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Built environment Article by Roland Wahlroos-Ritter

14 Dec 2010

Public Architecture

It is quite encouraging to see that the public’s commitment to investment in cultural buildings still remains unimpeded despite the economic challenges some European countries and the USA are currently facing.

Roland Wahlroos-Ritter:
Roland Wahlroos-Ritter

It is particularly exciting to see that the construction of the new Library of Birmingham is still progressing in the face of the dramatic cuts in education. The project represents faith that a government’s investment into education and knowledge transfer is an investment into a region’s or country’s economic future. The design fulfills this role light-footedly with an enticing, contemporary facade-design on the exterior, and a communicative interior that echoes cultural precedences such as the old Reading Room of the British Museum.

Library of Birmingham
New Birmingham Library Atrium
picture from architect

Similarly lacy on the exterior, yet formally more provocative is Neutelings Riedijk’s winning design for the International Dance and Music Centre in The Hague. The design prevailed against 16 competing entries by some of the world’s leading contemporary architects. The opulently finished interior will house a total of four performance spaces.

International Dance and Music Centre in The Hague
Internationaal Dans en Muziek Centrum Den Haag
picture © Neutelings Riedijk Architecten

Whereas the International Dance and Music Centre reinforces the modern urban fabric of The Hague as a self-referential monolith, Atelier Thomas Pucher’s design for the new Sinfonia Varsovia Concert Hall intelligently negotiates between the existing urban fabric, its charming peculiarities, and the contemporary design ambitions that the Atelier brought forward. A floating wall, that houses the programmatic elements of the Concert Hall frames the existing gardens of the former Veterinary Institute, providing privacy and calm for the gardens yet allowing entry from all sides. The cheekily lifted skirt hem of the wall indicates the access to the foyer and the symphonic halls. The sumptuous auditorium is the result of a clever recombination of the typologies of the classic shoe-box with that of the more profane sports arena. The result is an entirely new typology which promises the unique quality of being embedded within the music.

Sinfonia Varsovia Concert Hall
Sinfonia Varsovia Concert Hall
image from architect

Perhaps the most provocative and auspicious project is not -as one might easily suspect- an unbuilt one, but in fact, a built one. Le Monolithe in Lyon designed by French and Dutch architects Pierre Gautier, Manuelle Gautrand, ECDM, Erik van Egeraat and MVRDV is -almost needless to mention- not only sustainable through it sheer compactness and density, but deploys an entire arsenal of passive and active environmental techniques. The project is a built manifestation of the European spirit uniting French and Dutch architects in a common endeavor and defying the instinctive reflexes of protectionism and nationalism. It seems almost to be a redundancy that MVRDV decided to integrate the first article of the European Constitution into the facade design. But then we rarely see architects exhibiting the courage of making political statements with their architecture. And it is refreshing especially in these times when core values of our civil society and culture are so rashly abandoned in the face of civic threats and economic challenges.

Le Monolithe Lyon
Le Monolithe
image © Philippe Ruault

Looking at the above projects one begins to wonder about what has really changed in architecture -other then the sheer volume of projects- since the fall of Lehman Brother changed our economic climate, probably forever. It does not seem that the austerity measures have affected the ambitions and designs of current projects. And that might be just what we need to invest in the future of our culture.

Roland Wahlroos-Ritter

Roland Wahlroos-Ritter is one of two Principals of WROAD. Recent design work includes the Bigger is Better House, an extended family residence in California, the Y-Project, a 17 level office high-rise in Seoul South Korea, Leg Avenue Office Extension in City of Industries California, Korean Embassy in Tokyo, Mason Residence in Santa Monica California and the experimental Wall Project in Los Angeles California.

He was a Assistant Professor at at the TU Vienna. In 2002, he was a Visiting Professor at the Cornell School of Architecture. After teaching at the Bartlett School of Architecture he taught at SCI-Arc until 2006 and is currently a Adjunct Assistant Professor at USC School of Architecture. Roland Wahlroos-Ritter is an SBA registered architect, and holds a license in The Netherlands.

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