I was joined for Thinking Aloud by a mixed group of people which included several architects who had come very specifically to see Mind Into Matter. There were lots of questions about the criteria for selecting the 8 “exemplary buildings” and some debate about the choices of Clouds House, The Royal Mail Sorting Office and The British Embassy, but no alternatives were offered. It would be interesting to hear from any of those present if, having given it some more thought, they might now have their own “wish list” of buildings to be included.

As my interest in architecture has grown over the past few weeks, I’ve picked up on some projects which have recently been in the news – Masdar, the eco-city in the Abu Dhabi desert, which Sir Norman Foster is currently involved in developing; The Darwin Centre (mentioned in my earlier blog), the Bird’s Nest Stadium and “Bubble Building” built for the Beijing Olympics, and just this week, the “Digital Cloud”, a huge futuristic steel mesh tower topped by a “cloud” of transluscent bubbles proposed as a tourist attraction for the London 2012 Olympic park.
Are these amazing buildings evolving as a result of new materials, design and building techniques? Is this the way that architecture is going to develop for the 21st century? What did the architects in the group think of these buildings with a big “Wow” factor?

The Digital Cloud proposed for the London 2012 Olympic Park

It was suggested that architects have a responsibility to design buildings for people – not for the “Wow” factor  – a point which was much considered in Alan Powers’ selection. And yes, of course, funcionality is key to a successful building – we all know buildings which are a pleasure to be in, and those which are not, but equally, we acknowledge the inspirational effect which amazing buildings can have. But how will architecture develop now that architects are not limited by the need to use brick or stone or timber? Instead, will new designs be limited by environmental issues and the need for careful use of resources, or will these problems lead to new, inspiring and imaginative design solutions.

There were some strong opinions about the influence of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and the design possibilities offered which can not be achieved through traditional drawing methods. There were also strong feelings about the “loss” of drawing skills and the trend towards extravagant design “just because we can”. One of the architects explained about the intuitive qualities of drawing and the importance of transforming first thoughts into lines on paper during the earliest parts of the design process, a point which I can appreciate as an artist. I know from experience how very quickly the act of drawing raises questions and highlights problems concerning structure and form. It would be interesting though to hear the other side of these arguments from architects who have been brought up with CAD as an essential tool.

Masdar – http://www.fosterandpartners.com/Projects/1515/Default.aspx
Bird’s Nest Stadium – http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/beijing-birds-nest-stadium-wins-coveted-lubetkin-prize/5205134.article

Bubble Building – http://www.inhabitat.com/2007/02/27/bubble-building-national-swim-center-in-beijing/
The Digital Cloud – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8350770.stm

Posted by Ryan Coleman on Monday 16 November 2009