Thursday, September 22, 2011

First Site, Colchester by Rafael Viñoly

There are many reasons not to like Rafael Viñoly’s Colchester Firstsite, which finally opens this week, four years late and, at £28 million, costing almost twice its original budget.
It is the epitome of the noughties icon project, a building more concerned with its outward image than its interior function. Its tilted walls are at odds with hanging artwork; its double-curved ceiling denies the basic possibility of lighting tracks.
As the silver-tongued architect admits: “It’s like a large corridor whose inner face can be used as an exhibition space” — its function almost accidental; a serendipitous by-product of the overriding architectural gesture.
Viñoly was chosen because he is an “expert masterplanner”, explains director Kath Wood, his stroke of genius being to build east of the allotted site so that the “ripples of regeneration could be cast further”...
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Originally published in BD, 22 September 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stratford High Street

Stratford’s Olympic legacy is already taking shape, but it is a bleak vision that is unlikely to benefit locals.
All eyes were on east London last week, as Westfield Stratford City finally opened to teeming crowds of shoppers, eagerly lined up to charge across the 1,600-tonne Corten-steel bridge and breach the glittering golden wrapping of the largest urban mall in Europe.
They were here to experience the first tangible part of London’s Olympic “legacy”: a sprawling complex of 300 shops, 70 restaurants and a 17-screen multiplex cinema, as well as the city’s biggest casino. Many thousands more will be doing the same next summer. For 70% of visitors, this will be the official gateway to the 2012 Olympics. It is also one of the reasons the games could happen here in the first place. It is no small coincidence that Westfield was recently announced as an official sponsor: without its £1.45 billion of private investment in this unpromising location, the Olympic dream might well have remained just that.
Yet just a few hundred metres down Stratford High Street — the misleading name for what is in fact the roaring six-lane dual carriageway of the A11 — several other gateways to the games have been emerging, largely unnoticed. While the world waits with baited breath to see what the official Olympic legacy will look like — a gleaming new city quarter of 8,000 new homes on the verdant doorstep of the Queen Elizabeth Park — few realise that it is already well under way in Stratford, and has been for some time. In fact, more than 3,000 units are already climbing out of the ground....
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Orginally published in BD, 21 September 2011

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Brockholes Wetland Nature Reserve, by Adam Khan Architects

Moored in a flooded gravel pit off the M6, Adam Khan Architects’ Brockholes Wetland Nature Reserve visitor centre forms
a gateway to nature
Motorway service stations can be singularly depressing places. Cloned formulas of fast-food outlets and amusement arcades, they are sites of a strange limbo, where bleary-eyed truckers mingle with hordes of screeching toddlers in a low-rise Tarmacscape. Identikit sheds, they could be anywhere — brief respites along an infinite number of routes from A to B.
Sometimes there are attempts to make them more contextual. As if mocking your captivity, “interpretation boards” describe the nearby historic landmarks and sites of natural interest — things that you will never see while you munch on your insipid, microwaved pasty.
Marc Augé, who coined the phase “non-place” in 1995, wrote that motorway travel is doubly remarkable, because “it avoids, for functional reasons, all the principal places to which it takes us; and it makes comments on them”. Bypassing places, roads are instead lined with signs listing notable features, absolving drivers of the need to stop or even look...
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Originally published in BD, 7 September 2011