Oscar Niemeyer Office Communist Party Headquarters

(Paris, France) 1965-80

Niemeyer Paris French Communist Party

At the height of its political power, the French Communist Party decided to commission Oscar Niemeyer as the architect of its headquarters in Paris - with Jean Prouvé as the engineer of its building's curtain wall facade. By 1972, a year still reverberating from the May '68 revolt, to which the PCF had shown a neutral if not hostile attitude, the silhouette of the building had already risen over the site. Embodying the heroic antics of the old cultural, political, technological avant-garde, it made Niemeyer and Prouvé appear like two sacred cows distinctly out of tune, a monument to

(Left) Ground floor plan of the Communist Party Headquarters

Key: 1 main entrance; 2 reception; 3 lifts; 4 waiting area; 5 library; 6 exhibition area; 7 Hall of the Central Committee; 8 access to meeting rooms in the basement; 9 offices

(Below left) Typical floor plan Key: 1 entrance from the Place du Colonel Fabien; 2 pedestrian ramps; 3 green area; 4 service entrance from the Blvd de la Villette; 5 entrance from the Avenue Mathurii Moreau; 6 cupola; 7 esplanade; 8 main entrance; 9 service tower; 10 patio; 11 entrance to car park

(Opposite) The facade seen by night and by day - the cupola covers the Hall of the Central Committee

irrevocably lost certainties. One has only to glance at the PCF headquarters and compare them to Kroll's (pp. 44-47. 92-95) and Rossi's (pp. 56-63) projects to see how deep was the chasm separating the two sides of the May '68 divide.

Vet. twenty years on, with 'negative' histori cist design fading away, and the interest in the pleasure of formal invention and in the re-emergence of technological construction, the Niemeyer and Prouve building suddenly appears both youthful and relevant, thanks not only to the unique personal talents of its creators but also to many of the general architectural principles it employed. The affinities with Koolhaas's Dance Theatre (1987, pp. 182-85), de Portzamparc's Cité de la Musique (1990, pp. 190-93) and Hans Kollhoff's Luisenplatz Housing project (1988, pp. 210-13) are suggestive of how much the present generation of designers responds to Niemeyer and Prouvé, and for good reasons.

Functionalist principles demanded that each major function in a building be expressed by a particular volume and gave to this volume a form fit for the function it contained. The rule system is conventional, but its flexibility has proved indisputable, allowing the form of each volume to change in accordance with changes in function and without disturbing the rest of the volumes. In this functionalist framework, Niemeyer considers the form of the building to be the result of a fusion between internal and external 'forces'. The internal ones are comprised of the requirements of the operations the building contains: a conference hall, an exhibition space and office spaces for the secretariat. By external ones he means the conditions of the site on which the project is


placed. These include the formation of the ground, the views from within and the orientation.

The curved form of the facade, for example, emerged, in Niemeyer's words, 'naturally from the necessity to hide the neighbouring building and to create between it and the new building the spaces necessary for vertical access that we wanted outside the building in order to guarantee the indispensable flexibility of its interior'. The most interesting aspect of the interior, he finds, is the main hall. In the same vein, he explains that 'we did not want it on pilotis with the glassed-in hall giving onto the street or gardens. This would have occupied the entire site and precluded that correct relation between volumes and empty space, all too often forgotten by architects. Therefore, we designed it half buried: a great hall that the small entrance makes even greater, with the foyer, the exhibition hall, the little bookstore and the auditorium, its cupola emerging onto the garden like major elements of the composition."

Seen from the air, one might read into the composite configuration the hammer and sickle emblem of the PCF, but the sobriety and rigour of the project do not support this. The Baroque-like effect, as one moves around and through the streamlined contours of the building, the overpowering presence of the mater ials, the intricacy of the industrial details and the rich repertory of compositional arrange ments - stairs to planes, columns to pane's, panels to walls - may not be startlingly original They are, however, authentically and 'grammatically' represented, condensed and displayed in a small, compact space and in an almost didactic, erudite manner, offering a textboo* application of modernist architecture at its most purist and rigorist phase. And it is remarkable how inexhaustible such canonical modernism still is. decades after Niemeyer's collaboration with Le Corbusier in Brazil.

(Opposite) Interior of the Hall of the Central Committee

(Left) Phases in the evolution of the concept of the Communist Party Headquarters

(Above) Sketches of the interior - the ground floor near the entrance to the Hall of the Central Committee.

(Opposite) Interior of the Hall of the Central Committee

(Left) Phases in the evolution of the concept of the Communist Party Headquarters

(Above) Sketches of the interior - the ground floor near the entrance to the Hall of the Central Committee.

Atelier Gustav Peichl ORF-STUDIO

(Graz, Austria) 1978-1981

Austria is a federation in which each state of the union has been encouraged to develop its own cultural identity. To reinforce this policy, each has its own broadcasting station, and six have been built since 1970, all designed by Gustav Peichl. Except for only slight variations, virtually all are identical.

It is no coincidence that Gustav Peichl is also a highly popular socio-political cartoonist working under the pen-name of 'Ironimus'. Taken as a whole, the broadcasting stations are obviously meant to enshrine the uniformity and conformism of his fellow countrymen. They are perhaps also allegorical comments on what happens when creative forces come into contact with bureaucratic control.

Like the one in Graz. each broadcasting station presents an image of contradiction and collision. On one side there is a swirling, dynamic, spiralling shape in which the studio work takes place. This is modelled on an eccentrically diverse variety of prototypes of spirals which Peichl identifies as a nautilus, the Disc of Phaestos, Bruce Goff's snail house, the volute of an Ionic capital and Marcel Duchamp's Anaemic-Cinema. On the other, we have a matrix-like grid plan, symbolizing the regimented and rigid orthogonal matrix grid of classical architecture. This is where the offices are housed. The sharp corner of the latter cleaves the former, causing it to splinter and fan out in irregular, calibrated, discontinuous wedges.

The point of collision of the two building plans is the fulcrum of the entire complex. Onto its cylindrical well, which contains a staircase, are hinged the office block with its stepped articulation and precise, orthogonal composition, and the 'fan' of the studios. However strange and complex, the plan pattern is extremely economical. It allows most of the circulation to be concentrated at the centre, which makes a complicated building convenient to use.

But the significance of these forms goes beyond the search either for humorous effect or for functionality, to the very heart of what we have referred to elsewhere as the classical poetics of order' and the poetics of pre-war modernism which was predicated on the negation of the classical poetics. This building is a playful, creative exercise based on a systema tic. disciplined, rigorous knowledge of both classical and anti-classical modes. Peicni inherited this knowledge from the older gene ration of Viennese architects like Adolf Loos and has helped to transmit it to the younger generation of Austrian architects like Klaus Kada (pp. 208-209) and Coop Himmelblau (pp. 220-23), for whom he has been a great inspiration.

Gustav Peichl Orf Drawing


(Mönchengladbach, Germany) 1972-82

Throughout a long series of architectural projects, Hollein has declared his conviction that architecture is above all an 'art of space', of relationships between pure solids and voids, as this was defined by 19th-century aesthetics. His investigations, however, in the design of furniture, industrial products, shops and display rooms, which manifest a great agility and knowledge in ordering and manipulating spatial structures, are ultimately dominated by a 'narrative desire'. Almost every shop designed by Hollein tells a different story using iconic architectural means, and the ingredients of each fabula are objects rather than abstract relations of voids (pp. 72-73). In fact, in much of Hollein's work narrative displaces spatial composition.

The Mönchengladbach museum was Hollein's first major constructed work in which negative space' was the predominant building block of the architecture, an idea he first tried out in his design for Washington University's Experimental Theater (1963-64). The spatial composition of the museum is not a goal in itself, and as with many of his earlier smaller projects, such as galleries and stores, it perspicuously serves to preserve and present to the public a number of works of art.

By contrast to the idea of a museum as a universal, neutral container where objects float in seemingly unlimited space, arrested only temporarily by free panels, Hollein's approach has been to provide a variety of spaces - wide or small, open or closed, circular, square or winding - which serve the specific attributes of the objects displayed in a specific sequence. The feeling of individuality is further enhanced by the dissimilarity of entrances, ramps, stairways, bridges. Spatial contrast is underlined by the contrasting multiple viewpoints and contact with the outside. Natural light comes through skylights and large windows; artificial light, when needed, is neon. The sense of overlapping narratives survives in the routing and the ensuing variety of spatial types.

The commitment to the individuality, disert teness and multiformity of space complements the museum's programme, which demands a variety of settings in order to display a multitude of objects in different lighting and volumes of space and at different distances (not to mention shifting curatorial attitudes). Most museums that provide a universal space normally try to meet these requirements with ad-hoc panels and lighting installations.

Despite the overriding attention to the organization of the interior spaces, the integration of the complex within its urban context has not been overlooked. Rather than developing the external skin of the building as a quasi-autonomous system, a variable tissue that responds to the different surrounding con ditions- a path followed to a great extent in the Sainsbury Wing of London's National Gallery (pp. 272-75) - Hollein uses here, as in the interior, purely spatial volumetric means, with great success. The spatial components of the

Communist Housing Project

project are 'folded' to fit the spaces inbetween and around existing urban constraints. They are attached around a wide, sand-paved platform. which forms the roof of the museum's lower levels, while on ground level it serves as a plaza which provides access to the side street and gardens. A subdued classicist entrance contrasts with the expanse of the plaza and the soaring volumes of a gothicizing tower.

In Hollein's museum, there is no sense of tortured investigation about time and the interdependence of present and past, as in the Merida museum by Moneo (pp. 148-51). Despite the presence of architectural motifs, such as the classical-looking entrance, that have strong associations with the past, the Städtisches Museum lives in the context of the present, a context of pure spatial events. Equally absent is any conflict between private and civic ways of life. The building is neither hidden behind nor overwhelmed by the surrounding urban fabric. As in the case of Stirling's extension to the Staatsgalerie in

Stuttgart (pp. 126-31), the fictional and poetic worlds evoked by the contents of the museum, different salient worlds, are implied by the way in which the building itself is an outsider amid its urban surroundings. But in contrast to Stirling's flamboyant civic architecture, which reaches out to invite people in, Hollein's museum is like a visitor from another world, a version of the end of this century's idea of a temenos, a temple, a world within a world. Its style is neither the idealist, eclectic histori-cism of the 19th-century museum, nor is it the Miesian, transcendental and neo-idealist temple. What it aims to convey is a belief in the idea of art as coherence and purity. Placed solemnly between hill and city centre, its sand-finished walls, its glass, steel, chrome and aluminium are like a mantle emphasizing its silky, silvery strangeness.

(Opposite) Axonometrie projection of the museum and surrounding site

(Top) Looking towards the entrance

(Above) Ground floor plan

Antonio Barrionuevo Ferrer HOUSING BLOCK IN PINO MONTANO

(Seville. Spain) 1981-83

This housing project for eighty agrarian fam lies is situated in Pino Montano, where the periphery of Seville gives way to the vast expanses of the huertas, or fields of the agricultural heartland, an area left outside the general planning policies of 1960s and '70s. Antonio Barrionuevo saw in this project the chance to attempt 'a new type of communal dwelling for its humble proprietors that would contribute, as a new alternative, to giving a new form to the working class housing other than that which characterized the metropolitan condition inside Seville.'

Antonio Barrionuevo, like Giancarlo De Carlo (pp. 198-201) and Alvaro Siza (pp. 90-91 placed major emphasis on collective space, its hierarchical structure and its collective memory. He tried to recapture 'the way in which the population of Seville occupies the street the square orthe internal courts (the renowned corral) of traditional neighbourhoods, as well as the different degrees of privacy that free space possesses, from the street to the private patio.' To do this, he has opted for a perimeter block, a spatial schema which provides ventilation and orientation but also offers the possibility of creating a communal, open space which is even more public than the traditional patio, but which still preserves the patio's relative privacy and collective intimacy.

Beyond iconographic considerations, in this working class, low-budget housing, through its colouis. materials and scale. Barrionuevo has tried to instil a sense of joyfulness. Without succumbing to imitation and nostalgia, other regional devices have been applied, such as a temple-monument to mark the centre of the patio. Above the entrances, the structures are covered in the same traditional ceramic tiles which were used on the mudejar minarets that were transformed into church towers. These are intended, according to the architect, as signs of identity of the collectivity*. Pergolas for shade, benches for meetings, kiosks, orange and palm trees, running water, all suggest not only the local gardens and patios, but also the 19th-century squares in the historic centre of Seville.

The design of this housing block bears all the features typical of the regionalist trend, so dominant in Spain. Barrionuevo has remarked that in this work he was trying to bring back all those native elements which were lacking in the panorama of social housing of our country for so long'. If critical regionalism succeeds only in this, in bringing back this sense of alegría (traditional joyfulness). its task in preserving the sense of local community has been accomplished.

(Opposite, left) General plan and sections (Opposite, right) Conceptual drawing (Above) The interior court (Right) Typical unit plan

(Above, left) Isometric view of the Renault Centre

(Left) A structural bay

(Above) Detail of the top of a mast

(Opposite) General view

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