Liverpool National Museum by 3XD

There it is, like a curiously wrapped present on Christmas morning. Indeed, it feels as though the justification for this building was made in a similar fashion to when you are conducting a last minute Christmas shopping spree; lots of stuff on the shelves but nothing quite fitting the bill. The result being a grudging compromise.

When I saw the original design by Studio 3XN it felt less like a bargain. In 2008, the proposal had attitude, optimism and sleekness; the completed form in 2011 (after 3XN’s role was reduced and given over others including Manchester based architects AEW) conveys a dramatically weaker relation to such positive nouns.

Growing up in the North West of England, I have become accustomed to these blocks and shapes popping up in the town centres.

I was in my teens when Urbis was completed in Manchester. After grand proclamations were made upon the completion of Ian Simpson’s glass structure, it now remains in the city centre still struggling to fit in like someone who arrives late to a party, and then remains too sober to relax with the revellers.

The result is a building that sits awkwardly on the edge of the town centre – and to continue the personified comparison – with nothing to say, and not many people taking much notice. In a nihilistic and somewhat melancholic nod to Morrissey, perhaps the bigger question these buildings start to ask is to whether their existence is necessary at all.

I imagine the Liverpool Museum will join such dialectic.  Urbis, when completed, was a museum of the city, housing an exhibition on not just Manchester, but the cities of the world. It has failed.  Since 2002, it has housed numerous alternative exhibitions with little success to justify its £30m cost. It is now about to open as the National Football Museum.  I hope this time is has more success, not least for the sake of the people of Manchester.

Likewise, I really wish for Liverpool Museum to succeed, for the people of Liverpool. After all, the waterfront is what fills many Liverpudlians with architectural pride – to damage that by debunking the waterfront with mediocre compromise would represent a crushing failure. Yet it is difficult to subdue a first impression that the Liverpool Museum represents a glaring missed opportunity for the city.

It is bold in the jarring relation of scale to its surroundings, in the odd aesthetic of repressed expression, in its gingerly relation to the surroundings; unfortunately it is not seemingly bold in an outright positive manner.  It is nice to have something new, like it is nice to get a computer console or exercise bike at Christmas.

However, like a good gift shows an understanding of the receiver’s character, a good building shows affinity for the environment onto which it is deposited.

Guest blogger Craig Allen

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Hidden garden: Zumthor’s Serpentine pavilion

Upon the threshold between park and courtyard is where Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s trademark of simple yet careful control of light and juxtaposing materials resides.

Once inside, it is the most comfortable of spaces. On a warm day, the heat absorbing black walls provide shade and a cool place to easily spend hours. There is something rustic in the way the square exterior form is cut into a pitched roof on the interior.

Zumthor’s design for this year’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in Hyde Park is incredibly simple, functional and effective, allowing light to hit the abundant wildflower garden in the centre and providing a sleek structure to shade coffee drinkers below. The abundance of bees gorging on the plantations nectar is a particularly welcome sight.

Aptly, considering that this is the cherry bursting of the architect’s design virginity on British soil, the Pavilion is akin to a holiday resort. Visitors reside as though they are enjoying a week away on Rhodes or Sardinia. The Pavilion quintessentially reflects English sentimentality, yet with a sophistication that elevates it to the function of a retreat from its surroundings.

It gives an immense sense of harmony between people and nature. The architect’s intention to ‘help its audience take the time to relax’ is seemingly fulfilled by the majority sharing the space.

Of the exterior aesthetics, perhaps transporting the entire pavilion to an industrial estate where it can sit alongside similar rectangular cubes would offer an interesting test and evolution of its properties!

The Pavilion is amazing, and clearly a very logical, successful and sensible answer to a well thought out brief. With the interior guarded from the roadside and park, it transforms the occupants from intrigued tourists and curious city inhabitants into care free relaxed dwellers and faux sophisticated island excursionists.

Guest blogger Craig Allen

This is the eleventh commission in the Serpentine Gallery’s annual Pavilion in Kensington Gardens, London. Peter Zumthor’s creation will remain on exhibit until 16 October 2011. For more on the project and video links to conversations with the architect visit here.

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Shift Happens: Critical visions of London

Four young architects are looking to find innovative solutions for pressing issues facing London’s future.

One proposes a partnership of private enterprises exploiting the happiness index in order to create a new social housing model.

Another suggests how the London stock exchange can reach a mutual agreement with the Church of England to archive its data safeguarding both their futures.

One young architect questions how environmentalism can work with genetic engineering to form a consumerist eco-industry where factory and nature merge as another explores a reverse imperialism where socialist façadism conceals hidden capitalist agenda through inviting partner nations to earn their aid.

The four graduates from the Royal College of Art are exhibiting their work in London as part of Shift Happens in August.

A Happy Thamesmeadium by Craig Allen

‘From April next year we will start measuring our progress as a country not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving, not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life,’ stated UK prime minister David Cameron on 25 November 2010.

It’s 2021. The British government’s newly-established Office of National Well-being has partnered with the Office of National Statistics. Private enterprises begin to adapt a set of tactics in order to convince local authorities of their capability to provide the best realisations of the governments’ happiness targets.

Candy & Candy [developer of luxury residential building One Hyde Park in London], look toward Thamesmead – an area with the highest levels of negative equity, mortgage fraud and repossessions in the capital – as virgin land for lucrative investment towards creating its very own twenty-first century Happy Grosvenor Estate.

What if private enterprise exploited the happiness index?

This project speculates on the developer Candy & Candy turning its focus away from the luxury market and towards social housing.

By designing in value plucked from the happiness index and establishing a funding partnership with Coca-Cola’s Institute of Happiness, a new saccharin social housing model begins to emerge in a Thamesmead divided up into an archipelago and reliant upon the arrival of Crossrail.

Repository of the Eternal Now by Robert Ware

Cyberattacks threaten increasingly vulnerable digital data whilst technologies dictate that we continually rely on its ubiquity. The country’s economy thrives off global trade establishing the London Stock Exchange as a principal terrorist target. The Church of England invests £4.5 billion in the Stock Market as donations from churchgoers decline, so an interdependent solution uses new technologies to 3-dimensionally print volatile, digital stock market stat in stone in a perverse regression, providing a prophylaxis to modern terror and bestowing mutual longevity upon both the church and the economy.

My addition to St Paul’s Cathedral continuously builds itself up in real-time using data from the 41 stock market industry sectors, safely archiving the subsequent physical data in towers which grow in relation to the sector’s success. The repository finally fulfils Wren’s unaccomplished ambition for St. Paul’s incorporating a stark, securocratic exterior with a dynamic interior richly adorned with intertwining iconographies.

Free Tr[aid] by James Christian

Free Tr[aid] imagines a future in which further budgetary constraints has lead to the privatisation of the UK’s international aid commitments. Through a mechanism of ‘reverse imperialism’, the UK invites partner nations to earn their own aid by establishing self-run territories on British soil.

Located in the hinterlands between the North Circular Road and the Brent Reservoir, the project explores the development of an Indian ‘Aid Earning Zone’ in suburban London, examining the associated political and cultural tensions. Is a thin façade of socialist rhetoric enough to conceal the high-capitalism lurking beneath?

Human Nature by Marie Kojzar

In 2021, the government’s privatisation of nature has changed the English landscape and its value. The world of luxury goods sees an opportunity to capitalise on enhancements and improved beauty from genetic engineering as well as a growing demand from eco-guilty consumers who have lost their faith in climate science.

Responding to dichotomies in human behaviour, the eco-industry sees possibility in a genetically engineered nature, ensuring an authentic concern for environmental conservation through consumer attractions: a perception of nature hanging between heritage and haute couture.

Human nature: the Landscape of Desire proposes a new nature and material factory for luxury goods masqueraded as a revamped eco-industry located in Epping Forest. The proposal seeks to merge architecture and landscape into a new industry to be unveiled at the Festival of Britain 2021.

The material production facilities use the forest landscape as a pallet to engage with a new holistic architecture in which forum meets harvest and order meets chaos.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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