The Architecture Issue


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By your resident Something for the Weekend writers

Hello. We are in the hot seat this week, and feeling Inspired by the recent completion of the London Orbit, located down the road at the Olympic site, we thought it was about time for an architectural themed issue. So here you go, in five stories, we’ll tell you what we think of ‘the mother of all helter-skelters’; we’ll go to an under water hotel and visit an underground park; we’ll even look through some transparent houses and look at why Amsterdam’s canals could one day glow turquoise at night.


The Mother of all helter-skelters

Knick-named the ‘The mother of all helter skelters’, artist Anish Kapoor and designer Cecil Balmond’s contribution to the Olympic legacy, The ArcelorMittal Orbit, was finished last week and welcomed its first visitors to a great deal of ‘hur-rah’. The winding steal frame, painted in Kapoor’s signature blood-red, swirls out of the roots of the Olympic stadium and towers over the East End is being heralded as a beacon of the collision of culture and society; architecture, art and design; engineering and commerce; and politics and sport. The great ‘hur-rah’ told a typical Marmite ‘love - hate’ story.

"I wrote to the people who made it and said how pleased I was we had it: it's something nobody else has got,” said Keith Green, Stratford resident for some 70 years in The Guardian. “I am not overawed by the design. Maybe it will grow on me." 


Others were less convinced. “That piece of shit belongs in Alton Towers”, said another member of the public.
As for the critics:

 “To me, it represents the archetypal ‘turd on the plaza," wrote Oliver Wainwright of Building Design magazine

Jonathan Jones, Guardian Journalist and 2009 Turner Prize judge, was more constructive.
"Colossal and imperfect, Anish Kapoor's sculpture at the Olympic Park is the body of us all … the closer you get, the more organic it becomes". 
But such ‘love hate’ Marmite taste is exactly the point of such public sculpture or architecture. It is meant to stir debate, provoke opinion, get a proper reaction – it's liberal Britain at its best, both sides of opinion on the table. If you are Kapoor you can even take positives from seemingly negative feedback too.

Yes from a distance it does look like it could belong in Alton Towers, but then who doesn’t love the thrill of the Nemesis or Oblivion, they are rides of fantasy – a moments step into space travel – are these bad associations for the Orbit?


And Mr Wainwright, a ‘turd on the plaza’ might be one description, but would you really prefer something rectangular, square, shinny, minimalist – a building which could easily pop-up in the characterless Canary Wharf. Or maybe you wanted a sculpture that no one could climb or interact with – a new age Nelson’s Column, another lifeless self-portrait from Anthony Gormley perhaps? Yes from a distance it might look a bit un-easy on the eye, and it might take a bit of getting used to, but we need more art and architecture to shock us, push us into an uncomfortable space.
And well said Jonathan Jones. If you only enjoy the Orbit from afar you are not enjoying its full potential. It’s there to be personally experienced, climbed, and interacted with. It is as much about the view from it, as the view looking at it.

Given we can’t think of any other contemporary art-architectural-sculptural structure in London or indeed the UK where this is true, surely Mr Green is right, East London is a better place for it. We can’t wait to climb it, even if it might cost fifteen quid.



The underground park

New York’s Lower East-Side is the would-be home for a new architectural concept called The Delancey Project. The project, in a city where open-public space is a premium, aims to turn the un-used former tram terminal that sits below Delancey Street, into an extraordinary subterranean park.

Also knick-named High Line, the vision is pretty simple:
‘A stunning public park can provide tremendous opportunities for creative expression, while challenging assumptions of the way humans work, live, commute, and interact’.
‘The Delancey Underground project envisions a year-round programming series, which invites the community into the space in new ways'. 


'From art exhibitions, to farmers’ markets, to educational series, to special events and promotions– this space will be more than a space’.
So how do you get light into an underground park?
Well, the designers behind the idea have a solution for that too. James Ramsey of Raad Studio has come up with a special technology that harvests natural light above ground into fibre optic tubes, which is then reflected below ground. Whilst not enough light to top-up your tan, it does distribute the light wavelengths supporting photosynthesis– enabling plants, trees, and grasses to grow”, says Ramsey.

The project has won huge support from the local community, with residents and business recognising the benefits. But beyond that via the social funding website Kick–Starter the project has raised over $150,000, against a target of just $100,000. 


The plan is to build a free public exhibition of the solar technology this September – a ‘mini low-line’; along with developing a business and community plan to get the idea off the ground fully.

Going underground, or subterranean, as an architectural and engineering concept is nothing new. HG Wells predicted it at the end of 19th Century, London’s underground opened in 1863. But ideas like this one in NYC, might, as we enter a period of mammoth population growth, climate change and the challenges of sprawling mega cities, mark the beginning of a golden period for building social and cultural spaces underground.



Manipulating our water – ways 

Architecture is as much about manipulating existing spaces, as adding to them. It is also, in the spirit of art and design, about extra-ordinary visual statements to challenge what our landscape can look like or become.
That’s why we thought it was worth pointing out an installation that took place in Tokyo earlier this month. As part of Tokyo Hotaru Festival, against the backdrop of contemporary skyscrapers, 100,000 ‘prayer stars’, small plastic balls containing LED lights, were floated on the city’s Sumida River. Created by Panasonic, they were solar powered and activated when they come in contact with water. The blue luminescent glow created by the LED’s gave the river a neon blue energy.


The overall scene looks like the glowing insects that used to frequent the river – and that’s the idea - the festival itself commemorates the now scarce insects that used to bring the river to life.

Italian architect Carlo Morsiani has come up with a similar concept in manipulating the colour of Amsterdam’s canals. He proposes to use micro-orgasms that only live in the famous Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica, to light up the Amsterdam’s canals in a bright turquoise.


The Pop-Up City blog explains:

‘The concept: using luminescent bacteria to turn Amsterdam’s canals into glowing turquoise water. The bacteria would illuminate the canals and purify them at the same time. In theory, the combination of two bacteria (the first called Shewanella) converts electricity into motion, and the second (called Photobacta) consequently emits light in moving water.’

Whilst both examples aren’t strictly architecture, they show how our landscape can be manipulated. So just like a new building – the LED’s or luminescent bacteria can change the face of our cities. Doesn’t it look great?



The underwater hotel

Going beyond NYC’s underground park, but running with the aquatic theme, comes plans for a new underwater hotel.  Whilst there has been an underwater restaurant in the Maldives since 2005, putting an entire hotel under water is a far more ambitious and expensive architectural project. Naturally there is only one place such a hotel could be opened – Dubai - it is already home to the world’s most ambitious architectural projects. There is the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and the iconic Burj Al Arab - the world’s first 7 star-hotel.
The patent protected futuristic design of the underwater hotel is by Deep Ocean Technology, or DOT for short. It comprises of a series of discs that sit above and below the sea, and looks like it belongs in Thunderbirds or Bond.

The core module disc that sits 10 metres below sea level comprises of 21 rooms Each bedroom comes with a special lighting 



system, which help iluminate the sea and the sea life that lives beyond the enormous glass panelled walls. At this level there is also an underwater dive centre and a bar.

A short lift ride up the hotels central pillar, takes you to the core module disc that sits 5 metres above sea level. This is set to be home to a restaurant, reception, spa and recreational area. On the roof, the hotel is finished with an enormous swimming pool, roof garden and helipad.

Smaller modular discs can be added to the hotel to extend the complex, these are supported by legs below sea level.
Safety is a bit priority. Its designers say that it can survive the most extreme weather conditions and that the submerged disc would float to the surface in an emergency.

So is such a build a reality or is it another fantasy build for Dubai? Well architecture blog Arch Daily, have revealed a deal has been struck between Dubai ship-builders, an investment firm and DOT for exclusive rights to build the hotels in the Middle East. So, given it took them just six years to build the Burj Khalifa, anyone who is as minted as your average Sheik, might get to spend a night in the underwater hotel in the next few years.





Transparent houses

Privacy in our home is a number one priority. But for one house in Tokyo, privacy is virtually non-existent.
A ‘see-through’ house, called House NA, is a semi built by Sou Fujimoto Architects. It’s virtually just a frame, with no panels to conceal any of the rooms, the people who live in it, or the objects.

Inspired by our ancient predecessors who inhabited trees, architect Sou Fujimoto explains:

“The intriguing point of a tree is that these places are not hermetically isolated but are connected to one another in its unique relativity”. 


"The white steel-frame structure itself shares no resemblance to a tree. Yet the life lived and the moments experienced in this space is a contemporary adaptation of the richness once experienced by the ancient predecessors from the time when they inhabited trees”.
If Sou Fujimoto’s transparent home is a bit too extreme, you might prefer to stay in the transparent Attrap Rêves, a bubble hotel in the countryside in Marseille.

Designed by Pierre Stéphane these cosy 13-Metre in diameter eco-friendly bubble houses, include the basic comforts for guests who want to sleep beneath the stars in comfort and be close to nature. The bubbles have been built in a mixture of totally clear and semi-clear materials, for those who want a bit of privacy. You might just need to sleep in your sunglasses.




About the Author

The SFTW house writers include - Neil Bennett, Katie MacKay Jamie Webber and Lisa Braithwaite. Each week we curate the most interesting guest editors and bring you your cultural 5-a-week, to inform debate and inspire rich cultural ideas.


Lead Image. Via Bored Panda; Story 1. Via Gizmodo; Story 2. Via The Delancey Project; Story 3. Via Tokyo Hotaru Festival and Pop-Up City; Story 4. Via by Deep Ocean Technology; Story 5. Via Bored Panda & Attrap Rêves.