Vasco Vieira of Arqui + Arquitectura

The built-in swimming pool has always been a staple of luxury homes, at least those in warm climates. And in recent years, the infinity pool is almost a necessity for luxury homeowners. But the bar has been raised: Vasco Vieira of Arqui + Arquitectura has turned the notion of the in-ground infinity pool on its head.Casa Vale do Lobo, built on the Vale do Lobo golf resort in Southern Portugal, includes a swimming pool in a concrete base, cantilevered over a reflecting pool below.

It is meant as both utilitarian pool and sculptural element, and one can imagine passersby pondering this work of art. The upper pool’s water overflows, cascading into the shallow reflecting pool, creating calming sounds. Unlike standard in-ground pools, unattractive fences to prevent one from falling into deep water are not needed, allowing the courtyard and pool to create a cohesive visual effect.The U-shaped home has solid outer walls, denoting private space away from the golf course that the structure borders.

Transparent glazing on the inner walls, however, allow for a connection between interior and exterior. Through the use of transparent and solid materials, Vieira plays with light and shadow. Wood paneling, glass, black tiles, concrete, and gray sandstone floors have all been used to this effect, as well as to create a sense of flow through spaces and demarcate public and private areas.The two-story northern wing houses five bedrooms, all of which grant easy access to the communal single-story living area. And then there is another pool—the roof of the main living space is a terrace with a “mini” pool and outdoor living and cookout areas. Other entertainment areas can be found in the semi-buried basement, including a game room, cinema, and spa.

A double garage and service areas are also found here.The exterior is a lesson in geometry: Vieira uses flat, straight, horizontal and vertical lines that appear as if they could continue into infinity. They have no clear stopping points and draw one’s eye through to the horizon. Only the stairs create diagonals, but even these are made with minimal materials and horizontal and vertical lines, leaving the space beneath them empty.Vieira was no stranger to the Vale do Lobo Resort when designing this one-of-a-kind home. Before founding Arqui+ in 2004, he was the resort’s chief architect and construction director.

He has been building in the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal, for fifteen years. His aim is to create contemporary, innovative designs there while maintaining the region’s essence through materials and the quality of light. Vieira has not always worked amongst the Algarve’s sandy beaches and year-round sunshine, however. He studied and trained for ten years in South Africa before settling in Portugal, giving him international experience.The architect has designed villas in other Algarve resorts, including for Waratah Properties. While many of these houses maintain the strict rectilinearity seen in Casa Vale do Lobo, in at least one home Vieira embraces more organic forms, demonstrating his ability to expand ideas of minimalism.

The villa’s exterior form, as seen from above, resembles intersecting half-circles. It hugs its surrounding green landscape, rather than standing above it.Vieira has received numerous awards, including being named one of the top ten architects internationally by Homes Overseas magazine in 2004, and has continued to recognize his work since; CNBC Property Awards has also given him a Best Architecture and Best European Development awards in 2009, among others in previous years.If Vieira continues to design luxury villas at high-end resorts, we should hope to see a new reinvention of luxury entertainment. What mundane utilitarian object will became a luxurious sculpture next?

SPBR Architects

Brazilian architectural firm SPBR Architects was brought to the forefront of American architects last year when firm head and founder Angelo Bucci received a 2011 AIA Honorary Fellowship for design. The honorary fellowship is awarded to non–U.S. citizens or residents who practice mostly outside of the AIA domain, for their contributions to the architectural profession.

Bucci’s achievements include a range of built projects. SPBR focuses on meaningful projects with a coherent structure that maintains logical, seamless flow between interior and exterior spaces.

In the recent years before Bucci received the AIA award, SPBR had completed two residential projects that remain, arguably, its most well known and significant. The House in Ubatuba, near Tenório’s beach in São Paulo, sits on a hard and steep hill surrounded by trees, all of which are protected by environmental regulations.

The house, completed in 2009, appears to float among the trees. Looking at it from the beach, a wood and concrete side peaks through the top of the tree-covered hill, but its connection to the ground is unclear. From inside looking out, views of the sea, beach, and trees dominate—it is a modernist, luxury treehouseBut the structure does, of course, touch the ground: three columns of reinforced concrete support four steel beams that allow slabs to hang from above. The top terrace is at street level, and a bridge connects house to street, further emphasizing a sense of isolation amongst the trees. Another bridge leads to a rooftop pool and the house’s second volume.

 Inside, large, open spaces are completed with a strategic mix of furnishings—including a wicker couch and wing-back chair in one living space, and a slip-covered sofa in another. Walls are bare, showcasing the building’s materials. Creams, natural-looking woods, white, and tans create a soothing ambience. Minimalism and a traditional beach-home feel intertwine; the starkness of minimalism is made comfortable.

 Unlike the Ubatuba house, for SPBR’s 2008 Santa Teresa project, one volume sits firmly on high ground, while an adjacent and perpendicular volume floats one story above its lower ground. In this historical neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, the SPBR house is on one of the highest points in the town, providing views of the center of Rio, the Sugar Loaf, and Guanabara Bay.

 The living room is on the higher level with kitchen in an open space below, and bedrooms and office on the lower level. The facades of each volume are planned around sun heat and views. The lower portion is closed on north and south sides, while the east and west facades are open, the former to a garden. The upper volume is conversely closed on the east and west sides to avoid sun heat but glass window walls on the north and south showcase views of the downtown area and Guanabara Bay and Pão de Acucar.

 SPBR explores a wide variety of interests beyond unique residential projects. The firm received a Holcim Silver Award in 2008 for its Pontificial Catholic University in Rio Mediatheque in Rio de Janeiro, an energy-efficient media library. Bucci, who led the project, reduced energy consumption through “passive design elements including appropriate orientation, heat insulation, shaded windows, natural ventilation and natural lighting,” according to the Holcim Foundation—no small feat considering the climate control required for book and media preservation in the space.

 More recently, SPBR was one of twelve firms asked by former Miami Art Museum director Terence Riley to participate in the exhibition “The Street” in the fourth annual Shenzhen and Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture. Architects from five continents developed facades that showcased their design philosophies in late 2011/early 2012.

Prior to founding SPBR in 2003, Bucci was a partner at Arquitetura Paulista in 1989–1994 and a founding partner at MMBB Architects from 1996 to 2002. He continues to focus on both academic and professional pursuits. He is a lecturer at the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil, and has been a visiting professor or lecturer at universities around the world, including MIT, Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Princeton, and University of California, Berkeley in the US, Università IUAV di Venezia in Italy, Torcuato Di Tella in Argentina, Universidad de Cuenca in Ecuador and Andres Bello in Chile.

Arata Isozaki

Japanese architect Arata Isozaki has made his mark on the profession—both in the physical landscape and in the minds, theories, and ideas of his colleagues. In the 1960s and 1970s, hewas a leading member of the Japanese new-wave movement, an avant-garde conceptual approach to architecture—though he aims to defy characterization within any single school of architectural thought. He approaches each project on its own merits, its place, its purpose, and its time.

The architect recently completed a national convention center in Qatar (the QNCC). Opened in 2011, it has been called “one of the greenest convention centers in the world,” no small feat for one of the world’s leading emission-emitting countries. The complex was the first of its kind to receive LEED Gold certification. Its green roof, with 3,600 square meters of solar panels supplies 12.5 percent of the building’s projected energy needs; inside, LED lights and fixtures and zone-based air control systems reduce energy consumption.

The QNCC, designed in conjunction with RHWL Architects, is the largest convention center in the Middle East.It can hold thousands of visitors and spectators, and houses ten performance venues, a conference hall and theater that together hold more than six thousand, dozens of meeting rooms, multiple three-tiered auditoriums, and forty thousand square meters of exhibition space. It is in Education City, situated near elite universities and research and technology institutions, and twenty minutes from the area’s central business district. The complex serves as an addition to what one DesignBoom writer called “a new global hub of ideas and innovation.”

Isozaki graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1954, and then worked for Kenzo Tange & Urtec until 1963, when he established his own practice as a designer and theorist. For more than half a century, he has been thinking, writing, building, and influencing. Isozaki has taught at many universities around the world, his work has been exhibited widely, and it is clear his ability to mentor young architects has reached into the walls of his office. His past employees include award-winning international architects Shigeru Ban and Jun Aoki. He has also served as an architectural critic and as a jury member for major public and private architecture competitions. His website profile states, simply and confidently: “he has contributed significantly to making the visions of the world’s most radical architects a reality.” Others have recognized his role as well: his numerous awards include the prestigious RIBA Gold Medal, which he was awarded in 1986.

Isozaki has been no stranger to significant cultural projects in major cities. Some of his most renowned projects include Gumma Prefectural Museum of Modern Art in Japan (1971–74), Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1981–86), Team Disney Building in Orlando, Florida (1989–90), Olympic Stadium’s Sports Hall in Barcelona (1992), Kyoto Concert Hall in Japan (1995), and Shenzhen Cultural Center in China (2005). Such works are known for their bold forms, unique details, and a combination of local and international influences. For instance, his Team Disney Building, which received an AIA National Honor Award, uses a Japanese yin-yang theory of positive and negative space. He incorporated a looped gateway that resembles Mickey Mouse’s ears, a hint of his often-ironic approach to architecture, and he built an ornamental sundial into the central cylinder—a reference to the time-conscious businesspeople who would use the space.

In addition to more than half a century of architectural work, Isozaki has designed exhibitions and stages, and has curated numerous international exhibitions, including three architectural exhibitions at the Venice Biennales. And in the 1980s, he experimented with product design, including a scarf for Louis Vuitton, jewelry for Cleto Munali, and other works. As Isozaki continues to resist following specific style guidelines, we can continue to expect award-winning works that relate to social and cultural needs, place, and time.

 

Benjamin Garcia Saxe

Young creative types are often viewed as idealistic, expecting to stamp the world with their art. Architect/sculptor/designer Benjamin Garcia Saxe already has, and one presumes he will continue to do so in increasing degrees. According to his philosophy, posted on his website, Garcia believes in designing by instinct rather than by reason alone.His two most well-known projects are residences, one built of bamboo, and the other of discarded shipping containers. Both respond to occupants’ psychological and emotional needs as well as their physical ones.

In 2010, Saxereceived first place for a private house at the World Architecture Festival. The WAF jury was enthusiastic about the architect’s focus on the inhabitant’s practical and emotional needs and a new use of material. Titled A Forest for a Moon Dazzler, the winning project is a bamboo structure built for the architect’s mother. Sited in a Costa Rican forest, thecone-like roof is designed to open at night, providingthe skyward views Garcia’s mother desired after spending many years in a congested urban environment.

With a poured-concrete base, steel structure, and more than four thousand pieces of burlap-covered bamboo, Saxe constructed the two-room home for forty thousand dollars. The living and bedroom spaces are on either end of the house, connected by an internal courtyard/patio. The latter space can be completely opened to the outdoors with shutter doors. There, hammocks hanging from the side walls’ structural beams complete a feeling of serenity and relaxation. The structure’s openness brings the forest inside, according to the architect.

Garcia’s efforts at low-cost housing and finding ways for architecture to meet emotional needs have reached beyond family. His shipping-container house, finished in 2011, was for a couple whose limited finances and love for nature, their horses, and the rural outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, led them to accept the architect’s unique idea. Garcia wrote that the project “allowed them to be debt free and live the life they always dreamed of. It was important for me to provide them with the sunrise, the sunset, the spectacular views, and . . . a feeling of comfort and home.”

Scrap pieces of metal taken from the sides—where Garcia constructed windows—were used for roofing between two containers. This construction creates openness and cross-ventilation so efficient the architect claims it has made air-conditioning redundant. Though small, the interiors look as modern as any luxury home, with a long kitchen with white cabinetry, a table and stylish high red chairs, a comfortable white couch, and a cozy bedroom with sleek surfaces.

Also ranking in at forty thousand dollars, the house is more affordable than other social housing in the area. Dubbed Containers of Hope, it is a model for reuse of discarded materials, passive temperature control, and efficiency.

Garcia earned his Master of Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2007, and has since worked for Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in London. There, he served on the team designing a luxury complex in Seoul, South Korea, that includes retail, office, hotel, restaurant, parking, exhibition spaces. He was also on the award-winning team of NEO Bankside, a five-building residential/office/retail complex in London. The buildings, each with six sides, appear like sculptures next to the Tate Modern and the River Thames. External bracing created a steel diagrid on the facades, adding aesthetic interest while allowing for open-plan apartments inside. Completed in 2012, the project received numerous awards.

But at RSHP Garcia’s input and instincts are often absorbed into the complicated web of a large, international architecture firm, whose commissions and expenses are big. One hopes Garcia, and his creative idealistic visions, do not become permanently lost. His low-cost housing projects prove that there are more solutions to housing the poor, and buying without entering into debt than are frequently used. As the young architect continues to grow and react to his design instincts, it can be expected that he will continue to explore and promote his unique visions. Buthis mother can claim she experienced the young architect’s creativity and ingenuity first.

 

Max Strang’s Sustainable Tropical Modernism

Most Internet searches for successful architects turn up design blogs and magazines. But Max Strang’s name has become known in a very different medium. His own Coconut Grove, Florida, house was featured in the 2006 action-drama film Miami Vice. The nearly all-white five-bedroom home with tropical pool and spa and open-air upstairs living room is probably Strang’s most well-known house, having also been featured in Architectural Digest, the Wall Street Journal, the USA network’s show Burn Notice, and elsewhere.

Strang, principal and president of 2010 AIA Miami Firm of the Year recipient Max Strang Architecture, hasn’t been resting on his laurels, however. Although he recently moved to Telluride, Colorado—where he feels the immersion in nature helps him to focus creatively more than he could in the bustling Florida city—he telecommutes and visits the Miami-based firm monthly. His interest in creating modern, luxury, eco-friendly residences in tropical environments remains strong.

The firm’s motto, “Authenticity. Timelessness. Sustainability,” can be seen in its recent projects. Particularly dedicated to achieving LEED certification on the homes he designs, Strang is paving the way for eco-friendly architecture. His 2011 Lake House in Winter Haven, Florida, is the first LEED-certified residence there. The 5,500-square-foot house not only uses Resysta, a sustainable, non-plastic material akin to real wood, but also uses it more than any other residence had before. Made of rice husks, salt, and vegetable oil, Resysta has been called the “non-wood wood.” If the material is ever removed from the house, it is entirely recyclable.

The house is set on a sloping lakefront lot. The exterior shell is stucco and includes eight-foot overhangs that protect the house from the sun. Additionally, a solar photovoltaic system, hot-water heaters, geothermal HVAC, and LED lighting add to the home’s environmental features. The interior features large, open spaces surrounded by floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that provide natural light and cross ventilation.

Strang received his Bachelor’s of Architecture in 1994 from the University of Florida, and his Master’s from Columbia University, where he also received an honor award for design excellence. Before founding his own firm, he worked for Zaha Hadid in London; Gene Leedy, who designed Strang’s childhood home and was an influential figure in what is now known as the Sarasota school of architecture; and SHoP Architects in New York, where he worked on the award-winning Museum of Sex commission.Strang has received numerous awards from AIA Florida and AIA Miami; the latter named the firm 2010 Firm of the Year and Strang Young Architect of the Year in 2007 and 2003; in 2010, the Design Center of the Americas presented Max Strang a Star of Design award for architecture. He has also served on various urban planning boards, including Miami’s Planning Advisory Board and the Urban Environment League’s Board of Directors

Enrique Norten Impresses in Mexico and Miami

Enrique Norten founded his firm TEN (Taller de Enrique Norten) Arquitectos in Mexico City in 1986, but it started its rise to international acclaim upon opening a New York office in 2003. Now with more than seventy employees, both offices work on a range of projects from furniture design to single-family houses, to major cultural and institutional buildings and landscape and master planning.

In Puebla, Mexico, Norten designed a public square with an undulating ground that allows for gathering space above, and shelters a café, playroom, and gallery below. Commemorating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Puebla—when Mexicans defeated a larger, better-prepared invading French army—the competition-winning project is filled with symbolism and public space.

The competition called for Emblematic Monument entries, but Norten pushed the idea further. According to the firm’s project description, it “proposed to reinterpret the traditional concept of the monument as a public space to be used by the city and its people.” Nods to the battle are subtle. Each lamp post represents a battalion that fought, and is strategically placed at the locations of important battles. One hundred and fifty trees signify each year since the invasion. While now nearly leafless, once they grow and age, they will add additional greenery and shade to the open space. The undulations follow the ground’s natural topography and reinforce views to the city.

In the US, Norten has been busy in Miami: Curbed Miami claimed he has been designing “oodles of buildings” there.  Last year, in 2012, he designed 321 Ocean, a not-yet-completed two-building residential oceanfront development. The western building houses six three- and four-bedroom units and the eastern sixteen. Each will have at least two balconies, including a beachfront terrace, high-tech appliances, oversized showers and bathtubs. The modernist somewhat boxy design is coated in window walls, allowing for views to the ocean and city alike. Residents, paying a minimum of $1.5 million per unit, will also enjoy an infinity pool, luxury gym, library, and a courtyard garden by EnzoEnea.

Even more recently, Nortenwas chosen as the project architect for developer Asi Cymbal’s new Design District building. The 27,000-square-foot building—whose name will be determined partly by voters on Curbed Miami, with Asi getting the final decision—will house office, retail, restaurant, and parking spaces.

Other Miami projects include The Related Group’s One Ocean and a residence in Bal Harbor. In an interview with Biz Journal, Norten credited the town’s beauty for doing “half of the work” for him. He has found inspired in the work already in Miami, its history, and its changing and expanding population.

The firm’s awards include the AIA New York 2009 Institute Merit Design Award and a National AIA 2009 Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design. In 1998, Norten received the prestigious Mies van der RohePavillion Award for Latin American Architecture for his Televisa mixed-use building. The firm’s work has been presented at international exhibitions, published widely in books and magazines, including three monographs.

Whether in Mexico, Miami—what Norten has called the “capital of Latin America”—or elsewhere around the globe, TEN Arquitectos is proving unstoppable, with various projects on the boards and making headlines yet again.

Italian Architect Plays with Degrees of Minimali

Many architects deem themselves modernists or traditionalists; some are interested in concrete and glass, others wood and brick; some treat architecture as sculpture while others work within pre-existing structures. These dualities often remain as such, but Andrea Oliva has found ways to combine them.

Italian architect Oliva founded his design practice, Studio Cittaarchitettura, in 2000. Since then, he has experimented with varying degrees of modernism and minimalism. His House Sulla Morella takes the notion of a minimalist box to a whole new level. Designed for the 2009 Premio Biennale Internazionale di Architettura “Barbara Cappochin,” the house is set on the outskirts of Castelnuova, in Sotto, Italy, on a flat prairie. Set sixty meters (just under two hundred feet) away from the street, Sulla Morella is a modernist block on wide-open space. Here even the trees feel minimal, although over this one presumes Oliva had no control.

A rectangular white shell allows for a concrete and plaster porch space and overhangs. A gray box with domestic spaces is set inside. Gray sliding panels cover the large windows—created from wooden frames and laminated glazing—and when all are closed, the house seems to be composed of regularized jigsaw-puzzle pieces.

Not surprisingly, the interiors include mostly unadorned white walls and minimal furniture.Dark brown hardwood floors—including a unique staircase design—and a few pieces of brown furniture lend a “pop” to the otherwise white and gray space.  It seems almost impossible to think that the house could be stripped down any further to its basic function as shelter.

The modern elements extend beyond the obvious materials and design, however. The flat roof addresses contemporary issues of sustainability: it contains solar panels that provide the house with electricity and hot water.

Oliva is more than just a strip-it-down minimalist, of course. In Bologna, he worked with an existing space as part of an urban regeneration project. Oliva transformed the former aqueduct into a social space for local youth. He received the commission after winning the 2003 Centocitta Award, a national competition by Compagnia di San Paolo that aims to transform unused public buildings into community centers. And in winning, Oliva received a nod from famed “starchitect” Renzo Piano, who served as a primary judge.

The two original octagonal towers were built in the early twentieth century. Oliva added a third connecting tower and a new building to be used as exhibition space. With the new structures, he aimed to create continuity between past and present. Rather than re-creating the traditional brick of the first two towers, Oliva used the modernist glass brick in the third tower, and simplified its form; rather than octagonal, the new tower is circular. At night, it shines like a lantern, marking the site as a landmark. The exhibition space itself blends old and new: a ventilated brick wall on the north, and mobile corten sunshades with automatic sensors on the south. Conferences, concerts, workshops, and classes are held in the renovated and new spaces.

The project, completed in 2009, allowed Oliva to use a modernist vocabulary in a traditional space, while bringing the old structure into the contemporary world—both in structure and in purpose.

In addition to his design practice, Oliva has worked in research and as an adjunct professor on the faculty of architecture and engineering at the University of Parma for more than a decade. His practice is partly experimental, partly practical, with expertise in structures, equipment, roads, economy, landscape, artwork, and lighting.

The award-winning architect received his architecture degree from Politecnico di Milano in 1998. He has participated in many national and international competitions, and has been exhibited and published in international journals.

In addition to the range of architecture projects, Oliva has also designed home décor, including a mosaic floor vase of Murano glass, sold by Nella Vetrina in Italy. It is marketed as “ideal for custom creations where the design possibilities are endless”—and it seems Oliva’s custom creations are just getting started.

 

 

Hironaka Ogawa’s Interior Trees

Japanese architect Hironaka Ogawa designs buildings that embrace nature in unique ways. In an interview with Architectural Record, Ogawa said that his childhood home, built by his grandfather nearly a century ago, was a union of structure and surroundings. He has since striven to design buildings that have similar links between man-made and natural environments.For Ogawa’s Garden Tree House, a two-story extension to a family house in Japan’s Kagawa prefecture, two trees that the clients had lived with for thirty-five years had to be cut down. Although Ogawa was unable to build around them, he felt that the Zelkova and Camphor trees were a part of the family itself, not things to be discarded.

The family asked a Shinto priest to remove the evil spirits ofthe trees as they were felled. In his project description, Ogawa says of this: “Nobody would go that far without a love and attachment to these trees.” Clearly the clients found the right architect for the job, who would show the same love and respect for their beloved trees.

With their branches intact, the trees were sent to a nearby kiln to be smoked and dried out for two weeks.Ogawa then reinstalled them, so to speak, in the center of the new double-height living/dining room. A sunken ground floor allows them to rise at the exact height at which the family remembered them. But they are not only adornment: these trees serve as structural columns, thereby embedded into both the sentimental/emotional and physical fabrics of the home.

For other projects, Ogawa has looked to the less concrete and apparent areas of nature: for him, light, wind, and rain are all parts of the environment to be incorporated into a building.Forest Chapel, in Gunma, Japan, was built in an existing wedding center’s garden, whose influence can be seen and felt inside the chapel. The smooth, white exterior walls include glazing on the lower portion, allowing natural light to enter the interior. Sunlight meets the altar directly through two tall windows at a back, angled wall.

Perhaps most noticeably, nature has inspired form in the chapel as well. Ogawa used the garden’s trees as inspiration for tree-shaped steel columns throughout the chapel. And like in nature, their placement is(at least seemingly) unstructured: Ogawa rotated the angles of each tree and placed them throughout the space at varying distances.These man-made trees, then, add a sense of life and energy to an otherwise minimalist chapel. Like in Garden Tree House, these faux trees are also important structural elements, receiving the building’s vertical load and wind pressure. The design world took note of the unique approach, and the project was nominated in the civic and community category at theWorld Architecture Festival.

Ogawa’s many other honors include three 2012 Design for Asia Awards, one silver and two bronzes, a 2012Architectural Record Design Vanguard honor, a 2010 Good Design prize, and he was shortlisted in the international interior design category for the 2012 LEAF Awards, which recognizes architects who set standards for the international architectural community.

Many of those architects for whom Ogawa is setting standards are probably more seasoned than the still-new designer. He attended architecture school at Nihon University, where he graduated in just 2000. Renowned architect KengoKuma saw promise in one of the student architect’s competition entries and hired him immediately after graduation. Just five years later, Ogawa opened his own office. In addition to practicing architecture, he has also lectured at Toyo, Kagawa, and Nihon Universities

Despite the firm’s small size—three in December 2012—it is moving ahead with full force. The firm’s website lists six projects planned for 2013 or 2014 completion. His awards—such as the LEAF shortlist—put him in a ranking with such esteemed international firms as Studio Daniel Libeskind and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. These are names we are sure to see him appear next to in the future as he continues to bring outside land, air, and light into modern interiors.

 

Santiago Calatrava: Drawing Across the Sky

Santiago Calatrava has built more than thirty bridges, and has designed transportation hubs in major cities around the world—including one at New York’s former World Trade Center site, shrouded in controversy and still unfinished—and public projects include an Olympic sports complex in Athens and an extension for the Milwaukee Art Museum. Many of his designs, like the recently opened Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas, Texas, look as if someone took a pencil and swept it across the sky. But he does not design dreamlike structures only from an aesthetic point of view. Calatrava earned his PhD in civil engineering from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. He knows not only how to design, but how to build.

Although the Spanish architect is known for his sculpturesque bridges and buildings, only this past spring, in 2012, did he complete his first vehicular bridge in the United States. The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge is part of an urban revitalization project that connects the east and west sides of Dallas over the Trinity River. A tall white arch is supported by thin cables, framing one side of the city to the other, and lending an iconic form over the water. Calatrava wanted to draw positive attention to the neglected river; he believed it could be transformed into a gathering space akin to New York’s Central Park.

While a bridge may not equate to Central Park, the designer’s work certainly has brought attention to the area. A food company that owns thirteen acres of land near the base of the bridge is planning to help entrepreneurs launch new restaurants there—just the start of new investments for the now widely recognized area.

Calatrava studied architecture from 1969 to 1974 at the Superior Technical School of Architecture in Valencia, Spain (near where he was born), and then took a postgraduate course in urbanism. After earning his PhD, Calatrava opened architecture and engineering practices in Zurich (1981) and Paris (1989), followed by offices in Valencia (1991) and New York (1994).

Calatrava has won numerous awards, including a 1992 London Institution of Structural Engineers Gold Medal, a 1999 Prince of Asturias Award in Arts an AIA Gold Medal in 2005, a 2007 Spanish National Architecture Award, a 2009 European Steel Design Award, and countless others.

He has called architecture the “greatest of all the arts” because it uses music, painting, sculpture, and other fine arts in addition to design. While not all buildings embrace these other arts, it is hardly a question that Calatrava sings, paints, and sculpts, with every design

 

The designer’s big ideas are often what give him the most trouble: big ideas cost big dollars. The Dallas bridge, for one, has not been without controversy. Calatrava first began talks with the city of Dallas in 1999, when he was commissioned to design five iconic bridges over the river; budget cuts have caused standstills, and it is unclear if Calatrava will even finish the second as intended, which has been greatly scaled back from his original design. (Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013.)

The World Trade Center transportation hub, however, is probably his most controversial project to date. The grandiose structure, dubbed the “Bird,” serves as a port for New Jersey commuters. But like the Bird’s upward-facing lines, the price, too, keeps soaring. It began at $2.2 billion, latest estimates come to $3.8 billion, and critics have taken notice. They have called Calatrava, and his design, self-interested, egotistical, and wasteful. Calatrava has made design compromises, scaling back his requests for marble, an open roof, and a column-free mezzanine, but emotions and politics are running high. There are still hopes, though perhaps slim, that the authorities funding the project, including the Federal Transit Administration, can make ends meet, and with minimal additional design compromises. But until then, it is likely Calatrava’s name will be heard more for his extraordinary expenses than it will for his extraordinary built projects.

Severely White: Fran Silvestre’s Minimalist Houses and Wind Tower

Based in Valencia, Spain, Fran Silvestre Arquitectos works on a range of projects, including public buildings, houses, and interior renovations. Starkly minimalist, his projects, often with sharp, though not overbearing or unpleasant, angles, are covered in smooth, white materials inside and outside.

The Spanish designer’s minimalist approach to houses at first may sound out of place on a rocky cliffside overlooking the Spanish shoreline and blue ocean. The clean, geometric lines and white shell certainly does not blend into the beautiful natural terrain, but it does not distract from it either. His House on a Cliff, in Alicante, completed in 2012, provides shelter and views, but otherwise, lets its surrounding nature take the viewer’s attention.

Located seemingly in the middle of nowhere—what the firm has called “an abrupt plot of land”—the only thing to do is relax, and gaze out at the views. The rocky mountainside or beautiful shoreline and ocean can be seen from any view within or immediately without the house.

In order to minimize topographical changes, Silvestre arranged the living spaces over four floors. Where the topography was already fairly flat, the architect created a terrace level with pool overlooking the ocean. The upper level, with balcony, cantilevers out, also overlooking the ocean, and from certain angles within the mountain range, appears to float out from the cliffside—a touch of mankind and mystery in an otherwise remote piece of earth.

The monolithic concrete structure is covered in white lime stucco to provide a more pristine look and as a nod to the area’s traditional architectural materials. And inside, even the kitchen, where often in the most minimalist of houses, unsmooth and colored surfaces appear, is all white: all components are hidden beneath white cabinetry.

Silvestre took his minimalist approach to an entirely different level in his energy-collecting structure, Eolica Wind Tower. This tower goes beyond the sharp angles of his houses: though it, too, is stark white, the sculpture-esque form speaks simultaneously to the ability of man and to the organic contours of a bird’s wing, or those made in the sand by wind and water.

A large vertical opening in the lower half of the structure gives way for the building’s concave shape to turn back around, opening up into a second concave form behind itself. Here it occupies a triangular ground space while providing a unique aesthetic that changes at every angle. The mix of smooth, rounded forms and sharp ninety-degree (or nearly so) angles provides a form that would become a monument to advancement in an urban or rural setting alike.

Three concave surfaces “funnel wind energy into several tiers of turbines,” according to a Design Boom article. Simultaneously, the foundation serves as roots, collecting geothermal energy. The concave areas also allow for public observation and gathering points, including a restaurant and observation deck on the forty-ninth and fiftieth floors. A variety of ground-level spaces, including an auditorium, conference rooms, and children’s library are powered by the tower itself. The concrete structure can be quickly assembled with speed climbing cases; wind and light can infiltrate the skin through perforated metal panels over parts of the facade.

The architect, who aims for beauty in the constructed environment while respecting the natural one, has embraced twenty-first-century minimalism in an extreme way, adding to contemporary dialog about architecture and innovation. Although his projects likewise require clients with a similar eye and taste, there is no doubt armchair travelers will be gazing at his buildings from afar as pure works of art.