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Spectacular Buildings

Edited by Simone Schleifer, 2007, Taschen, pp. 378, $29.99

ING offices in Budapest

Detail of two-page photograph showing about 60 percent of one facade of ING offices in Budapest by Erick van Egeraat, János Tiba, Judit Z. Halmágyi, Eszter Bódi, photograph by Christian Richters

By Carter B. Horsley

"Spectacular Buildings" is a spectacular book that presents 39 outstanding recent examples of great architecture from around the world when it was published by Taschen in 2007.

Some of the included projects have been treated in other recent books, but most are new and all are very interesting.  The color photographs in this medium format book are wonderful.

In her introduction, Simone Schleifer provides the following commentary:

"Ever since the launch of Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, eye-catching, head-turning, and jaw-dropping buildings with curvy shapes, jagged edges, and flashy materials have followed suite and made the short lists for the world's most pretigious competitions.  Even architects, known for their classic style, have joined in with extraodinary, fancy and curious designs.  Regardless of whether these odd-looking buildings are considered to be true icons or merely snsationalistic examples of iconic architecture, there is no reason why they cannot embrace the best of both worlds and express underlying values through visually impressive design."

One of the more interesting projects is the 7-story ING offices in Budapest that was designed by Erick van Egeraat, János Tiba, Judit Z. Halmágyi, Eszter Bódi.  The mass of the extremely complex building is treated a bit like an accordion and perpendicular lines are rare as much of the building slants slightly one way or another.  The tilting is subtle and restrained and while it does not convey a vertiginous sense of danger it definitely is very energetic, and dynamic - a compressed sense of powerful motion.  

The facade incorporates steel strips and slit windows and two large glass atriums.  The overall effect is glitter but when notices the thing curved stainless steel ribbons that prance about its facade one senses that this is delicate wrapping of delicious style.

The text leaves much to be desired but is certainly accurate when it states that "the hyperkinetic facade of the building contrasts with the traditional robustness of Hungarian architecture, fully integrating with the surroundings thanks to the use of homogeneous materials."

Gota de Plata Auditorium, Pachuca, Mexico

Gota de Plata Auditorium, Pachuca, Mexico, by Jaime Varon, Abraham Metta,  Alex Metta/Migdal Arquitectos, photograph by Paul Czitrom Baus, WarnerHuthmacher

The Gota de Plata Auditorium, Pachuca, Mexico, is a building with a great deal of flair that is likely to remind some art connoisseurs of fabulous paintings of beautiful ladies with very large broad-brimmed hats.  Here, the  architects, Jaime Varon, Abraham Metta,  Alex Metta/Migdal Arquitectos, have made the expansive grand staircase entrance truly dazzling by mirroring much of the underside of its enormous protruding "canopy" with angled, rippling mirrors. The building is in a 62-acre park.  It is hard to imagine that any performance inside the auditorium could match the dizzying vista of looking skyward at the top of the stairs.  Where is Fred Astaire?

Casa da Musica in Oporto, Portugal

Casa da Música in Oporto, Portugal by Rem Koolhaas/Office for Metropolitan Architecture, photograph by Christian Richters, OMA

The Casa da Música in Oporto, Portugal was designed by Rem Koolhaas/Office for Metropolitan Architecture and atypical of that firm's aesthetic for it is monumental, and ungainly but impressive.  The only hint at grandeur is its great, board staircase entrance into a quite small opening in its otherwise mostly blank facades.  One expects a robot from "The Day The Earth Stood Still" to emerge from the opening to tell earthlings to get their act together.  One of the book's captions for this entry remarks that "While from some perspectives the building presents an image of formal elegance, it appears remarkably unbalanced from some others" and one suspects that Koolhaas would take that as a compliment. 

External stairs are the prime design element for Mahler 4 Tower in Amsterdam where Raphael Vinoly Architects took a conventional two-setback, retilinear office tower with deep, thin piers and carved an open fire escape that wraps around the building, an interesting solution.

The Dutch Embassy in Berlin, designed by Coop Himmelb(l)au, takes a somewhat similar approach but applies it with more tricks and polish, albeit in a small project that is notable for its use of glass floors where part of the building is cantilevered.  Other parts of the building are intented and slightly angled.  Rem Koolhaas would applied the glass floor cantilevers on a larger scale for a "peek-a-boo" building in the Flatiron district of Manhattan that was not built.

Hesperia Hotel in Hospitalet de Liobregrat, Spain

Hesperia Hotel in Hospitalet de Liobregat, Spain, by Richard Rogers and Alonso & Balaguer, photograph by Gogortza & Liorella

Take some stainless-steel external fire-stairs that might be found in a London skyscraper, add a broad dash of hot Mediterranean color to the long facades, top it with a glass-domed restaurant reached by a cylindrical outside elevator and place it all over an angled base of mutli-storied windows enclosing very beautiful and highly reflective public interiors and you have the incongruous but impressive, 29-story Hesperia Hotel in Hospitalet de Liobregat, Spain overlooking Barcelona designed by Richard Rogers and Alonso & Balaguer.

Schlachthausgasse in Vienna by Coop Himmelb(l)au

Schlachthausgasse, Vienna, by Coop Himmelb(l)au, photograph by Gerald Zugmann

An entirely different "wrap" is evident at Schlachthausgasse in Vienna, which was designed by Coop Himmelb(l)au.  Here, one end of the project is enclosed in a very bold and large and angled "exoskeleton" that conjures archaic Chinese bronzes in generic form.  

Schlachthausgasse in Vienna

Schlachthausgasse, Vienna, by Coop Himmelb(l)au

The form of the "exoskeleton" is "stuck" onto a side of the building in a setback plaza but instead of mere structural columns at angles it is a bright orange multi-story cantilevered section of the building that is extremely bold and dramatic.  This is higher-level gamesmanship that appears to be throwing down gauntlets to the rest of the architectural world.

The text explains that the asymmetrical project saved existing trees on the site and that it contains 82 apartments and about 129,000 square feet of office space and parking in a site near the Danube.

The book has another entry design by Coop Himmelb(l)au,  Expo 02 in Biel, Switzerland, another sculptural fantasy.  Two long roofs on stilts jutting out into a lake harbor a group of three towers.  The text noted that "movement and pressure sensors turn the visitors' movements into light and sound reflections, thus interactivelyh shaping the Expo.

Quai Branly in Paris

Quai Branly Museum in Paris by Jean Nouvel, photography by Pep Escoda

The Quai Branly Museum in Paris exemplifies the trend toward mysterious complexity.  Designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, it is highly original in its massing and concept with some elements demonstrating a jarring propinquity that is both odd and fascinating. Some facades have dark brise de soleils that can open out from the bottom along right red railings.  Much of the complex is elevated above several acres of gardens and one facade is fully landscaped vertically.  Some parts of the complex have cantilevered box elements of different colors above a curved glazed "runway."  You're not in Kansas anymore. 

Nouvel is also represented in the book by his Agbar Tower. which is quite near Gaudi's incredible Segrada Familia in Barcelona.  The text remarks that its phallic shape "emulates a perfectly constant water spout under stabilized pressure," adding that its facade contains 40 colors and "the architectural form consists of two cylinders in the shape of concentric ovals, crowned by a dome of steel and glass."

Denver Museum addition by Libeskind

Denver Art Museum Extension by Studio Daniel Libeskind, photograph by Bitter Bredt

Daniel Libeskind shot to architectural glory with his Jewish Museum in Berlin, but he has channeled his flamboyant designs into many other projects in recent years including the multi-faceted extenstion to the Denver Art Museum that is sort of a non-curvilinear Gehry phantasmogoria of rakish angles and titanium shine.  This building erupts and soars and its contextual relationship to its surroundings is intimidating, thank goodness for a change.

Federation Square

Federation Square in Melbourne by LAB Architecture Studio, Bates Smart, photography by Andrew Hoobs and Adrian Lander

Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia, is one of the 21st Century's greatest urbanistic marvels: it is as if the architects threw up all the assembled elements of its construction up into the air so they would fall into place helter-skelter, but not willy-nilly.  Many of the buildings in the low-rise complex have mutli-faceted facades of fractal-like elements in pale orange, dark gray and white and one prominently placed structure is a spectacular diamond-like jewel of an all-glass structure.  Window openings make jigsaw aesthetic  intriguing day and night.  This great project, which encompasses a major new "town square," was designed by LAB Architecture Studio and Bates Smart.

Sony Center by Jahn

Sony Center 02 in Berlin by Murphy & Jahn, photographs by Engelhardt/Sellin, H. G. Esch

The Sony Center 02 development in Berlin by Murphy & Jahn is a high-tech marvel of slick engineering and very complex designs whose epicenter is a huge "forum" that is reminiscent of the firm's great State of Illinois Center in Chicago that made the firm's reputation.  The covered space is ribs of thin red metal strips and sail-like elements soaring around a spectacular "harpoon" that literally ties everything together.  The space is totally unexpected and quite thrilling, a rare architectural experience.

Another Murphy & Jahn project in the book is the Munich Airport that is very elegant in its unusual massing and large covered spaces.

Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart by UN Studio

Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart by UN Studio, photographs by Brigida Gonzalez, Christian Richters, UN Studio

The 9-story, Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart by UN Studio can perhaps be likened to a drunken and wobbly Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum or the superstructure of a huge battleship as it sags from a direct bomb hit.  Such allusions, of course, belie its quite futuristic and dynamic aesthetic that tosses symmetry out the proverbial rear window. Is this slip-sliding structure an engine or is it just brazenly smacking its lips at our consternation?   Of course, we should have noted that its canted strips of large windows in front of angled structural supports conceals a dual ramp atrium for display of 150 cars.  Yes, it's a garage!  Yet, from some perspectives could it be that this svelte lady is winking at us and pursing her lips.  At once voluptuous and high-tech, this building never saw a rule it didn't want to break and that's not only courageous but admirable!


Norddeutche Landesbank in Hannover, Germany, by Behnish Architekten, photography by Roland Halbe, Schodder, Kandzia

A project that combines the dramatic features of many great buildings, the Norddeutche Landesbank in Hannover, Germany is another extremely complex project with cylindrical skywalks, sharply slanted atriums and a multitude of cantilevers with a central courtyard  with water features.  Behnish Architekten design the very impressive project, which has some very colorful interiors with Corbusian murals.  

The book profiles 39 major projects, each with several excellent photographs.  The text leaves much to be desired and it would have been nice to at least know what year each project was building, how large it is and who developed it an to have a good index.  Nonetheless the chosen projects are superb and offer different views to some well-known and celebrated projects such as Selfridges in Birmingham, England, and the Prada Aoyama Epicenter,

Click here to order the book from amazon.com for 24 percent off its $29.99 list price

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