Interview: William Pedersen FAIA (Winter 1996/97)

 


333 Wacker Drive – view with Chicago River in foreground (photo: ©Barbara Karant)

 

COMPETITIONS: When you are called on to design a ‘foreground’ building for a corporate client—although it’s usually an office building, it could be any number of building types—how do you balance the private and public interest beyond the usual zoning regulations?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

left and below
Gargoyle Club Prize
Best Architectural Thesis, University of Minnesota School of Architecture (1961)
Theme: Hospital Project


Images: courtesy William Pedersen

 

Pedersen: The interest of the client as it relates to the quantity of the construction they wish to place on a site is perhaps the most difficult issue, particularly during the 80s, when a tremendous amount of construction was taking place in the United States, and one more office building was not hailed by anybody as a contribution to society. The situation has changed rather dramatically in the 90s, when almost none of them are being built; so the issue is not as pressing. But there always is the question, ‘Is a building, given the bulk proposed, appropriate for its specific condition?’ One’s ability to deal with that issue is somewhat limited because zoning establishes what is of right, and not of right. Therefore, the battle has largely been fought prior to our entrance on the scene.

 

Past that point, the relationship of our buildings to a specific context has been a fundamental issue of our architecture. This is particularly how we take tall buildings, which are in themselves somewhat insular, autonomous and discrete, and bring them into a more social state of existence. That’s been the subject of our study for the last twenty years. We’ve developed strategies for doing that, of which I’ve spoken at length. The preoccupation of making the tall buildings—part of a more continuous, overriding fabric—that’s been central to our architecture.

 

COMPETITIONS: The most obvious argument against contextualism—as many people understand it—would be the Pompidou Centre in Paris, which has turned out to be the most visitied and popular building in that city. Wouldn’t that seem to give architects a good argument for doing something different? Was that even a lesson?

 

WP: Juxtaposition is a fundamental contextual strategy; but it has to be used sparingly and has to be introduced at exactly the right moment for it to have a powerful effect. For example, the Seagrams Building on Park Avenue—before any of the other buildings followed suit—was exceedingly powerful and very successful as a result of the juxtaposition at that particular place. I would argue that our building in Chicago (333 Wacker Drive) is an equally successful contextual building. It’s on the only triangular site of the Chicago grid at a bend in the Chicago River, and it sits within a context of totally masonry buildings, largely of the classical derivation. Somehow the relationship between those very distinct parts works. We were asked to build a building right next to 333 Wacker Drive, which did not occupy a unique geometric piece of property, but in fact became more of a continuation of the street wall leading up to 333 Wacker. We elected there to utilize a more Classical language in total juxtaposition to our own 333 Wacker in an effort to try to achieve the continuity of the wall that we thought was necessary, but also to maintain that poignancy of a juxtaposition to 333 Wacker Drive to the rest of the context. It would weaken it tremendously if it had been reproduced next door.

 

The same is true of the Pompidou Centre. If one were to tear down that section of Paris around it and build a number of Pompidou Centers there, it would lose its impact, because ifs impact is an object set within a very careful framing in that traditional neighborhood. Without the dialogue between the two, the game is over.

 


AAL Hqs. building addition (1971), Appleton, Wisconsin


AAL Hqs. original building


AAL rendering

 

COMPETITIONS: Most people seem to believe that 333 Wacker is the best building you have done. Maybe it was the time and unique site. It was one of those projects where one announces, ‘Well, here I am.’ Sometimes it’s difficult to top a wonderful building like that, though you may believe your next building is the one you like best.

 

WP: I think that 333 was a product of my sensibility at that point in time. It was a building that tended tobe an intuitive response to the site. In terms of it language, it came out of a couple of other buildings I had done immediately prior to that—one being the Aid Association for Lutherans in Appleton, Wisconsin, the other being the Brooklyn Criminal Courts Building, which had very similar geometric ideas in terms of its relationship to context. The very conscious attitude of trying to make the tall building part of a larger urban contet preoccupied us for the next five years. As a result, we used a more classical language to try to develop connecting strategies, because a Classical language is largely built on ideas of connection of pieces and parts, one to another…buildings connect well because they have parts that are combined and are part of a central language.

 

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Design Competition by Paul Spreiregen

This essay was published in The Architectural Competition – Research Inquiries and Experiences, Magnus Rönn, Reza Kazemian, Jonas E. Andersson (Eds.) Axl Books Stockholm, 2010 (pp. 578-600)

Introduction

The Vietnam War, 1959-75, was the longest and most divisive in American experience. 58,000 American soldiers died, 140,000 were wounded. Vietnamese casualties were far higher. The war caused permanent transformations in American society and culture. In 1979 Jan Scruggs, a Vietnam veteran, conceived the idea of a memorial to the memory of the American dead and, by implication, the veterans who had served. His further hope was that the memorial would reconcile the war’s veterans with the many Americans who had opposed the war. The memorial was to be sited in a place of honor on the Mall in Washington DC. It was to be privately funded as a citizen initiative, the federal government contributing the site. To undertake this effort a sponsor organization was created, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), its board members including West Point and Naval Academy graduates. Legislation to authorize a memorial, guided by Senators Charles McC. Mathias Jr. and John W. Warner, was passed by the U.S. Congress in May 1980 and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in July. All public design projects in Washington are subject to intensive scrutiny, especially memorials. Three federal agencies, responsible for approving the design in all its aspects, were closely involved throughout the effort. Discussions concerning a design competition for the memorial had begun in May. Competition planning began in July. The formal competition process was concluded ten months later, in May 1981. The 1,432 designs submitted in the competition, a then record number, were judged by an eight-person jury, all professionals representing the principal design disciplines. The competition was won by a 21-year-old student at Yale University, Maya Ying Lin. The memorial was built and dedicated in November 1982, with a statue group and flagpole addition dedicated in November 1984, the latter the result of sometimes bitter controversy regarding the basic Lin design. The memorial became and remains one of the most visited in the U.S., having become a virtual icon. Much has been written about the design and the designer, and much attention was given to the controversy. Little has been written about the competition process itself, a process based on the highest standards for conducting design competitions. This paper focuses on that process, its context and its conduct.


Personal Perspective

My experience with competitions began in architectural school, where they are integral to the architectural design studio. Following school, studying and working in Italy and Sweden, 1954-56, my interest grew. In Italy

I also became interested in contemporary memorials due to two examples related to WW II, both the products of competitions – the Ardeatine Caves near Rome and the Monument to the Deported in Milan. In Scandinavia that interest was broadened through studying the work of Gunnar Asplund, Sven Markelius, Alvar Aalto, and Arne Jacobsen – much of their work also the product of design competitions.

In 1955, on a visit to Sweden, I saw an exhibit of the competition entries for a proposed government center for Gothenburg. The winning entry was the work of Alvar Aalto. I was impressed by the simplicity and directness of Aalto’s drawings. His design, in my view among his most brilliant, was code named “Curia” in reference to a building in the Roman Forum. His submission was drawn in pencil on ordinary tracing paper. It included perhaps two or three constructed perspectives and photos of a massing model. The rest of his presentation consisted of plans, elevations and sections. Although this project was never realized the memory of the exhibit and the directness of Aalto’s drawings served as a guide in competitions that I later managed.

This general interest developed into the gradual realization that frequent and well-managed design competitions are a vital source for advancing creative design ideas. They are its exploratory test grounds. As important, they heighten the public’s interest and elevate public expectations of design, thereby establishing a vital environment for nurturing architectural creativity.

From 1966-70 I served as the first Director of Architecture and Design Programs at the then newly established National Endowment for the Arts, an opportunity that I used to try to promote their improvement and wider use in the U.S. In doing so I undertook an extensive study of competitions, historical and recent. I solicited the experience of architects from the US and abroad regarding their competition experience. I obtained and analyzed competition codes, mostly European and Scandinavian, but also the AIA code (destined to be withdrawn for legalistic reasons). Two products of my research were the book Design Competitions (McGraw Hill 1978) and, subsequently, the Handbook of Architectural Design Competitions (American Institute of Architects, 1981).

Unlike most European and Scandinavian countries, where the conduct of design competitions has been carefully regulated, in the US it has not. Although the federal government has had a limited program for certain “high profile” public buildings in recent years, in 1980 neither by the federal government, the constituent states, nor, least of all the AIA, the professional design organization of American architects, had any established and mandatory procedure for conducting design competitions. That condition has not basically changed. Conducting design competitions in the U.S. remains voluntary, entirely dependent on the sensibilities and skills of a project sponsor and the people enlisted to assist in it.

A sponsor of the requisite sensibilities proved to be the VVMF, who contacted the AIA for professional help. Since I was chairing the AIA’s committee on competitions at the time, developing the AIA Handbook, I was recommended to the VVMF as professional adviser. My first discussions with them were in May 1980. My work began in July, the same

month that full authorization for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was procured. I worked directly with the VVMF Board and staff, but most closely with Robert Doubek, a West Point graduate and attorney.

Memorials and Competitions in Washington

Washington’s monumental character is the product of its 1791 baroque city plan and its largely neoclassic public buildings. That style also originates from the late 18th century. The earliest public buildings and monuments were products of design competitions — the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and the Washington Monument. Architect and later President Thomas Jefferson submitted seminal designs for the first two. Later works produced by design competitions include the Library of Congress, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Pan American Union. Inspired by Washington’s example, many of our individual states and municipalities utilized design competitions for their public buildings. One would think, then, that design competitions would be the norm for Washington, but that has not been the case.

In Washington, unfortunately, the practice became problematical. In the 1930s a design competition for a new Smithsonian museum, the winning design authored by Eliel Saarinen, had failed. The original effort to create a memorial to President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) through a design competition in the late 1950s had also failed. Other then recent memorials in Washington included the WW II Iwo Jima Memorial, a memorial to Senator Robert Taft, and the John F Kennedy Memorial. None were the result of design competitions. Beyond Washington there had been several recent and successful contemporary American memorial efforts, procured through open design competition, much esteemed by the general public. One was the Battleship Arizona Memorial in Pearl

The Gateway Arch, St Louis.

Gateway Arch competition drawing.

Battleship Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

FDR Memorial design, Washington DC.

Harbor, designed through a competition won by a WW II Austrian refugee, Alfred Preis. One of the finest of all American twentieth century memorials is the Gateway Arch in St Louis (the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial), designed by Eero Saarinen. It was the product of a very well conducted design competition held in the late 1940s.

Apart from the inherent difficulty of creating memorials in Washington, competitions aside, an equally grave reality was that after 1975 the American public was trying to put the Vietnam War in the past, in effect to forget it. The veterans and their families could not. Thus, while the idea of a memorial to our Vietnam Veterans was most deserving, considering both the difficulty of making memorials in Washington and the critical factor of public support, there was little reason for optimism on our part.

Federal Design Approval Agencies

Three century-old Federal agencies are responsible for the approval for the design of public architecture in Washington. To create a memorial in Washington it is essential to coordinate carefully with them. The agencies are: the National Park Service (NPS), which manages public park lands and virtually all of Washington’s memorials; the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), which approves land use and design; and the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), which approves design. I had worked with all three. Their staffs were colleagues and friends. I knew their roles and responsibilities. Without compromising our work these agencies were involved on a working basis, mainly informational, from the inception of our effort.

Source of the Design Competition Methodology

A popular characterization of the predominant public architecture of Washington, most of it of classically inspired, is to refer to it as “beaux arts style”. In France, where the Institute of Fine Arts was founded centuries ago (l’Academie des Beaux Arts), and which included a school of architecture (l’Ecole d’Architecture) the term “beaux arts style” has no meaning. They would refer to Greek or Roman neoclassic precedents. Jefferson had introduced the idea of classical architecture to the U.S., inspired by his travels in France. From the 1870s until the depression of the 1930s many of America’s leading architects had studied at the Ecole. Because of the Ecole’s emphasis on neoclassicism and because so much American public architecture was neoclassic, the term “beaux arts” became an identifying style, a “brand”. This unfortunate misuse of the term obscures more significant aspects of the Ecole and its teaching methods.

The Ecole is remembered for its extraordinary students drawings. Normally expressed with great graphic virtuosity the drawings were, foremost, exercises in developing a student’s design knowledge and facility, utilizing the most refined design palette of the western world. But Greek and Roman classicism were by no means all that they explored. Students also made detailed construction drawings. And they made designs for sites and climates far from the Mediterranean, even as far as Alaska, and so as different in architectural expression as the climates. Such exercises were far from neoclassic in motif. The Ecole was much more than a copybook of styles.

The Ecole was a school for learning how to design real and complex buildings. In the course of the nineteenth century France evolved into a Republic, and the Ecole’s students

explored the possibilities for many novel types of buildings – schools, hospitals, and courthouses were typical subjects. Representative example designs accommodated many complex functions into a coherent workable form. The designs were depicted in plan, elevation, and cross section. Rarely did the students do perspective drawings. Their drawings, consisting of the three-part plan-section-elevation depiction system, had to be analyzed by the viewer for all their implications – appearance, function, structure, circulation, construction feasibility, spatial experience and hierarchy, visual emphasis, light, ventilation, etc. The artistic virtuosity demonstrated in the drawings can obscure the underlying purpose of architectural depiction in plan-section-elevation. Unlike perspective renderings, whose purpose is largely to allure, the purpose of depiction in plan-section-elevation is to inform. In order to be understood such drawings must be examined analytically, like a physician analyzing an x-ray. Thus the concomitant to this method of depiction is that it requires expert and experienced eyes to evaluate. It requires jurors of long experience and extensive expertise. In a large array of designs, as in a competition, the normal condition in the Ecole, jurors had to be capable of evaluating a design rapidly, to see the essence of an idea at a glance. Plan-section-elevation depiction also puts all design submissions, as in a competition, on an equal basis of comparison, one design with another. Thus, the cornerstone of an effective design exercise and its proper evaluation, certainly for a competition, was and remains clear and fully informative depiction on the one hand and evaluation by expert jurors on the other.

The Ecole’s depiction method was disseminated world-wide, wherever competitions were held, and it persisted after the demise of the Ecole in the 1960s. It continues today. It has persisted because it is a very good idea. Not surprising, then, are Eero Saarinen’s original very good idea.

Not surprising, then, are Eero Saarinen’s original competition drawings for the St Louis Gateway arch —plan-section-elevation—the same technique used in the Ecole.

Construction drawing, L’Ecole d’Architecture.

Project in Alaska, l’Ecole d’Architecture.

Looking southward into the memorial site.

Looking eastward from the memorial site to the Washington Monument.

True, Saarinen included a widely published perspective, but that was an accompaniment. The St Louis compe-tition brief required the traditional and proven depiction triad.

The Memorial Site

The site for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, chosen with the guidance of NPS, was a small and quite inconsequential western corner of Washington’s central Mall, its monumental core. The selection of this site had been made by July 1980 when I was engaged as professional adviser. I concurred fully with the choice, feeling that if it were not possible to make a suitable memorial there it would not be possible to make one anywhere.

The site was a two-acre (0.8 hectare) area, a rough circle in form, 1000 feet (300 m) northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. To its east was an artificial pond called Constitution Gardens. To its south stood a row of neoclassic buildings of modest scale. The site itself was a quiet tree-lined meadow. Its special character, however, derived less from its interior, even less from what one saw looking into it, as what one saw looking out of it — looking from it. From the site one could see, principally, a striking view of the 555 foot high (169 m) Washington Monument 0.7 miles (1,120 m) to the east. To the southwest was a view of the Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Monument vista, unobstructed by trees, was clear throughout the year. The Lincoln Memorial vista is fully clear only in winter, when it is not obscured. Lesser vistas were of the US Capitol dome and several Smithsonian Institute landmarks buildings on the Mall. But the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial were the main vistas, giving the site its special value.

Competition Planning and Execution

 

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Prado Museum Competition: Chronicle of an Absurdity (1995/96)

 

by Miguel Ruano

 

 


Aerial view of Prado (left); site outline (right)

 

In October 1993, rainwater was seen filtering down through the cracked, poorly maintained roof of the Prado museum’s 18th century building, directly threatening some of the world’s greatest masterpieces, including Velazquez’s “Las Meninas.” Alarm bells went off, both in the building and in the media, and the public learned what until then only a few insiders knew: that one of the best and most famous museums in the world had been in desperate need of repair and expansion for decades. As an emergency solution, seven architects were requested in 1994 by the Ministry of Culture to submit their own ideas for the refurbishment of the museum’s roof. At the same time, the notion of a more ambitious, high-profile international competition to design an extension to the Prado began to take shape.

 

The competition was to be organized by the Ministry of Culture of Spain, with the technical assistance of the UIA (International Union of Architects) and UNESCO’s endorsement. With government elections coming up, the politicians in charge of the problem needed to demonstrate that the Prado was a high priority.. Thus, the media was immediately informed to ensure complete and regular coverage. From the start, the competition took on the character of a political public relations affair, which in the end, would come back to haunt them.

 

The Rules

The Prado Competition began in earnest in February 1995, when the Museum’s board of trustees approved the competition rules, which were in turn accepted by the Ministry of Culture of the ruling Socialist Party. In theory, there had been a top-level agreement on the approach to be taken to address the museum’s problems between the Socialist government and the main opposition party, the Conservatives, who by then were already expected to prevail in the next election. The reason for such agreement was obvious—to make sure that the process would not be overturned for political reasons.

 

Subsequently, it would appear that this agreement had been on a shaky foundation from the very beginning. According to the rules, which were fraught with ambiguities and inconsistencies, the Prado was going to double its size to 40,000 m2 by the year 2000 via its expansion into three adjacent buildings. This brought about the first conflicts, as some of the owners of the buildings in question denied any association with the expansion plans. This included Spain’s Catholic church, which took the Ministry to court. Madrid’s City hall, already under Conservative Party control before the elections, hardly appreciated such a high-profile initiative taken by the lame-duck Socialist government—directed at the very heart of the city. Moreover, at the insistence of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, a clause declaring that the “current architectural image of the main building could not be disturbed” had to be included in the rules (and it was). The original competition schedule had to be delayed two months, and last-minute, but significant, amendments had to be made to the rules, giving everyone a feeling of improvisation. The whole venture started on a note of controversy.

 

The Entrants

According to the organizer’s estimates, 500 architects from all over the world were expected to register for the competition. Some were individually invited to enter, including Isozaki, Ando, Hollein, Wilford, Salmona, Macary, Pelli and Siza (who immediately declared he would not take part, and then was asked to become a member of the jury, to which he said no as well). Others, like Foster and Calatrava, both well-known to the Spanish general public, had already confirmed their interest, which raised everybody’s expectations after their much publicized showdown at the Reichstag competition in Berlin.

 

Finalist – Distinction (2)
Alberto Martinez/Beatriz Matos
Madrid, Spain
Second Place in First Round (11 votes)

 

This low-impact proposal creates a new urban space in front of the Prado’s historic building back elevation, which now acquires a new character as an urban facade. Below this platform, a new three-story underground structure houses the entrance hall, auditorium, cafeteria, library and storage areas. A transversal gap across the plaza brings natural light into the underground structure. From this, the building connects with a new adjacent structure, located on the old covent’s grounds, which houses the museum’s services (restoration workshops, offices, etc.) -MR

 


Images from competition boards ©Ministry of Education and Culture

 

As architects learned more about the competition’s details, skepticism and even open criticism heightened—from architectural circles as well as in the media. Some internationally famous names such as Ungers or Ando decided not to register, arguing either work overload or disagreement with the competition’s rules. The organizers, however, seemed to be satisfied with the fact that well-known architects like Foster, Moneo, Calatrava, Tusquets, Bohigas, Navarro, Eisenman or Benevolo had decided to enter, thus giving credibility to the initiative.

 

Interestingly enough, while the organization was obviously very forthcoming in disclosing names of high-profile participants, they would not supply a complete list of entrants, arguing that the competition was anonymous and, as a consequence, only overall registration statistics could be released.

Finalist – Distinction (2)
Jean-Paul Duerig and Philippe Rami
Zürich, Switzerland
Seventh place in stage 1 semi-final round (6 votes) – tied with E. Zoido

 

 

 

This blunt proposal attaches a new gray granite and red brick structure, 300m (1,000 feet) long, to the Prado’s rear facade to house the entrance hall, exhibition halls, auditorium, cafeteria and shops. The nearby convent becomes a four-story building for the library, the restoration workshops, and the museum’s services and offices, while the old building will be used exclusively for exhibitions. The whole museum complex (four existent buildings, plus the proposed structure) are linked by underground connectors. –MR

 

above
Aerial view of model
left and below
Images from competition boards ©Ministry of Education and Culture

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Restoring and Reinventing Albanian Identity: A New Mosque and Museum of Tirana & Religious Harmony

 

by Dan Madryga

 



Winning entry by Bjarke Ingels Group

 

Tirana, Albania might be the last place that many would associate with cutting edge architecture. The capital of a poor country still struggling to sweep away the lingering vestiges of the communist era, it is understandable that architecture and design have not always been a top priority. Yet in the face of the city’s struggles, Tirana is striving to reclaim and reshape its image and identity, and international design competitions are playing no small role in this movement. And while Tirana has yet to be associated with contemporary architecture, the implementation of these design competitions has introduced a handful of renowned architecture firms to the city with high hopes of bolstering the international image of Albania. In 2008, MVRDV won commission for a community master plan on Tirana Lake that will herald forward thinking, ecologically minded urban development. Earlier this year, Coop Himmelb(l)au won a competition for the new Albanian Parliament Building with a design intended to symbolize the transparency and openness of democracy. Most recently, Tirana can now add BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) of Denmark to these ranks as the winner of the New Mosque and Museum of Tirana & Religious Harmony Competition, an ambitious project aimed to further rekindle a tattered Albanian cultural identity.
The recent efforts to renew and improve the physical image of Tirana can be attributed in large part to the city’s three-term mayor, Edi Rama. With his background as an artist, Rama has launched a number of initiatives over his decade in office, intent on improving the aesthetic image of Tirana. The design competition for the mosque and cultural complex can be viewed as the latest component of his “Return to Identity” project, which has gone to great lengths to remove the many unsightly and illegally constructed buildings that plague the city and help provide a clean slate for more progressive architecture and urban design.

The Mosque and Museum competition focuses on reclaiming a key religious and cultural identity that was long suppressed by communism. While Albania claims three chief religions—a Muslim majority alongside significant Orthodox Christian and Catholic communities—a strict communist regime ruthlessly banned religion. For over four decades, Albanians were under the thumb of an atheist regime where religious practitioners could face humiliation, imprisonment, and even torture and execution. The anti-religious campaign reached its zenith in the 1960s, when most Mosques and churches were demolished, and a select few with architectural significance were converted into warehouses, gymnasiums, and youth centers.

The revival of religious institutions began with the 1990 collapse of the communist regime. Yet decades of suppression took their toll, with the vestiges of Albania’s religious heritage essentially reduced to rubble. While the two Christian religions have since regained centers of worship, after twenty-one years of restored religious freedom, Tirana still lacks a mosque suitable for serving the sizable Muslim population. Only one mosque still stands in the central city—the historic Et’hem Bey Mosque—certainly a potent symbol of Tirana’s Islamic heritage, but particularly inadequate in size to accommodate the large numbers who would want to worship there on special occasions.
Hence emphasis in the brief concerning the size of the building: a grand mosque that can adequately serve 1000 prayers on normal days, 5000 on Fridays, and up to 10,000 during holy feasts. Supporting this mosque, the program also specifies the design of a Center of Islamic Culture that will house teaching, learning, and research facilities including a library, multipurpose hall, and seminar classrooms.

Another component of the competition program, the Museum of Tirana and Religious Harmony, moves beyond the realm of the Muslim community in an explicit gesture to bring together citizens from all faiths and backgrounds. Aside from presenting the general history of Tirana, the museum will focus on the city’s religious heritage, highlighting both the turbulent moment of suppression under communism as well as the religious harmony that has since been reinstated. Educating the public about Islamic culture and promoting religious tolerance at a time when relations between religious communities are strained throughout the world is certainly a noble objective.
Underlining the importance of this project is its prominent site on Scanderbeg Square, the administrative and cultural center of Tirana where major government buildings share an expansive public space with museums and theaters. The square itself was the subject of a 2003 design competition that will eventually reclaim the urban center—at present a rather chaotic vehicular hub—as a pedestrian zone with a more human scale. Situated on triangular site adjacent to the Opera and Hotel Tirana, the Mosque and Cultural Center will be a highly visible component of Tirana’s urban landscape.

 


left: BIG site plan; right: rendering of Scanderbeg Square to appear after redesign (image by seARCH Architects)

 

The two-stage, international competition was organized by the City of Tirana and the Albanian Muslim community and advised by Nevat Sayin and Artan Hysa.
Over one hundred teams—the vast majority European­—submitted qualifications for the first stage. In early March, the short-listing committee selected five teams to receive an honorarium of 45,000 Euros each to develop designs:
Bjarke Ingels Group – Copenhagen, Denmark
seARCH – Amsterdam, Holland
Zaha Hadid Architects – London, UK
Andreas Perea Ortega with NEXO – Madrid, Spain
Architecture Studio – Paris, France
The designs were judged by a diverse European panel:
Edi Rama – Mayor of Tirana, Albania
Paul Boehm – architect, Cologne, Germany
Vedran Mimica – Croatian architect; current director of the Berlage Institute
Peter Swinnen – Partner and architect at 51N4E, Brussels
Prof. Enzo Siviero – engineer; Professor at University IUAV, Venice
Artan Shkreli – architect, Tirana, Albania
Shyqyri Rreli – Muslim community representative

On 1 May 2011, the panel announced Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) as the winner.

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Science Island Design Competition



Image © SMAR Architecture Studio

 

Until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989, the occupied Baltic countries were known for their hi-tech contributions to the Soviet economy. As a carryover from that period, the Baltic nations still emphasize technology as a major factor in their economies. Thus, the establishment of a new Science museum by Lithuania in the nation’s capital of Kaunas is hardly surprising. To highlight the importance of this project, the government turned to a design competition, providing the museum with international exposure and attracting the attention of the global architectural community.

 

The stated purpose of the new project was clear from the competition brief:

 

‘Science Island’s mission is to popularize science through hands-on enquiry and exposition and celebrate recent achievements in science and global technologies. The Centre, within the celebrated university city of Kaunas, one of UNESCO’s global creative cities, will focus particularly on environmental themes and ecosystems, demonstrating sustainability and future energy technologies in the design of its own building. The circa 13,000 sqm site for the development is ideally positioned in close proximity to Kaunas’ historic Centras district, and most of Lithuania’s nearly three million residents live under an hour’s drive away.’

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Estonian National Museum Competition (2006)



View of completed project Photo: ©Takuji Shimmura Winning team: Lina Ghotmeh, Dan Dorell, Tsuyoshi Tane

 

Architecture in the service of the state can be a powerful tool. It lets a faceless bureaucracy present itself as a real thing. It can make ideals and memories into concrete facts. And it is usually big. A recent competition for a new National Museum in the small country of Estonia shows the potential and pitfalls of such a national architecture. While it can define the state, what does that mean when the state as a concept is a difficult idea these days? Now that true power lies not only with multinationals, but also with trans-national organizations like the European Union, of which Estonia has been a member since 2004, what is the state? Moreover, what history does a country that was only independent between 1925 and 1941, and then again since 1991, really have as such? What future can it imagine for itself? What is there left for architecture to represent?

 

The answer, if we can believe the results of the recent Estonian National Museum Competition, whose winner was announced this spring, is that architecture can use place above all else for meaning. This means not just utilizing the site in terms of its geography and geology, but also looking at, preserving and focusing on the full range of uses to which that site has been put, as well as the larger implications –both physically and conceptually—that a site might have. Everything human beings have done with a place, everything they have built there, and every association they have with a site as part of a much larger whole is the basic material the architect can use to design a construction that will bring out all of this history and all of these latent associations. The winning design in this competition, “Memory Field,” submitted by a multinational group of architects Dan Dorell and Lina Ghotmeh from Paris, and Tsuyoshi Tane from London, certainly accomplished this expression of place with a clear and simple proposal.

 

The site for the Estonian National Museum is not, as one might expect, in Estonia’s charming capital, Tallinn, but in the second largest city, Tartu. Located a few hours to the East of the seaside capital, almost on the border with Russia, Tartu is an industrial and trading node at the edge of the vast planes of pine forests and tundra that stretch from here to Siberia. It was on the outskirts of Tartu, in an 18th century manor house, that local agitators for defining a national identity by preserving local culture conceived the museum before there was even a country. In 1909 they began collecting “Finno-Ugric” (as the local population is called) artifacts and displaying them to show citizens that there were traditions of which they should be proud. Clothing, implements and especially lacework all showed the culture of a rapidly disappearing peasant population. Later, films documenting those peoples also joined the collections.

 

During the Second World War, the Museum moved to downtown Tartu, and it wasn’t until recently that the decision was made to reoccupy the former site. In the meantime, a large Russian airbase, now abandoned, took over much of the area, and its disused landing strip points directly at the site’s core, while the ruins of the military complex dwarf the remains of the former manor estate. A small lake provides a bucolic counterpoint to this rather bleak collection of artifacts. “This is the frozen edge of Europe,” says Winy Maas, who was part of the competition jury; “it is where you have a collection of incredible textiles dating back to the 14th century, but it will be housed on a site where wolves roam. You are really between worlds, and we thought the most important thing was to define that condition.”

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M20 – Museum of 20th Century Extension Competition

 

This is not what we fought for!

 

by Wilfried Wang*

 


Winning design: ©Herzog & de Meuron

 

Wilfried Wang’s commentary on the competition results for the extension of Mies’s Museum of the 20th Century (M20) was published in the German journal, Bauwelt (40.2016). The author is the founder of the Berlin architectural practice Hoidn Wang Partner with Barbara Hoidn and has been the O’Neil Ford Centennial Professor in Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin since 2002. The text, translated by the Editor, is a slightly modified version (by the author) that appeared in Bauwelt.

 

Both in architectural and urbanistic terms, the jury’s misguided selection of the Herzog de Meuron entry as the winner of the M20 competition is another missed opportunity for Berlin.


By extending the form of this introverted structure to cover the entire competition site, little or no value is added to the immediate environs. To the contrary, that and the immense surfaces of the facades, right up to the edge of the pedestrian walkways, only serve to diminish the importance of the surrounding buildings. All the trees to the south of the site will disappear, and 90% of the outer walls of the building, regardless of the suggested use of porous brick detailing, are completely closed off. Only the eastern entrance of the Herzog de Meuron plan faces the main entrance of Scharoun’s State Library; the other two main entrances lack any such connection with the urban context. Thus, the Cultural Forum gains nothing in urban quality, but rather the sense of desolation will increase.

 

The corridors stacked over one another, labeled “Boulevards” by the architects, are connected in the quadrants by smaller corridors and stairs. The metaphor, “Boulevard,” is as misleading as was Le Corbusier’s “rue intérieur.” Boulevards are accessible 24 hours a day as open public spaces. In the evenings these corridors will be closed to the public.

 

Rectangular exhibit areas are placed on three levels—not easily accessible to the visitor as a result of the labyrinth-like circulation plan. What is so innovative about this? The Goetz Pavilion was innovative.

 

Viewed from an artistic- and architecture-historic point of view, the selection of this design was an egregious mistake. First of all, a gable roof design is not appropriate for this Cultural Forum, and, secondly, it does not express the modern spirit; actually it is quite the opposite. Originally, the Cultural Forum was not only West Berlin’s gesture to the East, but also an attempt to replace the Nazi north-south axis with a modern alternative.

 

The lack of sensitivity, unnecessary haste followed by yearlong inaction and a desire for label-architecture have strangely culminated in a provincial selection. The shortlisted designs from the initial open competition were more modern, sensitive, and led one to assume that a different solution would be in store.

 

If this design were actually to be built, this unfortunate selection process would result in a catastrophe. This reminds me of the competition for the City of Culture for Santiago de Compostela. In that instance I was the sole juror to vote against the Eisenman scheme. Then my arguments fell on deaf ears. I was not a juror in the M20 competition. For this reason, I’m thankful that I can air my concerns about this result; however, I believe that my concerns will once again suffer the same fate. -WW

 


*The following should be pointed out: For his Master’s degree in 1981, the author researched six cultural centers—amongst others, London’s South Bank Centre, Paris’ Centre Beaubourg and Berlin’s Kulturforum. In 1992 the author published a monograph on the work of HdM. The author was a member of the jury for the limited competition for the extension of the Basel Kunstmuseum, which was unanimously awarded to Gigon & Guyer; HdM was one of the five invited architects. In 2013 the author published a monograph on Scharoun’s Philharmonie, therein his essay on “The Lightness of Democracy.” As part of his activities in the Architecture Section of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, the author was co-organizer of a number of public discussions on the development of the Kulturforum, in which politicians and representatives of the Prussian Cultural Foundation (the users of M20) participated. In 2014 and 2015 the author set the design of M20 as a test for advanced design studios. Finally, the competition entry for the first phase of the M20 selection process by the author’s office was eliminated in the first round: www.hoidnwang.de/04projekte_53_de.html.

 

 


View of site from Mies van der Rohe’s Museum of the 20th Century to Hans Sharoun’s Berlin Philharmonic
Photo: Stanley Collyer

 

The above photo of the M20 site makes abundantly clear the difficult challenges facing the architects who tried to produce an acceptable solution for the extension of the Mies museum. One might normally assume that a grand plaza would have been an appropriate answer. However, an extension of the M20 came into the conversation when a major art collector offered the collection to the museum in its enirety—necessitating more exhibit space.So the solution to this expansion had to lie in a design competition.

 

First of all, the very presence of two easily recognized architectural icons facing each other across the site would normally be enough to intimidate anyone. So the initial question in the back of everyone’s mind would have been: should this addition simply constitute a link between the two buildings; or should it be something more?


Organized in two stages, the first, anonymous stage was open internationally and resulted in eight finalist entries advancing to a second stage (http://competitions.org/2016/02/berlins-20th-century-art-museum-competition/?preview_id=18468&preview_nonce=20af7e537d&_thumbnail_id=-1&preview=true). From the 480 competition entries, one would have assumed that at least one entry would have been convincing enough to gain favor not only from the jury, but also the community. The addition of this second stage was to accommodate short-listed name firms, so there could be no complaints that high-profile, established architects were not part of the mix. Based on the final rankings from the second stage, none of the premiated designs really solved this challenge satisfactorily. Most tried to recognize the importance of a sightline between the two icons by going at least partially underground.

 


Site diagram

 

 

The two firms that took this most to heart were both from Japan—SANAA and, no surprise, Sou Fujimoto, with the latter covering the entire partially submerged structure with vegetation. The second-place winner from Denmark found favor from the main client with what looked to be very commercially looking solution, what one might imagine as an outdoor shopping center. The most extreme anti-urbanistic example honored by the jury with a merit award was OMA’s pyramid-like scheme, completely blocking any relationship between Mies and Sharoun by inserting their own icon in between the two.

 

When Herzog & de Meuron’s design was declared the winner, it had to come as somewhat of a surprise. Structurally no more than a shed in appearance, it seemed to be completely out of character with all of its neighbors—almost thumbing its nose at them. The abundant use of brick, its blank facade facing the street, and the claim by the authors that the corridor cut through the middle as a “boulevard” would serve as a symbolic link between the Museum and Philharmonie, was hardly convincing. This is especially true when one realizes that it would be closed off evenings to all comers. As an urbanistic solution and example of architectural expression, the winner unfortunately fell flat on its face. -Ed

 

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A Symbol of Gratitude: The Tri An Monument Competition



©Grega Vezjak Architect

 

For residents of Louisville, Kentucky, it would come as no surprise that the city’s Vietnamese community would support a competition commemorating the friendship and support of the Americans both in Vietnam and the U.S. and our welcome for the Vietnamese people who have arrived in this country. The foundation established to realize this concept was named “Tri An,” which means “deep gratitude.” According to the competition brief, “It is important to recognize the numerous humanitarian efforts and good deeds done by the U.S. military and the many Americans who went far beyond the call of duty to help the South Vietnamese people.

As is the case with many non-government supported projects, this one also had a patron who lent his support to project, Yung Nguyen, the local founder and patron of the Tri Ân foundation, also the founder of a high-tech firm. To administer the competition, the foundation engaged the services of a local architecture firm, Bravura, which had a notable track record in memorial competitions, having previously acted as professional adviser for the acclaimed Patriots Peace Memorial competition in Louisville.

In setting the bar for the anticipated winner, the competition brief stated that the design:

  • Be unique;
  • Be dramatic, timeless, and contemplative;
  • Have many levels of meaning;
  • Have the seductive power to invite a closer look, even to the casual observer;
  • Be in harmony with the landscape, and be compatible with the other features and uses of the park in which it will reside;
  • Be a creative use of the hillside site; incorporating its views, topography, and natural wooded backdrop;
  • Successfully convey the Overriding Purpose and Interpretive Themes stated in these Guidelines.

To attract the widest possible audience, the organizers decided on an international, open and anonymous, two-stage competition as the best model. It was decided to award three finalists the opportunity to have their designs equally reviewed for the possible realization of the project in a second phase. For their efforts, each was to receive compensation of US $4,000.

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Latvian Museum of Modern Art Competition


1adjaye-associates-rendering-1
©Adjaye Associates (UK) with AB3D Images courtesy Malcolm Reading Consultants.


Poland and the Baltic states have been playing cultural catch-up with the rest of the world ever since the former gained their independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989. These have included several high-profile competitions for museums in Poland, but also interesting projects in Estonia. Now Latvia and Lithuania are saying that they too should also have modern art museums on par with those in western Europe and Scandinavia. In Latvia, a movement to establish a modern art museum dates back to the early decade of the 21st century. It was then in 2005 that the ABLV Charitable Foundation, established by a local bank, provided endowment funds for purchasing modern art for a museum. They were joined in the museum project by The Boris and Inara Teterev Foundation, which was founded with the purpose of promoting culture.


Finland has always had close times culturally to the Baltic States, especially to Estonia, and the recent Guggenheim competition there could hardly have gone unnoticed by its southern neighbors. So it should come as no surprise that the Latvian sponsors engaged Malcolm Reading Consultants, the Guggenheim competition adviser, to organize their competition for the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art in the nation’s capital, Riga. Contrary to the Guggenheim competition, this time the finalists were the result of a closed shortlisting process.
They were:

  • Adjaye Associates (UK) with AB3D
  • Architects Lahdelma & Mahlamäki (Finland) with MADE Arhitekti
  • Caruso St John Architects (UK) with Jaunromāns un Ābele
  • Henning Larsen Architects (Denmark) with MARK Arhitekti
  • Neutelings Riedijk Architects (Netherlands)
  • Sauerbruch Hutton (Germany) with Arhitekts Ingurds Lazdiņš
  • wHY Architecture (US) with Outofbox and ALPS

 

All of the shortlisted teams had at least some museum experience, and those having somewhat less exposure in this area could point to their expertise in a number of projects relating to the arts. Some had made their mark lately, most notably wHY architecture (US) and Lahdelma & Mahlamäki (Finnland), the latter having won the prestigious open competition for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. With the exception of Neutelings Riedijk Architects, all of the finalists included at least one local Latvian firm on their team. The ultimate competition winner, Adjaye Associates (UK), could bask in the huge amount of publicity generated by the September 2016 opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall in Washington D.C.


The competition in many ways resembled a linear exercise, mainly dictated by the site and program. In the end, Adjaye Associates very straightforward, logical approach to the program won the day for the London firm. Although there were not enough jury comments to suggest how the other finalist team(s) were ranked, only one, Sauerbruch Hutton, was given a “mention’, although it was not to be considered as a ranking.

The museum will be built as part of New Hanza City, a new district at a former railway goods station in a northern district of Riga. Comprising 24.5 hectares, the development also will inclulde offices, apartments, a hotel, a nursery school and a public garden.

 

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Interview: Joe Valerio (Fall 2004)

North Point Competition model, Cambridge, Massachusetts (2003)

 

COMPETITIONS: As has been case with many architects, your career got a very big boost by virtue of winning a competition — Colton Palms Senior Apartments. Was that the very first competition you participated in?

 

VALERIO: No. It wasn’t the first, and it wasn’t the

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