Alexandra Road Housing

(London. England) 1968-78

Two viows of tho podostrlan stroots of the Aloxandra Road housing project

Alexandra Road Housing

high housing blocks between the site and Kilburn.

The layout comprises two almost parallel pedestrian streets of terraced six- and four-storey housing, between which Is a central park. The arrangement is similar to that of Regency or Victorian London and the scale approximates that of nearby Belsize Park.

Noise is blocked from the site by the northernmost terrace, which presents a solid wall of building against the railway track. This block is sound-insulated by anti-vibration pads in the foundations and by double glazing. A set-back section gives each dwelling a balcony open to the sky. catching sun from the east, west and south; it also provides more light and space for the pedestrian streets by reducing overshadowing. From these streets, access is to paired dwellings around external staircases which, in the tall northern block, lead to an upper-level gallery. In addition, at Intervals along this terrace, lifts link the gallery to the pedestrian streets and the ground-level garages. The lifts have large glazed panels and are set in glazed shafts. Parallel to the two main streets are paths alongside the park, which join at the vehicle centre, and continue as one. bridging the entry road to connect at ground level with the main pedestrian entrance to the scheme at Loudoun Road.

The project felicitously combines street pattern. which one would have expected to be accompanied with upright row housing, with housing organized along a terrace, which one would associate more with sites overlooking vistas. As a result, both the privacy of the houses is safeguarded and there is a resort-life air of leisure about it.

In addition to the careful proportioning of the units, what gives Alexandra Road a definite civic character and urbaneness is the curving of the street. Without resorting to collective enclosed spaces which most of the time have negative social repercussions, this offers a representation of common ground and common identity to the inhabitants.

Despite these qualities, Alexandra Road fails to overcome those difficulties of maintenance and cost of servicing that are typical of such projects of social housing. Nevertheless, if this remarkable housing has been insufficiently appreciated in the 1980s, it is to be hoped that closer attention will be given to it in the future.

Alexandra Road Architectural PlansNeave Brown Alexandra Road Plan

Oppo»Ho) Diagram of tho urban plan of the Alexandra Road development lAbo*«) SHo soctlons l»l|ht) Plan of a typical unit

Francisco Javior Saenz de Oiza BANCO DE BILBAO

(Madrid. Spain) 1971-78

The Banco de Bilbao in Madrid is one of the most elegant towers built in Europe since the Second World War and probably the most distinguished tall office building of the period in this book. Surprisingly, it was not primarily formal visual considerations that were the architect's main concerns in conceiving and carrying out the design: these were, instead, functional organization, the flow of information and energy conservation.

The building stands on the Paseo de la Castellana, the high-rise business section in the centre of Madrid created during the period of economic boom, in the twilight of the Franco era. It has 29 floors and an underground service area. The building is divided into two horizontal servicing duct zones. The mechanical servicing is located on the eleventh, twentieth and top floors. The top floor, under the servicing, is used for meetings and public relation functions. The auditorium and other meeting rooms are on the fifteenth floor. Most work areas are on the periphery of the building with good views and natural light.

A basic concern of the architect was tie reduction of glare and overheating becausetf the intense sunlight. An extended periphery awning of metal that projects at almost every storey has solved this problem and gives the building its characteristic silhouette. Together with another unusual feature, its warm huesof | maroon and copper, it demonstrates the arc* | tect's sensitivity to regional contextual facto* as well as conferring on the building a sensetf place, scale and craftsmanship sadly absert from the exteriors of most contemporary

Opposite, right) The entrance (Opposite, left) Interior (Above) Lift

(Right) One of the rounded corners

Opposite, right) The entrance (Opposite, left) Interior (Above) Lift

(Right) One of the rounded corners towers. The corners of the Banco de Bilbao are rounded, and. once more, there are functional benefits to be derived from such a design: the carved niches create a better place for work. Rounded corners also have a pleasant visual impact. The curved glass is modelled on a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, the Johnson Wax Building (Racine. Wisconsin. 1936-39), a detail that makes the Banco de Bilbao stand apart from the overwhelming majority of postwar office towers which have tended to follow the tradition of Mies van der Rohe.

The columns of the structure of the building are set back from the external glass wall, leaving a zone (or easy circulation around its periphery. By hiding the bearing structure and the vertical service elements in this way. by minimizing the detailing of the building, curving its corners and projecting the awning elements. Oiza has given to the Banco de Bilbao an overall feeling of smoothness and continuity rather than angularity and a markedly discontinuous articulation of elements. These qualities produce the impression of a sensuously crafted object rather than a mechanically reproduced artifact. Characterized more by skin than skeleton, the tower integrates well with the surrounding buildings, which explains the rather warm feelings of the inhabitants of Madrid towards this imposing structure.

The building also differs from the majority of office towers in that its mam entrance is neither monumental nor forbidding. One descends to enter from ground level. The doors are set back from the plane of the facade, thus providing a recessed, covered area planted with greenery, which at once invites and protects the visitor. Once in the lobby, one is surrounded by an unexpectedly polychromatic, cheerful interior. It is a double-floor space which includes a reception area, the entrances to the lifts and a ramp.

The organization of the tower follows the prototypes of the 1930s and '40s: there is a central service core, while most offices are attached to the periphery of the building. From the point of view of livability and efficiency, this solution remains an unsurpassable prototype.

In defending his functionalist position. Saenz de Oiza echoes the pre war champion of anti-formalism, Hannes Meyer, who. submitting his proposal for the Palace for the League of Nations in 1926-27. said that 'as an organic structure it expresses sincerely that it wishes to be a building for work and cooperation ... As a deliberately conceived man-made product, it presents itself as in legitimate contrast with nature. This building is neither beautiful nor horrible. It asks to be evaluated as a structural Invention."

With a renewed interest, in the 1990s, in realism. Oiza's propensity for problem-solving rather than critical commentary, functionality rather than rhetoric, innovation rather than stereotyping, offers an important precedent.

(This pago) Exterior vlow and soction

(Opposite, above) Plan of the twenty-seventh floor

(Opposite, below) Ooneral plan of the ground floor

Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners Ltd SPORTS HALL FOR IBM

(Hampshire. England) 1980-82

Very much in the tradition of 'high tech' architecture, Nicholas Grimshaw. a one time collaborator of Terry Farrell, believes in the virtues of technology and in exposing it on the surface of a building. In his Sports Hall for IBM. one of his first projects, the five space-frame portals that support the walls and root of this 18-metre long, clear-span building are painted black to stand out. somewhat exhibitionistically, against the white exterior of the building. The pivot at their base and the diagonal bracing that connects them is bare and open to view. As a spatial concept, this is a 'universal space" as it was practised in the 1940s, using updated technology and a light structure. In borrowing techniques previously associated exclusively with industrial buildings. Grimshaw is very much in the tradition of Mies's Crown Hall in Chicago (1952-56). Charles and Ray Eames' house (1949) and Jean Prouv6's Palais des Expositions in Grenoble of 1967 (especially in the hall's curving corners).

The wall panels of the IBM Centre are highly glazed in a laminate of grey-tinted, dark plastic. 5250 mm long by 500 mm high and 42 mm thick, they are simple industrial door panels, bolted at each corner to cleats on the frame. PVC sheeting and preformed upstands of rigid PVC were used for the roof, a solution that makes it watertight, unlike the glass and steel roof of Crown Hall, the great prototype of clear-span buildings, as John Winter has pointed out in his discussion on the building in the Architectural Review. The gaps that separate the four walls and the gaps between walls and ceiling are filled with fibregiass. This has the additional advantage of translucency and lets in natural light without glare. At night when the lights are on. the translucent rounded corners, viewed from the outside, are luminous.

The undemanding programme for a low cost building equipped for badminton and other indoor sports allows for future expansion. The exposed external structure consists of five tubular steel trussed portal frames 5.25 metres high at the centre and spanning 18 metres. This results in flush walls inside. The cladding sandwich panels are bolted todeats welded to the main frame and to the gab* mullions. The mullions have been detailed for easy modification of the structure. The entire gable wall can be unbolted and taken down.

This shed is appropriately easy to use and more significantly, easy to understand its athletic image of lightness and physical agdit, is achieved without having to resort to unnecessary violations of space, a Veniun "duck", or to Venturi's other roadside publier, decorations.

Moreover, it sits in the middle of the green park, where the intricate contraption ol its space-frame supports, pivoted at the hase, gives a strong impression of the 'machine m the garden'. But if one looks at the same elements as space-ordering devices, something of the English classical-picturesque tradition also comes to mind: the placing rf simple, articulate, highly geometrical structures in nature to stress its wilderness.

.Opposite) Extorlor viow

(Top) liometrlc view. Including possible futwo oxtenslon

(Above) Detailed section of tho facade (Right) Detail of tho facado


(Paris. France) 1965-80

(Left) Ground floor plan of tho Communiit Party Headquarters

Key: 1 main entrance: 2 reception; 3 lift»; 4 waiting area; 5 library; 6 exhibition ares; 7 Hall of the Central Committee; 8 access U meeting rooms In the basement; 9 offices

(Below left) Typical floor plan Key: 1 entrance from the Place du Colonel Fablen; 2 pedestrian ramps; 3 green area; 4 service entrance from the Bhrd de la Vlllette; 5 entrance from the Avenue Math** 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

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 ti* 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 culture, political, technological avant-garde, it made Niemeyer and Prouvé appear like two sacred cows distinctly out of tune, a monument to

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 lpp. 56-63) projects to see how deep ■as the chasm separating the two sides of the May '68 divide.

Yet. 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 Vemeyer and Prouvé 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

wmm 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 materials. the intricacy of the industrial details and the rich repertory of compositional arrange ments - stairs to planes, columns to pane*, panels to walls - may not be startlingly original. They are. however, authentically and 'gramma- j tically' represented, condensed and displayec I in a small, compact space and in an almoK i didactic, erudite manner, offering a textboa application of modernist architecture at its most purist and rigorist phase. And it it remarkable how inexhaustible such canoncai 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 - tho 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 - tho ground floor near the entrance to the Hall of the Central Committee.

Atolior Gustav Polchl 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 Pelchl. 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. 8ruce 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 compo sition. 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»* have referred to elsewhere as the 'class** poetics of order' and the poetics of pre »ar modernism which was predicated on the neg* tion of the classical poetics. This building is a playful, creative exercise based on a system* tic. disciplined, rigorous knowledge of boti classical and anti-classical modes. inherited this knowledge from the older gene ration of Viennese architects like Adolf looi and has helped to transmit it to the younger generation of Austrian architects like Klacu Kada (pp. 208-209) and Coop Himmelbl*. (pp. 220-23). for whom he has been a great inspiration.

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