American Starchitect Frank Gehry has “graced” Australia with his presence with the new business school at the University of Sydney. Reminiscent of Gehry’s Fred and Ginger building in Prague, the building blends surprisingly well into the surrounding brick streetscape of Ultimo. In fact, if it was not for the custom shaped bricks made by Austral bricks for the project to achieve the sinuous curves, the building might have been somewhat underwhelming. The devil is really in the detail.
Illumination of buildings can transform spaces from uninviting to inspiring, as is evident in the industrial/entertainment area at Auckland Harbour. Like many of the world’s harbours, the ViaDuct has become a hub of commercial activity, entertainment, culture, fine dining and boutique residences, quite akin in many ways to our own Woolloomooloo.
Yesterday I was viewing a friend’s photographs of a house he recently completed and one of his details reminded me of the creative genius that is Carlo Scarpa. Scarpa’s meticulous yet elegant details, his use of materials and his discipline in execution is incomparable and a constant source of inspiration to many. I conceived the idea for the Hill House staircase after a visit to the Olivetti Showroom in Venice. Whenever possible, I strive to achieve his elegance in my work. This photo is courtesy of my dear friend Nadia Watson, who saved the day when my camera battery went flat!
In keeping with the theme of exquisite quality of light, Sanctuario Dom Bosco by Carlos Alberto Naves is a less visited, but equally inspiring church in Brasilia. The modernist (almost brutalist) concrete exterior is a complete contrast to the delicate sensation of the interior. Made from 7,400 pieces of Murano glass set into lead, the windows are a tapestry of colour and in some areas, openable as louvres.
Brasilia’s poster child, Niemeyer’s Catedral Metropolitana was as elegant as I had expected, but smaller than I anticipated. Nicknamed the “lamb rack roast” by my patient, non architect husband, the quality of light inside the cathedral was exquisite and the double glazing provides much needed respite from the heat of the Brasilia sun shine. Like many of Niemeyer’s public buildings, the main occupied space within the building is actually located underground, allowing the roof structure to become the landmark.
The phrase “it can’t be done” were clearly never uttered to Oscar Niemeyer, or perhaps he chose to ignore those skeptics. Located in the main hall of Palacio Itamaraty, this staircase is one of the most spectacular pieces of engineering and craftsmanship I have ever seen. I am truly inspired to reach to the heavens.
On a recent trip to Brazil to Neymar gaze, I found myself Niemeyer gazing instead. Whilst the Brazilian football team has two talents players named “Oscar” and “Neymar”, it is the late Oscar Niemeyer who is one of Brazil’s true heroes. A exemplar of true modernism, Palacio Itamaraty is one of Niemeyer’s greatest achievements. The concrete structure appears delicate and lightweight and the integration of landscape and interiors is breathtaking.
Our nation’s capital has some of the most elegant examples of public architecture in Australia. Commonwealth Place, designed by Durbach Block Jaggers in 2002 is a timeless example of building as landscape. Robust, beautifully detailed and timeless, the building grows from the banks of Lake Burley Griffin to frame Parliament House beyond.
I recently read an article which raised an interesting point that globalization can have a negative impact on cultural context. Many ‘starchitects’ (famous architects with rock star appeal) like Santiago Calatrava leave their mark on cities around the world, often without taking specific cultural cues from the city itself. This bridge, which is trademark Calatrava, is elegant, refined and structurally inspiring but where is it? (Hint: the city is famous for Eva Peron)