Here is a story that most architects have read during their training years, and surely a substantial herd of tourists visiting Vienna (the kind of story tourism guides usually like to tell). Once upon a time, in the late imperial Vienna, there was an innovative and daring architect, Adolf Loos, set to modernize architecture by going beyond a formalism that he thought was archaic. He found a client (Goldman & Salatsch taylors) which also wanted to display a commitment to modernity and owned a site on Michelerplatz, jus opposite from Hofburg, the Imperial Palace. The architect had to face social opposition and the municipal architects (the later probably as formidable as the first), who by all means tried to reorient the project towards more traditional aesthetics. According to the urban legend, the Kaiser was upset enough to have the windows to the square closed as not to endure seeing such a hideous building…
Usually students see this building in history books in which Loos is presented as a hero and his book “Ornament and Crime” is mentioned, but it is much less often that you can see the square defining the context of that quarrel. If anything should be defined as baroque, the Hofburg would be. But the Loos building also plays with materials and composition, in a way that perhaps was not decorative in a classical sense, but is surely quite subjective. There is not here a lack of decorative elements, i.e., of a personal view on the problem of how to finish a space, but rather a whole new ballgame in terms of precision and tools stemming from a higher industrial evolution.
After some time as a taylor business, the ground floor became a car dealership, to later receive a swastika, and after the war a furniture business. Since 1987 there is a branch of Raiffeisenbank, in which you can see an exhibition of plans and images from the time, as well as some reminders of the controversy.
The area as seen from north. The Palace is the mass under the dome of La Almudena, on the left.
The Royal Palace of Madrid stands on a platform 55 m higher than the Manzanares bank. I once heard that the initial plan submited by Filippo Juvara, the architect, was for a building with four main courts, but that it had to be reduced to just one as there was such a steep slope (contour lines were still in the distant future, so such projects were not necesarily easy when made from a distance.
The level difference between the Palace and the river is solved through garden platforms; a new project now being built, the Royal Collections Museum, just adapts to that gap. Just south of the platform on which the Palace and the Almudena Cathedral are is the Viaduct, an urban bridge which has been for years a choice spot for… suicide, taking advantage of the difference in level.
A 1 m interval contour map with a 100 m grid. The river area is not acurrate, as the source data was probably collected during a recent works period
The park as seen from the southeast; the limit is not a high fence, but a lower one with a deep gutter.
Batignolles has been marked for over a century by the rail yards leading to the St Lazare Station, one of the main access gates to Paris from the west.
The park and the new neigborhood, according to a project by François Grether and Jacqueline Osty, must face common issues: the original rail tracks are sometimes at the same level as the streets. The choice is then between burying the lines (something that can prevent their use for long periods) or to suppress them (a complex issue as this is upstream from a main station to the south). The bulk of the trains and the electric lines has the buildings on the western part of the park raised on a platform 10 m over the park, which will be integrated into the landscape design. Under the slab rail uses will persist, while over it there will be housing and offices buildings. The park is also cut in two by a public transportation exclusive track, so the park level has a discontinuity, that the aforementioned platform solves…
The housing area around the park is a set of sustainable development technologies and icons, but as always the real sustainability will depend on the consumption habits of the citizens.
A new housing building located over a school
A new station for the rail line that will cross the park
Some 35 years ago I visited Les Halles for the first time; I was a small kid, but I remember going out of a then brand new RER through a hole (set to later become the central court), and seeing on the background the church of Saint Eustache. The commercial centre is open in 1979, at the most central spot of the Paris public transportation system. Vasconi and Pencreac’h’s architecture has not aged well, and in 2004 the City of Paris held a competition to renovate the commercial centre and the associated underground city, which extends under the garden up to the Bourse du Commerce.
David Mangin’s project, winner of the competition held in 2004 to choose an urban planning scheme for the scope of what one were the Halles, or central market, has been critized; it is too early to evaluate its qualities, but it is no doubt a clear change. The images in this post portray a particular element of the planning scheme, the Canopée+Pôle Transport project, which concerns the architecture of the large glass structure over the main court of the present mall and its connection to the underground station, and is being built according to the project by Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti Architectes. Works have three interest points: on one side, the glass canopy that will cover the “hole” to the underground. On the other side, the works while the commercial centre stays open “as usual” (not often well solved, but it is not an easy job). Finally, the large concentration of temporary structures for the different specialists working on the project, which seems at first sight a housing project. In some months the results will be seen; now you can already see the green spaces organized in a more informal way.
As a comparison element, maps at the same scale (overlay grid is 100 m) of Les Halles (previous configuration, with a sketchy red outline for the Canopy), and of the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, that after the opening of the new Cercanías (a system like RER in Paris or BART in San Francisco) plays a similar urban role, albeit with a more traditional architecture.
The shape of things can be the result of many factors. But usually the European middle ages cities were roughly circular in shape as this allowed a good protected area- wall length ratio. As there certainly existed good reasons to look for shelter, cities usually were placed on higher ground when compared to the surroundings, and often right on top of a hill. Mont St Michel is the clearest example (although by size it is not a city), but there are others, as Betanzos in Spain, where just 30 m (some 90 ft) of level difference already shows the issue. In these cases, the city plan shows relations between built volumes, but far from what the real urban space can provide. To begin with, side walls become visible as buildings along the street line are on different levels, but the ground level must also adapt.
Defining the volumes you see from the urban space can sometimes mean drawing elements that have no usable floor area, as walls. A part of the most interesting spaces in historic Paris, mainly in the areas with “hotels particuliers” is defined through walls hiding from the view courtyards or gardens much bigger than the public space. The same applies to Toledo or Segovia. Muslims cities have long used this principle, often with less elaborate walls. The transition from public to private space is enriched; drawing just the big built up volumes is somehow cheating.
Starting where we left it on the last post, on how there are new ideas to deliver internet sales by physical means (drones and other contraptions…) we have in our streets things that, from an economic rationality viewpoint, would be considered by many as wrecks. This wiepoint implies that rationality is a fully objective matter, and that it is shared by a significant portion of the population. We have phone boots (but for a limited number, real wrecks), mail boxes (slightly more used, nowadays when you need one you are in a hard time to remember the last you saw), press kiosks (more in flux and evolution that really dissapearing)… and the clear example that rationality is just subjective: lotery kiosks. The one portrayed is run by ONCE, the Spanish National Association of Blind People, who have been runing a popular lotery for decades. Besides the emotional impact of this particular group, in fact buying a ticket for a lottery is an economically irrational purchase, but one that really happens, usually out of an impulse, and this is made easier by being on a street location. These 1 sq m spots seem quite relevant, it just remains an open issue if they are stronger or not than online poker and other noveltiesin which to risk your hard-earned currency.
To be honest, the title here is not entirely accurate: I knew about the landscape interest of Gata (Cáceres, Spain), and in fact I was in a visit preceded by a quite complete briefing. The unexpected being here to which extent I liked how the different elements fit. And largely, the pines to the right of the church in the first image, just a handful, but clearly leaving a good imprint on that landscape.