize the impact to the school’s operations or academic programming. "The AA is founded on the idea that it must know when to change. This restructuring is being undertaken in the best interests of the AA, and is necessary to support its sustainable future," the spokesperson added.
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In “Nincompoopolis,” Boris Johnson’s architectural follies mask even bigger failures

For the U.K.’s latest passport design, a page is dedicated to British-Indian artist, Anish Kapoor. This is nothing untoward; Kapoor is a distinguished artist both nationally and on the world stage. On the page are three of his works: Marsyas, Temenos, and the Orbit, the latter of which was designed with the help of equally esteemed British engineer, Cecil Balmond.

At 377 feet, the Orbit is Britain’s tallest sculpture. A press release for its 2014 re-opening proudly proclaims that the ArcelorMittal Orbit—to call it its official name after Indian steel giant Lakshmi Mittal—“originated in 2009 when [former] London Mayor Boris Johnson launched a competition to design a sculpture for the Olympic Park.”

The term sculpture is perhaps too kind, since the Orbit looks like Kapoor and Balmond both sneezed while trying to wrest control of the mouse with Rhino running on the computer. Today, despite adding a slide, it costs the taxpayer $13,100 a week to keep running. The omnipresent Orbit looms over the London 2012 Olympic site in the London borough of Newham and now the work—an inescapable reminder of Johnson’s eagerness to create an icon—will follow Britons around the globe.

Though a picture is sometimes worth a thousand words, thankfully there is better documentation of Johnson’s foibles in the built environment. Critic Douglas Murphy’s Nincompoopolis: The Follies of Boris Johnson, does this superbly and goes beyond, relating it to Johnson’s ironic ineptitude on more serious issues with real-world ramifications, such as the Heygate Estate evictions in South London. In this instance, Johnson remarked that it was “vital we push forward with work to unlock the economic potential” of the area as he approved the replacement masterplan, seemingly oblivious of the implications. The estates were home to more than 3,000 people. 

The darker manifestation’s of Johnson’s mayoralty come later in the book, which is laid out in two parts: Johnson the architectural meddler comes first and Johnson the hapless, apathetic, and willfully ignorant politician, after. In this sense, Murphy’s depressingly long catalogue of Johnson’s errors posits the more obvious architectural blunders as a mask to his more inimical failings.

To make the grim reading digestible, Nincompoopolis is filled with personal touches from Murphy (all but two of the images used are the author's own) who found himself in London just as Johnson took the reins in 2008. His sophisticated anger is both fitting and relevant, delivered with a dry sense of humor, as he dismantles everything wrong with each project, from the process (or lack of it) to the final product. The reader is doused with lashings of context, followed by a predictable punchline: Johnson.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The Garden Bridge, with a corrupt tendering process in which Johnson played a central role, was scrapped by incumbent Mayor Sadiq Kahn. A shopping mall version of the Crystal Palace was another near-miss, and orders have been stopped on the New Routemaster London bus. These failed follies can hardly be classed as wins, however, with millions of dollars of public money having already been squandered on them.

Perhaps a bright spot can be found in the socially-minded work of Peter Barber Architects, which Murphy duly mentions. Johnson is also credited for issuing new housing standards in the shape of the London Housing Design Guide which, bemusingly for him given his track record, called for less “iconic” architecture and beckoned in the “New London Vernacular.” However, as Murphy points out, much of this genuinely good work rides on the legacy of former mayor Ken Livingstone, who worked with Richard Rogers during his time as mayor. “In a city that has been undergoing so much housing struggle, no amount of tasteful brick detailing can mask the problems,” Murphy remarks.

The bearer of an American passport which reads “Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson,” London’s former Mayor will never have to suffer the full consequences of Brexit, in which he played a leading role. Nor will he have to look at the Orbit embarrassingly sprawled across a page of official national documentation.

Brexit, hopefully, was Johnson’s political swan-song. It made sense as well. The Routemaster and Crystal Palace fiascos were projects inspired by a misplaced public love of nostalgia, to which Johnson, seeing his chance as a so-called man of the people, rushed ham-handedly to cater to.

Inspiration also came from New York, where Johnson was born, but again, these ideas were executed in the wrong way. The High Line’s success spurred the Garden Bridge into almost becoming a reality, but ignored the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Johnson was determined to emulate the grandeur of antiquated world expos, but this somehow resulted in the Orbit and nearly led to a enormous glass mall, neither of which approached the legacy of 1964.

Nincompoopolis is a playful word, more endearing than insulting. However, Murphy does not shy away from showing that beneath Johnson’s boyish bravado and messy hair, depicted atop the Orbit on the book's coveris a more clueless and sinister character.

Nincompoopolis: The Follies of Boris Johnson Repeater Books $10.00

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V&A Museum saves a section of the iconic Robin Hood Gardens

Jumping into a heated debate over preservation, public housing and classism, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has acquired a full apartment and facade section from the demolished Robin Hood Gardens housing complex. V&A has offered to pay developer Swan Housing Association for part of the demolition in exchange for the salvaged portion. A much-lauded (and derided) brutalist experiment in public housing, Robin Hood Gardens’ snaking concrete blocks and elevated walkways wrapped around a core green space that was central to what designers Peter and Alison Smithson called “streets in the sky.” After campaigning by public activists, architects and preservationists, efforts to have the 1972 building listed as historically significant were repeatedly rebuked by estate officials. Neil Bingham, the V&A’s curator of contemporary architectural collections, emphasized the building’s legacy when describing why the museum had procured the pieces. He told the Guardian, “It is an important building by important architects. The Smithsons rather dominated the period, maybe not in number of buildings they did but in terms of the power of their thoughts on architecture." Measuring nearly 29 feet high, 18 feet wide and 26 feet deep, the salvaged piece is a full section that includes portions of the complex’s concrete stairs and “floating” walkways. A full street-level apartment with original cabinetry was also saved, meaning the museum can slot the interior portion within the facade and give visitors the experience of walking into Robin Hood Gardens firsthand. In the UK, the debate over public housing and the role of class in development has only intensified lately, with older public housing complexes either being torn down or “beautified” to improve the views of nearby market rate tenants. The Grenfell Tower fire in June brought questions of housing equity in London to the forefront, as over 70 lives were lost in what many have called a pointless recladding. Although the developer claims that the Robin Hood Gardens replacement will upgrade the number of units from 252 to 1,500, questions remain over how truly affordable these apartments will be. Christopher Turner, head of the V&A’s design, architecture and digital department, explained that Robin Hood Gardens’ importance lay not only in its architectural significance, but in its questioning of what public housing could be. “It is also an object that will stimulate debate around architecture and urbanism today. It raises important questions about the history and future of housing in Britain and what we want from our cities,” said Turner.
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Diller Scofidio + Renfro announced as designers of London’s Centre For Music

Diller Scofidio + Renfro have bested a shortlist that included Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Snøhetta and Foster + Partners, winning the commission to design the Centre For Music, the new home for the London Symphony Orchestra and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.  The Centre will be located near the Barbican complex in the City of London (where the Symphony currently performs), on a site now occupied by the Museum of London—which will move to a new home a half-mile west in West Smithfield. The Brutalist museum was designed in 1976 by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya, 1974 winners of the Royal Gold Medal For Architecture. DS+R's Centre is set to contain a concert hall with up to 2,000 seats, as well as classrooms and training spaces. Its cost, which reports estimate at between £200 and £250 million, is to be funded largely through private donations, although the City of London earlier this year chipped in £2.5 million for a business plan. Explaining their choice in a statement, the Centre's architect selection panel said they felt DS+R "most clearly met the vision and ambition of this project, utilising their experience of creating inspiring new spaces for culture to present a proposal that delivers a world-class concert hall in an outstanding new building, as part of the re-imagination of a key area of the City of London within Culture Mile.” Other members of the design team will include Buro Happold (civil and structural engineer and building services engineer), Nagata Acoustics (acoustician), Charcoalblue (theater consultant), and AECOM (cost consultant). According to DS+R, a concept design will be submitted to the City of London Corporation by December 2018. The building will not just be a permanent home for the London Symphony, but will also host performances from the Barbican's family of orchestras and ensembles and from touring orchestras and artists. It will be a vital piece of The City's "Culture Mile," a conglomeration of nearby arts facilities also including the Barbican, Milton Court Concert Hall, and more.
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David Marks of Marks Barfield Architects has passed away

Like Paris' Eiffel Tower, the London Eye was only meant to be a temporary structure. However, 17 years after its opening in March 2000, after it had been dramatically hoisted up into place after hanging over the River Thames and unveiled as the "Millennium Wheel," the structure is now an indelible icon on London's skyline. Designed by Marks Barfield Architects, the Eye has now outlived one of its creators, David Marks, who passed away on October 6 at the age of 64. According to his firm, Marks had been ill for sometime. Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Marks grew up in Geneva, Switzerland before moving to London to study at the Architectural Association School (AA) in 1972. There, he met another student, Julia Barfield, who he married in 1981. The couple went on to form Marks Barfield Architects in 1989 and together they have contributed some of the U.K.'s best elevated views over the past two decades. The 1990s was a somewhat bombastic time for London architecture. The impending millennium gave rise to Britain's architectural heavyweights—though not quite household names at the time—to design monuments for the occasion: Richard Rogers, who once employed a young David Marks, provided the Millennium Dome (now the O2 Arena) and Norman Foster the Millennium Bridge. Both structures were swiftly derided after their opening. The Dome was costing the government $42 million a year and couldn't be sold, while Foster's bridge, nicknamed the "Wobbly Bridge" was in fact so wobbly in the wind that it had to be temporarily closed down and fixed. One other millennium-based addition to London's skyline, however, endured no such tumult. As you might have guessed, this is the London Eye. David Marks and Julia Barfield's design dates back to 1993 when it was submitted to a competition organized by the Sunday Times newspaper and The Architecture Foundation which called for a millennium landmark. The Millennium Wheel, along with every other submission, was rejected. Undeterred, Marks and Barfield remained intent on spinning the wheel into motion. Their efforts paid off when the Evening Standard told the story of the wheel's plight and just over a year later, British Airways contacted the firm about getting the project underway. Now, the London Eye is the U.K.'s most popular paid-for attraction with approximately 15,000 daily visitors embarking on the 1,392-foot-journey around the Eye's circumference at a steady 0.6 miles-per-hour. At the turn of the millennium, David Marks was awarded an MBE and a Special Commendation for Outstanding Achievement in Design for Business and Society by the Prince Philip Designers Prize. Marks Barfield's partnership with British Airways has born other fruit too. The firm's most recently completed work, the i360 in Brighton, is a rotating observation tower that rises to 531 feet along the South Coast. Opened in 2016, the structure lifts and revolves a pod, reminiscent of the London Eye's 32 pods, up and around a pole. Another elevated viewing platform the firm provided is the Kew Gardens Treetop walkway. Situated 60 feet above ground, the 650-foot-long path made from weathered steel looks over some of the world's best horticulture. The project was completed in 2008.  Last year, the firm collaborated with New York studio, Davis Brody Bond, to propose a gondola system for Chicago https://vimeo.com/165363195 Currently, Marks Barfield Architects is working on a new Mosque in Cambridge with Keith Critchlow, a professor of architecture at Cambridge University who taught David Marks at the AA.  Due for completion in 2018, the project will accommodate up to 1,000 men and women.   
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This year’s London Design Festival proved it’s not always gray in London

Bright colors, bold stripes, and geometric shapes were found in abundance during London Design Festival (LDF), which closed on September 24.

Stealing the show were London designers Camille Walala and Adam Nathaniel Furman. The former’s Villa Walala inflatable castle comprised a series of basic shapes doused with playful colors to match. Walala’s installation, which is in keeping with her previous work, couldn’t be more out of place. Situated in Broadgate’s Exchange Square by Liverpool Street, Villa Walala spruced up an area typically awash with navy-suited bankers on smart phones. The castle was perhaps much needed.

The splash of color continued on to the West. At the Barbican, Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan designed Joy. Spanning the Barbican’s concrete wall along Silk Street were six symbols: a heart represented love, a globe represented society, a sun represented joy, an eye represented London’s openness, a star represented energy, and finally, a flower represented peace.

The same symbols could also be found at the designers’ Peace Garden and Pavilion in the West Smithfield Rotunda Garden. This piece, which was more accomplished, played with perspective and also provided shelter to visitors courtesy of drapes partially spanning the circular walkway, supported by zig-zagging columns.

More of Myerscough’s work could be found south of the river, too, though this was not part of the LDF. Emblazoned onto Grosvenor Arch, the entrance to Battersea’s Circus West Village (an area primed for vapid commercialization and luxury condos), is the word “POWER.” Just as blindingly colorful as the Peace Garden and Pavilion, the piece – known as Power Circus – makes use of marine plywood panels that were hand-painted by Myserscough and her team of artists.

If this aesthetic was to your taste, then one could head even further west to White City. Here, New York and London-based designers Craig Redman and Karl Maier transformed a former gas station. Titled HereAfter, the colorful installation was not part of the LDF but is open to the public indefinitely. HereAfter can be found on 74 Wood Lane.

It should be no surprise that with such vibrant hues being plastered all over the capital, Adam Nathaniel Furman got in on the act. Another star installation which had Instagrammers flocking to it was Gateways. Commissioned by Turkishceramics, Furman designed four 13-foot-by-13-foot tiled gates that referenced the history of ceramics in Turkish. The gates had different shaped passageways through them and were flanked on either side by shallow water that reflected the colorful tiles.

“There is no other architectural treatment that has remained as fresh, relevant and cool as ceramics has from a thousand years BC, right through into the 21st century,” said Furman.

His work, which was located at Granary Square by Kings Cross Station, fronted the Central Saint Martins art school where DesignJunction—a three-day design fair run in tandem with the LDF—was hosted in and around. Here, work from numerous exhibitors could be found, notably Turner Prize-winning architecture studio Assemble. The group showcased work from their Granby workshop in Liverpool which produced fixtures and fittings for the Granby Four Streets project which won the 2015 Turner Prize. Now in its second year, the workshop is expanding to produce tableware known as “SPLATWARE.”

Also on show at the LDF was work from British architecture firm Sam Jacob Studio. Presented in collaboration with car manufacturer MINI, Urban Cabin was a mock micro-house situated in Blackfriars where Londoners could come and swap books. On one side of the cabin, Jacob installed classically-inflected entablature crafted with a range of materials including foam board, MDF and various types of other timber and chipboard. Among a hammock and other furnishings, Urban Cabin came pre-stocked with architecture, design and London-centric books for people to take and replace – on the condition that they left a personal note about the book.

The festival continued at Somerset House. The most popular piece here was PriestmanGoode’s exhibition of interior design strategies for a hyperloop system. Here, visitors could also sit on prototype seat and feel test finishes and surfaces, look at color palettes and provide suggestions for what they wanted inside hyperloop cars.

LDF spread to Greater London, too. In Bexley, East London, Erith Lighthouse was erected for the festival. The polycarbonate lighthouse, designed by architects DK-CM and design studio The Decorators, was erected along the Thames Estuary's edge and hosted a series of food-based events. 

https://youtu.be/w3KUcQt8Yys

Sticking to light as a medium, the Victoria & Albert Museum showcased the Reflection Room as part of the festival. Created by Flynn Talbot, the exhibition used 56 custom-made stretch membrane Barrisol panels to reflect orange and blue light which emanated from Tryka LED profiles installed at each end of an enclosed corridor .

Want more? Find the full list of projects and events that were found at LDF this year here. Missed it? Maybe next year! The 2018 London Design Biennial will run from September 4 through September 24.

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In London, a new exhibition speculates on the future of Rome

On view at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London is When in Rome - A Collective Reflection on the Eternal City. The exhibition combines two previous shows, Re-Constructivist Architecture, which was at New York's Ierimonti Gallery, and Unbuilt Rome, which was on view at CAMPO in Rome. Both shows closed earlier this year, but are re-opened together in this show. Curated by Jacopo Costanzo, Giulia Leone and Valentino Danilo Matteis, When in Rome exhibits 22 projects from 19 architecture firms and designers from around the world who have all plunged into Rome's past to reframe an architectural future for the city. As a testament to their united vision, the two previous exhibits' convergence at RIBA allows two strands of speculative approaches to architectural intervention in Rome to be viewed in unison. It becomes evident that fundamentally they speak the same language—be it an abstraction or adaptation of the past or a reaction to it. Fitting in 22 projects is no mean feat. Like Re-constructivist Architecture did at the Ierimonti Gallery, projects fill the three walls. However, RIBA's "Practice Space," where the exhibition is located, does so on a larger scale. The extra space means that models—some of which could not be shown in New York—are afforded more room, though they cannot be viewed in the round. While the exhibits in New York and Rome placed the projects' accompanying texts at eye level, in the RIBA show, sometimes viewers are forced to crouch or craning their necks to read them. Aside from this, the means of conceptual representation in When in Rome sheds light on emerging trends in architectural representation. Collages and similar graphic methods are favored by most, with the projects from Re-constructivist Architecture using classical motifs or settings to engender a sense of identity and historical connection within new Roman architecture. In When in Rome, classical art and architecture is often abstracted to reimagine locales, producing artwork that riffs on this classical frame of reference. This can be seen with the work of Portuguese studio fala atelier, French firm jbmn architects, and False Mirror Office from Italy. Seeing the projects together makes it clear that the two exhibitions this show derives the work from converge well together. Projects such as Supervoid's adaptation of Adalberto Libera's never-realized Augustus Mausoleum and Shrine to the Fallen soldiers in East Africa and La Macchina Studio's Triumphal 17 fit well with the manifesto of Re-constructivist Architecture, despite both originally being for Unbuilt Rome. Despite the similarities between the works and themes in Re-constructivist Architecture and Unbuilt Rome, the projects are displayed separately, but without any markers separating them. The projects from "Unbuilt Rome" are bound together by Jacopo Valentini' photographs of the nine sites that never saw the presented projects constructed. Co-curator Jacopo Costanzo told The Architect's Newspaper (AN) that both of the exhibitions used Rome "as a theatre." He believes the array of projects could be seen as a sign of contemporary trends rather than as a unified movement. "The show at RIBA can present a sort of contemporary map of what it's going on in the generation of architects born in the 1980s," Costanzo added, noting that many architecture studios featured in When in Rome are young practices, with many based either in Italy or with experience working in the country.  When in Rome - A Collective Reflection on the Eternal City RIBA Practice Space 66 Portland Place, London, W1B 1AD Through October 8.
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This is Britain’s ugliest building of the year

"A hideous mess," "crass," "over-scaled," "[an] assault on all your senses from the moment you leave the Tube station." The judges were unsparing in their criticism of PLP Architecture's new London development, the Nova Victoria, which emerged the winner of the Carbuncle Cup, architecture's least wanted trophy. This is the sixth year in a row a London project has been crowned Carbuncle-of-the-year, annually awarded by Building Design (BD) a British architecture publication for the ugliest building to have been completed in the U.K. over the previous year. Among the six firms nominated for this year's Carbuncle Cup in the U.K., the largest studio, London-based PLP Architecture, walked away with the prize. Situated in the heart of London, PLP's Nova Victoria is one of the first set of structures people see when exiting Victoria Railway Station. And the sight that welcomes those unfortunate commuters, if they can see past the ongoing construction work, is a gargantuan up-turned arrowhead that is as red as the architects' faces might be today. Lee Polisano, president at PLP, told The Guardian that the building's color "is a reference to Victoria being an important transport interchange, so we chose a color that’s synonymous with transport in London." The developer behind Nova Victoria is Land Securities (LandSec) and this project is their second worthy of the Carbuncle Cup. Rafael Viñoly’s car-melting Walkie-Talkie building was the first in 2015. Nova, LandSec's most recent architectural clunker, houses offices, restaurants, and 170 apartments starting at $940,000. The $500 million project is described on its own website as "ultra-modern, beautifully engineered and architecturally daring. A statement for living amid the grandeur of Westminster and Belgravia." This apparent "statement," it seems, has not worn well on many critics. "Nova should have been good as it’s a prestige site. It makes me want to cringe physically," remarked judge Catherine Croft who is also director of the C20 Society in the U.K. The scathing didn't end there, either. Fellow judge David Rudlin lamented: "There’s no variety and you can’t read the floors." Speaking of the arrowhead, he added, "It’s got the same proportions as Salisbury Cathedral. For me the spire gives it carbuncular status–otherwise it’s just a bad building." BD editor Thomas Lane said also poured on the scorn. "The architect appears to have been inspired by the fractured, angular shapes beloved of stararchitects like Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind and applied these to a run-of-the-mill spec office development," he said. For all of Nova Victoria's flaws, it could have been worse. It's hard to imagine, but as The Guardian's Oliver Wainwright noted, three 40-story towers were proposed to Westminster Council in 2007. This was rejected, and rightfully so, for the project would have cast its Victorian surroundings in shadow. Worth noting too, is that views of and from Buckingham Palace would have been somewhat spoiled.
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Demolition begins on the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens

The Robin Hood Gardens public housing complex in East London has finally met the wrecking ball. After years of protests from locals, architects, and critics, local authorities at the Tower Hamlets council chose to ignore pleas for the Peter and Alison Smithson–designed project and demolish it to make way for a new development. Built in 1972, Robin Hood Gardens was the realization of the illustrious pair's "streets in the sky" concept. A Brutalist icon, its demolition was protested by architects Richard Rogers, the late Zaha Hadid, Robert Venturi, and Toyo Ito, as well as numerous critics including Jonathan Glancey who argued that the building should be turned into student housing. The Twentieth Century Society, too, also campaigned tirelessly for its listing which Heritage England rejected on the grounds that it was not architecturally significant. Situated by East India Quays, the housing complex was just a stone's throw from Canary Wharf, London's financial hub. In many ways, it was a fitting counter, stylistically and programmatically, and was a symbol of resistance. From inside the Robin Hood Gardens' green space—located between the two concrete blocks—the glass towers of Canary Wharf (such as One Canada Square ) could be seen poking over the housing units. Financial capital was seemingly stopped short of knocking down social housing. Except it did. Developer Swan Housing Association will be building Phase Three of "Blackwall Reach," a new housing complex that will see 1,575 new homes added. Three firms—Haworth Tompkins, who won the 2012 RIBA Stirling Prize, Metropolitan Workshop, and CF Møller—are involved. The new scheme will keep the grassy mound that defined the previous project and the new units will be "affordable" dwellings. In the U.K., however, "affordable" is a loose and often redundant term as it means units can be priced at up to 80 percent of the market rate. This means some apartments can cost $1,855 per month. Instead of destroying the Smithson's work, a better option would have been to emulate what Urban Splash did to Park Hill Estate, another Brutalist social housing icon in Sheffield. Here, units were spruced-up and drastically improved, while the local area maintained its post-war heritage. Alas, it is too late. Robin Hood Gardens is no more, and with it goes another icon of the egalitarian post-war principles that shaped Britain and London.
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Heatherwick’s London bridge falls, but his London collaboration with BIG gets approval

This week, designer Thomas Heatherwick saw his studio's Garden Bridge project for London officially scrapped as the trust backing it closed down. However, in a turn of fortune, Heatherwick Studio, which is working alongside the London office of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has been given the green light for a design for Google's headquarters at King’s Cross. After a highly controversial process, the Garden Bridge, which was initially backed by former London Mayor Boris Johnson, never came to fruition after incumbent Mayor Sadiq Kahn withdrew tax payer–backed financial support for it. Prior to this stage, some $48 million had been plowed into the project which was touted to cost more than $260 million. "Sadly, we're winding up. Without backing from [the Mayor of London] we cannot make the dream of the Garden Bridge a reality," tweeted the Garden Bridge Trust earlier this week. Others, notably the ardent opposition Twitter handle "Folly for London," weren't quite so dismayed. Bad news, it seems, had a habit of following Heatherwick around. In January, Khan canceled orders on the double-decker London bus he designed due to costs. In March, his Pier 55 project—a 2.75-acre garden over New York’s Hudson River— was stopped by a federal court ruling, though it received a reprieve in June. More solidly good news, though, came from the London borough of Camden where Heatherwick Studio and BIG's Google headquarters scheme was approved this week. The 869,900-square-foot building occupies a slender site by Kings Cross railway station, following the tracks down toward a canal. Hosting more than 5,000 employees—and capable of housing up to 7,000—Google's $780 million new headquarters neighbors the David Chipperfield–designed One Pancras Square which boasts Aldo Rossi overtones with its moulded cast iron columns. The clunky classicalism of that building is not emulated by BIG and Heatherwick's work, and in further contrast, the Google headquarter's design emphasizes its horizontality through timber mullions which double-up as louvres. The ground level will house retail and the eleventh floor will support a heavily-vegetated green roof. An 82-foot swimming pool and 660-foot running track will also feature within the scheme. Speaking to Richard Waite of the Architects' Journal (AJ), Heatherwick—whose studio is based out of Kings Cross—said, "Strong support for an ambitious building in an important part of the city is more proof that London is not afraid of its future. We’re excited to start building." Bjarke Ingels, meanwhile added: "The unanimous planning approval of our first project in the U.K. is obviously great for us and our London office—but more importantly Kings Cross will get a very lively new neighbor and the U.K. Googlers will finally be united." Across the pond, Heatherwick and Ingels are also collaborating on another Google project, the tech giant's Charleston East campus, in Mountain View, California. (It should be noted that Google's main headquarters will remain in Mountain View; the Heatherwick and BIG collaboration is just a London headquarters.)
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Gehry, DS+R, Snøhetta, Piano, Foster, and Levette compete for a new concert hall in London

Comprising quite the shortlist (described already as boasting the "starriest of starchitects"), Amanda Levete, Norman Foster, Renzo Piano, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Frank Gehry, and Snøhetta are all vying for the commission to design a new venue for the London Symphony Orchestra and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Known as the "Center for Music," the venue—despite protests from Leon Krier—will be located in what is currently the Museum of London, which was originally designed by Hidalgo Moya and Phillip Powell in the 1970s. In a close-knit reshuffle, the Museum of London will be moved to a new location in West Smithfield, only a stone's throw away from its original site at the Barbican. (The new Museum of London has a construction budget of $185 to 210 million and Bjarke Ingels Group, among others, is in the running for that project.) As for the new Center for Music, the roughly $322 million project will require a "state-of-the-art building of acoustic and visual excellence." Originally, the government had planned to provide some funding, but after austerity cuts, its proposed $6.4 million contribution was withdrawn and replaced by the City of London Organization, which is supplying $3.2 million. The venue is due to offer a 2,000-seat concert hall and spaces for teaching too.

The shortlist for the Center for Music in full is as follows:

  • AL_A (U.K.) and Diamond Schmitt Architects (Canada)
  • Diller Scofidio + Renfro (U.S.) and Sheppard Robson (U.K.)
  • Foster + Partners (U.K.)
  • Gehry Partners, LLP (U.S.) and Arup Associates (U.K.)
  • Renzo Piano Building Workshop (France)
  • Snøhetta (Norway)
“It is hugely encouraging that so many leading architects from around the world have responded enthusiastically to the challenge to develop a concept design for the Centre for Music," said Catherine McGuinness, policy chairman at the City of London Corporation, in a press release. "For them, it represents an exceptional opportunity to help realize the plans for this truly remarkable concert hall—outstanding in design and open to all—in the heart of the Square Mile. For the key partners behind this project and the City of London Corporation, this important announcement brings everyone a step closer towards one of the most widely anticipated and significant developments in the Square Mile’s vibrant cultural hub.”

The aforementioned architecture firms and their teams will provide designs in the coming months. A winner is expected to be announced in the fall.

The current concert hall in the Barbican has also seen recent work done to it—or rather underneath it—in the wake of CrossRail, a new rail line that connects East and West London. In order to reduce noise, special spring-loaded rails are being installed to dampen vibrations which reverberate loudly in the tunnels, potentially disturbing performances. Engineers have not been able to test the idea, but are hopeful of its success.

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London tower block fire occurred due to countless ignored fire safety warnings

In West London, a devastating tower block fire has claimed the lives of 17 people. The fire appears to have spread via recently-installed cladding to the block, known as Grenfell Tower, which was originally built in 1974. That cladding was applied last year to the tune of $11 million; it was installed to insulate the 40-year-old structure and to appease the view from nearby conservation areas and luxury flats. Planning documents from 2014 obtained by The Independent read: "Due to its height the tower is visible from the adjacent Avondale Conservation Area to the south and the Ladbroke Conservation Area to the east.... The changes to the existing tower will improve its appearance especially when viewed from the surrounding area." The documents also included: "The re-clad materials and new windows will represent a significant improvement to the environmental performance of the building and to its physical appearance." The cladding project was part of the Grenfell Tower Regeneration Project carried out by design consultant Rydon for the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization (KCTMO), who consulted the London firm, STUDIO E LLP, whose name appears on plans. The spandrel wall panel system used an ACM cassette rainscreen with an aluminum composite material covering polystyrene insulation. Polystyrene, according to the German flammability and combustibility rating system, is highly flammable or "Easily Ignited." Subsequently, it is banned from being used in any exposed installations in building construction if the material is not flame-retardant. When the facade work was finished, Rydon issued a statement saying the "rain screen cladding, replacement windows, and curtain wall facades have been fitted giving the building a fresher, modern look." "The issue is that, under building regulations, only the surface of the cladding has to be fire-proofed to 'class 0,' which is about surface spread," said Arnold Tarling, a chartered surveyor and a fire safety expert in The Guardian. "The stuff behind it doesn’t, and it’s this which has burned." Speaking to The Architect's Newspaper (AN), a London Fire Brigade Firefighter said that the structure's cladding "made it act like a chimney." The cavity behind the panels, he explained, allowed smoke to travel up the building and heat up the new facade before setting it on fire. "If the cladding hadn't been there then the fire definitely wouldn't have spread that quickly. Usually, in tower fires, the concrete levels act as a sealed lock to contain the fire, but this has not happened here." The Firefighter added that people who had their windows open during the hot weather could also have been a factor: this allowed the fire to reach more fuel such as furniture. Despite the reported number of deaths, he said he wouldn't be surprised if that rose to 100. Another London firefighter told AN that there are "a lot more [fatalities] than they have announced." Could this tragedy have been prevented? Many think so. There were repeatedly reported concerns to KCTMO, a private company in London's wealthiest borough. These concerns, made by residents, raised issues of fire safety yet were ignored. In numerous blog posts that explicitly warned of a fire "catastrophe," the council—instead of helping—replied by threatening legal action. Furthermore, 90 percent of residents signed a petition calling for an investigation into the organization that runs the building. However, the council turned it down. In addition to this, a fire action notice put up by KTCMO in the tower told residents to stay in their flat in the event of a fire. If that wasn't enough, a fire at another London tower block (at Lakanal House, in 2009) which resulted in six fatalities appears to have been ignored. Findings in the resulting analysis discovered that inadequate fire risk assessments and panels on the exterior walls did not provide the required fire resistance. The local council was, however, fined $727,263 for its negligence. After such a tragedy, one would expect fire safety standards for buildings to be updated. It appears that was not the case. Though amendments were made in 2007, 2010 and 2013, none addressed the specific issues raised by Lakanal House. In 2016, seven years after the fire, Housing Minister Gavin Barwell said that the government will review part B of the UK's Building Regulations, a section which covers fire safety. This year, Ronnie King, Honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, said the building regulations "haven't taken account of the Lakanal House fire inquest, or updated recent accredited research." STUDIO E LLP's work for KCTMO was approved in 2012, before Barwell's announcement of a review into a fire which happened in 2009. The incompetence and apathy regarding building fire safety are shocking, but this tragedy is the result of deregulation in the housing sector and removal of red tape that supposedly allows developers more freedom to build. Instead, it leads to worse and less safe housing conditions. And amazingly, the story of willful ignorance of experts continues. A survey from 2015 by the Fire Sector Federation, which discusses fire and rescue organizations, found that 92 percent of members thought that regulations were “long overdue an overhaul,” stipulating that they do not cater to modern day design and construction methods. In 2013, then London Mayor Boris Johnson of The Conservative Party told a Labour opponent to "get stuffed" when he was questioned about cuts to the fire service. More recently, in March this year, experts warned that the (Conservative) government's delay in reviewing building regulations could be "endangering tower blocks throughout the UK." Roughly 4,000 British tower blocks are in danger because of the outdated regulations. “We are still wrapping postwar high-rise buildings in highly flammable materials and leaving them without sprinkler systems installed, then being surprised when they burn down," architect and fire expert Sam Webb told The Guardian. As a result of the fire, Grenfell Tower's displaced residents are now without a home, and that's a tough thing in Kensington and Chelsea where the average house price is $1,748,158. During the final stages of the housing bill in the Commons in early 2016, a Labour amendment to ensure landlords were required to keep homes in a liveable standard was voted down by 312 votes to 219, voted for by nearly the entire incumbent Conservative party. At that time, 39 percent of Tory MPs were landlords. To cater for the displaced and newly homeless residents, many are kindly offering their homes out for people to stay. Meanwhile, there are 1,399 empty homes in Kensington and Chelsea, more than anywhere else in the UK. The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has ordered a full public inquiry into the event.