April 29, 2005


This has absolutely nothing to do with that shit Beautiful South song.

A couple of posts ago I included a link to the Alsop Architects website; one of the best architecture sites I've seen. It is a pretty standardly flashy site, with some quirky little bits and bobs to play around with, but what really sets it apart is the designs and ideas that these people have come up with. Will Alsop is probably most (in)famous for designing the Fourth Grace for the Liverpool docks; the Fourth Grace that won't be built.
But as well as this, Alsop has been extremely busy designing entire new cityscapes - รก la Corbusier and Sant'Elia - for places as diverse as Bradford and Groningen, Netherlands. He seems to have adopted a particularly modern and ethical approach to these exercises; in Bradford basing the city centre around parks, water and open enjoyable spaces; in Barnsley trying to find the best way to counter the urban spread that is affecting the surrounding countryside, as well as the soul of the community; and in Rotterdam, developing spaces that already exist and turning them into a vibrant, efficient and attractive addition to what is already a very beautiful modern city.

The general idea is to turn Rotterdam's separate travel ports - the bus, train, metro and tram stations, as well as car and bicycle parks - into one organic whole, and to integrate this with new shopping, living and recreational spaces. It's a brilliant idea, and the designs look amazing. There's also no way these designs won't fit in. If you have ever been to Rotterdam you'll know what I mean. The entire city centre was firebombed by the Germans in 1940, and after the war ended the Dutch government began a process of rebuilding and regeneration. Parts of the old Rotterdam still remain, especially in the docklands, where you can see 18th and 19th century warehouses sitting next to strange multi-coloured office spaces. But the architectural feel of the place is one of not sitting back and letting financial or official constraints get in the way. There are some absolutely beautiful structures dotted around the city: the cinema made from translucent corrugated plastic, a twenty storey office building made out of red brick, another with a slanted LCD panel (displaying various messages) taking up the whole of its frontage, schools that are the not-too-distant cousins of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, as well as many smaller yet no less extravagant buildings. And all this in an industrial town, housing the largest port in Europe.

I'm from Felixstowe, which is home to the second largest port, and apart from that there are no similarities between the two. Felixstowe is stuck in the 19th century, more concerned with it's seafront gardens than regenerating the shitty council estates and dockers housing that have been rotting for the last thirty or forty years, whereas Rotterdam is striding forward in to the new century, and embracing developments like Alsops. Brighton, where we live, is an example of how new architecture can be embraced: already we have a brand new and beautiful library, will have new living and working spaces dotted around, and are soon to see the development of a massive beachfront living complex (designed by Frank Gehry, the chap responsible for the amazing Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) on the site of the crappy run-down King Alfred leisure centre in Hove. I know people complain about this kind of thing, but we can't keep repairing old beaten-up buildings, when there are people and architects prepared to put a great deal of thought and money into developing, what is currently an eyesore, into a piece of practical art. And why can't new architecture sit alongside old? There is no reason why. Look at London, look at Paris, look at Rotterdam. These cities are all the more fascinating and beautiful as a result of the diversity of the architecture within them, not despite of it.

And lastly, here are some examples of what Alsop wants to do with Barnsley. He wants to create a modern medieval citadel, with a wall around the city. The wall will also have a park on top of it that stretches the whole of its circumference. The idea is to stop the city eating up the surrounding rural areas, and bring the inhabitants back into the city; also to make them want to return to the city centre. The 'halo' is supposed to show where the city boundaries will be, as this whole regeneration process will take probably upwards of thirty years.

I think it's a great idea. It is kind of dependent on the city centre being made practical and livable - I'm not so sure I'd like to live in Barnsley city centre! - but as long as this can be pulled off, then there's no reason why it can't work.

(As a sidenote, a couple of the pictures above are from Amsterdam, not Rotterdam, but they show the diversity of design that the Dutch have opened their arms to, and I feel more than fit in with what I'm trying to get across here. So there.)

Finally a joke.

Why shouldn't you wear Y-fronts in the Ukraine?

Because Chernobyl fallout.


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