The Monthly European Architectural Newsletter
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July 2011

Living with the void

On April 24th last, at the Cité de l’Architecture in Paris, a dozen well-known European architects have explained from their respective experiences why the architects were not afraid of the void. This international conference called precisely “When architects are not scared of the void” wanted to favour a theoretical reflection. “The void is not nothing” maintained Dominique Perrault who proposed at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010 to explore ”the void perception as the scene of all possibilities” At first sight, the void question is obvious for each architect developing a project. Indeed, to combine void (the fluid) with material (the built) establishes a founding complementarity of an architectural object independent from its complexity. Void is, if one can say, the material for living space in three dimensions measured by the different built elements irrespective of their sites, programmes or styles. The interior void - that is the living space - rushes through the openings and the transparencies, claiming the spatial continuity between the inside and the outside, where it changes its function and very often also its statute. Confined, it will be a protective area with a restricted functionality. Largely open, it can be a landscape for contemplation, unless this void would be - which is quite unusual in our cities – a huge wasteland, sign of desertion and liberty, with no restrictive rules except those of the not “combed” nature. When an interior void develops itself, like the perfection of a gothic cathedral’s nave, it puts to the test physically and psychologically any person entering. It seizes this person, fills it with thrill and wonder bringing it to transcend the crudeness of the daily life. Furthermore, void emphasizes the aesthetics of the Le Corbusier houses. It prevails in his vision of the “radiant city”. But it is in 1952, at Chandigarh in India, that the architect could finally implement his urban and architectural theses on a large scale by giving birth from an empty arid plain to a capital built according to his principles. Even better, when planning Brasilia between 1956 and 1960, Lucio Costa generously captures measures and limits the intrinsic void of the huge Brazilian high plateau. He definitively integrates it as a fundamental element of the urban space of its symbolic and monumentality, making the void the emblem of this capital and consequently of the modernity of that period. As summarized by Martin Heidegger in his book Art and Space, “void is nothing; it is not even a need.”

The ArchiWorld® Team

Portrait of the month

Bernard Tschumi

Parc de la Villette, Paris

Le Fresnoy, the National Contemporary Arts Studio, Tourcoing

Rouen Concert Hall and Exhibition Complex

Acropolis Museum, Athens

Blue residential tower, New York

SNCF bridge, La Roche-sur-Yon

Alésia Museum and Archaeological Park

Bernard Tschumi

From the conversion of the Parc de la Villette started in1982, to the Acropolis museum in Athens, one of the six Mies van der Rohe Awards 2011 finalists, the Franco-Swiss architect has built for himself an outstanding career going from theory to practice with avant-garde projects.

“Architecture is an activity inventing concepts materializing them with void as well as with fullness” claimed the architect at a recent conference “When architects are not scared of the void”. Right from his first project when he won the international competition for the Parc de la Villette in Paris, Bernard Tschumi commits himself to innovate and to implement his precepts. Up to then, close to the philosopher Jacques Derrida, he preferred theory to construction sites. “One must make the difference between an architect and a theoretician of architecture” he told the daily Le Monde. The former tries to apply some knowledge to the reality, whilst the latter wants to extend this field of knowledge without necessarily wanting to implement it. In 1969, after obtaining his degree in architecture (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) he straightaway chose teaching. From 1970 to 1981, he also went to the Architectural Association (London), the Princeton University and the Cooper Union (New York). His first major theoretical essay “The Manhattan Transcripts” protests against the classic ideals. It means to invent new relations where the traditional elements of architecture are broken and rebuilt according to other axes Coming back to La Villette, its conception results from a pure abstraction work. The architect imagines the vast 50 hectares park as a grid punctuated at its intersections by twenty five red red enameled steel “folies” that support different activities (information centre, bandstands, restaurants, etc,) made accessible thanks to a long sinuous path. “It’s the town’s continuity”, he added. Architecture finds fulfilment in the landscape. Facing the challenge of a space opened to everyone, he opts for high-tech and modernity. The park can therefore be considered as the greatest building ever built in the world.

After this project, Bernard Tschumi moves on to many others. And successes. In Tourcoing, the refurbishment of the Fresnoy site into the National Contemporary Arts Studio raises various important questions relating to the architect’s approach as well as to the state of contemporary architecture: relations between theory and practice, between project and building, between institution and activity. No identical rehabilitation, neither tabula rasa, the gesture keeps the basics of the existing complex under a great roof enclosing it totally. This structure houses part of the new premises and plays with transparency and opacity reflects. Space of visits and meetings, the Fresnoy is criss-crossed by many gangways. Then came the Students Centre of the Colombia University Lerner Hall in New York (1999), the Marne-La-Vallée Architecture School in Paris (1999), the Interface Flon, a railway and road station with subway access in Lausanne (2001). The same year, the Zenith in Rouen associates a 7000 seat slightly asymmetric concert hall with a vaulting roof exhibition hall. Open on a square, the complex appears as a symbolic space of the region’s cultural and economic revival. Other projects also concern entertainment halls and teaching spaces: the Architecture School of the Florida University in Miami (2003), the Athletics Centre of the Cincinnati University (2006), the Limoges Concert Hall (2007), the ECAL, the Art and Design School in Lausanne (2007), etc.

Bernard Tschumi has really become a star on the cultural scene. He draws the African Art Museum in New York, the Modern Art Museum in Sao Paulo and more recently the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Built on stilts this museum floats on the archaeological site. “The spatial narration combines the linear movement with the story of art and history, adds the architect. The movement in and through time, always a crucial dimension of architecture, is an important aspect especially for this museum. The movement sequence through out the museum’s works is designed to receive the greatest light.”

In another field, the architect draws the Diaoyutai Tower in Beijing, immediately recognizable by its prow and its perforated metal skin or the Blue Tower in New York, with a magnificent view on Lower Manhattan. Its simple and slender shape masks the complexity of the urban regulations in this zone. “No pole of an apartment building being allowed to lean on a commercial plot, the cantilever authorizes to build a maximum of square meters above the commercial plot. The cantilevered part on the southern part will profit from a sloping façade, allowing to increase the surface of the most luxurious flats on the top floors.” From now on, leading about thirty assistants in his Paris and New York offices, Bernard Tschumi stays faithful to his line of conduct. This scholarly theoretician sees architecture, today as yesterday, as an invisible intellectual system in the final product, unless you know how to analyse with precision the approach followed and undo everything in the conceptual development.

*Paris, City of Architecture and Heritage

1 Bernard Tschumi
© picture Martin Mai

2 Parc de la Villette, Paris (1982-1998)
© picture Peter Mauss/Esto

3 Le Fresnoy, the National Contemporary Arts Studio, Tourcoing (1991-1997)
© picture Robert Cesar

4 Rouen Concert Hall and Exhibition Complex (1998-2001)
© picture Peter Mauss/Esto

5 Acropolis Museum, Athens (2001-2009)
© picture Bernard Tschumi Architects

6 Blue residential tower, New York (2004-2006)
© picture Peter Mauss/Esto

7 SNCF bridge, La Roche-sur-Yon (2008-2010)
© picture Christian Richters

8 Alésia Museum and Archaeological Park (2003-2012)

© picture Bernard Tschumi Architects

Project of the month

Banca dell'Occhio
Architect: Emilio Ambasz & Associates

At Mestre, near Venice, a hospital complex shows the integration of architecture and the vegetal world.

Specialized medical centre related to the latest scientific and medical advances in eye transplant and research, the Eye Bank is conceived to be integrated in a triangular - shaped building. On this 2,8 hectare land, situated next to the entrance of a new regional hospital designed by the same architect, the building is completed by two 12 m high symmetric walls shaped as a trapezoidal figure. Clad in pre-stained copper they defined a huge interior volume. The two extreme points of the orthogonal walls seem about to touch each other. In the triangular space created by these walls a volume is defined by a series of landscaped terraces at each floor level like series of steps leading to a flat planted roof garden. These steps make the entire roof an outdoor amphitheatre. The combination of plantations and deep overhangs minimizes the impact of heat loads by blocking sunlight during the middle of the days. Nevertheless all the spaces receive direct natural sunlight. Each riser of the steps leading up to the roof has glass blocks installed into them allowing light to penetrate the rooms of the lowest level.

A below grade parking garage eliminates all visible cars on the site to ensure a continuous green surface around and onto the building’s roof. Emilio Ambasz’s research sees in this integration of architecture and nature the emblem of the contemporary needs. Architecture, seen as a relation between void and fullness, expresses itself through a balanced relation between “built” and gardens, between the buildings and the open spaces. The construction process of some historical cities shows this relation; Emilio Ambasz claims the necessity to generalize such a procedure linking nature and architecture in a strategic vision.

Product of the month

Vandersanden - ZERO Brick

In order to achieve a joint-free appearance using traditional bricklaying methods, the ZERO Brick was developed. Offering designers an aesthetic solution that the contractor can produce in a traditional way, the ZERO Brick is set to change perceptions of joint-free bricklaying in the world.

With the ZERO Brick, the contractor can simply continue to use their trowel and mortar in much the same way as traditional bricklaying. The concept is simple; there is an extra-large hollow at the top of the brick to which standard mortar is easily applied, making it possible to reduce the joint thickness to 4mm, creating a near joint-free look. There’s no doubt the ZERO Brick will prove popular since up until now, a joint thickness lower than 6mm was only possible through the laborious method of gluing.

With a striking finish and scaffolding kept to a minimum, it is anticipated that by removing the common barriers to joint-free bricklaying, architects can achieve the striking look of joint-free brickwork.

The ZERO Brick is available in 18 different colours. It can achieve a taut, impeccable facade that gets the most out of the roughness and natural charm of brick.

The lack of mortar on show means that the facade stays looking fresh for longer and the narrow open lap-joints provide excellent ventilation of the cavity. The ratio between length and width of the ZERO Brick is ideal for laying bricks in a half brick bond with 90 bricks per m² required.

For more information: and

Competitions in the spotlight
Archi-World® Academy

The first worldwide architecture contest for students in architecture Archi-World® Academy Award (AWA) 2011/2013: "Energy-saving projects and ideas for the future of architecture and urbanism".

Win a top class traineeship in a leading architecture practice by one of the 12 star architects: Zaha Hadid, Françoise-Hélène Jourda, Bjarke Ingels, J-M Jaspers, Francine Houben, Daniel Libeskind, Kengo Kuma, Mario Cucinella, Christoph Ingenhoven, Jain Bijoy, Ma Yansong, Andrey Bokov.

Click here to register!

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Saie Selection 2011

and Archi-Europe jointly organize a special contest "SAIESelection" in order to select 24 projects and concepts (12 for young architects and 12 for students) on the theme “Innovating, Integrating, Building Highly innovative and sustainable buildings".

All 24 projects and/or concepts will be presented in a special dedicated exhibition ‘Cuore Mostra Saie 2011’ in the framework of the SAIE International Building Exhibition taking place in Bologna (Italy) from October 5 to October 8, 2011.

Click here to register!

Event in the spotlight

MEGABUILD 8-11 september 2011

MEGABUILD Eurasia Building Materials Fair is organised by CNR Trade Fairs and IMSAD (Association of Turkish Building Material Producers) at CNR Expo Istanbul on September 8 -11, 2011. MEGABUILD Fair, with an area of 120.000 square meters and with the participation of more than 1000 exhibitor companies, aims to become one of the top 3 fairs of the world. MEGABUILD Eurasia Building Materials Fair aims to bring the sector’s professionals from around the world to Istanbul CNR Expo.

For more information:
Cityscape Global 27-29 september 2011

Cityscape Global 2011 marks the 10th edition of the essential business-to-business networking exhibition and conference for emerging real estate markets globally. Cityscape Global brings together real estate investors, developers, financiers, architects, consultants and all other real estate professionals involved in the investment, development and construction of real estate.

Over ten years, Cityscape has generated a wealth of data and experience connecting 300,000 real estate professionals through events in emerging markets across the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, North and South America.

For more information:

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51N4E. Double or nothing
(01/06 - 04/09/2011) - Brussels (BE)
(09 - 13/09/2011) - Paris (FR)
(21 - 24/09/2011) - Verona (IT)
ManMade Environment
(11/02 - 21/11/2011) - Copenhagen (DK)
Contemporary Norwegian Architecture #7
(> 21/08/2011) - Oslo (NO)
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Taiwan Tower International Competition
Deadline: 29/08/2011
CLOSE THE GAP: New York East River Greenway Competition
Deadline: 01/09/2011
eVolo 2012 Skyscraper Competition
Deadline: 17/01/2012
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Bruxelles Brussel Brussels

96 pages
€ 19.95
Editions Racine
ISBN 9782873867270
>> read more
Diener & Diener
Roger Diener, Joseph Abram, Martin Steinmann

320 pages | € 59.95
Phaidon publishers
ISBN 9780714859194

>> read more
Towards a New Kind of Building
Kas Oosterhuis

176 pages | € 29.50
NAI Publishers
ISBN 978-90-5662-763-8
>> read more

Copyright 2011 Archi-Europe Group nv/sa
Responsible Editor: Jacques Allard
Chief Editor: Marie-Claire Regniers

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