The Foro Boca – a new cultural hub in Veracruz, Mexico

Designed by Rojkind Arquitectos, the Foro Boca is a impressive structure that aims to transform the cultural life of the community it now belongs to. Foro Boca will be the home of the Boca del Rio Philharmonic Orchestra. The Orchestra itself is fairly new, having formed in 2014. Since then, their performances have attracted diverse musical talent. The presence of local and foreign musicians has already started to positively alter the cultural life of this city – an outcome which this structure hopes to continue. The architects, Rojkind Arquitectos, describe the project as an “urban detonator” – a structure that will bolster the modernisation of the city, a phenomenon often referred to as the ‘bilbao effect’ after the cultural and economic benefits of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, a structure initially at odds with its surroundings.

The Boca del Rio Philharmonic Orchestra runs an after-school social development program for low-income children called the “Orquestando Armonia”. The program focuses on choral and orchestral education to foster values of dedication and creativity within the children and the community. To facilitate this, the orchestra needed a new home; a new social space for the orchestra and it’s community minded programs.

foro Foro Boca’s cantilever hangs delicately over its public plaza. Image © Jaime Navarro
A facade detail. Image © Iker Gil
A three-story atrium brings daylight into the building’s core. Image © Jaime Navarro

The theatrical mechanics, isoptics and acoustics in the concert hall are some of the most sophisticated in the country. The concert hall seats 966 people and has the agility to be used for dance, theatre or cinema as well as its primary function as a music venue. The structure also includes a rehearsal hall that can hold 150 spectators and is equally multifunctional. There are additional smaller rehearsal halls, a musical library, administration offices and a recording studio. The building will be used for workshops, courses and various festivals with panoramic views out to sea. Inside, the spaces are separated by soundproof concrete walls that are punctuated with vertical bands, matching the pattern on the exterior concrete blocks, of glass, allowing strips of light to brighten the space.

Boca del Rio is a city on the coast of Mexico, in the municipality of Veracruz. Much of the infrastructure is located around the World Trade Center Veracruz. The city is named after the river upon which the new structure sits. Surrounded by sea walls, the design appropriates the concrete blocks that are employed as ripraps for coastal defence. The arrangement of the large shapes of exposed concrete is seemingly random. The subtle pattern of undulating rectangles on the surface give the structure an interesting texture, giving the blocks a slightly softer appearance. Being so exposed to the elements, on the border of river and ocean, the building will develop a patina over time, like the rocks around it, which will add even more interest to the surface of the deconstructed concrete cubes. The cluster of asymmetrical blocks are an sophisticated contrast to the historic architecture of Veracruz.

Foro Boca Plans

Photos by Jaime Navarro Courtesy of Rojkind Arquitectos

From waste to funky stools

A group of German designers have created stool seats from strangely shaped pieces of recycled plastic produced at an injection-moulding factory. The plastic-topped stools were designed as part of the Scrap Life Project and presented at the Ambiente trade show in Frankfurt, Germany last week.

Grischa erbe and Moritz Jähde of design studio Spreng & Sonntag, and Clemens Lauer and Max Guardian of Studio Stabil developed the project over the past year. It all began during a field trip to northern Italy in 2013 after visiting a injection-moulding factory specialising in plastic chairs.

The designers discovered that during the injection-moulding process, whenever a colour or material is changed, raw plastic residue escapes from the mould onto the ground, producing a stack of colourful melted plastic that solidifies into a plate shape. These plastic plates were being disposed of in the factory’s rubbish bins. With the permission of the factory owner, the designers returned home with a bus full of plates.

“These plastic plates are so foreign to their place of birth, there is not even a name for this side product which is being produced in large numbers every day,” said the designers. “Due to the random mix of material, those plates never had another future than the costly process of burning.”


Muttrah Fish Market merges tradition with innovation

Snøhetta // Muttrah Fish Market

A new fish market has taken the stand as a new landmark in the west of Muscat, on the Gulf of Oman. Snøhetta designed Muttrah Fish Market with an aim to serve as a focal point for the community of Muttrah, while concurrently functioning as a hub for Oman’s flourishing fishing industry.

The new fish market is a tribute to both the past and the future of Oman. The city of Muttrah is familiar for its long history of commercial trade, characteristic port, and long-standing fishery customs. Situated in close proximity to the city’s original fish market, built in 1960, the new market symbolises a continuity of the region’s trade and fishing customs, while also executing Oman’s necessity in accommodating the country’s expanding tourism industry.

The 4,000 square meter fish market is designed to appropriately integrate the old and the new – merging tradition with innovation. The liberal space creates a public meeting area where local fishermen and worldly tourist from around the world unite under the same roof.

Upon observation from afar, the curved wall connects to the radial shape of the corniche and extensive bay area, interacting with the street by uncovering the stairs from the roof terraces in the openings across the corniche. Both the former waterfront and the extension of the corniche define the boundaries of public space, interconnecting the city, the mountains and the waterfront.

Visitors are placed in a lively marketplace as they enter the fish market, which offers more than 100 fish sellers and cutters, a new market for vegetables and fruits alongside refrigeration, packaging, storage spaces, offices, coffee shops and a rooftop restaurant.

A dynamically shaded canopy, inspired by Arabic calligraphy covers and enhances the public setting of the new market on street level. It follows the idea of a playful movement of light and shadow constructed from aluminium fins, providing shade and natural ventilation. The intricate canopy roof juxtaposes with the simple concrete structure underneath.

Photograph: Firas Al Raisi

The world’s next tallest building is slowly rising in the desert

The world’s next tallest building, the Jeddah Tower, is slowly on the rise in Saudi Arabia. By the time it opens in 2020, it will reach 1km towards the sky. Double-decker lifts will take visitors from the ground floor directly to the observation deck, on the 157th floor, in 66.5 seconds to experience the towers record-breaking height and extraordinary views. Jeddah has historically been a gateway to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The construction of the tower is part of a bigger project – the Jeddah Economic City Development – which hopes to bring investment to the area.

Since 2008, the Burj Khalifa has proudly held the title of being the world’s tallest building. Interestingly, both the Burj Khalifa and the Jeddah Tower were developed as part of an effort to diversify from an oil-based economy in Dubai and Saudi Arabia respectively. The Jeddah Tower will be a commercial and residential project inclusive of hotels, offices, home and tourist attractions. Currently, the tower stands at around 300m high with already incredible views over the empty, desert. The team behind the project believe that it will not be a solitary tower, alone in the desert, for long.

These innovations in temporary housing for displaced peoples are long overdue

Better Shelter on the Greek Island of Lesbos in 2015

Right now, some 65.6 million individuals are in transit, having been forcibly displaced. This is the highest number of refugees the world has ever seen. The global refugee crisis is more severe than ever and yet most refugees living in camps are still passing the hours, months, years, in flimsy tents.

Creating homes for those in transit means navigating a series of competing concerns. Such difficulty and restraints often creates the best environment for innovation. The concerns surrounding temporary housing for the displaced calls into question our very definitions of shelter, security and humanity – all of which are central concerns of the architects.

So, which architects are stepping up to the plate?

Better Shelter IKEA prototype

Ikea prototypes at Kobe refugee camp in Ethiopia in 2013. Photograph: Åsa Sjöström/Ikea foundation

Although architects are optimistic that intelligent and sustainable architectural design can help change the face of the global refugee crisis, it has been a slow journey towards sophisticated temporary housing.

The central paradox of temporary housing for displaced peoples is that increasingly the temporary housing is becoming permanent. The average waiting time in a refugee camp is now 17 years. And thus, architects tread fraught lines between the transitory and permanent, between protection and containment as they attempt to serve the states, institutions and ultimately the refugees themselves.

The central paradox of temporary housing for displaced peoples is that increasingly the temporary housing is becoming permanent.
The winter 2016/2017 MoMA exhibition “Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter” stated in their exhibition notes that:

“Refugee camps, once considered temporary settlements, have become sites through which to examine how human rights intersect with the making of cities”.

Sean Anderson, the curator of the MoMa exhibition, was prompted to highlight this issue upon seeing metal shelters being provided to refugees in Jordan where the heat made them completely inappropriate and unbearable to live in. Accordingly, the exhibition focused on the inadequacies of current designs and the need for better solutions in shelters for the displaced.

Designers and architects are beginning to offer such solutions. A central example in the MoMA exhibition was the much-lauded joint IKEA foundation and UNHCR project ‘Better Shelter’.͛

Winning the Beazley design of the year in 2016 awarded by London’s Design Museum, the Better Shelter was the result of a five year collaboration between the IKEA foundation and UNHCR. Tens of thousands of refugees are already benefitting from the design that was released in 2015.

Better Shelter on the Greek Island of Lesbos in 2015

Better Shelters at a transit camp on the Greek island of Lesbos in 2015. Photograph: Better Shelter

At just 17.5 sq m, the Better Shelter fits inside two boxes and can be assembled by four people in four hours. It is made up of a central steel frame clad with insulated polypropylene panels. There is a solar panel on the roof which can provide four hours of electric light through a central LED lamp and also has the capacity to charge mobile phones via a USB port. The lockable door and stab proof walls ensure privacy and allow women and children, who are often at particular risk of violence in the camps, to remain safe.

But the Better Shelter is decidedly not an end point. With the number of internally displaced peoples steadily climbing higher each year, and with more refugees spending longer periods of time in camps, there is a need for a series of adaptable solutions.

There are a few smaller architectural firms working towards such solutions. These include Scottish firm Studio Suisse who have developed a prototype for their rd-shelter – a rapid deployment shelter – and now are in the process of waiting for funding. Similarly, Architects for Society have developed a prototype for a ‘long-term flexible occupation’ – the Hex House. They currently have pilot builds underway in South Africa and Argentina.

Prototype for the rd-shelter from Studio Suisse. Image: Studio Suisse.

Internationally renowned architects are also adding their weight. Most recently, 2014 Pritzker Prize winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban signed a deal with the UN to design over 20 0000 houses for Kenya’s infamously overcrowded Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement. Ban has already made his name as a humanitarian architect with his work on over a dozen displacement projects in countries such as Italy, Turkey and Nepal. He uses basic materials such as cardboard, wood and beer crates to offer economic and sustainable solutions.

Shigeru Ban Paper Partition System, Japan 2011

Speaking on the project he commented:

“The key thing will be to construct shelter where no or little technical supervision is required, and use materials that are locally available and eco-friendly. It’s important that the houses can be easily maintained by inhabitants.”

Ban’s approach signals a way forward and has been echoed by others. Architect and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, Elizabeth Wagemann, designed Bahay Kawayan for application in the Philippines. Her shelter is specially designed for tough conditions and is suitable for its context. Wagemann has stated “I believe architects have an important role (…) to work with communities towards sustainable solutions, rather than producing non-contextual and pre-packaged solutions.”

Temporary housing for the displaced offers architects the opportunity to redefine the home. The solutions to come will have to be innovative, sustainable and dignified. It is a considerable challenge and the solutions are already long overdue.

Red-bricked Opera House to be built by O’Donnell + Tuomey

Shanghai Grand Opera House // O’Donnell + Tuomey

Three interconnected, angular, red-bricked opera houses have been set to be built on the site of the 2010 Expo by O’Donnell + Tuomey.

The Dublin-based studio has designed three performance venues, with planted gardens placed on their angled rooftops serving as an undulating park for visitors. The 1,800-seat opera hall, 650-seat theatre and a 400-seat performance space, perceived as a “city of opera” will be exhibited around a town square foyer.

“The theme of our plan is ‘convergence” said the architects in a statement. “Building on the established tradition of promenade, procession and flow, we see the public spaces of the city of opera like grand station halls, civic spaces of community congregation.”

O’Donnell + Tuomey mentions brick is to be used as the primary material for the opera house’s floors, walls, and roofscapes. Inside the building, brickwork piers will contain stairs and lifts, with concrete stairways and ramps wrapping around the exterior of the separate venues.

Each of the opera house’s three venues will have distinct roof shapes, with a river-viewing tower and a glazed tower containing rehearsal rooms that will illuminate in the dark. Daylight will enter the foyer spaces through the large windows in between the concrete beams.

Along with the three performance spaces, the 110,000-square-metre cultural complex will have an outdoor performance area, cinema screens, museum and exhibition spaces. It will also contain reception and backstage areas, meeting rooms, banquet facilities, a library and education facilities.

Is this Pyeongchang pavilion the darkest building on earth?

Set against the white snow of the Pyeongchang Olympics, sits the darkest building in the world. Asif Khan designed this temporary pavilion for Hyundai to be sprayed with Vantablack Vbx2. This material absorbs 99% of light – a colour developed in Surrey that creates the illusion of a void. Though it is not technically a colour but the absence of colour. It is constructed by specialised contractors who form consistent nanostructures.

Khan has a reputation for using experimental materials and technologies. He designed the first ‘selfie building’ for the Sochi Olympics in 2014 which morphed into the shape of visitors’ faces. Like a giant pin art toy, the digital building made 3D selfies of visitors; their features at 3,500 times their normal size, bulging through the rubbery skin.

Mounted onto the walls of the pavilion, that look like black holes, are tiny pinpricks of light on the ends of tiny rods. They are positioned to mirror the position of stars as viewed from earth. Khan wanted the audience to feel like they were floating in space as they walked around the pavilion, looking into the void and seeing stars.

Images: Luke Hayes

Mexican architect, Frida Escobedo, to design Serpentine Pavilion for 2018

Mexican architect, Frida Escobedo, has been commissioned to design the Serpentine Pavilion for 2018. On the edge of Kensington Gardens within Hyde Park, the Serpentine Pavilion draws a large crowd from London and has a huge online following. It is a high-profile platform for any architect; bringing their work to the public for them to experience. Over the last few years, with the prevalence of social media platforms (particularly Instagram), cultural programming has begun to be influenced by the sharable aesthetics of an experience. The impact of the design upon the audience’s physical experience must be considered alongside the experiences of those far away, on their phones.

The commission of the pavilion attempts to highlight emerging talent within architecture, choosing designs that capture the unique essence of an architect and their vision. Evident in Escobedo’s design is the influence of both Mexican and British materials and architectural history. The 2018 pavilion design plays with light and water, within a geometric courtyard. Courtyards are a common feature of Mexican architecture as well as the breeze wall (a celosia), which will be composed of cement roof tiles positioned to create a lattice. The dark colours of the British-made materials contrast with the vibrant blues and greens seen from within the pavilion when looking out to the natural surroundings. The curved underside of the canopy overhead and the triangular pool are both reflective surfaces that will emphasise the movement of light and shadow inside the structure.

For the Serpentine Gallery, the pavilion is a stage, or backdrop, for a programme of experimental and interdisciplinary events. The design of the pavilion acts as the stimulus for new, site-specific work that is commissioned from an array of artists working in music, film, dance and other art practices. The pavilion will be open to the public from June to October this year. In the meantime, look back at the past designs here.

Images: Frida Escobedo, Taller de Arquitectura from Serpentine Galleries. Rendering by Atmósfera

Architecture of the Games: Will Pyeongchang’s roofless stadium be too cold?

The Pyeongchang Olympic Games might be the coldest Winter Games yet. The temperature for the Opening Ceremony, held on the 9th of February, is predicted to sit between -9 and -6 C (15-20 F) with very strong, biting winds. In an area known for its harsh winters, it does seem like an odd design choice for the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium to be without a roof or central heating. Even roofless, the stadium is estimated to have cost the South Korean government $109 million US dollars. For the Opening Ceremony organisers plan to provide the 35,000 spectators with a windbreaker, a blanket, a heated cushion and hand and feet warmers for the three-hour long ceremony. This stadium is the first temporary stadium in Olympic history and will be torn down at the end of the Paralympics. The upkeep of such a stadium is a huge expense and, as is evident in Rio where many of the venues built for the 2016 games are in disarray, Olympic venues are sometimes more of a burden than an asset.

PyeongChang Stadium

Pyeongchang won the bid to host the Olympic Winter Games in 2011, after two failed attempts in 2003 and 2007. South Korea are well rehearsed in hosting large sport events. They have hosted the summer Olympics, the FIFA World Cup and the IAAF World Championships; a rare feat only achieved by a few other countries. It comes as no surprise that all the venues were completed on schedule and most have been tried and tested out last winter. The list of new, and permanent, structures built for the Olympics include three new stadiums (making up the Gangneung Olympic Park), two Olympic villages and a Medal Plaza.

The Winter Olympics run February 9-25 and the Paralympics March 9-18.

Images courtesy of Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Website.