By Carter B. Horsley
The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary Architecture,
which was published in May, 2004, documents 1,052 buildings by
656 architects in 75 countries that were completed since January
1998 with 4,600 color photographs and 2,400 line drawings.
This is a giant book: it measures 20.8 by 16.1
by 3.9 inches and its shipping weight, with a transparent plastic
briefcase, is 19.7 pounds. There are no more than two projects
per page and there are numerous illustrations for each project.
One project even has 12 color photographs.
Although many lovers of architecture will be
familiar with some of the projects, most of the projects and architects
will be unfamiliar to most. Rafael Moneo and Herzog & De Meuron
have 9 projects each; Tadeo Ando has 8 and Frank Gehry 6.
The book showcases the selected projects with
thousands of well-chosen color photographs plans, elevations,
and cross-sections. Major elements of each project are described
in elegantly succinct texts. Rather than simply pay lip service
to the concept of "world" architecture, this book ranges
throughout 75 countries on six continents. And although the big
names in the field are here, the focus is on the ingenuity and
diversity of contemporary architecture, regardless of the fame
of its creator.
The text commentaries for each project are
succinct but excellent and the book also provides economic, environmental,
and demographic information for all the countries represented
in the survey.
This is without question the architectural
book of the year, indeed, of this millennium so far.
The selection of projects highlighted in this
article is based solely on those that caused this reviewer to
interrupt his page-turning on his first perusal. The overwhelming
majority of the included projects are intriguing and interesting.
Everytime, one reopens the book, however, one discovers other
The National Museum of Australia in Canberra,
(see The City Review article on "Architects
Now") shown above, is one of the more colorful projects.
Designed by Ashton Raggart McDougal in association with Robert
Peck von Hartel Trethowan and it won a competition for the project
in 2001. The commentary notes that "the museum employs the
metaphor of a Boolean string, a computer-generated mathematical
precept." "The string represents a tangling of these
formalized axes; its contortions embrace the land, water, space
and building. the tangled canopies, pathways, landscape elements
and the crescent-shaped footprint of the building, a reference
to the convergence of cultures within Ausralia. The symbolism
of the knot is also a commentary on the complexity of contemporary
issue relating to indigenuous Australians. The Australiam Institute
of Aborigimal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, incorporated
in the Museum, is a black version of Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye,
a sardonic reference to the notion of a white icon."
Another great Australian project is the Victoria
University Online Training Cente in Melbourne that was designed
by Lyons in 2000. It is notable for its stunning facade. The text
notes that "Through techniques of scaling, the building seems
to transform as the viewer changes distance and position. The
facade combines a voncentional construction system with new digital
technologies. Metal panels are imprinted with a pixelated graphic
image, derived from colours and forms within the surrounding landscape.
the intricate pattern of shimmering, distorted dots read as perforations,
imbuing the thin layers of the facades with a sense of depth.
From the south, the project emreges from and recedes into the
grassland backdrop. Sequences of graphic cuts across the surface
are folded out to form angled, hooded openings. These glazed punctuations
gradually shift in legibility, and dissolve into the seamless,
shimmering surface when seen from the opposite direction. Providing
visual connections and controlled levels of natural light to the
interior, these openings challenge assumptions that computer environments
are hermetic. The building responds abstractly to its function
as a and to the surrounding landscape, through the sale, colour
and manifuplation of its suface." While the building is not
beautiful, the ingenuity of its facade treatment is very exciting.
Perhaps the most spectacular project in the
book is Federation Square in Melbourne, which was designed by
Lab architecture studio in association with Bates Smart in 2002.
A very complex low-rise project of jumbled geometries, the project
contains the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Centre
for the Moving Image and a national television broadcasting centre
as well as retail and commercial spaces and restaurants. "The
design for Federation Square, Melbourne's new cultural centre,"
the entry for this project notes, "responds to the need for
visual and formal coherence with complex and contorted geometry.
This has not produced a resolved iconic object that is either
rigid or pure in form; it is rather an emergent form that can
respond to the different needs of the diverse activities that
take place there.....Cladding materials include sandstone, zinc
and glass. The large high-volume atrium, which acts as a 24-hour
public thoroughfare and covered meeting place, is enclosed and
glass and paved in sandstone...."
Daniel Liebeskind's second most important commission
before the World Trade Center was the Imperial War Museum of the
North in Manchester, England, in 2002. "It continues,"
the entry notes, "his distinctive language of zigzags and
clashing diagonals, originally presented in his Jewish Museum
of Berlin, provoking devate about whether this translation of
style to a new context dilutes the original potency of the work.
This project provides a highly internalized visitor experience,
with few views to the outside....Externally, the building is conceived
as a composition of three shards: roof forms mimic shattered fragments
of a sphere smashed on the ground, and present the elements of
earth, air and water. ...for many observers, it is a textbook
example of Deconstructivist architecture, realizing in built form
the tortured story of the capacity of the human race for self-destruction."
One of the wildest and most sensational projects
in the book is Walch's Event Catering Administration Building
in Lustenau, Austria that was designed and built in 2000 by Dietrich
Untertrifaller Architects. The book entry for this project notes
that "The building is constructed from prefabricated timber
elements, and the interior and exterior walls clad with chipboard."
"This, however," it continued, "is not visible
from the outside, as the entire building is covered with a skin,
thework of Austrian artist Peter Kogler, The net-like material
can be looked through from inside, but no views into the building
are possible when standing outside, even in darkness. The tubular
forms printed on the translucent material diminish all sense of
the dimensions and proportions of the building. Theatrically lit
at night, it appears as a strange, alien object, with no reference
to its context."
The Modern Art Museum of Fort
Worth was designed in 2000 by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates
and it adjoins Louis Kahn's 1972 Kimball Art Museum. "Tadao
Ando's design arranges the rectangular volumes in a row, surrounded
by a large pool of reflective water and landscaped gardens. Each
block is constructed of a concrete box within a glass box: the
concrete, which protects the collection within from the harsh
desert environment, exaggerates the transparency of the glass,
while the glass, which provides monumental public circulation
areas, mitigates the massiveness of the concrete....Huge, cantilevered
concrete roofs shade the building from strong sunlight, with the
roof slabs supported on Y-shaped concrete columns 12 meters (40
feet) high. a system of continuous linear skylights and clerestory
windows allows diffused natural light to cascade down into the
The Aluminium Forest in Utrecht, Netherlands
was designed by Architectenbureau Micha de Haas in 2001 and sits
on 368 piloti of varying dimensions and functions. "The variation
in width of separation and angle of each column," the book
entry observes, "animates the whole, giving he impression
of an oversized and alien amphibious creature teetering on the
edge of the water. The close proximity of the columns enables
the building to defy expectations of the stength ad versatility
of aluminium, displaying innovate aspects which partly result
from the use of aerospace technology."
Another very successful experiment
with columns and one of the most elegant and striking designs
is the Sendai Mediathèque in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture
in Japan. It was designed by Toyo Ito & Associates in 2001
and employs a remarkable structure system of large hollow tubes
that are angled slightly and differently as they rise.
Simmons Hall at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology was designed in 2002 by Steven Holl Architects and
is a monumental structure that defies scale and creates its own
colorful skyline. The dormitory was designed in association with
Perry Dean Rogers Architects. The 10-story-high structure has
five large openings that, the entry observes, "roughly correspond
to main entrances, view corridors and outdoor activity terraces."
"A tight grid of windows is connected by a shimmering exterior
of anodized alumium, reflective during the day and glowing at
night....Colour on the window heads and hambs defines the ten
residential 'houses' within the building."
The angled geometry of the "black and
stretched aluminium external skin" of the Gérald-Godin
College in Montreal is stunning. It was designed by Saucier +
Perrotte in 2000.
The Giovanni and Marella Agnelli Art Gallery
sites atop the Fiat Factory in Torino, Italy, that was designed
in 1917 by Matté Trucco. The art gallery was designed in
2002 by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop.
One of the most famous works in the book is
the UFA Cinema Center, designed by Coop Himmelb(l)au in 1998 in
Dresden, Germany. The building contains eight cinemas with seating
for a total of 2,600 seats. Half of the theaters are underground
and the other four are "slotted together as a series of interlocking
wedges, forming a six-storey block," the entry noted, adding
that "Grafted on to the side of this block is a skewed crystalline
volume that serves as the foyer to the complex. Fire-escape stairs
run down the length of the cinema block behind a scaffolding-like
grid. The raw concrete monolith of the cinema block provides an
earth-bound foil for the dynamism and lightness of the glass foyer,
in which ramps, stairs and bridges, some glazed, some enclosed
by galvanized metal balustrades, carve irregular angular patterns
through the space. A café housed in a double inverted cone
is suspended over the foyer, providing cinema-goers with dramatic
views through the foyer and over the square."
El Croquis is a major architecture publication
published in Madrid Spain. Richard Levene and Fernando Marquez
Cecilia, the editors and publishers of the magazine, designed
its head office in 1998. The very handsome project consists of
two tilted low-rise structures that sit on a Cor-ten steel platform.
Street facades are travertine marble and the garden facades are
Santiago Calatrava's Sondika Airport in Bilbao,
Spain, was designed in 1999. The book entry for this project notes
that "Ramps and passages peel off from the main hall, disappearing
underground into the underbelly of the car-parks, or leading up
to the airy viewing platform," adding that "The building
is dynamic in its flows and creates an incredible sense of gravity,
constituting an appropriate transition space between earth and
William Lim Associates and Tang Guan-Bee Architects
designed a three-dimensional Mondrianesque building called The
Gallery in Singapore in 2000. The project is a hotel and in addition
to its projecting windows with different colored frames, its facade
is enlivened by rectilinear lights at night, a precursor to the
Porter House apartment building facade in the Chelsea section
of New York a few years later.
Another superb example of the use of color,
and another homage to Mondrian, is the Colorium in Dusseldorf,
Germany. Designed by Alsop Architects in 2001, it is an office
building that is part of a "Media Harbour" project that
will include works by Frank Gehry, Fumihiko Maki, Steven Holl
and David Chipperfield. "A patchwork of coloured panels made
up of 17 distinct types of glass blurs the regularity of the floor
divisions and allows entire elevations to be read as intricately
patterned collages....The tower is capped by a projecting crimson
plant instation which is transformed by lighting into a glowing
One of the more complex projects is the North
German Regional Clearing Bank in Hannover, Germany, which was
designed in 2002 by Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner. "Despite
being for a large commercial client," the project's entry
maintained, "the building eschews monumentality, with the
scale broken down to create a humane working environment. The
tower and spaces around the courtyard are organized with an angular
geometry. The erratic plan is exploited to provide a variety of
office accommodation and open circulation spaces, with exterior
views and plentiful daylight, avoiding the featureless corridors
typical for countless modern office buildings. Mini-blocks of
offices spectacularly busrt out at different angles from the tower
itself - at one place steppping dramatically out floor by floor
- again fragmenting the mass of the complex."
Located next to the base of the Space Needle
in Seattle, the Experience Musice Project was designed by Gehry
Partners in 2000. "The fragmented and undulating forms of
the building are inspired in part by the image of a shatter Fender
statocaster guitar, an image that is reinfoced by looping steel
cables which suggest broken guitar strings." This is one
of Frank Gehry's most colorful projects. The Seattle Center Monorail
passes through its interior.
A far simpler and more graceful project by
Gehry Partners is the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles
that was built in 2003. The hall has 2,275 seats and an interior
of timber with skylights to allow natural light to enhance daytime
In 1994, Samsung stopped work on a new 20-story
corporate headquarters building in Seoul, South Korea, and commissioned
Rafael Vinoly to rethink the design. His solution was to enlarge
the project and add a cultural and educational centre as well
as retail spaces while tripling its height to create the tallest
skyscraper in the city. "The new scheme centres on three
architectural interventions. The first is the vertical extension
of the three circulation towers to support 'the cloud,' a two-story
volume containing a restaurant and nightclub at the top of the
builidng. The second is a giant-scaled cornice, added to the top
of the original building's volume and extending over a public
plaza below. Finally, a separate volume was constructed above
this cornice to accommodate the offices," the entry for the
project observed. The result is an extremely handsome and interesting
Another project in Seoul by an American architectural
firm is the Donghu Financial Centre. Designed by Kohn Pedersen
Fox, it was built in 2002 and is distinguished by its subtle use
of diagonals. "The design concept of 'layering' was derived
from traditional Korean handicrafts such as shik-tak-bo,
in which pieces of cloth are randomly patched together. The building's
services were layered vertically by means of an organizational
core. To distinguish the building from its surrounding rectagular
neighbours, an organic design approach was used rather than the
predominating geometric idiom. A strong sculpture statement is
made by the undulating, diagonal curtain walls. The resulting
north-facing elevation is a collection of slightly canted surfaces,
each reflecting a different part of the sky and surrounding cityscape...the
curtain walls terminate in soaring vectors of stainless steel....,"
the project's entry noted.
Another tower that interestingly employs diagonals
vertically is 131 Rue Pelleport apartment house in Paris, which
was designed in 1999 by Frédéric Borel Architecte.
"The angular form," the entry maintains, "creates
a frozen moment on the crossroads in the manner of the Roman baroque,
with excess and sheer dynamic movement....The 20 apartments are
organized around an opaque core containing services, while the
external surfaces, forming the facade, are used to define and
divide the spaces of inhabitation. This allows the interiors to
be fully orientated towards the light and the surprising views
of Paris, with private exteiror spaces that can be transformed
into winter gardens."
One of the most spectacular projects is the
Transportation Centre, Inchon International Airport, also in Seoul,
South Korea. Designed by Terry Farrell & Partners in 2002,
it is highlighted by its great hall. "A steel portal truss
structure rises from the ground and vaults over the hall, its
skeletal fluidity and spatial sweep recalling the form of a crane,
a sacred bird to the Korean people, in take-off. It is an icon
of dynamism, symbolising native culture, flight and the future.
The biomorphic forms of the whole compostion evoke flight and
dynamism. but the symbol of the future is the pod-lke flight control
centre, with a glass belly that acts as an aerofoil in the natural
ventilation of the hall below," the text notes.
Another great transportation project is the
Yokohama International Port Terminal in Japan. It was designed
in 2002 by Foreign Office Architecture. This project has a spectacular
landscaped roof and even more spectacular interiors with slanted
wood walls and floors.
In 2002, Mansilla + Turlon
designed a concert hall in León, Spain that is distinguished
by its stunning facade of rectangular windows in angleddeep inserts
conjuring the modernity of Le Corbusier.
A windowless, curved exterior composed of about
15,000 aluminum disks, the Selfridges Department Store in Birmingham,
West Midlands, England, (see The City Review
article on "Architects Now") was designed in 2003
by Future Systems. Unquestionably distinctive, it is both high-tech
and organic, an instant landmark of strange aesthetic. "The
fluidity of the building's bubble-shaped form is matched inside
with an organically-shaped atrium....Future Systems re-interpreted
the notion of a department store," according to the book's
entry for this project, "not only in its appearance, but
also by analysing the social function such a building plays in
contemporary society. The form of the building is soft and curvaceous
in response to the nature curve of the site. It is expressive
in a way that is aesthetically innovative but also clearly signifies
its function as a department store, without the need for signage."
To some observers, however, the signification is not so clear
and perhaps the aluminum disks should have pricetags on them.
The Guthrie Pavilion in Shah Alam, Malaysia,
was designed by T. R. Hamzah & Yeang in 1998 and is a nautical-themed
pavilion is a golf clubhouse with office space. Three masts hold
five canopies that protect the building form the sun and aluminium
louvres further help energy considerations.
The Royal Library in Kobenjavn, Denmark was
designed in 1999 by Schmidt, Hammer & Lassen and "the
twisted shapes and inclined facades of this high-profile building,
nicknamed the "Black Diamond," have made it a landmark,"
the entry notes. "The granite-clad diamond structure broadens
the traditional concept of a library, accommodating a wide variety
of cultural events,...This extension to the existing Royal Library
appears to float on a ribbon of raised glass, which allows views
into thefoyer from outside and panoramic views of the waterfront
Arquitectonica designed a very
graceful shoppng center called "Festival Walk" in Hong
Kong in 2003 that is notable for its handsome facades and spectacular
atriums criss-crossed by stainless-steel escalators.
One of the stunning projects in China is the
Library for Zhejiang University's Ningpo Campus in Zhejang Province.
Designed by MADA s.p.a.m., it was completed in 2002. Each facade
is different. The entry for this project observes that "Whereas
the grid of windows and recesses in the facade somewhat tames
the impact of the nine-storey cube, the sublime qualities of size
are evoked on the inside, there the common facilities - conference
centre, exhibition gallery, screening room, cyber lounge and reading
deck - are suspended within a full-height atrium. The atrium is
bounded on all sides by stacks, which in turn are surrounded by
rows of four-seater study-tables, positioned against the external
walls so that each receives natural light directly from its own
window. Raised on an honirific podium and easily recognized from
a distance by its coloured finishes and Corbusian, funnel-shaped
skylgihts, the library's repetitive fenestration minics that of
the the surrounding buildings, perhaps to camouflage its newness."
Another great Chinese project is the Nanning
Gateway in Nanning, Guangxi designed by Denton Corker Marshall
in 2002. The project has two huge metal red flowers on either
side of the main road into the city, one is complete but the other
is deconstructed into separated petals spread along a considerable
length of the highway.