Category Archives: architecture

Architecture jocks

Respect for layering is a basic heritage principle.

Heritage places are the result of a layering of history, of use and change, and it is the values related to this layering which is important.
(Pearson & Marshall, 1995, Study of World Heritage Values Convict Places)

The principle is so fundamental that it is now a given that contemporary additions should be in a contemporary style, albeit sympathetic to the existing fabric in scale and treatment, rather than attempt to mimic the style of the original building.

On the other hand we doubt if anyone foresaw that layering in a different sense would become a plague on heritage buildings. First we had that heritage disaster, facadism.

facadism in london

Adaptive reuse it ain’t. It’s a blight around the world and can only be seen as a sort of architectural passive-aggressive contempt for heritage, a way for mediocre architects (and governments and planners and above all developers) to spit in the face of a public that preferred the building that was there already. It is revealing that, for all its ubiquity, facadism seems to have had only one serious book written about it and perhaps that’s an indicator of a secret shame within the architectural profession …. at least we hope so.

But there is another closely related form of physical layering, piling one building on top of another like a cake. Proposals date back decades and have almost invariably caused controversy.

But you do see cases where the results are good enough to be defensible,

Hearst Tower New York by Norman Foster
Milton CJ)

like Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower in New York. But mostly piles, as we like to call them, just look ungainly at the smallest scale, and at the largest scale the historic building is often reduced to a hollow decorative podium,

Hearst Tower New Yok lobby(Photo glemak)

its integrity compromised if not completely destroyed.

And then one day you see a pile that can only be described as beautiful.

Caixa Forum Madrid Herzog de Meuron
(Photo greta_y_doraimon)

We posted another similar Herzog and de Meuron project in Hamburg but this is a smaller example of the same approach applied to the headquarters of a private benevolent trust, the Caixa Forum, in Madrid. It has more than the usual adaptive reuse virtues. Of course it reuses an existing building and it is appropriate in scale to its surroundings, but by removing the foundations they have given it the appearance of levitating, a conceit that lifts it well out of the ordinary.

The Caixa Forum has adaptively reused other buildings

Caixa Forum Casa Ramona Barcelona

– its Barcelona gallery is in a rebuilt 1911 Art Nouveau Factory – but the Madrid building,

Caixa Madrid Patrick Blanc plant wall
(Photo davidarredondogarrido)

with the addition of the Patrick Blanc Mur Végétal, raises interesting questions about the way cultural memes present themselves within different art forms. Removing the foundations of the original building

Caixa Forum Madrid entrance

effectively turns both the new and the original buildings into samples and the architects into architectural DJs (or should that be AJs) rubbing stylistic snippets up against each to create a delightful cacophony. It seems to have taken a century or so for the cubist collage aesthetic to reach architecture, and along the way it passed through Brion Gysin and William Burroughscut-up writing technique and the music of John Cage to hip hop and finally it’s ended up in architecture. Why has it taken so long? (Yes, we know there an infinite number of unintentional historical examples.)

Catching up

We’re back after a desperately needed break, last year was far too busy and problematic, hence the slow posting. Hope you all had a happy buying season and paid due obeisance to the gods of consumerism – at least you can be sure they exist.

Santa confesses he and Jesus aren't real

Let’s do a bit of a round up to get us started.

This turned up in our email from Etienne Meneau titled La Maison Elastique

The elastic houses are made for those who like instability and precarious, who like to be awakened by the sound of the rain, those who like to sleep under the boats returned. They will be recalled at any time to the realities of gravity, rocked bywind and earthquakes. The elastic houses therefore ask its inhabitants a strong sense of balance and a real taste for the experiments.

And we are of course great lovers of the unstable and the precarious. But that image has already got a bit of a run from a few other blogs.

We preferred this,

a more minimal interpretation of the hammock adaptively reused as a hang out, so to speak.

And the roof is also wonderful but the reason for its wonderfulness eludes us, it just has that certain minimalist indefinable je ne sais quoi.

(Photo cdstar)

Meanwhile the High Line adaptive reuse project is progressing nicely although this garden will be sadly missed by someone. It illustrates perfectly how it’s the stolen places and lost spaces in the cracks of urbanisation that so often make cities livable. Here are some photos of the work in progress. And speaking of stolen places, just in case you missed this story, how about living (secretly) in a mall?

Studio Jo Meesters in Eindhoven in the Netherlands has been adaptively reusing old tea services as, er, new tea services by sand blasting them

And near by in Brussels time is up for RDF811,

the temporary headquarters of Brussels group Rotor, also squeezed into a waste space if not exactly lost or secret.

In December 2006, Rotor took the initiative to build a temporary HQ in the rue de flandres. One year and a 2 months later, we are starting to plan its disassembly. Deconstruction is scheduled for 22, 23, 24 of February, and we are still looking for volunteers who can help us. Concretely, we are looking for 10 volunteers for each day, but if you can only spare a couple of hours, you are welcome as well.

If you’re in Brussels with a hammer in your hand contact them through their new website .

We liked their kitchen of reused diecutting stamping boards but we doubt if there are enough to go round, just like there weren’t enough of the book that has come out on our favourite architects Lacaton Vassal and sold out before we even heard about it. It’s a hard life.

But at least those bats won’t miss out,

their new home is on the way.

Finally, we are so used to seeing great films stolen and fucked up by Hollywood remade (there is nothing in the universe that can’t be made cheaper and nastier under the direction of an accountant) that it is great to see a project that could be described as an adaptive reuse of a film classic with the potential to be as interesting as the original.

Dziga Vertov‘s early cinematic masterpiece Man with a movie camera is being remade shot by shot on the internet in a sort of open source film making exercise where you can provide your own version of a scene from the original.

Individuals are invited to upload shots and scenes based on scenes from the original film, creating a database which then streams as a film. As a collection of personal visions this montage is in Vertov’s terms “a continuous exchange of visible fact”. Uploads to the site will take place continuously: the nature of the database is infinite.

We loved the original and we are sure this will be a classic as well. (Thanks for the link Deb)

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t live near fireworks factories

We’ve received some interesting suggestions from readers recently (send more, more, more)


and one of the most interesting was this house of adaptively reused windows in the alternative community Christiania in Copenhagen, sent by Kristian Seier who says

the glass house and its many neighbours are seriously under threat these years, but the wild, everyday poetry of this building has rarely, if ever, been achieved by any professional, Danish architect, and it should be listed rather than razed.

His commentary says it for us, a sad reflection on lost ideals and the critical importance of understanding layering if we are to understand history:

le corbusier famously claimed that all architecture could communicate was ideas. and the original ideas of christiania are well put by the best buildings out there: an open community of equals; a deep distrust, no, dismissal of authorities – including architects; a deep trust in the creative potential of ordinary people when left to govern their own lives. modesty. individualism. sustainability.

today, there is a strong political will to tear the houses down. they are illegal, follow no building code, have no permits. the old copenhagen defense line on which they are situated must be cleared to protect the city’s cultural heritage.

but these buildings are cultural heritage too. and while the 20th century has left us all with a distrust of utopian and idealist thinking, tearing them down will be acting in a dangerous denial of history.

Some commenters compared this building to the Hexenhaus of Alison and Peter Smithson,


their most only endearing construction but we feel that’s a purely formalist and superficial comparison. It reminds us more of the work of the Russian architect and artist Alexander Brodsky whose Paper Architecture satirised the “all plans and no buildings” path to architectural celebrity.

vodka pavilion

We hope one day to emulate his Vodka Ceremony Pavilion with a Beer Drinking Pavilion in our garden (although since last Saturday night we have been considering an Exploding Fireworks Factory Viewing Pavilion complete with artfully broken windows reminiscent of those now found on one side of our house).

Floating in a tin can

(Photo fitaloon)
You’ve made your gazillions and now you need somewhere to get away from it all, a place that’s safe and secure, secluded but not too far from civilisation? You like messing around in boats? Of course you own your own helicopter? Then have we got the place for a swashbuckler like you!

As The Independent says

This is no ordinary island. It is a floating fortress, built in the 1860s to defend Portsmouth from the French during the Napoleonic wars. And it’s for sale.

Their grasp of history might be a bit wonky but they know good real estate when they see it. It’s No Man’s Land Fort and it looks like a giant floating tin can because it is. It’s an adaptively reused floating sea fort off Portsmouth harbour in the UK. Built in 1867 and decommissioned about a century later it’s now converted into a 21 bedroom (with en-suites) residence. A snap at 4 million pounds although we suspect maintenance could be a bit pricey.


You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear but you can make a Vulcan’s ear out of a human ear…


no, hang on, you can’t, it’s all a fake, dammit, there goes the joke about women are from Mars and men are from Vulcan.

Well, something about that reminded us that at least you can make an exhibition space out of an eighteenth century pigsty!


This delightful small adaptive reuse, by the German architects FNP Architekten, won an Architectural Review award in 2005 for emerging architects. It is exemplary in its subtlety, respect for the existing if humble fabric and clean contemporary design.

pigsty build

There’s no doubt that small is fashionable right now. Since it may be a future necessity we may as well be learning how to make a virtue of it now.

Spiralling out of control

A quick addendum to our last post. You can be sure that archaeological sites all over Iraq are in danger. The Art Newspaper has just reported this, a police barracks being built on a site next to Samarra’s famous spiral minaret.

Alastair Northedge, Professeur d’Art et d’Archeologie Islamiques, Universite de Paris I (Pantheon-Sorbonne) comments

From the angle of the photo, it is possible to calculate that the complex is being built at E 396388 N 3785995 (UTM Zone 38 North) or Lat. 34.209760° Long. 43.875325°, to the west of the Malwiya (Spiral Minaret), and behind the Spiral Cafe. While the point itself may not have more than Abbasid houses under the ground, it is adjacent to the palace of Sur Isa, the remains of which can be seen in the photo. While the initial construction might or might not touch the palace, accompanying activities will certainly spread over it.

Sur Isa can be identified with the palace of al-Burj, built by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil, probably in 852-3 (Northedge, Historical Topography of Samarra, pp 125-127, 240). The palace is said to have cost 33 million dirhams, and was luxurious. Details are given by al-Shabushti, Kitab al-Diyarat.

Samarra was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO at the end of June. The barracks could easily have been built elsewhere, off the archaeological site.

The report was based on info from the blog of Jeff Emmanuel, a reporter with US Special Forces. Since it’s Halloween here’s something really deathly freaky and scary – his opinions.

Memento mori

You can always rely on the military to make a right mess of a place. Sometimes it’s incidental, sometimes it’s intentional and often its downright consciously genocidal. The US military in Iraq have probably been responsible for all three categories of mayhem.

Unfortunately, their appalling adaptive reuse of the archaeological site of Babylon

(Photo labanex)

as a military base pales in comparison to their destruction of the historic city of Fallujah which can only be described as a war crime.

(Photo labanex)

In fairness, it must be said that Sadam Hussein’s treatment of the Babylon site was little better,

(Photo labanex)

replacing original ruins with his mickey mouse “restoration” – dictators have a tendency to ignore the ICOMOS Burra Charter principle “do as much as necessary to care for the place and to make it usable, but otherwise change it as little as possible so that its cultural significance is retained”

But militaries also build on an enormous scale, and they always have throughout history. We tend to forget that the Great Wall of China was a military installation

Part of Pendennis Castle, Falmouth, UK. (Photo bluemoose)

as were most of Europe’s numerous castles. The Maginot Line, inexplicably restored by the French after WW2, is still partly in working condition – if that can be said of something that never worked. What could it be adaptively reused as? A very large wine cellar perhaps? As one of history’s most expensive and laughable failures it could be regarded as the prototype for the US attempts at developing a missile shield.

Yet strangely enough, in one of those contradictions that confound observers, the US military is among the world’s best practitioners of building deconstruction, the skill of careful demolition to ensure the maximum reuse of the buildings materials.

And of course entire military bases can be adaptively reused although usually they are simply removed and the land turned over to housing.

An extraordinary exception is the Chinati Foundation in the remote west Texas town of Marfa. Although there are times when it seems every declining community in the world fantasises about a destination museum led revival, the Chinati Foundation is undoubtedly one of the most unlikely success stories.

Cats love art. (Photo Mr Frosted)

Minimalist sculptor Don Judd purchased the redundant army camp, Fort D.A. Russell, in 1979 and began converting its buildings into a museum for minimal and installation art.

(Photo informedmindstravel)

(Photo trixie skips)

(Photo salut aimee)

Despite its remoteness and Judd’s death before the completion of the project, it has survived and prospered partly because of Judd’s sympathetic approach to the the long term display of works

(Photo Mr Frosted)

and an ascetic built and natural environment

(Photo informedmindstravel)

that provides little distraction to the careful contemplation of the art works.

(Photo jabzoog)

It would be hard to imagine a destination museum that contradicts the Bilbao model so completely. Architects must look at it and weep in the same way that artists weep with rage when confronted with the unsympathetic monstrosities that self indulgent superstar architects inflict on them.

On the other hand Marfa now has a Prada store nearby

(Photo jabzoog)

to ensure that the isolation doesn’t make art world black packers feel too cut off from conspicuous consumption.

But museum conversions can’t solve every problem. Some military installations remains so threatening that even after half a century of abandonment they cannot be digested by their surroundings.

(Photo dblackadder)

The Vienna flakturm (flak towers) are a case in point. Built by the Nazis during the Second World War as platforms for the flak guns defending Vienna from air attack, they have proved too strong to demolish. If the destruction of the most symbolic built culture is an essential military tool in the process of subjugation, so too is the building of new symbolic buildings. Hitler intended the flaksturm to be reused as war memorials after he had achieved world domination and in some sense that is how they remain, sullenly resisting most attempts at adaptive reuse.

(Photo scope II)

One has even been converted into an aquarium

(Photo timbrighton)

with a surrounding plaza,

(Photo pokpok313)

a climbing school on one wall and a Lawrence Weiner art installation on the top

(Photo watz)

and yet its essential brutalism remains.

(Photo jvhemert)

Others stand like grotesquely overscaled follies in parks where they can now only be regarded as memento mori, the Roman Et In Arcadia Ego writ very large.

(Photo weisserstier)

The Eternal Return

We’re back. Maybe. Although the others have been piling up research I’ve been out of action with the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome so I haven’t been able to write stuff up. So I’ll start off slowly again over the next few weeks, see how I go and try working through a few things that may be looking a bit old now. Hopefully our eternal return will not turn out to be as boring short lived as an attempt to read Finnegans Wake.

(Photo foam)

First, something really admirable. Rotor is a group in Brussels working to encourage the re-use of industrial waste. They’ve set up an office for one year in a construction (named RDF 181, an abbreviation of its address) on a small wedge of waste land soon to be redeveloped. Built from old exhibition materials and waste plastic on a support made from construction shoring and our favourite building material, scaffolding,

the office is itself an illustration of the elegant and creative use of waste materials. Their press release explains it all.

Chairy porn

There’s no doubt that some big companies have worked out that green is good and getting better every day and that the companies who push hard and fast into developing seriously green and sustainable products will win out big time. Furniture manufacturer Herman Miller worked it out quite a while back and don’t mind telling you about it, their website is like a basic primer on sustainable design.

Of course Herman Miller has always been a company whose products inspire devotion because of their all round combination of good design and quality manufacture, and not just their great Eames classics. But the devotion goes deeper, just search flickr for the Aeron chair, that ubiquitous symbol of the the dot com boom office – even God has one although some complain about it like the Devil. You’ll discover a whole world of amateur pornography, chair pornography that is, in the form of lovingly composed close ups

(Photo tim7423)
of chair limbs

(Photo mrmachine)
and chair crutches

(Photo djtack)
and chair orifices.

(Photo daxiang)
There are tasteful images,

(Photo numstead)
soft focus images

(Photo numstead)
or dark and moody images.

(Photo xurble)
There are chairs publicly exposing themselves,

(Photo kathryn)
there’s hairy and bestial,

(Photo jasra)
and scary bestial,

(Photo caitlinburke)
there’s exotic pussy

(Photo enrevanche/)
and chubby pussy.

(Photo mdd)
There’s barely legal,

(Photo mathowie)
there’s orgies,

(Photo juliamae)
and there’s masturbation.

(Photo suntom)
There’s also deception,

(Photo leftantler)
and yearning,

(Photo benjamin_)
some sarcasm,

(Photo kampers)
and a dash of theory,

(Photo mrmachine)

There’s fully clothed and virginal (you know you want me!) and for the literary there are even stories of fallen chairs restored to virtue. And we’ve barely scratched the surface of this product fetishism that proves that websters are indeed obsessed with their rears in so many many ways.

All well and good you say but why here? Well, all this fabulous design is developed at the Herman Miller Design Yard in Holland Michigan,

a complex of different buildings grouped together as if they has just growed there as needed over time in the manner of an older industrial model. The buildings, designed by MS&R, are reminiscent of farmyard buildings for the very simple reason that they are in fact adaptively reused pre-fab farm buildings, barns, silos etc but all LEED certified and guaranteed sustainable.

And now we too want some of those chairs! Anyone got a few going cheap?

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

We’re back at last, with a shiny new network running Linux (Fedora Core 6 because it is so rigorous about open source) with Windows reduced to either dual boot or virtualisation. Free at last, free at last. Not that we want to see Windows disappear entirely, this post over on Table of Malcontents expresses our sentiments perfectly. We too would like to see Windows humbled for all its perfidiousness, like the Last Emperor employed in his dotage as a gardener in Beijing’s Forbidden City.

So Happy Chinese New Year, even if we are a week late. And here is the last little bit of our previous post about the adaptive reuse of quarries that was accidentally left out in the rush to get at least one post out in the last fortnight.

It’s a hotel to be built in a quarry in Songjiang, China and it combines several of the water sport and theme park aspects of the others, it even has bungee jumping and rock climbing facilities as well as underwater rooms. Not unsurprisingly given the architects, it has a touch of Dubai silliness and excess that will no doubt appeal to vulgarians everywhere. (via CoolHunter)