Architecture in the 1990s

by Philip Jodidio, 1997, Benedikt Taschen Verlag Gmbh,

pp. 239, more than 250 color illustrations, $39.99

©Katsuaki Furudate

By Carter B. Horsley

"The decade since the mid-1980's has seen an unparalleled surge in architectural creativity. Completely new design possibilities have been opened up by technological innovations such as computer-aided design, and at the same time there has been a growing cross-fertilization between architecture and art."

That is the beginning of the blurb on the back cover of this excellent and lavishly illustrated survey of exciting projects around the world.

There is no question that technology and "cross-fertilization" have been factors in the emergence of a new, poetic design sensitivity, but that sensitivity is due mostly to the blossoming and maturing of many new voices, some of them American even.

One may academically theorize on the genesis of this renaissance of architecture, the most public of the arts, but the bottom line is that there is great talent that fortunately has found considerable patronage, though rarely in the United States.

"As in art, there may be no dominant esthetic emerging, but rather an uncertainty and a fragmentation of ideas and shapes that quite obviously corresponds to the mood of the times. It may be that economic factors had a more immediate impact in the United States, where most projects are privately funded, than in Europe, where large state-initiated facilities continued to be launched despite the recession. For various reasons, countries such as France of The Netherlands, with a number of forward-looking mayors and other public officials, came to privilege inventive architects much more than their predecessors did in the 1970's, for example. This, together with the continued fertility of schools such as the AA in London, has apparently led Europe into a position of leadership in creative world architecture, a situation that it had not really had since the early part of the century," observes author Philip Jodidio.

While such a comment might seem to slight the incredible leadership and brilliance of Japanese architects, Jodidio's fine book devotes considerable space and illustrations to their many spectacular achievements.

Arata Isozaki has long been one of Japan's foremost designers and his 1994 Nagi MoCA in the Okayama Prefecture, shown above, is a small museum dedicated to site-specific installations by three artists, Shusaku Arawaka, Kazuo Okazaki and Aiko Miyawaki, Isozaki's wife, who created a reflecting pool with swaying stainless steel wire sculptures of exquisite grace. The work shown above is by Arawaka, "which represents mirror images of the famous Kyoto garden of Ryoan-ji" and is "situated in an inclined tube...which makes it very difficult for the viewer to stand up straight," notes Jodidio.

The museum, Jodidio continues, "and art design is integrated into a symbolic triad formed by the sun, moon and earth, the whole aligned with a nearby 'sacred' mountain. The Nagi MoCA is of importance not because of its size but because of its integrated effort to create a symbolic structure, in harmony both with the art that it houses and gives significance to, and with the local traditions and topography. Its rather blocky forms do not have the lyrical grace of [Toyo] Ito's light architecture, but Isozaki's thinking here has clearly gone beyond one of attractive shapes."

One of the greatest Japanese design talents is Shin Takamatsu, who was the architect of Kirin Plaza, shown at the left in photo by Arnaud Carpentier, at a busy intersection in Osaka in 1985.

"Manipulating his machine metaphors, Takamatsu creates an almost unreal point of silent strength, surrounded by the outrageous glowing signs for crab restaurants and cheap movies that are typical of the immediate environment. Takamatsu calls this 50 m[eter] high quadruple tower, which emits a gentle white light, a 'monument without form.' Despite its very modern appearance, this seemingly unnatural calm brings to mind the fact that calm and reflection are traditions of the Japanese spirit, which are being swept aside by rampant urbanization and commercialization," Jodidio maintained.

Takamatsu is the high-tech poet of modern architecture just as Santiago Calatrava is the poet of modern engineering as well illustrated in this wonderful book. One of the most beautiful structures of recent years is his Lyon-Satolas Railway Station in Lyon, France, which was completed in 1994. The station is where the southbound TGV trains meet the Satolas airport and Calatrava's terminal conjures the wing of a giant bird. "Although the suggestion of flight evoked by the building may recall Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal [at New York's Kennedy airport], Calatrava's imagery is more dramatic, confirming his place as one of the most creative contemporary architect/engineers, in the spirit of Italian Pier Luigi Nervi, or the Swiss bridge designer Robert Maillart," Jodidio asserts. He is correct, but perhaps too conservative as Calatrava has no peers in engineering.

Jodidio's book includes many of the most important and fantastic projects of the period: Rem Koolhaas's fine 1994 Grand Palais in Lille, France, with its fabulous facade of many angled panels and interior of corrugated plastic walls: Peter Eisenman's wondrous unrealized 1995 project for the Max Reinhardt House in Berlin (see illustration in The City Review's article that includes illustration of the project) and his quite remarkable and pastel-colored Greater Columbus (Ohio) Convention Center, completed in 1993; "The Box," completed in 1994 by Eric Owen Moss in Culver City, California; Asymptote's great 1988 project for the West Coast Gateway in Los Angeles, a Deconstructivist dream; Christian de Portzamparc's Bandai Cultural Complex project in Tokyo that is a prototype of sorts of his curved and illuminated facade for a Louis Vuitton building on West 57th Street in New York; Architecture Studio's stupendous 1993 Lycée Jules Verne in Cergny-Le-Haut, France; Fumihiko Maki's pristine and faceted, boat-like Kirishima Concert Hall in Aira, Kagoshima, Japan; Renzo Piano's spectacular, wave-like 1995 Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan; Nicholas Grimshaw's snake-like, 1993 Waterloo International Terminal in London; Hiroshi Hara's dramatic and awesome 1993 Umeda Sky City in Kita-ku, Osaka, Japan (see illustration in The City Review's review of a book on skyscrapers); Ken Yeang's 1993 cylindrical, break-apart Menara Mesinaga tower in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Steven Holl's inventive and elegant 1994 Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York; Frank O. Gehry's 1997 Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, of course, one of the great buildings of the century; Mario Botta's 1994 San Francis Museum of Modern Art with its great oculus and truncated cone form and his 1995 Evry (France) Cathedral, also a truncated cone in superb red masonry; I. M. Pei's bold, lakefront 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio; Makoto Sei Watanabe's weirdly but playfully expressionist 1995 Aoyama Art School in Toyko; Kijo Rokkaku's sensational 1989 Tokyo Budokan and Itsuko Hasegawa's remarkable inventive 1991 Shonandai Cultural Center in Fujisawa, Kanagawa, Japan (see illustrations of both in The City Review's article on a fine book on Tokyo); Isozaki's impressive 1990 Art Tower Mito (Japan); Rafael Vinoly's sleek 1996 Tokyo International Forum; Enric Mirailles's ominous but poetic 1994 Unazuki Meditation Center in Toyama, Japan; Simon Unders and Tom Kinslow's stark and startling 1994 T House in Wilton, New York; Sir Norman Foster's 1995 project for the SECC Conference Center in Glasgow, Scotland, a softened Sydney Opera House; and Sir Richard Roger's 1995 European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

©Valode & Pistre

"A final project, the L'Oreal Factory at Aulnay-sous-Bois, France, by the architects Valode & Pistre, is in many ways symbolic of the search for new forms in architecture," Jodidio wrote.

The 1991 project, illustrated above, Jodidio continued, "is most notably marked by its enormous curved roof inspired by the image of the three-petaled flower floating above the ground. Made of an aluminum/polyethylene 'sandwich' the roof elements...are suspended without columns by a tubular spaceframe superstructure designed by the late engineer Peter Rice. The apparent and real lightness of the roof structure made it possible to bring far more light into the factory areas than is usually the case. Because of new production techniques, dividing the usual assembly line process of this cosmetics manufacturer into smaller units, the architects were able to propose this spectacular tripartite structure disposed around a central garden and artificial lake, rather than adhering to the more traditional rectilinear architecture factories. The unusual curving complexity of the roof elements was made possible not only by computer-aided design but also by a laser-guided checking system for the placement of the 20,000 panels. Combining an innovative structural solution with a renewed concept of factory layout, this project concludes this survey as well as any other. The L'Oreal factory shows that technology, new materials and a willingness on the part of clients and architect to experiment have created the condition for a true renewal of architecture. In their project description, Valode & Pistre quote Alvar Aalto, who said 'Architecture has an unstated ideal, which is to recreate paradise. If we did not constantly bear this idea in mind, all of our buildings would be simpler and more trivial, and life would become...yes, it would almost no longer be worth living.'"

This indispensable, large volume demonstrates that the search for new forms has indeed been fruitful and there is hope for an exciting future. The book is well written and has a bibliography and biographies of the architects in addition to its many fine illustrations.

A biographical note and photo of the author and other illustrations from the book can be found at

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