On awards (5) Salzburg central Station

A graphical description of the station by the architects

A graphical description of the station by the architects

Salzburg central station, which I visited this summer, is undergoing a refurbishment according to a project by Kadawittfeldarchitektur, a german architecture practice that won the 2009 competition. The project has been awarded in the 45th edition of Austria’s Staatpreis Design in the architectural and urban project cathegory (given by the Federal Ministry for Economy, Family and Youth to ÖBB, the national railways, as the project developer), and the 2012 European Steel Award.

The station was configured as a dead-end (outbound trains moved on reverse) until 2010, when continuous tracks were installed that, along with 4 new platforms, delivered a capacity improvement.

View from the end of the platform

View from the end of the platform

A detail: the historical glass and steel vault on the foreground, and the extension

A detail: the historical glass and steel vault on the foreground, and the extension

The use of steel with Y-shaped posts and large spans is not necessarily the most economical solution, but the results are interesting; it is always hard to find the right price for something that you will see every day, and can subsequently become boring. Under the platforms there is a long corridor connection both sides of the station; it is well lit, mainly due to the fact that the stair shafts are not limited to the stair itself, but run from one to another encompassing the whole corridor. It is not on my snaps, but I remember some kind of smart approach to the details to integrate in the corridor design the differences in level between both ends.

est-salzb-3 est-salzb-6

Biblio (104) A book on the Chile National Urban Planning Award

Premio Nacional de Urbanismo Chile

I’m fully aware I’ve just written about this same subject just a few days ago; here it is about a monograph on the recipients of the award since the first edition. As I mentioned, this award has been clearly irregular along time. An award first attributed in Chile in 1971 and kept in hold until 1996 is as if it was first attributed in England in 1978 to have a second edition in 1998; sometimes the debate about ideas is transposed to the political landscape in such a way as to make some matters irrelevant for a time.

I have no reason to doubt of the interest for the Chilean nation of the works of each award recipient, but I will focus on the highlighted works; the first time it was a social housing project, the second one a metropolitan and infrastructure planning experience, and the following ones integrate increasingly sustainable development and public participation.

On awards (4) Chile National Urbanism Award

borde costero chile

In 1971 the Housing and Urbanism Ministry of Chile established the National Urbanism Award; since 1996 the Colegio de Arquitectos (the professional board of Chilean architects) is also part of the organisation. The Award must recognize architects and other professionals that have shown excellence, creativity and substantial contributions to improve the quality of life in the cities of the country.

Up until now it has not followed a regular schedule, with six awards since 1971. The winner in 2014 has been Sergio Baeriswyl Rada, an architect who has worked in the Bio Bio region. A public servant at the city of Conception (224.000 residents) since 1994, he has directed its Plan Regulador, which was innovative in using a public participation strategy and a corridor structure. He has been recently involved in the regeneration of the Bio Bio seashore after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami.

Beyond the personal award, that I assume is justified, I will focus on the plans. I have never visited Chile, so what I say comes from an analysis of secondary sources. The Plan Regulador de Concepción defines (according to its bylaws as published in the municipal website, including amendments up to September 2009) areas which are subject to natural and anthropic risks; on these areas any project shall be preceded by a risk assessment, but there is no outright ban on building. This may seem strange to a layman, but it happens in many countries, as sometimes the safe areas are not in a convenient place; just think of Paris, when there are relevant underground quarries that are no longer exploited but create risk situations, or most of England, where floods are common on urban areas. In spite of that, in Europe there is an evolution towards a total ban on building on risk areas whenever feasible, as for instance this is impossible in most of the Netherlands.

The plans for the coastal populations, prepared after the tsunami, define areas in which homes and public facilities are forbidden, and it seems a good measure.

On awards (2) Previous thougths

Uptown, Oakland, a neighborhood selected in 2014 by the American Planning Association through its Great Places in America program

It is probably a good idea to propose some preliminary ideas before getting into the awards issue. I’m going to talk about awards to plans or documents that somehow have been approved by a public administration, or about ideas that have been built; I will even talk about awards to existing urban spaces in which there is no actual new construction. So architectural/urban competitions will not be included; don’t get me wrong, they can be really interesting (there can be interesting issues beyond the famous cases as the 1922 Chicago Tribune or the 1931 Soviet’s Palace competitions), but because I’m right now more interested in what I have described. Under these conditions, whatever receives the award must have been somehow endorsed by a certain amount of agents, resulting so from a (varying) degree of consensus.

An award is nevertheless similar to a competition or even to a school exam; you often see it just in one sense, as a choice between a set of proposals from which you pick the one more fit to the criteria you have set. But often it is also clear that the jury is also put to test (and sometimes fails). The award is a social construction based on a set of conventions, depending on the moment and the vision of the jurors (be it coincident or not with the majority views, even if they are far from reasonable), and even (let me hope that just in a minority of cases…) depending on the personal affinities with given candidates. Even if all the former can be interesting elements, I will not focus on them.

What I will focus on is, in the cases I will portray during the next posts, my vision on the awarded proposals when related to the remaining ones, as seen from a distance (for several reasons I will not talk about awards in my current direct geographical area). Judging their virtues is not always easy (even if sometimes you are tempted to say something is worthless…), but some questions arise that I think are worth sharing.

On awards (1)

Quartier de l’Europe, in Saint-Brieuc (France). The urban regeneration scheme has just received the Robert Auzelle Award

Awards are great as a way to see what is currently seen as interesting or innovative by people on a bussiness. So I propose for the next posts a glimpse on what is the current season of awards regarding urban planning and design, and their links to architecture, sustainable development and other issues.

Headquarters and Awards

We the architects are a singular profession: by morning you can have mud up to your knees in a building site, and on the same afternoon be with the most powerful in sophisticated environments. It is up to us to define the best possible solution, even if sometimes the needed resources are far from being provided. And we can be a useful scapegoat for many people (that as always in life can even have some point in occasions). Sure, all of the above only applies to us…

Architects tend to constitute associative bodies that defend what they perceive as their rights, and these associations have a certain legal status. In Spain these entities are the Architect’s Colleges, and in Madrid we have COAM. The deep economic trouble, mostly linked here in Spain to the real estate bubble (with a direct impact on our business, with a sizeable proportion of Madrid’s architects unemployed) has had a clear impact on the organization.

As often, even for non architect- related entities, COAM decided to move to new headquarters a short time before the bubble exploded, with all the associated costs. The long term impact of this operation on COAM’s finances (which faces regulatory changes that can become a much bigger problem) remains to be seen, but we can at least say that something good has been given to Madrid. The building seems well built and is well integrated with the street, but the main point to me is that it integrates, with a semi-public quality (enhanced by sharing the building with public equipments), a courtyard with an attractive landscaping. Madrid and other Spanish cities have lost over time, among other qualities, that of its courtyards as silent spaces with the presence of orchards and gardens, and here, even if there are no big trees, there are clearly positive elements. The project (by the architect Gonzalo Moure) integrates also other uses, as a public swimming pool with good views.

These new headquarters opened some months ago, but to be honest yesterday night was my first visit, due to the COAM annual awards. The visit was in part purpose driven (our Proyecto Madrid Centro was awarded), but also interesting.

The Headquarters, or La Sede (so named in Spanish in the corporative image) is worth a walk, on 63,calle Hortaleza, with architecture- related exhibitions and cultural activities.