Lofty Designs for Strange Weather

Reports from the Field by • 03/09

Event: State of Global Architecture
Location: Relative Space Concept Showroom, 02.19.10
Speakers: Jürgen Mayer H. — Principal, J. Mayer H. Architects (Berlin); Andres Lepik — Curator of Contemporary Architecture, Museum of Modern Art; Matthias Hollwich & Marc Kushner, AIA — Principals, HWKN, & Co-founders, Architizer
Organizers: Architizer; The Society; Azure magazine, Toronto


Jürgen Mayer H. and Neeraj Bhatia

Though the official title suggested a discussion of unrealistic breadth and forbidding gravity, this event in the “Azure Talks” series combined a preview of a forthcoming book, several of Jürgen Mayer’s recent projects, and an announcement of a competition winner by the latest social media website, Architizer. The talents behind this gathering imbued its diverse purposes with energy.

In the U.S., Mayer’s academic presence is larger than his built body of work, but this may change before long. His biomorphic-modernist designs have brought success early in his career; his buildings now appear throughout Europe, serving a wide range of programs and extending digitally generated geometries “beyond the blob,” in his description, into a kind of structurally plausible surrealism. The Metropol Parasol in Seville, Spain, built of Kerto laminated veneer lumber and resembling a half-dozen conjoined mushrooms sheltering a public plaza, market, and archaeological museum above recently discovered Roman ruins, is scheduled to open by the end of this year. Mayer expressed delight at its realization in Seville’s medieval town center, observing that “we have to celebrate Spanish culture to be brave enough to do something like this… I don’t think it would be possible to do something like this in Germany.” However, he also noted that a simpatico client would be more important than any particular project typology. Perhaps a local developer will be up to the challenge in the U.S.

Mayer also previewed and autographed his new book -arium (Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2010; co-edited with University of Toronto urban design professor Neeraj Bhatia), recently published in Germany and scheduled to appear here later this spring. The book uses weather, the fundamental antagonist of any form of shelter, as the central organizing principle for its theoretical and practical investigations (“weather and media,” “weather and war,” “weather and infrastructure,” etc.). In an era when architecture, economics, and culture are all searching for ways to adapt to climate change, Mayer’s fascination with the relations of order and disorder in both natural and built spaces promises a fresh set of provocations.

Launched last fall, Architizer occupies a digital niche complementary to established portals, databases, and resources and various publication sites for architects and designers.

The Architizer team of Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner, AIA, also announced the winner of their “Competition Competition 2010,” which invited entrants to submit unrewarded entries from any 2009 competition — a common-sensical way to recycle some of the ideas that architects prolifically generate, often with only the slimmest hope for recognition. A jury headed by Mayer and including MoMA’s Andres Lepik, Ada Tolla of LOT-EK, and Jared Della Valle, AIA, of Della Valle Bernheimer “judged [the 643 entries] on general architectural merit, not on the criteria of the original competition,” and selected “Dubaiing” by the Parisian team of Mickael Papin, David Neil, Pierre Silande, Nicolas Lombardi, and Magali Lamoureux, a zeppelin-like structure drifting freely above its host city, held aloft by helium and ballasted by a set of inverted building volumes. With Dubai itself behaving like a bit of a bubble, comparisons to the Floating Island of Laputa in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels may be inevitable, but in such a recession-dulled climate, flights of imagination this free have grown rare; considering Architizer’s efforts to encourage them, it would seem churlish for questions of practicality to shoot them down.

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