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Tuesday, July 12, 2005
The set of photos at top right this month are all taken from the remarkable Central Building at BMW's Leipzig Plant, designed by Zaha Hadid. When we visited, the attached factory (true to its name, the Hadid building is sandwiched between several vast industrial structures) had just started churning out a limited number of 3-Series BMWs, before production began in earnest. As a result, Hadid's coup de theatre, the overhead conveyor belts, were rather empty - they take finished bodyshells from assembly through to the paint shop, via a storage facility.

The Central Building was beautifully constructed, with concrete surfaces that felt as smooth as satin. Although it fits a tight site and fulfills a complex brief, the building still displays Hadid's deliberate complexity and theatricality, with multiple levels, ramps and views. Even the car park is a delight, a geometric composition of skews and slashes (the studio has a thing about car parks, perhaps intrigued by the ironic possibilities of creating dynamism from hundreds of static objects - see the Terminus Hoenheim in Strasbourg for an earlier example).

Last year we wrote about the challenge of creating complexity as a result of Hadid winning the 2004 Pritzker Prize (video). Was her architecture buildable? Did it rely solely on the initial punch of the computer-aided visualisation? At that point, barely 18 months ago, such was the paucity of her office's built work that many were asking questions about Hadid's ability to translate astonishing graphic skill into real architecture ('She is well known for her inability to translate her ideas into realistic projects, let alone finished buildings,' Clay Risen wrote in New Republic (the piece is archived here).

Recent projects have silenced the doubters, for the most part (perhaps the snipers have moved on to Libeskind?). There was also controversy surrounding the architects' decision - at the client's behest - to do away with artificial ventilation systems. A lot of people stamped their feet about this in rage, the implication being that the company was able to slip under local building regulations in return for bringing much-needed employment and investment to the area (formerly part of East Germany). BMW was certainly betting on a lot of media coverage of their whizzy new building, so much so that Domus magazine ended up running a catty piece on the carefully orchestrated media circus (which was when our photos were taken). Instead of publishing any of the supplied photos (by three separate photographers, all free for editorial use), they stripped everything down to a single black and white spread with random speech bubbles popping out of the assembled journos, architects and media minders, spouting banalities. Part of the problem was BMW's ultra-tight media embargo, which forebade publication before a certain date.

Related, Just another day at the office, three tales from high profile workplaces, featuring 30 St Mary Axe (which now appears to have officially adopted the 'Gherkin' nickname), the Lloyds Building and the Scottish Parliament (via archinect). Pieces on new, high-profile buildings are often accompanied by a dose of schadenfreude: windows that don't open, toilets that don't work, etc. etc. Sometimes, these claims are more than justified, as with the ongoing problems faced by Stoke Newington's Clissold Leisure Centre, a modernist structure designed by Hodder Associates that was allegedly 'poorly designed, poorly built and its facilities poorly specified'. It lasted just 20 months, after tales of cultural insensitivity, layout problems, security issues and much, much more. Hackney closed it down. Alarmingly, our local pool, the Peckham Pulse, is now having problems ('continued closure of the pools for some considerable time'). Rumour is that it may never re-open...

*

Other things. The glory hole, a 'non-regulated spillway' for the Monticello Dam at Lake Berryessa in California. Another picture, and a short piece on the engineering behind the glory hole. (via me-fi) / Age Maps, a photo series by Bobby Neel Adams (via Boing Boing) / Engadget has a mystery suitcase-based object for readers to identify. Opinion seems to be that it's a (large) TENS machine.

Oskar Karlin's 'Never Ending Drawing' (under 'projects'): 'every day I document my movements by drawing them on a map'. Karlin designed the crisply minimal Limited Language site / the fabulous Contour Crafting building technology gets its own dedicated site (thanks to Life Without Buildings, an architecture weblog) / more architecture-focused sites, Architechnophilia and That Brutal Joint. See also Liao Yusheng, which has forays into food.