Buildings by nature seek to dominate space. At the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the experience is wholly different – in this isolated picturesque setting: space dominates building. At first sight, the architecture appears anonymous, sculptural and silent. Lost along the Californian coast, it is situated a stone’s throw away from San Diego in La Jolla. We can imagine it as an untouched gem in a post war scenario: a living ruin, capable of projecting worlds of its own.
The power of a mirror lies in its simplicity. A single surface allowing for endless possibilities. Multiplication’s machine, illusions’ creator, reality’s extension are just some of its magical properties.
“Magic mirror, on the wall – who is the fairest one of all?”
Kusama Pumpkin, Naoshima – The pumpkin often has a connection with the magical world. In Cinderella, it turns into a beautiful white carriage, darting towards the dance. In the same way, it could easily be one of the strange and wonderful inhabitants of the Lewis Carroll world – out of scale, context and with no apparent purpose. If the pumpkin could talk it would ask nonsensical questions while giving absurd non-answers.
Water temple, designed by Tadao Ando, hides in the inland of Awaji Island. Despite its close proximity to the sea (only a 15 min walk) the building turns its back to the ocean to embrace the hillside. The road to reach it, is deserted and steep: a series of greenhouses and fields are the only panorama’s highlights.
Exit the metro station at Hatchobori and walk along the main road towards the Kamejima River. Just before the bridge take a right turn, you might end up in a narrow street where you will stumble upon a curious object – squashed between two housing blocks: an urban vertical forest. It is the Garden House, designed by Ryue Nishizawa.
Tokyo – Close your eyes. If you do so you will hear the noise at the Shibuya Crossing and the smell of the sakura flowers in bloom in Shinjuku on an April’s day, while walking around Gyoen National Garden. Close your eyes tighter. Do you feel the spatial tension? From the small labyrinth-streets of Nakano to the huge Roppongi’s skyscrapers, Tokyo paints the 21st century Japanese society on one single canvas.
“La Tourette is in-situ cast concrete, and it reads as a singular structure in spite of its volumetric and formal complexities and apparently tectonic language. The monastery is suspended between earth and sky; it echoes the dark depths and gravity of the earth while reaching towards the sky, hovering weightlessly on its dense system of piloti. This building merges the opposing human dreams of flying and being buried in the earth…
Palazzo del Lavoro – The building stood before us imposing and abandoned. A broken glass and multiple graffiti were evidence that many before us had violated its solitude. Right through a smashed window we penetrated into the concrete soul of the building. Here, an infinite space opened in front of us: a basilica of our time, a cathedral of architecture with no god or religion, a modern days’ ruin.
The Barbican Centre – A place of connection, a place of transition between two different worlds: the street and the courtyard. The former, a reflection of everyday life. The latter, an image of the pleasure of stopping, sitting, observing and thinking. Two universes governed by opposing laws: that of motion and that of stillness.
If the essence of architecture – its intrinsic and determining constituent – is empty space, every man has experienced an archetypal feeling when visiting the Pantheon. Confined in an immense space, we can never embrace its entirety. Ignorant but curious, we marvel at how such a great dome can stand. Questions whose answers lie in subtle ploys: secrets buried within the structure and the material.
The Ara Pacis was and is an altar to the greatness of Rome, an altar of ideals and hopes. Forgotten but rediscovered. Rebuilt but eradicated. Idolised but caged. Now it sits imprisoned behind white bars, while the citizens invoke freedom for it. Criticism resonates from every part of the capital, loud and clear not unlike most Italians.
Progressing through the maze of columns, towards the centre of Bernini’s eclipse, we find ourselves in front of an imposing white wall, the Dover’s cliff of Rome: Saint Peter’s Basilica. Decorated to the last detail, it can only be compared to the English steep rock face for its whiteness and grandeur. In all other aspects, we can say that the craft of man has equaled if not surpassed the force of nature.
Modern, provocative, rebellious. The new entrance of the Musée du Louvre is this and much more. Criticism has built its reputation, making it the most talked about pyramid in the world. Eternal in volume and modern in material, it represents the architecture of two millennia in a single structure: from the pyramids of Giza to new, innovative technologies. From the first, it inherits the proportions and the form. From the second, the lightness and the transparency.
What is the best house for an art museum if not art itself? With an open heart and bones of steel, the Pompidou Centre towers naked above the French roofs of the 4th arrondissement. Among them it stands out, an alien surrounded by mortals. A myriad of pipes wraps the back of the building: not to protect it but to make it work.
Walk up the steps, cross the pronaos, rush through the first room, enter the main courtyard and look up: you will be rendered speechless. The modern roof designed by Fosters and Partners hovers above you. 3312 glazing panels frame 3312 triangular slices of sky. This is the heart of the British Museum.
In the far east of London, stands majestic and solitary the London Aquatics Centre. In an almost inexistent context, it emerges from the flatness of the surroundings, like a solitary wave in the middle of the ocean. At first sight, its dynamic form amazes but then the question arises: would it be as beautiful within a context? Or is it this emptiness that enhances the building? “Space is meaningless without scale, containment, boundaries and direction”, writes Huxtable – so is the aquatic centre just a meaningless wonder?
La Tour Eiffel – Paris is an old romantic man. Two things distinguish him as french: a baguette under the arm and a revolutionary spirit in the chest. A bit Bohemian, a bit Jacobin, but with one motto: liberté, egualité, fraternité. Like all men – or all lovers I should say – he has two weaknesses: absinth and women. But it is known that every Casanova has one true love. Paris’ everlasting one is a lanky old lady with an iron soul.
Architecture is art, and in art lies its completeness. In Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, designed by Stanton Williams Architects, the two disciplines work one in function to the other. The building is like a Rubik’s cube in which all faces have the same colour: the solutions are endless and they all work.