Spotlight on Ricardo Bofill as we set up our new studio in Barcelona

 

Later this year, we will be opening a RISE Design Studio in Barcelona. We are excited about this, not least because we take a lot of inspiration from Spanish architecture in our work. Last month, we were very sad to hear the news that renowned Catalonian architect, Ricardo Bofill, had passed away at the age of 82. Bofill’s wide range of impressive buildings have influenced our projects and those of many others. He leaves a lasting legacy for us all.

RISE Design Studio Ricardo Bofill

Early influences and approaches

After an education in Spain and Switzerland, Bofill and a group of friends created ‘Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura’ in 1963 in the centre of Barcelona. From the outset, he worked in a multi-disciplinary environment, collaborating not only with engineers and other architects, but also artists and writers. This approach later developed into the holistic urban planning/design method that we are more familiar with today. His early projects were seen as exemplars of critical regionalism, with several viewed as a political reaction against the Francoist dictatorship in Spain at the time and a ‘shunning’ of architectural modernism.

In the 1970s, Bofill relocated to France, where his work echoed French traditions of classical architecture. His work in France culminated with the design of the new Antigone district in Montpellier, which combined large-scale industrialisation in precast concrete with classical forms. Described by Bofill himself as modern classicism, his projects like this led to his being referred to as one of the most significant postmodern architects in Europe.

Modular geometry

One of the best-known projects delivered by Bofill and his firm is Walden 7, a modular block of 450 apartments built on the outskirts of Barcelona in 1975. Located on the site of a former cement factory, the modules of the 14-storey building are linked by footbridges and arranged around courtyards. The intention of this design was that the building serves the evolving needs of its residents. On the same site, Bofill built his family home and office, within the original cement factory (see the image above). His stylish and innovative renovation of the factory included a large, central meeting room and exhibition space (the Cathedral), with 10-metre high ceilings and features of the original factory intact in the surrounding décor.

A similarly innovative and impressive project is the ‘monumental’ apartment block Les Espaces d’Abraxas in eastern Paris. Featuring prefabricated stone, cement facades and reference to baroque architecture, one building includes a semi-circular structure that encloses an amphitheatre (that was used as a filming location in The Hunger Games).

From concrete to other materials

Bofill increasingly moved from working with concrete to glass and steel, while still featuring classical elements like columns in his projects. Notable projects from the 1980s include the extension of Barcelona airport before the 1992 Olympics and the National Theatre of Catalonia. His designs gradually lost the classical aspects yet retained his love of a highly formal sense of geometry such as in the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco.

A lasting legacy

Over his lifetime, Bofill’s portfolio spanned a wide range of settings, from public buildings to transport infrastructure and urban design. Although Bofill has passed away, his firm in Barcelona continues under the co-leadership of his two sons and we will continue to take inspiration from his work while we establish our new studio in the city.

Spotlight on Jan Kaplický

 

There are very few Londoners (and international cricket fans) who are not familiar with the Media Centre at the Lord’s Cricket Ground. Designed by avant-garde Czech architect, Jan Kaplický, this is one of his most renowned ‘spacecraft-like’ architecture projects. Completed in 1999, it received the RIBA Stirling Prize for its futuristic design and has become one of the icons of the sporting world. Kaplický provides us with inspiration here at RISE Design Studio, not only for his futuristic work but also for his interest in his later years in nature and the incorporation of organic shapes in his work.

RISE Design Studio Jan Kaplicky drawings

A new life in London

After beginning his career as an Academic Architect in Prague, Kaplický fled to London in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He described a need to escape a country where empowerment was very limited at the time and it was “impossible to achieve anything that was even slightly out of the ordinary”. Not allowed to go to university, buy books, or exhibit his work in public, his move provided him with creative freedom and he soon found himself working on the design for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, under the direction of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano before they relocated to the French capital.

He set up his own architectural practice in London – Future Systems – in 1979, and produced many intricate drawings of orbiting robots and homes transportable by helicopter. Although none of these drawings became real buildings, they drew a lot of attention to his ‘elegantly radical’ ideas, opening the doors for him to design the Lord’s Media Centre and later the Selfridge’s shopping store in Birmingham in 2003. Described as “the ultimate rejoinder to what was then Birmingham’s reputation as a decaying concrete jungle”, Kaplický’s work once again brought inspiration through his visionary designs.

From outlandish to organic

In the mid-1980s, Kaplický suddenly started to look to nature for organic inspiration for his architecture. Perhaps as a result of the death of his mother around that time – she was a well-known illustrator of plants – he had a renewed appreciation of the value of his mother’s work, using shapes of cobwebs, sea shells, mushrooms, flowers and other plants in his later work. Blending these shapes with a harsh and often controversial futuristic edge created a unique style that interrogated the relationship between nature and technology.

The business of buildings

Kaplický’s designs were generally not possible to build using conventional techniques. For example, the Lord’s Media Centre is an aluminum semi-monocoque shell – a sort of ‘boat shape’ – and there was no standard contractor in Britain who could build it at the time. Instead, Kaplický and his life partner, Amanda Levete, found a boatyard contractor in Cornwall to do the work. Combining Levete’s business experience with Kaplický’s designs worked well for several years.

In his later years, Kaplický designed a National Library building for Letná in Prague. Despite the work winning an international competition, its construction was blocked by the Czech authorities and caused much public and political debate. In interviews with Kaplický before his death, it was clear that he was sad not to have been able to build something in his home country.

Spotlight on Charles Correa

 

An aspect of our work that we are proud of is our ability to combine traditional architectural values with the use of modern materials. One architect who provides us with inspiration in this regard is Charles Correa, an Indian architect and urban planner who designed buildings that respect the local landscape while simultaneously meeting the practical needs of inhabitants. In 1984, RIBA declared Correa ‘India’s greatest architect’ – we look at some of his most important works and how they demonstrate his unique and deep-rooted understanding of Indian society and vernacular.

RISE Design Studio - Charles Corea - Cricket

Modernism in non-Western culture

While studying architecture in the US, Correa was influenced by the use of striking concrete forms developed by Le Corbusier (a collaborator of Jean Prouvé, another architect that we draw inspiration from in our work). This, along with careful consideration of the Indian climate, drove many of Correa’s design decisions. For example, he recognised the potential for residents of a hot country to experience a better quality of life with access to outside living spaces, such as terraces and courtyards. He also created traditional, symmetrical spaces, often in ‘modules’ that could be scaled up to the desired size.

A famous example of this is in the Gandhi Memorial Museum in the Ashram, which was Correa’s first important work in private practice. Completing the project in 1963, he used 6mx6m modular units to reflect the simplicity of Gandhi’s life and allow for eventual expansion (the incremental nature of a living institution). Using a simple post and beam structure, brick columns support concrete channels and a wooden roof and the modules reflect the isotopy (like fractals) found in the decorative elements of Hindu temples.

From low income to luxury

Correa designed nearly 100 buildings in India, ranging from low-income housing to luxury condos and cultural buildings. In the late 1960s, when developing his career as an urban planner, he created New Bombay (Navi Mumbai). Preferring ‘quasi-rural’ housing to the high-rise solutions more typical of towns and cities, he designed the low-cost Belapur housing in Navi Mumbai in the 1980s. These dwellings included communal spaces and facilities to create a sense of community and emphasise the importance of the human scale.

His later works included cultural projects such as university buildings in Maharashtra and an arts complex in Jaipur. Even in these projects he continued to believe that buildings must respond to their surroundings and take into account the particular needs of those using them. The arts centre, for example, is a clever fusion of past and present, inspired by both the traditional Hindu system of architecture and the ancient beliefs of using geometric patterns and symmetry.

A pioneer in passive techniques

Correa discouraged the use of mechanical heating and cooling methods, instead preferring to use ‘smart shading’, intelligent building orientation and methods to enhance the heat absorption capacity of masonry. He was passionate about using different parts of the house at different times of the day and embraced the notion of ‘open-to-sky’ architecture with open walls and courtyard spaces.

Correa passed away in 2015 and will be remembered for the great respect and love he had for the cities he worked in. He founded the Urban Design Research Institute in Mumbai in 1984 to improve low-quality buildings. He saw cities as places of hope and worked hard to provide city dwellers with low cost shelter, reasonable living conditions and a sense of community.

The work of Charles Correa provided inspiration in our Langley Vale Visitor Hub project.

Spotlight on Lina Bo Bardi

 

Recycling or converting buildings came naturally to Italian-born Brazilian architect, Lina Bo Bardi. Inspired by the use and reuse of basic materials, she devoted her working life to engaging with every facet of culture and designing ‘people-friendly’ buildings. Described as “the most underrated architect of the 20th century”, it is pleasing to see her finally receive the attention she deserves. We take inspiration from Lina Bo Bardi here at RISE Design Studio, particularly her respect for authentic objects and how to preserve and celebrate them in the home.

RISE Design Studio - Lina Bo Bardi

Buildings flowing with the natural environment

In 1951, Bo Bardi created the ‘Casa de Vidrio’ in the rainforest surrounding São Paulo. An early example of the use of reinforced concrete in domestic architecture, she found a Brazilian context for the Italian modernism she was trained in. The landscape ‘flows’ underneath the building and the main living area is almost wholly open, apart from a courtyard that allows the trees in the garden to grow up into the heart of the house (perhaps a source of inspiration for Sverre Fehn’s Nordic pavilion). This celebration of the local environment is a theme that runs through her work.

Engaged public places

Bo Bardi’s designs were used in the the Solar do Unhão cultural centre in Salvador, and the Museum of Art, the Teatro Oficina, and Centro de Lazer Fábrica de Pompéia in São Paulo. In what she termed ‘poor architecture’, she sought to design public spaces that embodied a simple form of monumental architecture. The São Paulo Museum of Art is formed from ‘raw and efficient’ pre-stressed concrete, allowing unobstructed views to the lower-lying parts of the city.

She expertly restored buildings in a manner which neither pandered to nostalgia nor ignored context – the restoration of a 17th century sugar mill into the Solar do Unhão left the colonial exterior intact, with a modern staircase added. This reflected her belief that a museum should be a place for education – an active site of knowledge rather than a mausoleum of the past.

When she was commissioned in the 1980s to turn a burnt out office building into a theatre, she designed the new space almost completely out of painted scaffolding. The intense theatre space is designed to make the members of the audience feel as if they are engaged with the act on the stage.

Simplicity and the historical present

Lina Bo Bardi also designed furniture and she often used plywood and native Brazilian woods in her design. Wanting each object to display its own ‘natural logic’, her designs embodied simplicity and reduction and rawness of material.

Bo Bardi’s work has become much more widely acknowledged in recent years and support has grown for the proper preservation of her buildings. In a lecture at the University of São Paulo in 1989, she was asked to describe her ideas for the preservation of historic buildings. She replied that she sees no such thing as ‘the past’ in architectural practice. Whatever still exists today is what she termed ‘the historical present’ – you have to preserve the typical features and characteristics of a time that is part of our human heritage.

Christo & Jeanne Claude

 

Christo and Jeanne Claude RISE Design Studio

“The work of art is a scream of freedom.”
– Christo

It is with both joy and a tang of sadness that we present this post today. With joy because of the incredible work that the couple carried out; a lifetime of art full of brightness. And sadness because, now that they are both gone, it has left us wondering – who will fill their void? Who will be as inventive, as playful, and as daring?

Christos and Jeanne Claude’s wrapping of landmarks was a breath of fresh air. An idea both monumental and ephemeral which never failed to trigger a sense of awe. The work was particularly powerful because it went beyond talking about itself to talk about us.

It talked about us and our monuments and buildings, putting in perspective our place in history and our scale in the world. It made us realise that we are not gods, that we come and go and that our creations are only a little sturdier than we are. Like Christos said on one occasion: “We believe that nothing exists that is forever, not even the dinosaurs; if well maintained, it could remain for four to five thousand years, (…) that is definitely not forever.”

There is a great relief in the realisation that, however long our temples or bridges have been standing there, it is comparatively little when regarded in cosmic time. The gift wrapping of these awe-inspiring monuments made them objects again; and us, children. The lightness that comes with knowing that there are much bigger things than ourselves, that we are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things is a burden taken off humanity’s shoulders.

Christo and Jeanne Claude changed our cities and our landscapes, covering them up to show them in a new light. They made us think about the world we live in and the world we build in a quiet way that harnessed so much power. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many never got to see their art in person – some of the installations lasted weeks; others, only days. But the playful way in which they wrapped the world and let people walk on water remains documented for everyone to be inspired. For us, as architects, it is an immense gift that has allowed us to think about our own creations in a completely new light.

Parallels: boat building and architecture

 

Several well-known architects (Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, John Pawson, Frank Gehry, to name a few) have turned their hand to designing and building boats, and it is now common to find boat building technology and materials (such as custom composites) in modern building structures. Floating architecture is also becoming more and more popular. There seem to be natural parallels between the skills of the architect and the boatbuilder, particularly in the crafting of a wooden structure to create a functional and beautiful end result.

RISE-Boat-John Pawson

Making sense of lines

To the boatbuilder, ‘lofting’ is the creation of full-size topographical maps of a boat’s hull that allows the builder to make all the molds, patterns, parts and pieces accurately. The process of ‘laying down the lines’ is relatively similar to practices that go back to the 17th century, generating curved lines for the streamlined hull and keel of a vessel. Lines can be drawn on wood and the wood then cut for advanced woodworking. Today, boatbuilders, like architects, use computer-aided lofting to fine tune designs and produce a set of full-sized lines.

Following architectural conventions, a ‘lines plan’ slices through the boat in several directions and can be combined with a ‘table of offsets’. This contains reference points used in a similar way to latitude and longitude on maps to allow the use of coordinates to find specific points on the hull. This then allows the full scale model to be built.

Symmetry and alignment

Like architects, boat builders are focussed on what looks good. Subtle attention to detail, symmetry and proportion don’t necessarily make a boat float better but they do affect the appearance of the vessel. The ‘sheerline’ is the subtle and graceful curve that defines the uppermost edge of the hull. This is probably the most important feature on a boat and is often difficult to get ‘right’. Often, a 2D drawing of the sheerline will not look as attractive in three dimensions as the paper drawing cannot take into account real-life perspective.

Simple things like how screws line up are also important. Lined-up slots impart understated elegance, while randomly aligned slots might look unattractive.

Keeping with tradition

Wooden boat building has been described as “the quintissential industry“. Over time, boatbuilders will have found that certain woods are more suitable than others, and that locating sources for materials can be a challenge. This is a challenge also experienced by the architect who wishes to uses local materials to retain the sense of place and context of the structure.