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So, since tomorrow, March 5, 2019, will see the announcement of the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize, I thought it might be worth to whet (y)our appetite with this short piece from last year. The text, published within my ongoing section ‘ArquiNoir’ in issue #84 of Mexican magazine Arquine, was written -as you probably guessed already- on occasion of last year’s award, which went to Balkrishna Doshi. However, as it’s traditional in the column, I barely touched upon Doshi, and rather went for a slightly humorous, somewhat sarcastic, and very brief review of the (also) brief history of the Prize -peppered with some saucy vignettes that have taken place in the four decades that have gone by since it was created.

The text was originally written in (perfect) Spanish, so some adaptations were done here and there so as to limit the wonkiness of the English translation. For the original text, as well as a view of both the cartoon and the essay as they were published in the magazine, just scroll down. For past cartoons on the Pritzker Prize, click here.

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According to Brendan Gill (not to be confused with Iker Gil), secretary of the Pritzker Prize between 1985 and 1987 and author of the column “The Sky Line” for the New Yorker, shortly before leaving the secretariat he received a call at the offices of the organization. The hoarse voice on the other side of the wire was that of Gordon Bunshaft, who, working for SOM has left us some of the best works produced by American corporate architecture, such as the Lever House. According to Gill, Bunshaft “had long coveted the prize” (which actually had only run for eight editions), and phoned to ask about the nomination process. Gill informed him that anyone could propose a candidate, and that “many times friends or admirers of an architect would write in to propose him”. So, with proverbial pragmatism, Bunshaft nominated himself[1]. He would show similar pragmatism a few months later when he picked up the prize -ex-aequo with Oscar Niemeyer-, delivering an acceptance speech of less than 60 words[2].

Bunshaft’s is surely one of the most colorful anecdotes in the History of a prize which, inevitably, have never been without controversy. When Niemeyer and Bunshaft were honored exactly 30 years ago now, Paul Goldberger counter-attacked in the pages of the New York Times, speaking out against the policy of rewarding these ‘White Old Men’ (my words, not his), old glories whose work he regarded as totally off-tune with the reality of the time[3]. Surely Mr. Goldberger still thinks the same today, at 67 years old. I certainly do think the same as six years ago, when I wrote (sorry for the self-quotation) that “[o]ver the years, the Pritzker organization has featured a combination of total predictability, submitting to the architectural status quo by awarding its prize to the decreasing members of the star(chitectural) system who are left -and the Oscar-like custom to reward old-timers in not particularly moments of their careers before it’s too late-, and a penchant for alternating those with lesser-known names, usually artisans from outside the Anglo-Saxon market. [4]

Six years later, I still think that, despite the fact that the organization itself claims on its own website that [m]any of the procedures and rewards of the Pritzker Prize are modeled after the Nobel Prize, the comparison with the Oscars is a sounder one. I also still have hope, as I said then, that at some point Peter Eisenman plays the role of Martin Scorsese when, in 2006, he finally picked up a prize awarded rather for his glorious past than for the film that served as an excuse. This would honor the tradition I already outlined -and, in light of Eisenman’s work in the last thirty years, it’s in the only possible option, anyway. They have also adopted other customs of the Academy, such as delivering posthumous prizes: in 2015, the announcement of Frei Otto’s award took place two weeks earlier than usual… and one day after the architect’s demise, despite tje Prize’s stated purpose to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, etc., etc.” If they intend to reward the only member of the New York Five still available -Meier already got his more than three decades ago-, and only as a preventive measure, perhaps they should hurry up a little (the same would apply to César Pelli, Ricardo Scofidio or Arata Isozaki -and even Stanley Tigerman, since we’re at it).

Not an easy feat for him, though. It is true that during its first, the prize had a marked local nature, awarding Philip Johnson (1979), Kevin Roche (1982), I.M. Pei (1983), Richard Meier (1984), the aforementioned Gordon Bunshaft (1988), and Frank Gehry (1989) – Robert Venturi would be added to the list in 1991. However, we would have to wait until Thom Mayne got it in 2005 to find another American (US, I mean) Pritzker, and none other has been elected since. The most elementary arithmetic of architectural criticism tells us, therefore, that the United States has one Pritzker for every 40.7 million inhabitants, very far from Portugal, which, with its 10.32 million has already obtained two, and from Japan, whose five winners almost make one for every 21.16 million -almost in a technical draw with the United Kingdom (Mexico is far behind, with its -still- only winner dating back to the early days of the award).

However, in spite of its international projection, the award has somehow managed to avoid  some of the controversies that the Oscars have gone through, such as the one attached to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2016 (although racial diversity, minus the cases of Japan and the nationalized Pei, has been, let’s say, quite limited). There will always be cynics who see in Wang Shu’s 2012 nomination a marketing device similar to that of Hollywood films which introduce Asian actors to make their way into the Chinese market. There will also be some who think that to award the prize to B.V. Doshi is a gesture of Western paternalism, which somehow rewards his relationship with Le Corbusier. It will not be me who makes such unfair remarks. I won’t be the one, either, who, in line with the movement Time’s Up, will accuse the organization of sexism, for leaving Denise Scott Brown out in 1991, while including a forty-year-old Ryue Nishizawa in 2010 it.

And I will not do it because, regardless of how fair -or extremely unfair- their decision might be, we will criticize them with equal fury. Who will be next? As Marcos Mundstock would say, “place your bullets, gentlemen![5]

[1] Brendan Gill, “Worldwide Plaza”, in The Sky Line, The New Yorker, December 24, 1990; 86.

[2] It consisted of exactly 58 words: In 1928, I entered the MIT School of Architecture and started my architectural trip. Today, 60 years later, I’ve been given the Pritzker Architecture Prize for which I thank the Pritzker family and the distinguished members of the selection committee for honoring me with this prestigious award. It is the capstone of my life in architecture. That’s it.”

[3] Paul Goldberger, “What Pritzker Winners Tell Us About the Prize”, in Architecture View, The New York Times, May 29, 1988.

[4]Pritzker 2012: Who they gonna call?, in Klaustoon’s Blog, February 27, 2012.

[5] In the original text, the sentence is the untranslatable play on words “¡hagan fuego, señores! “. Les Luthiers, “Ya el sol asomaba por poniente.” Volumen III (Ion, 1973)

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De acuerdo con Brendan Gill (no confundir con Iker Gil), secretario del Pritzker Prize entre 1985 y 1987 y autor de la columna “The Sky Line” para el New Yorker, poco antes de dejar la secretaría recibió una llamada en las oficinas de la organización. La voz ronca al otro lado del hilo era la de Gordon Bunshaft, arquitecto que trabajando para SOM nos ha dejado algunas de las mejores obras producidas por la arquitectura corporativa estadounidense, como la Lever House. De acuerdo con Gill, Bunshaft “hacía mucho tiempo que codiciaba el premio” (que en realidad tan sólo había tenido ocho ediciones), y llamaba para interesarse por el proceso de nominación. Gill le informó de que cualquiera podía nominar un candidato, y que “muchas veces amigos o admiradores de un arquitecto escribían para proponerlo”. Así que, con proverbial pragmatismo, Bunshaft se nominó a sí mismo[1]. Similar pragmatismo exhibiría unos meses después cuando recogiera el premio, ex-aequo con Oscar Niemeyer, y pronunciara un discurso de aceptación que no llegó a las 60 palabras[2].

La de Bunshaft es seguramente una de las anécdotas más coloridas dentro de la historia de unos premios que, como no puede ser de otra manera, nunca han estado exentos de polémica. Ya cuando Niemeyer y Bunshaft fueron galardonados hace ahora exactamente 30 años, Paul Goldberger arremetía en las páginas del New York Times contra la política de premiar a estos ‘White Old Men’ (mis palabras, no las suyas), viejas glorias cuya obra él veía en total falta de sintonía con la realidad actual[3]. Seguramente el Sr. Goldberger sigue opinando lo mismo hoy en día, a sus 67 años. Yo, ciertamente, opino lo mismo que hace seis cuando escribía (perdón por la autocita) que “a lo largo de los años la organización de los Pritzker ha combinado dos estrategias: por una parte, la de ser totalmente predecibles y postrarse ante el statu quo arquitectónico galardonando, a la manera de los Oscars,  a los cada vez menos numerosos miembros del ‘star(chitectural) system’ que quedan, aunque sea en momentos no particularmente memorables de sus carreras; por otra, la de alternar a estos con nombres menos conocidos, generalmente esforzados artesanos procedentes de fuera del mercado anglosajón.[4]

Seis años después, sigo pensando que, pese a que la propia organización insista desde su propia página web en que “muchos de los procedimientos y premios del Pritzker… han tomado como modelo a los Premios Nobel”, la comparación con los Oscar es más acertada. También sigo esperando, como afirmaba entonces, que en algún momento Peter Eisenman haga las veces de Martin Scorsese cuando en 2006 recogía por fin un premio que lo era más por pasadas glorias que por el film que le servía de excusa. Esto se correspondería con la tradición antes apuntada para los Pritzker -y, a la luz de la obra de Eisenman en las últimas tres décadas, es en cualquier caso la única opción posible. También han adoptado otras costumbres de la Academia, como la de entregar premios póstumos: en 2015, el anuncio del premio de Frei Otto tuvo lugar dos semanas antes de lo habitual… y un día después del fallecimiento del arquitecto, pese a su objetivo declarado de “homenajear a un arquitecto vivo cuyo trabajo construido demuestra una combinación de las cualidades del talento, la visión, el compromiso, etc., etc.” Si tienen intención de premiar al único miembro de los New York Five que queda libre -Meier ya obtuvo el suyo hace más de tres décadas-, y únicamente como medida preventiva, quizá deberían acelerar los tiempos (lo mismo aplicaría a César Pelli, Ricardo Scofidio o Arata Isozaki, e incluso a Stanley Tigerman, ya puestos).

No lo tiene fácil, en cualquier caso. Es cierto que durante la primera década de su historia, los premios tuvieron una marcada componente local, con premios para Philip Johnson (1979), Kevin Roche (1982), I.M. Pei (1983) Richard Meier (1984), el ya mencionado Gordon Bunshaft (1988) y Frank Gehry (1989), a los que se sumaría Robert Venturi en 1991. Sin embargo, habría que esperar hasta Thom Mayne en 2005  para encontrar otro estadounidense, y desde entonces ninguno más ha sido seleccionado. La aritmética elemental de la crítica arquitectónica nos dice, por tanto, que Estados Unidos cuenta con un Pritzker por cada 40,7 millones de habitantes, muy lejos de Portugal, que con 10,32 millones ya ha obtenido dos, y de Japón, que con sus cinco premiados toca a uno por cada 21,16 millones, casi en empate técnico con el Reino Unido (atrás queda México, con su aún único premio relegado a los comienzos del galardón).

Esta proyección internacional ha soslayado sin embargo alguna de las carencias que han propiciado algunas controversias de los Oscar, como la relativa al #OscarsSoWhite de 2015, si bien la diversidad racial, fuera de los casos de Japón y del nacionalizado Pei, ha sido, por ponerlo generosamente, limitada. Siempre habrá cínicos que vean en la nominación de Wang Shu en 2012 una maniobra de marketing similar a la de los filmes de Hollywood cuando introducen actores asiáticos para abrirse camino en el mercado chino. También habrá quien opine que galardonar a B.V. Doshi es un gesto de paternalismo occidentalista, que premia su relación con Le Corbusier. No seré yo quien haga tan injustas apreciaciones. Tampoco seré yo, al hilo del movimiento Time’s Up, quien acuse de sexismo a la organización, que en 1991 dejó fuera a Denise Scott Brown, pero en 2010 incluyó a un Ryue Nishizawa de cuarenta y pocos años.

Y no lo haré porque, independientemente de lo acertado o extremadamente desacertado de sus decisiones, los criticaremos con igual saña. ¿A quién le tocará el próximo? Como diría Marcos Mundstock, “¡hagan fuego, señores![5]“.

[1] Brendan Gill, “Worldwide Plaza” en The Sky Line, The New Yorker, December 24, 1990; 86.

[2] Fueron exactamente 58: In 1928, I entered the MIT School of Architecture and started my architectural trip. Today, 60 years later, I’ve been given the Pritzker Architecture Prize for which I thank the Pritzker family and the distinguished members of the selection committee for honoring me with this prestigious award. It is the capstone of my life in architecture. That’s it.”

[3] Paul Goldberger, “What Pritzker Winners Tell Us About the Prize”, en Architecture View, The New York Times, May 29, 1988;

[4]Pritzker 2012: Who they gonna call? en Klaustoon’s Blog, February 27, 2012.

[5] Les Luthiers, “Ya el sol asomaba por poniente.” Volumen III (Ion, 1973)

————————–Klaus, “¡Han cantado Pritzker!”, Arquinoir, Arquine nº 84: La Apariencia del Espacio / The Appearance of Space, Verano / Summer 2018.

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We’re rapidly approaching that time of the year, so before it’s too late, let’s dust off some stuff. A couple years ago, Paula Melâneo, editor of Arq’a, emailed me asking if I’d be interested in including a some of my work in the ‘dossier’ section of their magazine. And I was. Here are some med-res images of it. BTW: Thanks to Luís Santiago Baptista for his interest in my work, after being featured together in this issue of STUDIO magazine.

Soon, I’ll include a downloadable .pdf file somewhere on this site.

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Many (count me as one of those) seemed to think this blog was dead, but, alas, we were all wrong and here I am, back for my now customary -it seems- biannual update. There have been some other works waiting the line in the last two years, but, since they’re late already, I thought it might be worth sharing something hot off the presses. A little backstory for this one: A few months ago, Sarah and David Karle, from the University of Nebraska Lincoln contacted me, asking if I’d join this year’s Hyde Lecture Series, a question whose answer is, by default, ‘Yes, of course’.

They also asked if I would like to design this year’s poster. Unfortunately, I’ve been swamped by work this term, and I would hardly be able to fit it in my schedule. So I said the only thing I could: ‘Sure, I’ll do it!’. Of course, since I was in a very tight schedule, I decided to make the drawing as complicated as possible. I’m not sure this is the most crowded cartoon I’ve produced so far, but it’s certainly up there in the Top Ten.

Thanks, guys, I’ll see you in February!

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Bonus peek #1: I rarely (as in ‘never’) produce preliminary mock-ups for my drawings, just some random sketches. But they asked, so as to get an idea of what they would be getting, and in this case I thought it was more than fair. It was also very useful, because the poster needed to be bigger than my usual drawing size, so making sure it worked in advance took some anxiety away. In fact, I later blew it up and drew the pencils on top of it, which made the process of adding the details a pretty zen experience.

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Bonus peek #2: The final drawing for the poster, from pencils, to inks, to colors. See if you can spot all the referents (no Trump, sorry).

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Summer vacation is unfortunately over, so let’s catch up with published work that hasn’t made it to the blog yet. Today’s post belongs in the series of illustrations I did for the ‘Interchange’ interviews published in A10 magazine over the last 2 years. As you may know, A10 went out of business last Spring. So, whether this is something permanent or -hopefully- it is not (read announcement here), these posts will remain, for the time being, as the only available peek at the A10 archives. Except, of course, for our Forty and Famous bookwhich compiles 10 of them. There are still some copies left, I believe. Contact @IndiraS if interested.

Today’s post features ZUS [Zones Urbaines Sensibles], a practice led by Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman that ‘researches and intervenes in the contemporary urban landscape with productions ranging from urban plans and architecture to installations and fashion.’

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When I first interviewed ZUS in 2006, the office had only existed for three years. At the time, principals Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman wondered, ‘Often we ask ourselves which challenges are solvable with good design, and which can really only be solved through politics. After the tsunami in Asia or the hurricane in New Orleans, the question arises to what degree human influence has on our surroundings. What means are still tangible for a designer at larger scales?’ In 2014, ZUS won a major design competition in New York that deals with this exact question. Now they are in America, having just founded ZUS NY.

Since Katrina (2004) and hurricane Sandy (2012), the American awareness of the need for a more inclusive way to solve its climate problems gained ground. After Sandy hit New York it was with amazing speed that Rebuild by Design was founded. The competition’s formula to bring stakeholders to the heart of effective resilience planning has been very successful ever since. Designs were issued (and won) by big firms like OMA and BIG. But among the six finalists was also the team of MIT CAU, de Urbanisten and ZUS Architects, with Deltares, 75B and Volker Infra Design. They received 150 million dollar (of a total 930 million dollar) to realize their proposal for the Meadowlands in New Jersey. The aim is to work with local governments and communities to ensure that the design is incorporated into the lives of everyone involved.

Like in the Netherlands, you deal with communities and stakeholders, with a focus on ecology, community, culture, and landscape design – an inclusive way of working that influences spatial planning and peoples’ lives. Thus, your projects are usually also political. Is working in the US different from here?

If interdisciplinary and proactive work is an ambition in Europe and the Netherlands, it is a necessity in America. To get a project done, you have to work proactively through all the political layers, and you automatically come up against economic and environmental factors. These must somehow be integrated in the plans. You will have to create support from top to bottom. In that sense, working in America is fundamentally integrated and always political. It sometimes takes a little longer, but it’s very valuable.

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Excerpts from: Indira van’t Klooster: Inclusive archipolitics – An Interview with ZUS Architects.  A10 Magazine #64. Jul/Aug 2015

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So, after some waiting, finally my book with Indira Van’t Klooster is out! As  you’ll remember, if you’ve been around for a while, back in 2014 Indira van ‘t Klooster, editor-in-chief of A10 magazine contacted me asking if I would be interested in making some cartoons for a series of interviews with different architects. This evolved into a series, published monthly in the magazine, which has now been (partially) compiled in the book Forty and Famous: 10 interviews with successful young European architects.

The book features interviews with a series of relatively young practices comprising ALA (Finland), KOKO (Estonia), Barozzi / Veiga (Spain), SO – IL (USA), WWAA (Poland), ZUS, (Zones Urbaines Sensibles) and JDS (The Netherlands) Chartier Dalix (France), Jürgen Mayer H (Germany), and Assemble (England). Previews of all those can be found in the links above, or by clicking the A10 tag in this very blog.  Some of these images might be familiar for the usual visitors here, but there are still a few unseen ones, such as Jurgen Mayer’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ cartoon, or the cover featuring the whole line-up.

The official launch in this year’s Biennale will take place at the Polish Pavilion, Giardini, Venice on May 27 between 11.00 and 11.30 am. A second event will take place in June 8, 20.00 pm, at Pakhuis De Zwijger, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Amilcar editions is putting out a limited print of the book, so if you’re interested in ordering a copy before they run out, or want any other information, please contact Indira van ‘t Klooster, via email or through her twitter account (@IndiraS)

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Presented in this book are 10 young European architecture practices. They all found, in the midst of the financial crisis, a new attitude, a hands-on practice, with great commitment and an eagerness to get things done, thinking large-scale against all odds. How did they succeed? By winning competitions (ALA, KOKO, Barozzi / Veiga), by finding new clients outside Europe (SO – IL, WWAA), by raising new issues (ZUS, JDS), by innovating typologies (Chartier Dalix, Jürgen Mayer H.) and by new types of organization (Assemble) – usually by mixing all of the above, after having been educated abroad for some time.

This selection also shows the different circumstances in which they blossom, through clients in America, Asia and Georgia, post-communist courage in Central Europe and Estonia, bottom-up strategies in The Netherlands and England, an international Erasmus generation flowering in Spain, new traditionalists in France, the benefits of young-architect-friendly Finland, and cross-over markets in Belgium.

-Forty and Famous: 10 interviews with successful young European architects. Indira van’t Klooster. Illustrations by Klaus. Additional texts by Gonzalo Herrero Delicado. Amilcar Publishers, 2016.

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Since their start in 2000 KOKO Architects (Andrus Koresaar and RaivoKotov) have evolved on the tides of developments in Estonia, employing an intriguing combination of graphics and modest servitude, and literally building an identity for a new nation with new sense of self-esteem. It made them win the Young Estonian Architect Award 2015, but it didn’t make them conceited. ‘We believe in layers of time, and not so much in permanence.’

Between the KOKO office and the house of one of its partners is a tiny door. It’s invisible to who doesn’t know it, situated in the kitchen behind the dustbin. You have to bend deep to go through the door, designed to make it function like an Alice in Wonderland transformation. You enter from the one world to the other. ‘It’s so small on purpose, so that every time I enter it, I undergo some sort of transformation from private to work, from work to private life. As I do this 3 or 4 times a day, you understand how important it is.’ The story is illustrative of the way KOKO works. They feel comfortable in transforming big historical complexes, they have this way of adding something subtle and personal, and there is always a sense of relativity and humbleness. As if to illustrate that they are just one of the many tiny passers-by in many layers of time.

Having regained independency (as the Estonians like to put it, rather than having become independent) in 1991, the country was ready for its first appearance at the World Expo, the Hanover Expo in 2000. The commission was won by KOKO architects, formed by a recently graduated artist and an architect not even out of the Academy. For what is better for a young nation than to be represented by young talent? Now the country is preparing the celebration on a 100 years existence of the Estonian nation (ignoring the Russian and German supremacy between 1918 and 1991), while Russian pressure is again clearly sensible at the Baltic borders. KOKO is looking for ways to expand their practice outside Estonia, for example in Norway and Finland, both countries that have heavily influenced Estonian architecture. And to close the circle: they have just completed the interior of another national pavilion: at the EXPO Milan.

What made you win the World Expo competition in 2000, do you think?

We proposed a maritime theme to connect to the naval history of Estonia and maximum visibility so as to stand out between all the other countries. The result was a flowing movement high above the visitors’ heads, an undulating forest of fir trees, symbolizing both sea, woods and movement. The spectacular result was an instant success: 2.7 million came to visit the pavilion. For us ‘movement’ has become a recurring feature in our work. Not literally, but metaphorically. In this country every 30 years everything changes drastically. We don’t think that buildings or designs will keep their original functions for much longer than that.

(…)

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Excerpts from: Indira van’t Klooster: Temporal Layers – An Interview with KOKO Architects.  A10 Magazine #63. May/Jun 2015

 

 

 

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Pascale Dalix and Frédéric Chartier started their office 10 years ago. Coming from big offices like Herzog & De Meuron and Dominique Perrault it’s easy to recognize where they learned to play with surfaces and how to combine rationality and poetry. The shiny surfaces of the Young workers’ hostel, crèche and studios in Paris are quite different from the edgy facades of the Sciences and Biodiversity school in Boulogne-Billancourt (France), but the reasoning behind them is the same: ‘It’s the first question to ask and the last to answer, because we keep researching on better solutions during the process: ‘How can we enrich the program?’, say Frédéric Chartier and Pascale Dalix.

Since 2010 they have finished 10 projects with an office of 30 people. As such it is a fast growing office that likes to work in teams. Still, it’s a lot of buildings. One explanation is the way they like to collaborate with other architectural practices. Collaboration makes it possible to work on many buildings at the same time, as well as to experiment a bit with different styles and materials. Their oeuvre as such is not exactly homogeneous, but each building offers a fresh approach. What connects them is their fluidity of spaces: voids and floors interact of various functions and various scales.

How can you enrich the program?

We tend to treat our buildings as vertical micro-cities. French cities are so dense, we need to create valuable human living spaces in high quantities. This is only possible when we can also make a sort of recluse. A place that extends the city inside the building itself. To be able to do that within the strict budget limits we have learned to play with structures and spaces.

What’s the reason that you seldom use the ground floor for public amenities?

If all public functions are on the ground floor the rest of the program needs to come on top of that, which creates monocultures on the higher floors. And who has invented to put amenities on the ground floor? In the case of the 240 studios, we had a library, restaurant, a laundry and a fitness center for the young workers and a kindergarten to accommodate and we did not have enough place on the ground floor. By inserting extra program on the upper floors we bring life to all levels. Thus we have created public space that has more urban life than outside the building. (…)

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Excerpts* from: Indira van’t Klooster: Fluidity of Spaces on All Scales– An Interview with Chartier-Dalix Architectes.  A10 Magazine #68. Mar/Apr 2016

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(*) As usual, there’s more to be found in the magazine itself.

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