Thursday, June 28, 2007


Per Karen's request, here are some more Murinsel Images.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Arab Institute

Institute du Monde Arabe, by Jean Nouvel. This one has been a long time favorite of mine.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Murinsel, located in Graz Austria, is a floating platform in the center of the Mur river. The sea-shell shaped space becomes an urban plaza in the center of the river, with places to sit and relax, and even a cafe. It was designed by New York Artist Vito Acconci and completed in 2003 for Graz's year as the "European Capitol of Culture".

Monday, June 25, 2007


The photo above is the glass dome of the Rechstag, designed by Norman Foster. The Reichstag is home to the German Bundestag, which is the democratically elected Parliament. The building has often been cited for its “transparency and openness” as a symbol of a parliamentary democracy. For Foster, however, it seems that the environmental aspects of the building are more important that the symbolism.

In his own words.... “ As well as forming the public focus of the building, the Reichstag’s cupola, or ‘lantern’, provides the key to our strategies for lighting and ventilating the assembly chamber. At its heart is a light-reflecting cone – a light ‘sculptor’ and a sculpture in its own right. The cone is covered with faceted mirrors that together form a giant Fresnel lens just as you might find in a searchlight or a lighthouse. In fact the cone works as a lighthouse in reverse, reflecting daylight from a 360-degree horizon down into the chamber. An electronically controlled mobile sun-shade tracks the path of the sun to block solar gain and glare, but is designed to allow a little sunlight to dapple the floor of the chamber. In ventilation terms the cone and chamber together perform as a solar chimney, drawing air up naturally through the chamber and expelling it via the open top of the cupola. In ecological terms, the Reichstag has shown how public buildings can challenge the status quo: big buildings do not have to be big consumers of energy or big polluters. And although it represents a minuscule first step in terms of the journey yet remaining, imagine the impact these strategies could have is they were applied more widely around the world.”

“For me, with its environmental and democratic agenda, the cupola is certainly more closely related to Bucky’s humanist vision of the future that it is to the symbolism of the past.”

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Photo of the Day

As promised, but a few days late! Beginning next week I will try to post a new photo every day.
Who better than Frank to kick this segment off? The above image is the DG Bank building in Berlin by Frank O. Gehry, completed in 2001. The blob in the center is a conference room.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Well, this is probably my last post from Europe, at least for a while. Next week look for a new segment to begin when I start to post the “photo of the day”. I have seen a lot more than I have written about here, and have taken thousands of photos, so I will begin to post my favorites over the coming weeks.

There are also a number of other lessons learned and other threads that have been important throughout this process. I will mention a few here, but need to continue to expand on these in the future as well.

I have been reading a book edited by Bernard Tschumi that is titled “the State of Architecture at the beginning of the 21st century”. I am not yet finished with the book, and I am also not claiming to have much insight as to the direction we are going in architecture at this particular time, but the general questions of ‘where are we at?’ And ‘where are we going?’ have been in the back of my mind as I have been travelling. Some of the overall themse of this book are globalization, war, technology and the urban environment. I have begin to see a number of these themes reflected in some of the projects I have been looking at, and I hope to expand on this a bit more in the future.

There is a fairly interesting exhibit currently at the Center Pompidou called “Airs de Paris”. This exhibit features work by artists, architects, interior designers and landscape designers, all exploring themes of urban life, both local and global, but using Paris as the context for inspiration. The exhibit takes its name from a Marcel Duchamp work from 1919 that is part of the Center Pompidou’s permanent collection. I think the issues of living in cities, and the urban environment, have been an important part of a number of the projects that I have been researching as well. As the world becomes increasingly urban, a question that should surely be on the minds of architects is how to we create urban environments that are livable, reflective of culture, sustainable, and address the nature of urban living in the 21st century.

It should be no surprise that the issues of sustainability have been on my mind, especially as I was travelling in Germany during the G8 summit. I think one of the most meaningful buildings that I saw this trip was the Free University Library by Foster. As important as I think it is for architecture to be based on ideas, Fosters library, and its holistically sustainable approach, left me feeling that this building had substantially more depth to it than some of the other projects that I saw, because of the moral and ethical undercurrents of being sustainable in today’s world. I just felt this building had a greater purpose, and for me this became a meaningful model of what architecture should be about.

This could be read on a lot of levels. Certainly, leaving my family for four weeks seemed like a bit of a risk. Architecturally speaking, many of the projects I saw intentionally challenged preconceptions about what architecture should be, and they are better off because of it. I think it is important for all of us in creative endeavors to remember to take risks. I think the quote by Zaha Hadid, when asked about the level of uncertainty in a project’s outcome, sums it up nicely. “Without that level of uncertainty and journey into an unknown territory, you can’t progress.”

That’s all for now. I hope you have enjoyed the posts and analysis. I have learned a lot from this experience, and I am sure I will continue to benefit from this for quite some time.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

06.14.07: LESSON 2 – CONCEPT

Pictured above: “sonnenschiff – sun ship” by the Artist Anselm Kiefer

If lesson 1 was about the importance of context in an increasingly global world, less on 2 is about the power and importance of ideas. This probably should be lesson 1, and yes, you could argue that I am only seeing what it was that I came here looking for, which may be true, but none the less, I still feel that the idea is a critically important aspect in architecture.

Yesterday I went to see an exhibit at the Grand Palais titled Monumenta. (pictured above) The exhibit was a collection of work by the artist Anselm Kiefer. It was a very interesting exhibit, and in one the the pieces he talked about the importance of ideas. He said that a work of art cannot be about just form alone, that there always must be an idea present to make it art. This reminded me of a Bernard Tschumi Quote that I came across in some of my reading. Tschumi states that “there also is no architecture without concept or an idea. Concept - not form, as some would suggest – is what distinguishes architecture from mere building.”

I think all of the projects that I have seen this trip have reinforced this feeling in my mind. The more I understood the idea, or intentions behind the work, the more I appreciated the architecture. I think all of the projects that have been discussed here have a certain power and clarity that can only come from having clear architectural intentions. Furthermore, many of the concepts for these projects challenge the building program, site, or expectation of the building. They add a layer of depth and clarity to the project that goes way beyond simply solving the architectural problem. I think in most of the examples I have looked at, and shared on this site, the architect has been very clear about the intention. I think it has to be this way. To look at it another way, as a designer, how can you do something well if you are not clear with yourself about what you are doing?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

06.13.07: SHOES, and other baggage

Since I only have a few days left here in Europe, I am feeling the need to try to summarize this experience. This study will surely continue to evolve over the next several months as I complete the research and reading that I have started (I finished a lot of the reading I brought with me, but not all…) and begin to try to organize this into a lecture for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign next fall. But here are my initial thoughts and lessons learned so far, probably posted as individual posts as I complete them. This is not intended to be a preachy lecture of things you must do, rather, these ideas are things that I am taking away from this valuable experience. These lessons are for me, but feel free to borrow.

This is the third time I have had an opportunity to spend an extended amount of time in Europe. The first opportunity was when I spent a year studying architecture in Versailles, France through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1995-1996. The second occasion was a travelling fellowship award for my graduate thesis which brought me back to Europe for three months during the summer of 1999. And finally this experience this summer. I have noticed some changes since my first stay in France, almost 12 years ago. Technology is a big one, we didn’t even have email the first time I was here, and now I can login to free wifi from my hotel, but I want to talk about shoes. The first time I was here, all of us very quickly learned that if you didn’t want to stand out as an American tourist, it was very important what kind of shoes you wore. We all very quickly learned to dump our white tennis shoes for something a bit more Euro-looking… no tennis shoe, and nothing white! This time, before leaving for Europe, I was very concerned as to what kind of shoes I would be wearing this trip, I was looking for something with the comfort of a tennis shoe, but not something that would instantly tag me as an American tourist (even though I still stand out as being an American, no matter what I do)… Also important is that when you wear size 13 shoes, there is only room for one pair when travelling….

To make a long story short, it is not so easy to pick out the American tourist anymore by the clothes or shoes they are wearing – French people are wearing white tennis shoes! (and shorts!) Furthermore, I think we are all beginning to dress the same way too. There are still subtle differences in style and appearance, but this trip I have noticed that it is much more difficult to tell people apart by just the way they look, dress, or most importantly, the shoes they are wearing.

While I realize this is just an anecdotal story, but I think it touches on the larger issue of globalization. The world is shrinking. Global culture is being branded on the internet – to everyone. We are all listening to the same music, watching the same movies, wearing the same clothes, and shoes… and building the same buildings? I think the lesson here if for architects to be careful. It is becoming much more difficult to distinguish world places and cultures from one another, but that does not mean that context is not important. I would argue that context becomes even more important, as the global economy erodes cultural differences. The lesson here is that it is increasingly important for architecture to attempt to find that special connection to place, the kind of connection that gives buildings specificity to a particular time and place. This specificity in architecture is something that Jean Nouvel argues for as a response to the banal buildings that look the same everywhere in the world. It is this specificity that makes his Musee Quai Branly a building that could only exist here in Paris, at this particular time. I think Zaha Hadid’s Paeno Science Center also illustrates a specific intent to try to tie the building into the urban context of the city of Wolfsburg.

So lesson one is to be conscious of context. Even though we are all wearing the same shoes, doesn’t mean our buildings need to be the same. Buildings need to be integrated into the specifics of place, to become a meaningful part of the culture of that place.


Monday, June 11, 2007


The architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, in their own words…..
(There is a lot here, but some of these quotes are really great…)

“It is deliberately and Alien one, one that does not refer, either in its form or its materials, to the architectural vocabulary of the surrounding urban fabric, with its red-tiled pitched roofs. The new building sticks out like something from another planet and it appears that the city is tickled and pleased with the provocation.”

On the unpredictability of content:
“The great underlying virtue of the programme for the Kunsthaus is that it has no fixed substance: the museum does not house a permanent collection… It potentially allows the Kunsthaus to be more like a chameleon, always changing it’s appearance both externally, by means of its programmable façade, and internally, to fit the fresh needs and style of each ephemeral show. The challenge is for successive curators to take us by surprise and to confront the public, each time, with a new experience of the building. The element of novelty and shock has to be maintained. Once is not enough. For the museum to continue to exist as an object of desire, its mystery must remain intact.”

On Technology:
“The Kunsthaus is not about high tech expressionism. For this we had neither the budget nor the inclination. The technological mutation of which this building is a symptom is a deeper one, which lies at the radical change of the design process itself and its new connection with automated manufacturing processes. A non-euclidean object such as this cannot be designed and represented by means of conventional plans, sections and elevations; it’s only meaningful manifestation is a set of 3D data in a computer software package, later to be directly linked, at the production stage, to cad-cam manufacturing tools. It is in this fundamental shift towards 3D modeling, not as a representational tool but as the only legitimate conceptual milieu for contemporary design, that true technological revolution lies, leaving us, at times, feeling like dinosaurson the eve of major climatic change. This is just the beginning of the suprises that await us in the 21st century: architecture will never be the same again, and this building is at the transition point.”

On zoological metaphors:
“The Kunsthaus is diversely known as a baby hippo, a sea slug, a porcupine, a whale, etc… It comes across deliberately, as an improbable mixture of various species, an unclassifiable hybrid, a bio-morphic presence that is both strange (it does not seek to make reference to any animal in particular but appears to be a creature to which evolution might have accidentally given birth on another planet), and at the same time familiar in that it has the charm of a friendly mixed-breed street dog, definitely highly questionable in terms of pedigree”

On being sucked in:
“The friendly alien swallows everything with its travelator. It is like a giant Hoover, like the belly of the whale, evoking the distant memory and unconscious desire that we have, since childhood, of being swallowed by the dragon, the subtle pleasure we experience when licked by the family cat’s sandpaper tongue. It is the black whole of the whales stomach, where one can find all sorts of things: old boots, lost treasures, bewildered fish, jonas himself: that’s what a museum has to be, a place that plays on our desire to find ourselves in the company of suprising and unexpected things, bizarre confrontations, things that sometimes are not yet quite fully digested.”

On Play:
“The museum is the opposite of a formal and dignified institution. It wants to be easily accessible, it wants you to play with it. Here again, the animal metaphor is appropriate: the building has that way of saying ‘would you like to play with me?’ that bouncy dogs adopt when they choose you as a partner and wait impatiently for the ball the be thrown.”

My Analysis…

I am not sure where to begin with this one. Overall, I really enjoyed this building, much more that I thought I was going to. One of the things that I liked was that it is fun and whimsical, and as a result people gravitate toward it. I find it a bit ironic that I am even writing this, because normally whimsical is not something that I would support in architecture. I imagine that if one of my students came to me with ideas about fun and whimsy I would surely try to push them in another direction!

In this building, however, it seems to work. One of the reasons that I think it works for me in this case is that it is whimsical in a kind if high tech, pop art, computer fantasy way, without becoming kitsch. It seems to fit the program, a place for experimental contemporary art, and the city of Graz quite well. For reasons that I am having difficulty articulating, the project doesn’t really seem out of place here at all. Maybe I have been reading too much of the architects “propaganda”, but it does really seem as their concept was intended, that the building is an alien, but a friendly one that you can play with.

For those of you who don’t know, Peter Cook, one of the architects for the Kunsthaus Graz, was one of the founding members of a group and a magazine called Archigram. Archigram existed between 1961 and 1974. The group published 9 volumes of the Archigram magazine in that time, and produced over 900 drawings illustrating their radical and fantastic ideas on architecture. There was even an archigram movie and television show. Archigram was a counter culture architectural movement started as a “search for ways out of the stagnation of the architectural scene, where the continuing malaise is not just with the mediocrity of the object, but, more seriously, with the self satisfaction of the profession backing up such architecture.” Archgram had seen architecture of the late 50’s stagnate within the cannons of modernism, and began instigating the profession with their provocative publications. The Archigram group was strongly influenced by pop culture, new technologies, and had a particular focus on the problems of cities. They were fascinated by the science fiction cartoon as well as the technology being developed by Nasa and the space program. These influenced lead them to a series of experiments in city design which look like a cross between an architectural project and a sci-fi cartoon. These projects included 2 projects called the “Plug-In City” and the “Walking City”, both witch dealt with city design rendered in a in a comic book meets pop art utopia style.

Interestingly enough, a number of Archigram bits and pieces from the 60’s have reappeared in the Kunsthaus Graz. You could almost take pieces from the “Plug-In City” and the “Walking City” and combine them to form the Kunshaus Graz, albeit without the utopian 60’s counterculture undercurrent. This is the second project that I have looked at for this study that had its origins begin several decades ago, and further underscores the fact that ideas do not seem to go away easily, they just come back in a slightly different combination.

One of the ideas Peter Cook had for this project was the experience of going “up into the unknown,” into the belly of the whale (or bladder, or whatever). This is a particularly powerful experience for this place. The entry level is very open and transparent, welcoming the public into the museum. After you purchase your ticket, you are immediately whisked up to the gallery by a long “travelator” (think of a long, low slope escalator without steps) that takes you up through the opaque blue belly of the alien and into a black hole. The “travelator” only goes up, furthering the mystery. You can’t really see anything about your destination until you have almost reached the summit of the “travelator”. This is a very dramatic and powerful experience, and quite fitting for an art museum whose content is continuously changing. Up into the unknown world of whatever exhibit is there to greet you at that time. This sets up a mystery and intrigue that is sure to keep visitors coming back to see what is going on this time.

The “bix” façade(pictured above) is named by a combination of the words big and pixel. It is another interesting aspect of this project. The façade can be programmed by artist to display large pixel abstractions of images and media. The 900 and some lights can change in intensity, and can display media at 20 frames per second. The entire time I was here, however, the façade displayed one image only, which used about 90 percent of the lights on with full intensity, so it left me feeling like the façade could be utilized a bit more effectively. The idea, however, is very interesting, and the abstract, pixilated nature of the design ensures that no movie trailers of corporate ads will find their way onto the museum façade. The big pixel display is purposely abstract so that is must be designed. Apparently they change the façade every three months, although there seems to be the potential with the digital technology to do so more often, and thus create a more interesting product. I would have personally liked to see the façade be more animated and change a bit in the time I was there.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


This project raises a number of questions regarding architecture and context. Before I post quotes by the architects, and my analysis, I am going to start with a series of questions / statements that I am trying to come to terms with myself:

1) This building absolutely does not address its context; it looks nothing like anything that surrounds it.
2) This building absolutely addresses its context; it visually communicates its purpose as a place for experimental art.
3) This building is completely out of place adjacent to an historic city center that is a UNESCO world heritage site.
4) This building acknowledges its place across the river from a UNESCO world heritage site by incorporating a viewing platform into its façade from which people get sweeping views of this historic city.
5) This building challenges its context formally, by aggressively confronting the baroque architecture which surrounds out.
6) This building is sensitive to context because it’s massing respects the height of neighboring structures, and one nozzle aligns with an historic structure.
7) This building is sensitive to its context because it restores an 1840’s cast iron façade to its original intent. The first cast iron façade in mainland Europe.
8) The cast iron building from the 1840’s was revolutionary for its time; the Kunsthaus Graz carries on this tradition of technologically advanced buildings.
9) The context for this building is not the city of Graz, rather the international art scene which this city is a part of, and was part of even before the Kunsthaus.
10) The context for this project is not the city of Graz, rather the state of experimental architecture at the beginning of the 21st century.
11) The context for this project is not the city of Graz, rather the potential for new digital technology to shape the course of architecture.
12) The building fits perfectly within the context of the city of Graz because it is exactly the point where the past and future meet, representing Graz’s bipolar nature.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Yesterday I revisited one of my favorite buildings, Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin. The last time I was here, the building was complete, but empty. Like many, I liked it better as empty space, but I understand that they did not build this building to let it sit empty. Overall, I thought the exhibits worked pretty well with the architecture. The building still maintains a presence, but in a few places the mezzanine levels they added are a bit much. The exhibits do help connect the building to the history of German Judaism, and this building remains one of my favorites.


In Zaha Hadid’s own words…

“One idea I have been exploring in recent projects is porosity: drawing public space into a building’s interior to make a series of public rooms in the city… porosity suggests a new kind of urbanism, composed of streams or flows of movement that cut through the city fabric”

“In our Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany, for instance, multiple threads of pedestrian and vehicular circulation are pulled through an artificial landscape and into the building, creating intersecting paths of movement. The building is structured in such a way that it maintains a large degree of transparency and porosity at the ground level. The main volume, the exhibition space, is raised over an outdoor public plaza.”

“The Phaeno Science Center…… is conceived as a mysterious object giving rise to curiosity and discovery. The visitor is faced with a degree of complexity and strangeness… an alien but simultaneously coherent landscape comes into existence.”

My analysis…

The Phaeno Science center is a hands on science museum that promotes exploration and discovery. Given this is its purpose, I think the concept of a “mysterious object”, a place that encourages exploration and discovery, is quite appropriate for an interactive place such as this.

The science center is an interesting project. On first approach, it appears as a massive concrete structure that is raised up off the ground on cone shaped concrete volumes. The massiveness of the volume is broken down by an irregular series of openings in the façade. As you near the structure, you are funneled into the center of the project by multiple circulation paths which all seem to pull the visitor into the center of the project. This is similar to many other Zaha Hadid projects, where she seems to have a strong desire transform traditionally closed and private spaces (the traditional museum courtyard, for example) into public civic spaces for the city.

The project explores a number of themes that is consistent throughout Zaha Hadid’s work. One of these ideas is the manipulation of the ground plane. At Phaeno, this sculpted landscape of the ground plane helps to create a new kind of urban space, one that aids in the circulation of the site. Hadid seems to be consistently looking to redefine how we inhabit space in the urban environment. On this level, the project is very successful, as it engages with the circulation flows of its context in a direct way. The building becomes a sort of filter for the city, as it encourages circulation through the site. Most of the circulation passing through the structure is geared toward those who are headed to Volkswagen’s auto theme park, to which this project helps connect. Wolfsburg, where Phaeno is located, is the company town for Volkswagen.

Another idea explored here is that of interwoven spaces. While not as important here as in other Zaha Hadid projects, there are instances where spaces are interwoven together. As you pass below the building, you are constantly given glimpses up into the structure. You can see into the books store, get a glimpse at the main reception desk, look into the café, and at one point even look up into the main museum space itself. This layering of space is another theme that seems to run throughout many of Zaha Hadid’s projects.

Finally, circulation seems to always play a big role in Zaha Hadid’s work, and it is no different here. The circulation of this city is so important here that there are physical lines drawn through the project on the ground. One line starts at the door of the adjacent train station, and traces a path through the project to the bridge leading to the Volkswagen town.

The use of light is a key aspect for the circulaton through the site. One is encouraged to pass below the raised building partially by the use of light, which draws you through the structure. It is quite dark below the structure, but at all times there is a conncetion through light to draw you on to you destination.

“The use of darkness will be a key to the unique experience of the Science Center. Light and shadow offer an opportunity to provide a visual and guiding system through the building by creating paths of light and focal points.”

Another interesting aspect of the project is the cone shaped concrete structure. At the ground level, the structure functions as an entrance, café, temporary exhibition gallery, museum shop, and theater space. The structure tapers and widens at it rises, providing occupiable spaces for the interior of the museum above.

While I enjoyed this project quite a bit, and I really appreciate the direct attempt to connect architecture to the public urban environment, some questions still remain. I am not sure how the public space below the building will be used. I spent a good deal of time in this cave-like space trying to figure out how it gets used as a public space. It seems to work very well as a space of movement, as a lot of people do use it as a circulation space. But it is kind of dark, and there are no places to rest or sit, and so it doesn’t really function as an inhabitable urban space, only as a dramatic urban circulation path. The day I visited the project, both the temporary Exhibition space, and the café below the building were closed, so maybe the space is more lively when these spaces are open, but I kind of felt like I was inhabiting a strange and interesting cave, but not a place I would sit and rest and enjoy myself in.

I also felt like some of the detailing of the project was overlooked. It may have been that the form itself was so expensive to build that there was nothing left for finishing the project, but I kind of feel like up close, some of the detailing and finishes could have been a bit more elegant. Some of this could be just the imperfect nature of concrete as a building material, but I wanted some of the material connections to be handled differently.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


I am a bit behind in my Zaha Hadid reading, analysis to come in a few days....


Today I visited Norman Foster's Philologie Library at the Free University in Berlin. The Building has been affectionately nicknamed the “brain” for both its shape and its prominence at the Free university. The building itself was placed in the center courtyard of an existing core-ten steel structure that had been given the name “rustbucket”. (thoughts from the COD crowd encouraged) Apparently, Berliners like nicknames.

When I set out of this trip I brought with me a stack of photocopied reading material about 6 inches thick. It has added considerable weight to my backpack, but it has been well worth the effort. When I first began to imagine this study, and started searching for buildings and architects to include in this study, I always thought that Norman Foster was kind of the odd man out. I chose this building not because of the intellectual content behind the structure, but instead for its aspects of sustainability. In my mind, Norman Foster is a fantastic architect, who has built technologically sophisticated structures all over the world (150 buildings in 22 countries to be exact), but he was not someone that I would associate with a theoretical discourse in architecture. I am beginning to think that I am quite wrong with my initial assumptions.

I had no idea when I began this study that Norman Foster was influenced by and had collaborated with Buckminster Fuller. Beginning in 1971, foster collaborated with Buckminster Fuller on three unbuilt projects that would eventually prove to be important first steps for his later work. According to Foster, he and Fuller shared “an impatience and an irritation with the ordinary way of doing things” Foster apparently could identify with Fuller’s approach of “doing the most with the least.”

“Like Fuller, Foster believes that energy is the key to this issue. The energy question is ever present and sooner or later it is destined to reach another crisis that will make enormous demands on thos few designers prepared to confront it.”

Foster and Fuller’s “climatroffice” project was an egg shaped, tensegrity structure enclosure, “sheltered by the most energy conscious enclosure”, which enclosed landscaped office floors with their own microclimate. The section for the “climatrofffice” project is remarkably similar to the Free University Library building section, as is the overall shape, and the attitude toward the use of energy. Fuller and Foster also collaborated on a pair for houses, one for Fuller and his wife in California, and one for Foster and his wife in England. While they were never built, they were double skinned buildings where the heating and cooling would be delivered between the two skins. If you combine these two early studies from the 1970’s you get the Free University Library. I think this illustrates the importance of conceptual design work for an architect. Here is a set of environmentally sensitive ideas that Foster began in his early career, which now over 30 years later have come back to inform his current design work.

“weight, energy and performance – of ‘doing the most with the least’ – and that has consistently been the story of technological progress from the earliest cathedrals to the latest cellular phones.” Fuller once asked Foster how much his Sainsbury Center weighed. Foster didn’t know, but went through the calculations for the weight and learned a lot about efficiency from them. The lightweight structural envelope of the Berlin Free Library weighs exactly 640 tons.

As most of you know, we assign Williman McDonough and Michael Braungarts “Cradle to Cradle” for our intro to architecture class. I usually describe this bool as revolutionary, and one of the most important books of our time. Interestingly enough, many of these ideas, much to my surprise, were advocated by Buckminster Fuller. “Bucky was one of the first people to advocate the recycling of source materials. He proposed that major manufactured items be rented from industry – cars for eight years, ships for twentyyears, and so on. In this way, he argued, the recycling process could be guaranteed.”

In Foster’s own words….

“Since the end of the Second World War, the Free University has occupied a central role in the intellectual history of Berlin and it is one of the most symbolically important institutions – its foundation marking the rebirth of liberal education in the city.”

“The library building is perhaps the closest we have come to a direct realization of the Climatroffice concept, which gave us a clearer focus on so many crucial issues: flexibility of use, in the form of multi-function spaces; energy saving; lightweight envelopes; and the use of natural light and ventilation. All of these concerns are encapsulated in the library.”

The library, as mentioned, is clad with a lightweight, double skin enclosure that is almost in the shape of an egg. The outer enclose os aluminum panels anf glass, the inner enclosure is a combination of clear and translucent fabric. In between is a steel truss structure which is painted bright yellow. The outer skin can open and close to introduce air in between the envelope. “ The cavity between the resulting double skin creates a ‘solar motor’ which assists a natural ventilation system to maximize energy efficiency” The structure can be naturally heated and cooled for 60% of the year, which is a significant energy savings for this building. There are 4 different patterns of open and closed, depending on the outdoor air temperature, so this solar motor in effect can assist the building all year round. In addition to the double skin, radiant heating and cooling is delivered through the concrete mass structure in the center of the building. The question I have, on my search for the importance of concept…. Shouldn’t sustainability be one of the most important concepts of our time?

In my opinion, this building represents one of these rare occasions where sustainability is used in a holistic approach in design. I want to also stress that fact that this buildings functions very well as a library and place of study. Nothing was compromised in the name of sustainability. The library has clear and legible circulation, beautiful study areas with double height spaces created by the staggered s-curve balconies, and most importantly a wonderfully naturally lit space that was absolutely pleasant to study in. I spent an entire afternoon here reading all of my Foster research, and it was tremendously pleasant. As the sun went behind clouds, there was a noticeable shift in atmosphere, but the diffuse light levels, sun or no sun, were always comfortable to read by. Furthermore, the small glimpses to the outside provided much needed respite from long stretches of reading. Having worked on several library buildings in the past, I have a special place in my heart of the building type itself, and this one was as good as they come.