Visions of the end of the century

They belong to the strangest and the most expensive buildings in the world. Some delight, others are shocked by their appearance. Buildings from the late twentieth century are brilliant projects of uncommon minds.

In the natural world, a straight line is rare. The man - in his rush to organize reality, limited by materials and laws of physics - most often gave the buildings he created uncomplicated shapes. However, what attracts our attention are not rectangular boxes that irritate with their soulless but restless, seemingly chaotic architectural solutions. "The straight line is human, the curve comes from God," said the great Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi.

Great times of our time.

Contemporary architects implement the most prestigious buildings in the world. It happens that in a few days they circle the world by private jets, supervising their numerous structures scattered across different continents.

In today's architecture, the individuality of individual designers' design is more important than fidelity to architectural styles. The most famous designers not only have outstanding talent, but they are also excellent organizers. Modern architecture requires the coordination of the work of numerous teams of specialists. The best are able to be showmen for the media and visionaries for investors.

Buildings that meet the vision of outstanding architects often overtake the ages in which they were created. This happened, for example, with the Paris Center Pompidou. This object was created in the seventies, shocking with a tangle of steel pipes, plastic and glass panes in the very center of old Paris. It initiated the high-tech architecture (high technology), which is successfully used today.

The creators of the Center Pompidou - Italy Renzo Piano and Briton Richard Rogers - are today the heads of companies building airports, museums, office buildings or entire districts of cities. In recent years, Renzo Piano has conquered the world by constructing Kansai Airport located on an artificial island off the coast of Japan. The covering of the main hall is based on trusses, like the vertebrae of huge dinosaurs circling the urgent line. This shape is not accidental but results from precise calculations of the flow of fresh air to the ventilation of the hall. Piano is also the creator of the new part of Berlin at Potsdamer Platz. The district, covered with a network of streets and passages, consisting of office buildings, department stores and residential houses, a casino and a hotel, burns parts of the city divided by years. The architect has used here innovative façade systems made of delicate terracotta tiles. He invited an old friend - Rogers to cooperate with him.

Glass giganty.

Rogers, after completing the Pompidou Center, built technically advanced glass-aluminum office buildings, airports and factories in Europe, America and Japan. His greatest success was the seat of the Lloyds insurance company in London. The building is irresistibly associated with a great refinery. It is a cuboidal office building in which, for the openness of space, all technical rooms were exposed beyond its boundaries.

The glass block is surrounded by a series of dramatically stacking towers (containing staircases, elevators, toilets) and a tangle of shiny pipes - installation sequences. The whole is crowned with cranes that are permanently located on the tops of the tower, servicing platforms for the maintenance of facades. Although the building cost a fortune, Lloyds gained the reputation of a modern corporation.

How it's kept.

Initially, Rogers' partner was Norman Foster - today the personification of a global architect (private jet, several hundred employees, construction on all continents, noble title given by the English queen). Foster came to the forefront of architects of the world by building a bank in Hong Kong. To the several-storey height of the lobby of this building, light is directed by a system of electronically controlled mirrors that follow the movement of the sun.

Recently, Foster completed the reconstruction of the Berlin Reichstag. You can observe parliamentary deliberations from the glass dome. At its top there are spiral ramps attached to steel ribs supporting the glass. The construction of the dome, although its dimensions are not staggeringly large, is a masterpiece of steel construction. Its individual elements were welded from flat sheets enabling bending after precise, mathematically calculated curvatures. The resulting effect of lightness and transparency has a chance to become a symbol of modern German democracy. Foster also builds in Warsaw. He just started building an office building at Piłsudskiego Square.

Ellipses and curvatures.

Leading architects do not come exclusively from Europe. Japan, for example, is a country where a meeting with Western civilization gave the architecture there an unusual appearance, resulting from the merger of the Eastern understanding of space with the technical capabilities of the West. At the same time, thanks to the specific economic situation, it is Japan that produces the most expensive buildings in the world. Their price is several times higher than the costs of comparable facilities in America or in Europe.

The Japanese Arata Isozaki took part in the development of the Berlin Potsdamer Platz. However, the most memorable are the buildings in which he applied geometrically complicated curvatures. The original shapes are derivatives of complicated calculations, with the help of which the architectural forms give a mathematical meaning enabling the most sophisticated constructions. All this to make the object ideally suited to the environment.

This is perfectly evident in the congress center in Nara in Japan, based on ellipsoid forms or in the Museum of Civilization in LaCoruna in Spain, as well as in Poland - in Krakow. Isozaki designed here the inspiration of Andrzej Wajda, the Center of Japanese Culture and Technology - Manggha. The building, erected on the bend of the Vistula, opposite Wawel, is in its plan and section based on a series of sinusoids. In this way, he emphasizes his riverside location, the shape of the structure, interacting with the wave of water.

From crumpled paper.

American Frank Gehry is considered among the architects ... the greatest sculptor. Its buildings in no way resemble traditional - it is rather a huge scale of abstract sculptures, composed of extremely complicated, interwoven, twisted solids, clad with steel or stone. For their design, the architect uses computer programs developed by NASA for the design of spacecraft and aircraft.

Gehry creates a spontaneous, very optimistic architecture, starting with hand-made models of crumpled paper, cardboard and ready-made objects that he has at hand. These models are then transferred to the memory of computers using sophisticated spatial laser scanners. The computer, which carves space, moves the genius in the form of a spatial mesh reflecting the geometry of the original. Painstaking calculations allow you to build extraordinary works of art.

Street culture.

The 20th century is beautiful, but the beauty is terrifying. At least that's what Rem Koolhaas thinks - a Dutch architect looking for inspiration in the development of civilization. Koolhaas is an urbanist, architect and author of essays describing the state of contemporary urban space. He believes that before the globalization of the world there is no escape, chaos of cities is something natural and although architects have to counteract it, they are ultimately doomed to failure. "City dwellers create a new culture of traffic jams, and all together we are voluntary prisoners of civilization."

Koolhaas is among others the author of a new neighborhood in Lille, France, around the TGV railway station. This work best expresses his view on contemporary urban planning, and the predictions of the Dutch architect about the course that our civilization takes, simply work.
Tekst: Grzegorz Stiasny Źródło: "FOCUS" nr 9/1999
30/07/2005     Wojciech Andruszkiewicz
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