Posts Tagged ‘Iconic structures’

Fractals in architecture: good for the soul?


What comes into your mind when you hear the word ‘fractals’? Maths and geometry lessons? Swirly spirals in cosmic colour-schemes on student bedsit walls? Self-similar shapes in nature, like snowflakes, ferns and broccoli? The drip-paintings of Jackson Pollock?

Wikipedia says a fractal is “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole”.

Fractal architecture is generated by the application of fractal geometric principles to the design of facades and building forms. Here are some examples of fractal architectural facades.

Yannick Joye, from Belgium’s Ghent University, argues that this type of geometry has been used in architecture for two main reasons:

1. Fractal rhythms, created by midpoint displacement, are used as a creative tool to generate a variety of architectural components, such as planning grids, strip windows, noise abatements etc. Examples can be found throughout architectural history, from Doric entablatures to modern facades.

2. The typical measurement techniques of fractal geometry are used to analyse the structure of buildings. The box-counting dimension, for example, is a measure for the recursivity of detail on ever smaller scales. An extract from Joye’s Fractal Architecture Could Be Good for You:

Carl Bovill [1996] has applied this method to different building styles. He found that Wright’s organic architecture shows a ‘cascade of detail’ on different scales, while in Le Corbusier’s modernist architecture, the box counting dimension quickly drops to 1 for smaller scales. This finding is consistent with the fact that ‘Wright’s organic architecture called for materials to be used in a way that captured nature’s complexity and order … [while] Le Corbusier’s purism called for materials to be used in a more industrial way, always looking for efficiency and purity of use’.

In the following illustrations, forms like arches and domes reoccur on different hierarchical scales throughout a Hindu temple, the Stadhuis (Town Hall) in Bruges, and the Notre Dame de Paris.

Stadhuis, Bruges

Notre Dame de Paris

However, as satisfying as fractal geometry may be to mathematicians, Yannick Joye is more interested in a less visible side-effect of fractal architecture. From an aesthetic point of view, Joye (whose specialist field is philosophy) points to research showing that human beings are innately attracted to fractals, that fractal shapes and images have a calming effect on us, and that this affinity may be related to our long-ago habitat – the trees:

… as a result of evolution, the brain has a preference for fractal structures, and feels relaxed when surrounded by these. This means that one of the reasons why we like the fractals in Gothic and Hindu architecture is that they remind us of our ancient, natural habitats. Because our brains have not fundamentally changed since prehistory, these biofilic responses are still at work.

A classic example of fractals in nature: the fern (

Do you see fractal architecture as calming and harmonious, or do you have more of a Euclidean frame of mind? I would love to see examples of the buildings that appeal to you the most.


Architecture & movement


Movement in buildings

The other day, I was reminded of the Nationale-Nederlanden building in Prague, Czech Republic, which was designed back in 1992 and finished in 1996.

One of the architects who worked on this project was Frank Gehry. Known for his deconstructivist architecture, Gehry was last year described described by Vanity Fair as “the most important architect of our age.” His controversial building was originally named Fred and Ginger, after dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but is nowadays known as The Dancing House (and even The Drunk House). The words ‘drunk’ and ‘dancing’ effectively describe this building; it is full of unpredictable movement. Sat amongst its historic neighbors the building looks as though it might at any time take off and dance along the Vltava river.

But there are buildings that move, and there are buildings that really move.

Buildings in motion

Designed by architect David Fisher, the world’s first ‘building in motion’ is expected to reach a staggering 420 metres. Comprising 80 floors, each floor will be capable of rotating independently from all other floors, so that externally, the building will appear to twirl seamlessly. Apart from looking spectacular, the building will also be self-sufficient; wind turbines will be placed between each floor, utilising the wind to produce enough electricity to power the entire building. It will also be the first skyscraper to be built in a factory from prefabricated parts, reducing the required workforce by over a half.

Unsurprisingly, the Rotating Tower (or Dynamic Tower, as it is also known) is to be first built in Dubai; the land of all things grand, ambitious, and expensive (and that’s just the architecture). (more…)

London 2012 velodrome


The Bike Show is a weekly radio show and podcast from London community station Resonance FM. This week host Jack Thurston talks to Richard Arnold of the Olympic Delivery Committee and architect Mike Taylor of Hopkins Architects, who presents the design vision and explains how he hopes it will not only be fast but environmentally sustainable.

The 90 million building’s ongoing use, after the 2012 games, is firmly at the centre of it’s design. Many sustainable features have been included to ensure that it is not too costly to run once the Olympics have left town. The architect mentions natural light, insulation, energy use, recycled materials and FSC timbers.


Architecture under Harold Wilson and 1974’s hung parliament


The newly built World Trade Centre, 1973 (US National Archives, Flickr)

Our sister blog, External Works, has speculated on what the new ConLib government (or, as some on Twitter would have it, ConDemNation) could mean for the built environment. I thought it might be interesting to see what was going on in the world of architecture when Britain last saw a similar political situation.

The UK’s last hung parliament came about in 1974. Harold Wilson (or, as he was less well known, James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx) entered his second term in office after Ted Heath proved unable to form a coalition government. Like today, many countries in the West were experiencing recession and financial crises.

Britain's shiniest front door (DowningStreet on Flickr)

Wilson’s possibly best-remembered speech explored the massive implications of scientific and technological change for 60s and 70s Britain. He argued that “the Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated measures on either side of industry”.

Despite a troubled economic climate, the built environment of the time was shaped by technocracy, experimentation and the development of high-tech construction methods.

Buckminster Fuller, he of the geodesic domes, had already inaugurated the World Design Science Decade (1965–1975) at the meeting of the International Union of Architects in Paris. The decade was, in Fuller’s words, devoted to “applying the principles of science to solving the problems of humanity.”

Fuller's dome for the 1967 expo in Montreal (caribb on Flickr)

Wikipedia on 1970s architecture:

Architecture in the 1970s began as a continuation of styles created by such architects as Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Early in the decade, several architects competed to build the tallest building in the world. Of these buildings, the most notable are the John Hancock Center and Sears Tower in Chicago, both designed by Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan and the World Trade Center towers in New York by American architect Minoru Yamasaki. The decade also brought experimentation in geometric design, pop-art, postmodernism and early deconstructivism.

London's BT Tower (by fishyfish_arcade on Flickr)

By the time of 1974’s hung parliament, one of London’s iconic (that word again) structures, the BT Tower, had been opened by Harold Wilson. The tower exemplified the decade’s desire to build new, build tall, and build high tech.

In 2003, the BT Tower became a listed building along with six other “historically and architecturally outstanding communications structures” located around the country. Revealing the listings, Baroness Blackstone, then Minister of State for the Arts said:

“Our built heritage should be about much more than old buildings. The best of our modern architecture also merits the recognition and protection that listing brings. Structures like the BT Tower and the ntl Broadcasting Tower are cultural and architectural icons of Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’. These buildings mark the early milestones of Britain’s transformation into one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world today.”

The next five years will show whether the global ‘sky’s-the-limit’ architectural optimism of the 1970s will, through sheer cost-cutting necessity, be replaced by something more local, modest and sustainable.

Dezhou – a technology hub for solar energy


Following on from our earlier post on Trondheim’s strategy to create a ‘supercluster’ for maritime knowledge and research, here’s a look at Dezhou, in Shangdong Province, China, which has developed itself as a ‘world solar city’.

Dezhou is hosting the 2010 International Solar Cities congress in September. It is home to 100 solar enterprises with 586 solar product patents, and five solar scientific research programmes belonging to National Plan 863.

China Solar City

China Solar City

Called China Solar Valley, the Dezhou cluster covers an area of 330 hectares of research and manufacturing facilities, including the world’s largest solar water heater production plant. Around 800,000 people work in the solar panel industry.

There has also been a determined effort to ensure that solar technologies are put to spectacular use.

The Sun-Moon Mansion is a 75,000m2 solar-powered building (office space / exhibition centre / R&S centre / hotel) with over 2000 solar collectors above its roof.

The Sun-Moon Mansion

The Sun-Moon Mansion

Seasonal heat storage, solar heating and cooling, and geothermal heating are used to supply hot water, cooling in summer, and heating in winter, whilst photovoltaics generate energy and provide lighting.

Energy saving glass, sun-shading panels, external wall insulation, roof gardens, rainwater collection and water treatment systems also feature.

But there’s also the more mundane, but probably more important, schemes that address the needs of the local population. As a result of the One million solar roofs project more than 80% of the urban buildings are covered by solar water heaters.

Solar bathrooms in hundred villages is another project.

ESI references:

The Ocean Space Centre: how do you build a global knowledge hub?


OSC aquarium. Architects: Snøhetta. Illustration: MIR

Trondheim seems to be the place where it’s all happening these days, architecturally speaking. Is the city turning into the new Dubai? If so, it will hopefully avoid the more-money-than-taste extravagance and subsequent economic backlash.

The latest big project to be announced is the Ocean Space Centre. The architects are Snøhetta, the practice behind the widely acclaimed Oslo opera house, winner of the Mies van der Rohe award 2009.

Oceanlab from the air. Architects: Snøhetta. Illustration: MIR

The design includes a disc-shaped, fjord-based laboratory surrounded by artificial reefs and high-tech research equipment. The location of the lab, on the edge of a steep sea-bed drop, will allow scientists to recreate the conditions of a 3000m deep ocean basin.

Back at the harbour, eleven mushroom-like buildings perched on tall stalks will contain offices, lecture theatres and a visitor centre. Snøhetta has also included a masterplan for further urban development, including residential spaces.

OSC ground view. Architects: Snøhetta. Illustration: MIR

But far from being ‘just’ another iconic building project, the Ocean Space Centre forms part of an overall strategy to create a “supercluster” for maritime knowledge and research.

A report on the project by Prof. Torger Reve at the BI Norwegian School of Management (PDF downloadable here, in English) provides an interesting insight into how global knowledge hubs are created – and, by extension, how architectural design and infrastructure can help shape the socio-economic future of their location.

The report takes as its example the biotechnology and life science industry in Boston. The greater Boston area has a higher concentration of advanced universities, research labs and specialised biotech firms than anywhere else in the world.

See also Hans-Dieter Evers (2008): Knowledge hubs and knowledge clusters: designing a knowledge architecture for development.

Elevated offices. Architects: Snøhetta. Illustration: MIR

Lab entrance. Architects: Snøhetta. Illustration: MIR

Alvar Aalto – Finland’s “father of modernism”


Aalto c.1935, © Alvar Aalto Foundation

Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) has been called the father of modernism in Finnish design, but was also an important figure in international architecture.

This anecdote from the Design Museum: “By the 1950s, Alvar Aalto … was one of the handful of people in Finland who were considered so important that, if they were late for a Finnair flight, the airline delayed take-off until they were safely on board. More often than not, Aalto did arrive late and Finnair passengers grew accustomed to waiting for him to board the aircraft. Aalto enjoyed this so much that, if he arrived on time, he instructed his chauffeur to drive around Helsinki Airport until he was late enough to stage a grand entrance.”

Aalto's Villa Mairea (Rafael Rybczynski on Flickr)

Aalborg Museum of Modern Art (seier+seier+seier on Flickr)

Like many of today’s ‘starchitects’, Aalto also turned his hand to furniture and product design. Iittala still produces his beautiful Aalto vase.

Iittala Aalto vases (Johan Klintberg on Flickr)

More on Aalto’s life and work here.

Architects and architectural technologists can be found on

Lifting the spirit – architecture in the noughties


Stephen Bayley – in the Guardian – summarises the design of the noughties.

“Meanwhile, hideous muddy holes disfigure the City of London: groundwork for vainglorious property developments that will never be built. So it is pleasant to record that two of the best buildings of the century so far have a sacred character.”

For him, the standout pieces are John Pawson’s monastery at Novy Dvur in Bohemia.

John Pawson - Novy Dvur Monastery

John Pawson - Novy Dvur Monastery

And Peter Zumthor’s memorial chapel at Wachendorf in Germany.

Memorial chapel - willem-jan.beeren on Flickr

King Abdullah International Gardens: a giant oasis in the desert


KAIG: set for completion in 2011 (Barton Willmore)

Barton Willmore has designed this spectacular botanical garden, set in 160 hectares of arid desert landscape in the Saudi central region, to the south west of Riyadh.
The ambitious team, led by Nick Sweet and advised by experts from the Eden Project and the Natural History Museum, sees the project as a chance “to educate, to entice, to excite and to entertain, and whilst doing so, to pass on a message about who we are, where we have come from, where we may be going, and the choices that may still be available to us.”

The Butterfly Garden (image: Barton Willmore)

  • KAIG will record 400 million years of botanical history by creating a paleobotanic timeline, with authentic interpretations of ecosystems that existed on this site in past epochs.
  • The crescent-shaped main building will enclose seven controlled environments.
  • Visitors – up to 45,000 per day – will be taken on a journey through landscapes from the Devonian, Carboniferous, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Cenzoic and Pilocene eras.
  • There will also be scientific gardens, a Water Garden and a Wadi Garden (wadi is Arabic for dry riverbed or valley).
  • Finally, the Garden of Choices explores the consequences of the decisions we make regarding the environment.
  • The Paleobotanic Building (image: Barton Willmore)

  • The carbon-neutral scheme will harvest stone, rainwater and solar power to sustain its development and operation.
  • A comprehensive seed-bank, protected from germination by the dry desert climate, will aid future research and project developments.
  • The project website contains a wealth of images and information: masterplan, strategic contexts, a database of botanical garden precedents, fly-by animation, perspective sketches, and extensive details of each individual garden.
  • Followers of the project’s blog are looking forward to keeping track of the 3-year building process via site webcams and Google Earth.

    An external view (image: Barton Willmore)

    ESI references:

  • Darwin cocoon wins Concrete Society award


    The world's largest curved, sprayed concrete structure

    The Darwin Centre Phase 2 forms part of the western extension of the Natural History Museum.

    It provides a climate-controlled home for 20 million plant and insect specimens.

    It also creates a working space for research scientists, as well as an exciting visitor destination.

    Designed by Danish architects C F Møller, the cocoon was declared Overall Winner at the recent Concrete Society’s Awards for Excellence ceremony.

    Judges said the structure will become “a benchmark for the production of extreme shapes in concrete”.

    The extension contrasts with the original 19th century building

    ESI references: