Monday, August 18, 2014

Rust Belt Chic

© Hisao Suzuki

For their August issue, Architectural Record also sent me to review the Pierre Soulages Museum in Rodez, France, by RCR Architects. The link is here.

RCR (Ramón Vilalta, Carme Pigem and Rafael Aranda) is based in Olot, near the Pyrenees in Catalonia. This is their first museum, and perhaps their most prominent work to date, although they have been working, and publishing, for decades, mostly with houses and other small-scale projects in and around Olot. Their best-known project there is the restaurant Les Cols, which I wrote about in Record Interiors in 2003 (page 136).

From AR. © Pep Sau
I think their interest in thick steel plate comes from Richard Serra and Donald Judd, and an early stint in Japan has left its mark. But they have invented their own particular brand of minimalism, and always push that vision further.

The pictures so far don't really convey the experience of this work. Ramón is undertaking to take more, but the sequence of large independent white galleries embedded in a relatively open space of contrasting dark galleries, clad entirely in metal plate and with northern light, is hard to capture.

© Hisao Suzuki
Perhaps the plan gives a better idea.

From AR

The picture does convey something of the harmony between the architecture and Soulages' work. RCR are good dance partners, playing the perfect supporting role.

I was lucky enough to coincide in Rodex with my old friend Hisao Suzuki when he was taking these pictures, and we rode back together to Barcelona, crossing Foster's Milau Aqueduct on the way.
Fade to Black 
Architectural Record
August. 2014

For a more personal view of the Pierre Soulages Museum, I add some of my own photos. They are best for showing details and an idea of texture and the effects of reflected light on the metal surfaces.

Here for example is the entry canopy, seen from outside and in:

The entry to the restaurant was across this very Japanese reflecting pool, enclosed in a screen. The over-sized gravel is basalt:

Sidewalks are edged with a thick flange of steel plate:

The stair rails are composed of three solid tubular bars of steel fused together:

 Can you see that? It fits perfectly into the hand.

Window frames -actually working structurally as well- are formed by paired plates of 6mm steel separated by a reveal:

The all-metal galleries receive a full blast of northern light through screened windows with window seats between the deep flanges that separate each pane of glass:

From this space, the high, white galleries are alluring sanctuaries:

One small complaint: the architect-designed toilets. If you need a sign indicating where to flush, something is wrong. Flush button completely hidden when seat is up. Maybe there are some things architects should leave to the specialists:

Finally, it was hard to get a good general view of the building. Here's a distant approximation from the other side of the park, and from the rear:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

No-Frills High Tech in Turin

Photo: DC
My second article appearing this month is on the Porta Susa High-Speed Train Station in Turin, Italy by Silvio d'Ascia, for Architectural Record (see story here).

I talk about the project's references to traditional train sheds and 19th century glazed commercial galleries, its "no-frills " high tech detailing, and its aspiration to become an urban meeting point. D'Ascia is a Naples native based in Paris, 5 hours from Turin on the same trains that stop at his station.
"The exaggerated length of the building—it is far longer than functionally necessary—echoes other features of central Turin: its boulevards with monumental arcades and its leafy avenues lined with mature trees. Its great length also recalls one of the city's most famous landmarks, the 1923 Fiat Factory at Lingotto, more than 1,600 feet long, with a test track on its roof. In 1989, Renzo Piano converted the building into a multiuse commercial and cultural center, creating an urban amenity for the city's working-class district and Turin as a whole. As the Porta Susa concourse fills out with activity, this role as a thronging pedestrian thoroughfare is one it can aspire to as well."
Porta Susa High-Speed Train Station
Photo from Architectural Record © Giovanni Fontana

So the work fits right in with my report on the urban peculiarities of Turin, which I have updated accordingly. See my blog entry A Day in Turin.

Crystal Palace
Architectural Record
August 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Typologically Rooted and Thermodynamically Tuned

Contemporary Art Museum, Zhuhai, China, 2013 -
I kick off August with an introduction to an issue of the Spanish magazine AV Monografías dedicated to the firm of Ábalos + Sentkiewicz. 
"In the new, thermodynamically-tuned practice of Iñaki Ábalos and Renata Sentkiewicz, the aloof, prismatic volumes of the Ábalos and Herreros era, heirs of Alejandro de la Sota in their technical directness and formal austerity, have evolved into buildings that grow like organic tubers, mushrooms and trees, or emerge as eccentric landforms at a macro-urban scale, while inhaling cooling downdrafts and exhaling ascending columns of heated air."
The couple is now in Boston, where Ábalos is head of the architecture department at Harvard, and their portfolio of projects has become international.

Project Highlights:

Solar Tower (Subsidized Housing), Sociopolis, Valencia

High Speed Train Station, Logroño, Spain, 2013

Contemporary Art Museum, Zhuhai, China, 2013-

Performing Arts Center, Taipei

Tour Port de la Chapelle, Paris (project)

My 2500-word essay explores the dialectic in the firm's concept of "thermodynamic beauty":

"The firm has taken on the current mantra of sustainability ... not as a call for formal restraint, nor as merely a set of technical standards unrelated to the theory and methodology of design. Instead, they are treating the issues raised by sustainability as something of a paradigm shift in the way that architecture is conceived. They refer to this new paradigm under the general theme of the thermodynamic..."
"A second critical concept, which Ábalos makes reference to with terms such as "beauty" and "the picturesque", also underlies this new work. The firm adapts these 18th century aesthetic categories as a dialectical position, which they counterpose to the merely rational management of the quantified data that largely comprises what was formerly known as the design problem. Beauty, and the search for new forms of beauty, represents the dimension of subjective cultural and experiential values that the architect brings to the table, to begin the process in which the design solution is wrestled from the multiple and sometimes conflicting parameters of the design problem."

Una sostenibilidad alternativa
An Alternative Sustainability

 Introduction to issue
AV Monografías 169, 2012, pages 6 - 13.

Tour Porte de la Chapelle