Friday, 3 October 2014

The Burning of the Glasgow School of Art

A few months ago the architecture world was shocked after the burning of the Glasgow School of Art.

The building is an exquisite and rare example of British Art Nouveau. Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh it became one of Glasgow's most beloved buildings. It's no surprise the gloom that spread amongst the locals when they saw the building turn into a fireball last May.

But the students were the truly gutted ones, as this happened only a few weeks before their degree show. A devastated crowd stood outside the building crying as they saw the fire fighters trying to save months worth of artwork.

Luckily, the impact of the fire hasn't been too dramatic. 90% of the school was saved and only 30% of its contents have been lost. Unfortunately the outstanding library was amongst the losses. Whether the building will be restored to its former glory is yet to be decided.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Nakagin Capsule Tower 中銀カプセルタワー

Last spring I visited Japan for the first time. In many ways it was to be a very important journey for me, for years I dreamt of going there and always pushed the day further and further back because I wanted to be ready for it. Ready to take it all in. A few months after my return to London, it's still distilling something I don't yet know.

I've always thought that spending some time living in a city is necessary to understand how it really works. Most of my urban awareness relies on the contrasts I've seen in towns I've spent a great deal of time in. That's why I decided, although strongly advised against, to spend at least two weeks in Tokyo where I was mostly based in Nakano.

Even though I was aware of this, Tokyo's lack of a historic centre really hit me. As a European I come from a place with its fair share of architectural heritage. My hometown Barcelona, and many Spanish cities, were planned around their old historic quarter, building successive rings of urban development during the Industrial Age. There's some sense of order and structure in these towns. Tokyo feels like a chaotic amalgamation of styles and hints at its plasticity, which certainly generates a vibrant spontaneous ecosystem but feels imposed by natural hazards and war. Very little there seems to be built to last. Everything is transient and the lifespan of buildings is short enough to make Tokyo a very different city for each generation.

This concept of an adaptable ever-changing system sits at the core of Metabolism, an architectural movement developed in post-war Japan that fused ideas about megastructures with those of organic biological growth. Nakagin Capsule Tower is one of its most iconic buildings which still stands, to my surprise, as I stumbled upon it on a stroll through Ginza. Built in 1972 and designed by Kisho Kurokawa it's made up of capsules that work as self-contained units, but these can be attached to each other and rearranged along two core concrete towers to create a variety of spaces. In other words, it's a mutant building that can change its shape and adapt to the occupant's necessities.

Despite this ability to adapt to change, recently, its current residents voted to demolish the building and replace it with a larger more modern block.

In this illustration, Nakagin Capsule Tower rearranges its capsules to form the word METABOLISM. It was published in Q9 Magazine last May.

On site photo from a pedestrian walkway

Monday, 28 July 2014

Rock Paper Pixel

In July FAD Barcelona invited me to participate in Rock Paper Pixel, a section within their yearly Fadfest, Barcelona's design festival, where local and international creativity is celebrated over two weeks of exhibitions, awards and activities. On its second year, these sessions of short talks aimed at glimpsing at the present of design and looking for the joy of the immediacy in a volatile communication environment.

Back to back with other creatives and spearheaded by communication design gurus Maria Popova and Debbie Millman, I was then granted 8 minutes to introduce my architecture/character design illustration work at the FAD's new home, the DHUB at the now unrecognisable Plaça de les Glories. A bit daunted by the size of the auditorium at the beginning I went over 6 years of work and focused on the key pieces that have shaped this experimental project to this day. It was a delight looking at some of the illustrations go scale 1:1 on the screen towering behind me –not even near that though way larger than my laptop screen…

Cross Section of the DHUB Creature
On my first visit to the DHUB last Christmas I was genuinely fascinated by this geometrical block that seems like an alien spaceship trying to remain unnoticed by taking the shape of a local animal. I then toyed with the idea of the FAD headquarters being housed inside this mighty beast while all the workers indifferently go about their business. So here's my own cross section of the DHUB creature and life as it goes on in its entrails. The drawing is worked to be blown to a huge cinema screen without it turning into a Tetris-cake of pixels. It's to be printed in an A1.

Boiler Room Heart

Board Room Lung

Greenhouse Lung
Thyroid Reactor
Throat Corridor
Kitchen Stomach
Intestines Design Studios and Library
Intestines Dance Studios and Film Club
Rectum Facilities

Friday, 18 July 2014

A Map of Soho

This map of Soho was commissioned by estate agents Greater London Properties. Proudly based in Broadwick Street as the only property shop front in Soho, they wanted a vibrant vision of London's renowned entertainment district that would encapsulate the energy and diversity of an area they have operated in for more than 10 years and have an unrivalled knowledge of.

Together we sat down and went over key moments of its exciting history. From its beginnings as a failed urban development for the 18th Century's wealthiest to the dazzling culture hotspot that is today, without ignoring its recent past as London's notorious red light district.

We then picked a few from a myriad of interesting characters that at some point lived there and, in a bit of a surrealist effort, related them to some of Soho's most popular buildings. Thus, with my bicycle and camera I set out on an exhaustive journey through its labyrinthine streets and crooked alleys.

From the barren to the tourist-barricaded corners I took tons of photos of facades, pieced them together and drew over them to create these quirky characters.

Carnaby Street as Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles' milestone album added a sound track to the commercial epicentre of psychedelic Swinging London.

The John Snow Pub as Himself – even scientists drink beer, especially when 'someone' has dismantled the local water pump.

Brewer Street Car Park as Paul Raymond – one's got to park the car somewhere before a long night out in neighbouring Revue Bar.

The Windmill Club as a Can Can Dancer – these dancers could only legally perform naked as tableaux vivants.

St Anne's Church as a Great War British soldier – it resurfaced from the ashes after being hit by a bomb during The Blitz.

Compton's of Soho as Casanova – the master of romantic suspense had fun in Soho too.

Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club as Himself – his saxophone solos still reverberate across Soho streets.

Bar Italia as a Barista – only Italians truly understand the alchemy of coffee making.

Old Foyles Bookshop as Karl Marx – philosophers buy their books somewhere.

The Palace Theatre as an Opera Valkyrie – nothing less than the consecrated home of British grand opera back in the time

Greater London Properties offices as a friendly property expert!

And to finish with, the A5 postcard of the map. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Reconquering Architecture

Another religious building for last March's entry for 9Q Magazine. This time it's an even older church and comes with about a 1000 years of controversy. One of the most popular and highly regarded historic monuments in Spain, it's known by everyone as the Great Mosque of Cordoba although only Christian worship takes place there since 1236.

There is a reason for this duality as it was originally built as an Islamic temple by the Moors who dominated the Iberian peninsula for much of the Middle Ages. However, in the 13th Century Cordoba, together with Al-Andalus –modern day Andalusia– was eventually conquered by the Christian Castilian army as part of the much debated 'Reconquista' and the Great Mosque, was subsequently turned into a church. 300 years later, in an intensely Roman Catholic country, local religious authorities began questioning, 'how come it doesn't look Catholic enough'?

They then proceeded to convert it into a full-on Renaissance cathedral, not by rebuilding it from scratch but by literally 'stuffing' it at the very heart of the ancient temple. Upon completion, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V's famous remark soon followed: 'something unique has been lost to something vulgar'.

This practice wasn't anew, replacing 'old' religion buildings had been done before; the mosque itself had been erected over a Visigothic temple and before over a pagan Roman. This mishmash of styles is what makes it such an interesting and exciting piece of architecture. However, even after surviving the gloomy Inquisition days, there is now another chapter to this story.

In recent years, the Cordoba canonry has been running a dubious policy of blurring the temple's Islamic past –for example by omitting the term 'mosque' in promotional material– and this has revealed a subtle move by the Catholic Church to claim the legal ownership of the building and the land it stands on. An obscure law passed under the Conservative government a few years ago would have enabled to enter this UNESCO World Heritage Site into the land registry for 30€ only. The local council has raised a formal pledge to claim the Mosque/Cathedral for its citizens but has recently been dismissed by the central government in Madrid. After all, the Church has successfully administrated the building for 775 years.

A setback for a city that was once a symbol of the meeting of three faiths. It seems as though Spain is not quite yet ready to lay the ghosts of the Reconquista to rest.

Read The Independent's article.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

A City Fit For A God

I have been recently contacted by Barcelona-based La Salle Institute of Technology and kindly offered to collaborate with Q9, their architecture webzine. So, on a more or less regular basis I'll be contributing with a satirical architecture illustration blog called 'Arquitectura Destructiva' (Destructive Architecture). To start with, an entry featuring Sagrada Familia Basilica making room by power blasting Barcelona's famous grid district l'Eixample (Extension). Not very subtle. 

There's an ongoing controversy involving this building that has recently taken a new turn. As part of the original plan for his Roman Catholic masterpiece Gaudí had envisioned it at the centre of a star-shaped square. However that was back in 1882. Then he died and the city kept growing relentlessly swallowing the architect's star dream. 

Now, Barcelona City Council has dusted off Gaudi's idea and revealed seven other new proposals for the redevelopment of the vicinity of Sagrada Familia of which only one does not consider the demolition of surrounding architecture; some of it built at the turn of the 20th century. The Nativity and Passion facades are facing green areas but what was originally intended as the main entrance to the temple, the yet unfinished Glory facade, is currently obscured by 13-storey blocks. Additionally, after the building became internationally known after the 92 Olympics, the upsurge of tourists have left the surrounding facilities dated. 

Thus, the City Council deem it necessary to open up Spain's most visited landmark and design a monumental promenade that in its most ambitious proposal will see two blocks of houses being knocked down all the way down to Diagonal Avenue. Being by Barcelona's main traffic artery –it cuts the city in half along its 11 km length– the new layout will feature Sagrada Familia on a grandiose perspective fit for world status heritage. Hundreds of homes will be affected and neighbours relocated. No room for subtleties here either. 

It's time to get to an agreement between the Sagrada Familia Foundation and Neighbour Association under the supervision of the City Council. The option of leaving the plan untouched is there. 

When buildings become this iconic they become indirectly aggressive to their habitat. This one has the power of a God to get its well earned Lebensraum. 

Friday, 31 January 2014

Paris on Holidays / Berlin Loves Volkswagen

Here's my submission for the yearly competition that Spanish airline Vueling holds for the front and back cover of their inflight magazine Yorokobu. 

Since airlines are normally associated with travel, and it's normally people that do that, I asked myself what if buildings went on holiday? Moreover, what if the Eiffel Tower, epitome of France and all that's French, was to drift away on a patch of Paris down the Seine into the Mediterranean? Yes, it actually flows into the English Channel, the opposite side of Europe, but buildings don't eat paella either as far as I know. It should manage to bob past Gibraltar in the first place...

The back cover of Yorokobu is traditionally sponsored by Volkswagen so following up with random stuff I thought to myself 'Volkswagen is German. I like cities. The capital of Germany is Berlin. Berlin most definitely likes Volkswagen cars'. Let's turn the famous car manufacturers' logo into a map of Berlin! At its centre we will have the Brandenburg gate with West and East Berlin on either side and the Tiergarten at the top. Across the zigzagging river Spree, there will be Museum Island with the cathedral and the Bode and Altes museum. Encircling it, a ring of modern glass buildings and one of those famous German speed limitless motorways with iconic Volkswagen cars on an evolutionary race.