Tag Archives: London

The Barbican Centre. A Quiet Confusion

A place of connection, a place of transition between two different worlds: the street and the courtyard. The former, a reflection of everyday life. The latter, an image of the pleasure of stopping, sitting, observing and thinking. Two universes governed by opposing laws: that of motion and that of stillness.

Streetfront
Streetfront

The main flow goes from the outside to the ‘inside’. From the street, through the Barbican, to the ‘hidden square’, where the magic of the building can be experienced.

In this fairy-tale place, far from the chaos of London, the Barbican Centre finds its natural extension in the square and in the canal. The building, under a spell, loses its form and consistency: it decomposes into white benches, lowering itself to the human level. This is the beginning of the breakdown process. The building regains firmness in the red bricks of the square and prepares for a last transformation: the dissolution into water, final step of its mutation from mass to fluid. The canal leaves a trace of the building’s origins: a brutalist image struggling in the sinuous water.

Transformation
Transformation

The barbican, in its apparent parallel universe, becomes one of the many types of architecture that surround it. Grey but green, the building stands out but does not dominate the area. It steps back, giving space to the preceding square.

Internal Illumination
Internal Illumination

On the other hand, the interior of the building presents itself as a maze: a disarray of staircases and spaces bathed in neon light. Dark, a bit confusing, it seems designed to disorientate, coxing visitors to wander the premises. Visitors willing to explore will eventually arrive in other gardens, in other solitary courtyards, in other sites of passage on the road back to the starting point.

The barbican is a place of movement, a place of investigation but at the same time a place of reflection. A place to find the quiet in the confusion.

Solitude
Solitude
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The British Museum. Never The Same

The British Museum
The British Museum

Walk up the steps, cross the pronaos, rush through the first room, enter the main courtyard and look up: you will be rendered speechless. The modern roof designed by Fosters and Partners hovers above you. 3312 glazing panels – none of which are the same – frame 3312 triangular slices of sky.

This is the heart of the British Museum. The metaphor of all the different civilizations, whose relics are conserved in the museum. Like those different cultures, the panels interact, collide, work together. The result is a strong and stable structure.

New And Old
New And Old

Lowering the eyes, a second consideration comes to mind: contrast. At first glance, it is an architectonical and spatial contrast. The modern roof both holds together the different entities of the building and divides them, thus creating a new central space where the interplay of modern and neoclassical architecture is dominant.

However beyond that initial contrast, there is a deeper antithesis. This is hidden in the soul of the building: the people.

A museum without people is no museum at all.

The Main Atrium
The Main Atrium

Visitors come from every region of the world to see the wonders preserved in the museum. Sculptures, objects, books that – even if stolen – do not belong to us. Uprooted from their place of origin, they mingle among the crowd, in rooms where the frenetic movement of the visitors clashes with the stillness of the stone and marble. It is this contrast that shapes the building and makes it unique.

A building that is never experienced in the same way, because the people who walk through it are all different. Each individual with a distinct history, similar to the statues and the artifacts, not unlike the glazing panels.

The Modern Roof
The Modern Roof

London Aquatics Centre. A Solitary Wave

London Aquatics Centre
London Aquatics Centre

In the far east of London, stands majestic and solitary the London Aquatics Centre. In an almost inexistent context, it emerges from the flatness of the surroundings, like a solitary wave in the middle of the ocean.

At first sight, its dynamic form amazes but then the question arises: would it be as beautiful within a context? Or is it this emptiness that enhances the building? “Space is meaningless without scale, containment, boundaries and direction”, writes Huxtable – so is the aquatic centre just a meaningless wonder?

Curved Wall
Curved Wall

I cannot deny that its shape and materiality interests me. The timber gently bended, the slightly tilted glass, the overall movement, the long span…all details showing a long and well thought study of the structure. I cannot even deny that it does not serve its purpose, because it does. Oriented on a north-south axis, it has glazing on the east and west side, providing natural lighting to the swimming pool in the morning and in the afternoon.

I can, however, say that when I stand in front of it, it does not make me burn inside. Instead, I feel insignificant, in this immense and flat urban desert where the only spectator is the mute and motionless London skyline.

London Aquatics Centre

Central Saint Martins. A Liberty Square

Old Granary Building
Old Granary Building

Architecture is art, and in art lies its completeness. In Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, the two disciplines work one in function to the other. The building is like a Rubik’s cube in which all faces have the same colour: the solutions are endless and they all work. The school is designed to change, depending on the needs of the students. The interior is indefinite, with soft temporary walls that allow the campus to morph in the future.

The form of the building derives from its function, and it is achieved through a well thought process of subtraction. This process of subtraction leads to the creation of a series of empty spaces: the heart and soul of the building.

The first atrium, which connects the old granary building to the new structure, does not only belong to students, but also to the community. The space is used in all manner of ways, an arena for the annual student fashion show or a friendly game of table tennis.

The second central atrium belongs fully to the school. It is a stage where the students are the actors and the different disciplines the main characters. On that stage they interact, come together, learn from each other, they take form and ownership. Ownership of the space, of the primitive mass.

The apex of functionality is that central empty space: a space of collaboration and dialogue.

A liberty square where ideas, creativity and art are the motto.