Steve Rose 

Constructive criticism: the week in architecture

Steve Rose: Moby sings the praises of strange LA architecture, Ai Weiwei prepares to make a splash at the Serpentine pavilion, and there's a towering new board game in town
  
  

Watch your throne Kanye West; there's a new musician-slash-architecture freak in the blogosphere. It's Moby! Having turned his hand to everything from photography, to social activism to vegan tea shop entrepreneurialism, this week, the former rave titan launched his own Los Angeles architecture blog.

"One of the things that fascinates and baffles me about LA is the randomness and accidental beauty and strangeness of the architecture here. Every day I arbitrarily see buildings and houses and odd structures that go from the beautiful to the banal," writes Moby, who's clearly had better luck finding strange architecture than he has locating his "shift" key. Modestly describing himself as a "dilettante architectural photographer", Moby repeatedly admits the pointlessness of his own project – far more than he needs to.

So far, he's unearthed romantic cottages that would look at home in the home counties, a white modernist hillside villa (which calls to mind Eileen Gray's famous e1027 home, 20th-century moorish fantasy castles and photogenic little wooden shacks – each annotated by his unassuming philosophical musings. The "decontextualised randomness" of LA's architecture appeals to him – and it's an education for the rest of us. Let's see how long he can keep it up. Go Moby!

Bird
Olympic champions ... the team behind the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing will design the Serpentine pavilion in London. Photograph: Paul McFegan/Sportsphoto Ltd

Back down to earth, literally, for the Serpentine Gallery's announcement that their pavilion this year will be designed by Swiss superstars Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei – which will be mostly underground. This is the first time the Serpentine has commissioned architects who have already built something in the UK: Herzog & de Meuron gave us the Tate Modern, of course, whose turbine hall Ai filled with his Sunflower Seeds in 2010. The first signs of H & deM's delayed Tate Extension will also emerge for the Olympics – new galleries converted from the building's underground oil tanks. Herzog, de Meuron and Ai's collaborations go back to the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, so there's a neat symmetry here – not to mention a tacit political point, given the Chinese authorities' recent detention of Ai.

As for the pavilion itself, it involves digging five feet down, beneath the Serpentine's lawn, to groundwater level. "There we dig a waterhole, a kind of well, to collect all of the London rain that falls in the area of the Pavilion," they say. They're calling it an "archaeological approach"; at the moment it sounds more like a muddy puddle.

That wasn't the only moist-sounding Olympic-timed pavilion unveiled this week, though. London 2012's "Official Automotive Partner", BMW, also released impressions of their temporary structure, situated between the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatic Centre. Designed by British practice Serie, it will use river water for cooling, resulting in eye-catching waterfalls down the facade. It's not that new; a similar water system was used by Nicholas Grimshaw for his British Pavilion at Expo 92 in Seville. Still, it "reflects our commitment to sustainable thinking", says the manufacturer of extremely green automobiles (and colossal, gas-guzzling Chelsea tractors). If they put their waterfall next to the Serpentine puddle, they could be on to something.

On firmer ecological ground, London Eye architects Marks Barfield are designing a scientific research centre in the middle of the Amazon jungle that draws on their Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens. Except here, in north-east Brazil, there will be six miles of treetop walkways, plus basic labs and other buildings on the ground, and a spiralling observation tower that rises above the rainforest canopy – the Amazon Eye, perhaps?

The British-based Amazon Charitable Trust are behind it and, needless to say, sustainability is paramount – which means providing jobs for the local river tribe and attracting eco-tourism as well as scientific researchers. Only certain building materials can be brought into the area, too, so the tower will be made out of bamboo grown onsite.

Finally, as it's Valentine's Day on Tuesday, a couple of gift ideas for the design-minded romantic.

Vitra are releasing limited red-and-white editions of two complementary mid-century design classics: the Eames's Hang It All coat rack and George Nelson's Ball Clock. The pair will set you back £378 – but should last longer than a bunch flowers.

The Modern Architecture Game
Architects' alternative to Trivial Pursuit ... The Modern Architecture Game. Photograph: NEXT Architects

Or why not get the design smart-arse in your life The Modern Architecture Game? This architecture-fixated alternative to Trivial Pursuit was devised by Dutch team NEXT in 1999, but they've just updated it and produced it in English for the first time. It's nicely designed, naturally, with counters modelled on iconic buildings ... and a pair of Le Corbusier sunglasses that must be worn when it's your go. Test your knowledge of quotes, images, famous buildings, etc – and alienate your non-architectural friends even further.

 

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