Wednesday, 11 November 2015

League Champion

Sports Arena 
Rovaniemi, Finland
APRT Architects 2015

APRT Architect's Rovaniemi sports arena is a brilliant exercise in style and economy

Construction of a fine new sports arena is nearing completion in the Finnish town of Rovaniemi, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Located near the town centre and backing onto a major road, this low-budget project provides an all-weather pitch and athletics facilities for community use and RoPs, a small professional football club. Rovaniemi is a pleasant town in a magnificent setting on the banks of the wide and fast-flowing Kemijoki River and distinguished by a post-war masterplan and civic buildings by Alvar Aalto

First indications that the stadium design is something special come from glimpses between buildings and trees of the monumentally-scaled blades of its dark brown structure. But this is not the richly textured oxidised steel of top-end Corten construction. Closer examination reveals that the construction of the structural blades supporting the stadium superstructure is actually vertical steel trusses clad in brown-stained ply and sitting on in-situ concrete piers. Banked ground between the stadium and the road provides simple and elegant access to the rear of the seating tiers. 

In APRT Architect's competition-winning design the staggered layout of blades, which animates the composition when seen from different viewpoints, interlocks with a zig-zag arrangement of residential and office buildings facing onto the busy road. Even without this element of the design, the stadium has a compelling presence.

The blades frame panels of sky, defining irregularly shaped tiers of multi-coloured seats. Anyone who has sat through a thinly attended event will know just how dispiriting the experience can be. The Rovaniemi sports arena is more than a simple container for spectators: rich form and patterning contrive to populate the stadium, regardless of actual attendance. APRT Architects are to be congratulated for a fine building, skilfully executed on a tight budget.

Previous blogs on sports venues:
Hackney Football Centre (Stanton Williams)
London Olympics: Velodrome (Hopkins Architects) and Aquatic Centre (Zaha Hadid Architects)
London Olympic Site revisited
London Olympic Park

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A Fine Balance

Balancing Barn 

Thorington, Suffolk  2010


Like a scintillating spacecraft that has touched down in Constable Country, MVRDV's Balancing Barn is the perfect rural retreat for jaded metropolitans

Distinctive buildings are rarely a compromise; they stand out because it is accepted that a price must be paid for being different. The Balancing Barn, built for Living Architecture by Dutch practice MVRDV, is a good example. Their decision to create a single-storey linear holiday home that cantilevers daringly over an escarpment turns the building into a giant truss, whose diagonal struts crash across many of the windows. A  large glass panel in the living room floor  draws attention to the disconcerting structural arrangement. The layout is tailored for short stays rather than permanent habitation. Two doors lead into the generous kitchen and dining space, which has wide sliding glazed doors on each side. From here a side corridor runs about 20m, past four bedrooms, each with en-suite bathrooms, to the living room.

Wrapped in gleaming stainless steel, at the end of a tree-lined gravel drive retained from a previous house on the site, the Balancing Barn appears like a surreal cabin. Enigmatically oscillating between readings as a solid volume and reflective surface, the building both emerges from and merges with its leafy context, poised between integration with and detachment from nature.

Most of the structural heavy lifting is done behind the external skin: this is a building that pulls out all the stops to achieve instant 'look-no-hands' visual impact. The form of the structural braces is exposed in the corridor and living room, although the steel is wrapped in timber panelling, which also lines the walls and ceilings. In the bedrooms the structure is mainly concealed, within thickened wall and ceiling zones.

The ’otherness’ of the Balancing Barn is further emphasised by its relationship with the ground: a bold shadow gap at its base and galvanised mesh ramps at all door thresholds suggest detachment. A hinge detail where the ramp frames connect to the building implies that they could be pulled up to form defensive shields.

Is all this transgression worth the effort? Suppose that the cantilever was replaced by a column? Yes, this might allow the diagonal braces to be removed from the window openings, making it possible to enjoy standing just inside their threshold, but it would also undoubtedly dilute the architectural idea of release from the ground. Even the braces have a positive aspect: of reinforcing a sense of enclosure and protection from the outside world. At the entrance, in the kitchen dining space and in the end wall of the living room, generous unrestricted windows, are made special by contrast with the layered construction of the braced windows. A few days in the Balancing Barn, a building poised between dream and reality, allow an escape from the humdrum.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Fondation Louis Vuitton - Luxury Branding in Paris

Fondation Louis Vuitton
Paris 2014
Gehry & Partners

Is there more to Gehry & Partners' new gallery for the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris than a fusion of luxury branding?

Frank Gehry has come a long way since his pioneering 70's junk constructivism in Santa Monica. There isn't a scrap of corrugated steel sheet or chain-link in sight at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, where he has built a no-expense-spared cultural monument to the designer handbag magnate; but a lifetime's experience have found new expression in what is, quite possibly, his masterpiece. Instead huge billowing sails of curved glass, some delicately fritted, float amongst the tree canopy of the Bois de Boulogne. Located next to mature woodland and on the edge of the Jardin de Acclimatation, where amusement pavilions have entertained generations of young Parisians, the Fondation offers aerial promenades with views out to the woodland and beyond to the city.

At the core of the building, galleries are simple hangars with framed views through the frenetic outer wrapping to the park. Unlike those other notably flamboyant free-form Galleries, the Guggenheim in New York by Frank Lloyd Wright, and in Bilbao, by Gehry himself, at the Fondation there is a disjunction between display spaces and the elaborate gymnastics of the building envelope. The great spatial and experiential richness that this generates epitomise the best of Frank Gehry's work.

Although benefitting from improvements to the environs funded by Louis Vuitton, the frivolous equilibrium of the Jardin de Acclimatation is nonetheless disrupted by the sheer bulk of its new neighbour. However, the monumental scale of the Fondation engages more positively with the extensive Bois de Boulogne and the Grands Projets that punctuate the city; perhaps appropriately for our uncertain times, a flurry of commas and brackets answering the emphatic exclamation mark of the Eiffel Tower!

Does the Fondation Louis Vuitton represent the triumph of style over form? Like the luxury accessories that Vuitton has marketed so successfully, Gehry's distinctive architectural approach delivers cultural cachet; the building also locates architecture within the broader spectrum of the design industry and is a seductive advert for both the Vuitton and Gehry brands.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton from the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower from the Fondation Louis Vuitton