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Saturday, 23 May 2009


2100, a large crowd of ecological refugeesFurther to the anthropogenic activity, the climate warms up and the ocean level increases. According to the principle of Archimedes and contrary to preconceived notions, the melting of the arctic ice-floe will not change the rising of the water exactly as an ice cube melting in a glass of water does not make its level rise. However, there are two huge ice reservoirs that are not on the water and whose melting will transfer their volume towards the oceans, leading to their rising. It deals with the ice caps of Antarctic and Greenland on the one hand, and the continental glaciers on the other hand. Another reason of the ocean rising, that does not have anything to do with the ice melting is the water dilatation under the effect of the temperature. According to the less alarming forecasts of the GIEC (Intergovernmental group on the evolution of the climate), the ocean level should rise from 20 to 90 cm during the 21st Century with a status quo by 50 cm (versus 10 cm in the 20th Century). The international scientific scene assets that a temperature elevation of 1°C will lead to a water rising of 1 meter. This increase of 1 m would bring ground losses emerged of approximately 0.05% in Uruguay, 1% in Egypt, 6% in the Netherlands, 17.5% in Bangladesh and up to 80% approximately in the atoll Majuro in Oceania (Marshall and Kiribati islands and step by step the Maldives islands). If the first meter is not very funny with more than 50 million of people affected in the developing countries, the situation is worse with the second one.
Countries like Vietnam, Egypt, Bangladesh, Guyana or Bahamas will see their most inhabited places swamped at each flood and their most fertile fields devastated by the invasion of salt water damaging the local ecosystems. New York, Bombay, Calcutta, Hô Chi Minh City, Shanghai, Miami, Lagos, Abidjan, Djakarta, Alexandria… not les that 250 million of climatic refugees and 9% of the GDP threatened if we not build protections related to such a threat. It is the demonstration inflicted to reluctant spirits by a climatological study of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and that challenges our imagination of eco-conception! The water rising being not written in the agenda of the Grenelle agreements on environment in France, it is primordial in terms of environmental crisis and climatic exodus to pass from now on from a strategy of reaction in emergency to a strategy of a adaptation and long-lasting anticipation. It is surprising, whereas some islands prepare their disappearing to see that the management of the rising of the ocean level does not seem to worry the governments beyond measure. More surprising to see that the populations of the developed countries continue to rush on the littoral to build districts over there; houses and buildings dedicated to a certain flood. Lilypad, a prototype of auto-sufficient amphibious city Whereas the Netherlands and the United Arabic Emirates « fatten » their beach with billion of euros to build their short-living polders and their protective dams for a decade, the project «Lilypad» deals with a tenable solution to the water rising! Actually, facing the worldwide ecological crisis, this floating Ecopolis has the double objective not only to widen sustainabely in offshore the territories of the most developed countries such as the Monaco principality but above all to grant the housing of future climatic refugees of he next submerged ultra-marine territories such as the Polynesian atolls. New biotechnological prototype of ecologic resilience dedicated to the nomadism and the urban ecology in the sea, Lilypad travels on the water line of the oceans, from the equator to the poles following the marine streams warm ascending of the Gulf Stream or cold descending of the Labrador. It is a true amphibian half aquatic and half terrestrial city, able to accommodate 50,000 inhabitants and inviting the biodiversity to develop its fauna and flora around a central lagoon of soft water collecting and purifying the rain waters. This artificial lagoon is entirely immersed ballasting thus the city. It enables to live in the heart of the subaquatic depths. The multifunctional programming is based on three marinas and three mountains dedicated respectively to the work, the shops and the entertainments. The whole set is covered by a stratum of planted housing in suspended gardens and crossed by a network of streets and alleyways with organic outline. The goal is to create a harmonious coexistence of the couple Human / Nature and to explore new modes of living the sea by building with fluidity collective spaces in proximity, overwhelming spaces of social inclusion suitable to the meeting of all the inhabitants – denizen or foreign-born, recent or old, young or aged people. The floating structure in « branches » of the Ecopolis is directly inspired of the highly ribbed leave of the great lilypad of Amazonia Victoria Regia increased 250 times. Coming from the family of Nympheas, this aquatic plant with exceptional plasticity was discovered by the German botanist Thaddeaus Haenke and dedicated to the Queen Victoria of England in the 19th Century. The double skin is made of polyester fibres covered by a layer of titanium dioxide (TiO2) like an anatase which by reacting to the ultraviolet rays enable to absorb the atmospheric pollution by photocatalytic effect. Entirely autosufficient, Lilypad takes up the four main challenges launched by the OECD in March 2008: climate, biodiversity, water and health. It reached a positive energetic balance with zero carbone emission by the integration of all the renewable energies (solar, thermal and photovoltaic energies, wind energy, hydraulic, tidal power station, osmotic energies, phytopurification, biomass) producing thus durably more energy that it consumes! True biotope entirely recyclable, this floating Ecopolis tends thus towards the positive eco-accountancy of the building in the oceanic ecosystems by producing and softening itself the oxygen and the electricity, by recycling the CO2 and the waste, by purifying and softening biologically the used waters and by integrating ecological niches, aquaculture fields and biotic corridors on and under its body to meet its own food needs. To reply to the mutation of the migratory flows coming from the hydroclimatic factors, Lilypad join thus on the mode of anticipation particular to the Jules Verne’s literature, the alternative possibility of a multicultural floating Ecopolis whose metabolism would be in perfect symbiosis with the cycles of the nature. It will be one of the major challenges of the 21st Century to create an international convention inventing new special means to accommodate the environmental migrants by recognizing their rights and obligations. Political and social challenge, the urban sustainable development must more than ever enter in resonance worldly with the human sustainable development!



The world of fast-food and frozen food is over! The urban keen interest of the beginning of our Century turns toward the garden flat bringing back the countryside in our overcrowded cities fighting from now on for a community urban agriculture able to contribute to the durability of the city and to rethink the food production. On the roofs, terraces, balconies, in the hollow of the non-built public spaces, in the interior yards and the suspended greenhouses, the eco-warrior aspires to escape from its competitive and consumeristic universe imposed by the laws of the market. He desires to cultivate its immediate landscape so as to better take root in the ground by creating his own ecologic and alimentary biodiversity. The consumer becomes from then on producer and the garden inhabitant ! From the Parisian « worker gardens » to the « community gardens » of New York going though Muscovite « vegetable squares », eight hundred million of urban farmers, i.e. more than one human being out of ten, consume nowadays chlorophyllous products from these cosmopolitan kitchen gardens. These new gardens, aware of the emergency to reduce our fuel consumption and the necessity to modify our behaviour facing the climatic changes, decrease thus their environmental impact and build eco-responsible cities on a community way. 2025 : 5.5 BILLION OF CITY SLICKERS FACING THE FOOD CHALLENGE OF THE 21ST CENTURYAccording to the PNUD (Programme of the United Nations for the Development), the worldwide urban population will go from 3.1 billion of inhabitants in 2009 up to 5.5 billion of inhabitants within 2025. Looking for a positive energetic assessment, the contemporary city aims within fifteen years at producing cleanly and intensively more energy than it consumes so as to pack this urban exodus! It develops therefore the urban agriculture to become food self-sufficient by recycling at the same time its liquid waste by phyto-purification, its solid waste in fertilizers by composting and by producing energy by biomass, photovoltaic cells and other renewable energies (thermic solar, photovoltaic solar, wind, tide-turbine energies…). In order to avoid the asphixiation of the planet and the feeding of its 9 billion of inhabitants within 2050, it deals thus with reinventing the traditional energetic pattern between the city and the countryside between western countries, emerging countries and developing countries. This sums up as following: on the one hand import of natural and food resources, and on the other hand export of waste and pollution. The ecologic city aims at reintegrating the farming function on the urban scale by emphasizing the role of the urban agriculture in the use and the reuse of natural resources and biodegradable waste so as to close the loop of ecologic flows. The urban agriculture can feed the city without any pesticide or chemical fungicide (whose toxicity is proved on the human being : cancer, sterility…), and make it less food dependant of its backcountry or other regions of the world. Organising the distribution of fresh products in short circuits, that means linked directly with the consumer, the urban agriculture complete thus the traditional agriculture. In addition to the nutritive quality of the produced and consumed food, the urban agriculture is also a growth lever of the urban unemployment market and the local economy. It is used directly as a social link in the conciliation of the primary needs of the newcomers with the challenge of their integration in the life of the city, fighting thus against poverty and exclusion. On the sanitary level, this farm approach presents also an interesting potential for the decontamination of polluted grounds and undergrounds as well as for he purification of the polluted atmosphere in CO2. Due to the fuel crisis and climatical change, the rural agriculture of the western countries must answer to the worldwide food crisis of the developing countries and mainly Africa. Its role is from now on to produce (with an increase estimated of 60% within 2050) all the foodstuffs transportable by boat such as cereals or corn. This is based on the evolution of the science and the most advanced biotechnologies. In addition to this nutritious role, the rural agriculture is newly challenged to recycle its own culture rebus for the green chemistry in order to produce the bio fuel called “second generation fuel” using the energy of non-consumable materials from the plants, that means fibres such as celluloses. DRAGONFLY, A NOURISHING VERTICALY CULTIVATED CENTRAL PARK
The architecture has to be in the service of this new agriculture and to design this new social desire in this context of ecologic mutation and food autonomy! The Dragonfly project suggests therefore building a prototype of urban farm offering around a mixed programme of housing, offices and laboratories in ecological engineering, farming spaces which are vertically laid out in several floors and partly cultivated by its own inhabitants. This vertical farm sets up all the sustainable applications in organic agriculture based on the intensive production varied according to the rhythm of the seasons. This nourishing agriculture is furthermore in favour of the reuse of biodegradable waste and the keeping of energy and renewable resources for a planning of ecosystemic densification. In order to conceptualize this project and give our point of view in the ecological and social crisis debates, Dragonfly sets up along the East River at the South edge of the Rooselvelt Island in New York between Manattan’s Island and the Queens’ district. So as to face the landed pressure, Dragonfly stretches itself vertically under the shape of a bionic tower relocating a new urban biotope for the fauna and the local flora and recreating a food production auto-managed by the inhabitants in the heart of Big Apple. Floor by floor, the tower superposes not only stock farming ensuring the production of meat, milk, poultry and eggs but also farming grounds, true biological reactors continuously regenerated with organic humus. It diversifies the cultivated varieties to avoid the washing of stratums of soft substratum. Thus, the cultures succeed one another vertically according to their agronomical ability to provide some elements of the ground between the essences that are sowed and harvested. The tower, true living organism, becomes thus metabolic and self-sufficient in water, energy, and bio-fertilizing. Nothing is lost; everything is recyclable to a continuous auto-feeding! A BIONIC AND ENERGETICALLY SELF-SUFFICIENT ARCHITECTURE
The architecture of Dragonfly prototype suggests reinventing the vertical building (that outlined the urbanistic booming of New York City since the 19th Century) as structurally and functionally as ecologically and energetically. To ensure the social diversity and a permanent life cycle (24h/24) in the tower, the mixed programmation is mainly laid out around two poles of housing and work places. Around housings, offices and research laboratories as well as the most private to the most public agricultural and leisure spaces are designed in gardens, kitchen gardens, orchards, meadows, rice fields, farms and suspended fields. The distribution of flows is made around a true safe spine spreading in loop the numerous elevators, the goods elevators and stair wells serving all the levels by separating simultaneously the inputs and the outputs recycled from plants, animals and human beings. Architecturally, the functional organisation is represented by two oblong towers symetrically arranged in pair around a huge climatic greenhouse that links them and deploys itself between two crystalline wings. These very light wings in glass and steel retake the loads of the building and are directly inspired from the structure of the dragonfly wings coming from the family of “Odonata Anisoptera” whose transparent membrane is very finely nervured. Two inhabited rings buttress around these wings. Their organically chiselled exo-structure accommodates the inter-climatic spaces that receive the agrarian cultures. They buttress. The whole set forms «double layer» architecture in bee nest mesh that exploits the solar passive energy at its maximum level, by accumulating the warm air in the winter in the thickness of the exo-structure, and by cooling the atmosphere by natural ventilation and by evapo-perpiration of the plants in the summer. Protecting thus the cultures from climatic changes in New York (from -25.5°C in the winter to +41°C in the summer), these plug spaces are useful to reflect on the agriculture not anymore in terms of surface area but really in terms of volume. Actually, whereas grounds nourish orchards, each wall and each ceiling are metamorphosed into three-dimensional kitchen gardens. The interior frontages of the housing and offices throw towards the skyline of New York the cantilever of their hydrophonic balconies with hexagonal section thanks to what it multiplies the culture layers by floors. The vegetation abounds, the earth is swarming of insects and animals are freely brought up in holding tanks by urban consumers with low income. The architecture becomes eatable ! In addition to this thermal called « passive » system, the integration of renewable energies has been thought from the design of Dragonfly to meet the needs of a completely energetically self-sufficient project in urban centre. Actually, the South prow of the tower receives in all the heights of its curve a solar shield producing half of the electric energy needed for its functioning. The other half is ensured by the three wind machines with vertical axes of Darrieus type that coils itself up in the three lenses hollowed in the North part of the micro-pearled shell towards dominated wind of New York. The exterior façades of the tower present a double personality. Actually, in the West of the Island near Manhattan, the façades are treated in planted walls, whereas in the East near the Queens’ district, the wet exterior walls are cultivated with tropical essences. These vertical gardens enable to filter the rain water and the effluents of domestic liquid waste of the tower inhabitants. The collected waters undergo an appropriate organic treatment for the farming reuse, bringing all the nitrogen and an important part of phosphor as well as potassium needed for the production of fruits, vegetables and cereals. Outlining the bank of the Roosevelt Island, the tower widens at each side of its basis to better integrate the flows that cross it and to welcome two marinas along the East River. This widening out forms two huge photovoltaic vaults such as a solar dress floating above these two urban harbours: on the western marina side, the wooden pontoons of the taxi boats open panoramically on the Midtown bank and on the eastern marina side, the floating market oriented towards the Queens’ district is designed to distribute through the river the food production of this vertical farm to the heart of Manhattan and to its million and a half of city slickers. Moreover, these two marinas accommodate two huge aquaculture ponds, true tank of soft water filtered by the planted frontages and dedicated to be reinjected in the hydroponic network of the Dragonfly tower. According to the evolution of the urban agriculture enhanced by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) that has been realising since 2007 that the organic agriculture on a large scale would be able to nourish the planet, the Dragonfly project challenges the city of New York to rethink its food production. In response, this project of inhabited vertical farm replies to the contemporary dilemma of producing not only ecologically but also more intensively on non-extensive earth. This by merging also directly production place and consumption place in the heart of the city!

Nord’s Alan Pert rediscovers Scotland’s Crichton Castle

Alan Pert reveals how a visit to Crichton Castle as a boy has been an influence on his most recent building — an electricity substation for the London Olympics

Inspiration: Crichton Castle courtyard elevation Completed 1585
Location: Crichton, Mid-Lothian, Scotland

I’ve been to a lot of castles in my time but the courtyard elevation at Crichton is quite amazing — a place that just sticks in my mind. It’s a consistent point of reference.
The castle and its stables are said to be haunted by a horseman and the ghost of William Crichton. I was eight or nine years old on my first visit and I remember sitting at the top f the hill overlooking the castle as my dad tried desperately to capture my brother’s and my attention with his tales of ghostly figures.

I visited the castle again when I was 14, only this time I was the one telling the story of the headless horseman, embellishing the story enough to convince my fellow schoolmates that I had actually seen William Crichton on my previous visit. We were asked to sketch a view of the castle and in the rain most of us found refuge in the courtyard space. We all chose to draw the same view of the decorative Northern courtyard walls; it had captured all our imaginations while sheltering from the extreme weather.
I had always loved the eccentricity of this castle, but I hadn’t known back then how unique and significant it was. Then when I was a first year architectural student at Strathclyde it was referenced in a lecture and I decided to revisit it. I found the 1585 alterations by Francis Stewart, which resulted in the diamond faceted courtyard facade to be even more curious on this visit. It’s so unexpected. Stewart (cousin to Mary, Queen of Scots), was sometimes described as a madman and finally banished from Scotland but maybe he was in fact a true visionary with an eye for detail. The geometric patterned facade is such a break from the familiar image of the castle walls and to many a first time viewer it appears as though it was added in the late 20th century. When I walked in I thought it was modern day addition, but it’s been entirely hand-carved by Italian stone masons. It is a fantastic insight into the personality of Stewart who on a trip to Italy was so taken by the facade of the Palazzo dei Diamanti at Ferrara that he returned to Crichton and recreated his very own interpretation in carved stone from a nearby quarry.
It’s just incredible when the rest of the building is so typical of any Scottish castle. Imagine the impact of the cloisters, the elevation, the window fenestration —castles just never had that symmetry. You always think of castles as protective spaces but here the alterations have created a decorative space, a celebratory space. The style and attitude is so different to the rest of the castle. It must have been so nice to have had that freedom and the confidence to exploit that freedom. We don’t see enough of that these days.
His work clearly broke new ground in Scottish architectural practice and presages what was to follow a century later. His replanning of the north range creates living spaces over three levels where a loggia of seven bays and a single bay to the west supports the diamond faceted elevation above. In the north-west corner we also see the projection of a stair, boldly breaking the classical rhythm of the arcade. Traditionally, castles used a spiral staircase within the thickness of the castle walls but at Crichton there’s the first ever scale-and-platt staircase to be found in Scotland. At my most recent visit I also noticed the relationship between this straight flight stair and the large picture window on the landing. The picture window appears to celebrate the view to the landscape. Or does it simply keep a watchful eye over the path leading up to the castle? My feeling is that Stewart had been so inspired by his trips abroad that he wanted to create a true Renaissance residence — the stair, the view and the extrovert nature of his additions all suggest this.

He also recognised the importance of the courtyard as not only a way of organising the plan and connecting the spaces within the castle but as a place to shelter while indulging in the pleasure and delight of the facade. The castle had changed from a defensible space to a house that expressed the character of the person living in it.
It was not until my most recent visit with BD that I was to uncover more drama with this facade.
We could not have picked a better day, and the true spectacle of the facade was laid bare as the sun started to reach the northern courtyard elevation at 11am. The carved blocks now appeared like a black and white kaleidoscope slowly changing as the shadows moved round the facets of the blocks. By midday the entire facade was bleached by the sun while the shadows cast a pattern strangely similar to the Minton-inspired patterned surfaces of a bridge in Stoke that Nord have been working on. He understood his material, he understood his site and orientation, he understood the drama of light and he understood his audience. More significantly he understood the emotional side of architecture.
At Nord we don’t sit down and consciously think about Crichton when we first approach a project, but there are Nord projects that reference it. We see ourselves as distinctly modernist but approach all of our work with a fascination and admiration for the past.
Similar to our fascination with Crichton Castle, our Utility Wallpaper Project embraces the craft, pattern, texture and permanence of the Glasgow tenement close, in particular the ceramic tiling.
In Stoke, where we are developing a masterplan framework which includes a new-build pottery for Emma Bridgewater, a canal footbridge, housing and a new pedestrian streetscape, we have chosen the familiar yet uncelebrated use of Minton tiles as a source of inspiration across the projects. There will be a richness of skin, texture and treatment in everything we do. The challenge is in finding the craftspeople with the skill and pride we see at Crichton Castle to implement the detail.
The project with the most obvious reference to Crichton, is our Olympic electricity substation for the ODA at Stratford, east London, which completes in June.
I’m interested in how the Crichton courtyard elevation is treated in one material, sandstone, but used to different effects whether structurally, as the stairs or as the arches. At the substation, we are also using just one material, brick, but in different ways throughout the elevation. There was a functional requirement to clad the structure of the substation and to provide a ventilated skin to roof enclosures. As a counterpoint to the perforated detail to the coolers, the upper areas will be completed with a similar pattern of brick that is either recessed or projecting. This gives a richness to the elevation despite the use of a single material and colour.
I could easily have picked from a handful of other buildings as a source of inspiration but there’s something about this courtyard that is consistent over time, whatever the project we’re doing.
I think maybe it’s because I saw it first as a child. Architectural education changes the way we look at things forever, and it is sometimes nice to have points of reference which stretch beyond these limitations.
The history of Crichton Castle
Though a ruin now, Crichton Castle contained some of the most sumptuous accommodation in Medieval Scotland. It was a lordly residence for about 200 years from the late 14th century to the late 16th century and became the home of the Earls of Bothwell including the fifth Earl, who was responsible for some of the grander improvements.

Using sandstone from a nearby quarry, the Crichton family built a 25m-tall Tower House in the late 14th century, one of the oldest built in Scotland. Further accommodation was built around it over the decades by the Crichtons and the Bothwells, who took over the castle in the late 15th century. By then, it had been turned into an impressive courtyard castle with a great hall for public entertaining.
When the notoriously wayward fifth Earl of Bothwell, Francis Stewart, took over in 1581, he set about improvements inspired by the styles he’d seen on his travels in Italy and Spain. These include the distinctive Italianate diamond-facetted courtyard facade of the North Lodging, which was quite unlike any other building in Scotland at the time. The style of rustication is thought to have been inspired by the Palazzo dei Diamanti at Ferrara, the Palazzo Carnesali in Verona, the Palazzo Sterepinto at Sciacca, Sicily, or maybe a combination of these. Crichton also boasts the first scale-and-platt stair to be built in Scotland with a wide staircase and landings, preferred in place of the more restricted spiral stair.

When the fifth Earl fled abroad amid a witchcraft scandal in 1595, the castle ceased to function as a residence of lordship.
By 1659 masonry was being taken away and used for other buildings. In 1815 the poem Marmion by Walter Scott drew attention to the neglect of the Crichton ruins, and in 1926 the castle was taken into state care. It is now a scheduled ancient monument and is looked after by Historic Scotland.

How Nord references the past
Nord combines a modernist approach with a fascination with the past. Its footbridge in Stoke (below) has a Minton-inspired pattern echoing the Crichton facade, while its Olympic electricity substation at Stratford has a brick pattern similar to that at Crichton Castle.

Artful arrangements at Sauerbruch Hutton’s Brandhorst Museum

Though Sauerbruch Hutton’s Brandhorst Museum — the latest addition to Munich’s emerging Museum Quarter — suffers from poor masterplanning, as a modern art gallery it is very successful
Museum quarter. Good God, don’t the mere words exhaust you to your bones? While the prospect of half a dozen heaving treasure houses piled together cheek by jowl may prove a lure to the package tourist keen to acquaint himself with 2,000 years of civilisation before lunchtime, the rest of us can surely only wonder what possible curatorial, social, economic or urban dividend such a compressed arrangement affords.
In their mania for the encyclopaedic and self-conscious engagement with issues of national identity, the originals of the model — such epic conceptions as London’s Albertopolis and Berlin’s Museum Island — can at least be understood as quintessential products of the 19th century. The logic behind such present day iterations as Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island and West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong is altogether more obscure.
Over the past two decades, the burghers of Munich have, however, seen fit to put together yet another such ensemble. It is steadily taking shape on land immediately outside the medieval city centre, co-opting as its focus one of the world’s truly great museums, Leo von Klenze’s 1836 Alte Pinakothek.
This building takes the form of a 200m-long bar, which stands as a solitaire centrally located within an expanse of lawn. The new development lies alongside, occupying a block of similarly generous dimensions that was formerly the site of a 19th century barracks. Heavily damaged during the war, this structure was finally demolished in the 1970s, allowing a substantial university building to be erected along the block’s northern edge.
In 1992, architect Stefan Braunfels won a competition that addressed both the block’s long-term development as the site of a number of new museums and the design of its first and largest component — the Pinakothek der Moderne. His masterplan proposed an arrangement that was the direct inverse of the neighbouring block: in place of von Klenze’s narrow built volume, framed to either side by open ground, Braunfels envisaged a central allée, or walkway, of green space framed between bands of building. Since its completion in 2002, his Pinakothek der Moderne has formed the southerly of those two bands. A bombastic exercise in intersecting plan geometries, it makes for a pretty rotten gallery and also points up a fundamental indecision in the masterplan. Straddling between the allée and the perimeter of the site, each of the five buildings anticipated by the masterplan effectively has two principal frontages.
The Pinakothek der Moderne is of a scale that it can support an entrance on both, linked by a central atrium which slices through the body of the building on a (highly disruptive) diagonal. However, the others are very much smaller. Each is conceived as a linear block that straddles the 100m between the allée and Theresienstrasse, the road that closes the site to the north. Their narrow dimension varies, but none is of a width that could happily sustain a through-route. The question therefore arises: which way should they face?

The first set of architects presented with this conundrum were the entrants to the 2002 competition for the Brandhorst Museum. This building — a home for a substantial collection of modern art gifted to the city by Udo Brandhorst and his late wife, Anette — was designated a plot at the north-east corner of the site. This part of the museum quarter is the closest to the city centre. The building’s loyalties were therefore particularly conflicted — it could address the city or it could address the allée but it surely couldn’t do both. One of the shortlistees, Zaha Hadid, thought otherwise, attempting a diagonal through-route in the Braunfels manner. She lost. Of the others, all but one opted to address the allée. The exception was Sauerbruch Hutton, and its choice ultimately proved decisive in securing the commission. Its building, which opened last week, stacks the galleries on three levels, one underground and two above. The width of the above ground volume is a mere 18m for much of its length but at the Theresienstrasse end it widens and also grows in height, marking the building’s entrance with a pronounced “head”. As the range of responses to the competition suggests, none of the possible orientations was ideal. However, while we evidently might not be in the position of reviewing a new Sauerbruch Hutton building had the practice faced its scheme in the opposite direction, I am not altogether persuaded that it made the right call. The city’s gain is undoubtedly the masterplan’s loss, with the effect that where one might have imagined a café spilling out in the central allée, we find instead a service entrance.
One is also left wondering how convincingly the practice has capitalised on its choice. The principal elevation looks across Theresienstrasse to a really exceptional 1950s apartment building by Sep Ruf. This eight-storey block stands a significant distance back from the other buildings that line the street — a decision Ruf took in order to prevent the barracks from overshadowing the beautifully detailed steel balconies that extend along his principal facade. Sauerbruch Hutton’s decision to build up the museum’s volume against Theresienstrasse offers a successful response to the apartment block’s height. What feels like something of a missed opportunity is the judgment that it has made about where to set the building line. Give or take a metre, this accords with that of the barracks and thus with that of every other building on the street. To question the wisdom of such an evidently good-mannered solution might be thought perverse. And yet, what if the Brandhorst had mirrored not only the height of Ruf’s building but also its setback? Then it would find itself on an intimately scaled square and any doubts about the building’s orientation would in large part be allayed.

Being a Sauerbruch Hutton building, the Brandhorst is — needless to say — extravagantly coloured. The cladding takes the form of two distinct layers. The rear one is a rainscreen of perforated metal, backed with acoustic insulation to minimise the reflection of traffic noise to the immediate neighbourhood. The metal folds back and forth up the building’s height, the resultant bands being emphasised by alternating shades of red and blue. This can be glimpsed through the gaps in the outer layer, which comprises a continuous field of 36,000 glazed ceramic rods. The colouring of the rods gives the building the appearance of three intersecting volumes, which broadly correspond to the ground-floor galleries, those on the upper level and the “head”. Each has been assigned its own family of colours. The architect describes the treatment as akin to an abstract painting and while one can’t help suspecting that should the practice ever land the commission for the headquarters of the Swedish Institute of Funeral Directors it would still choose to jazz up proceedings with magenta and mango stripes there is, nonetheless, a very real resonance between the Brandhorst’s facades and the concerns of the (predominantly pop) art inside.
This achievement must, of course, be weighed against the building’s impact on what is a highly established urban setting. Much of Sauerbruch Hutton’s oeuvre has been realised on sites that lie either on the urban periphery or within territories of vividly metropolitan character and the practice’s explorations of colour have been led by the particular challenges of those conditions. The scale of the fabric within which the Brandhorst sits is still much as it was in the 19th century and despite the effects of Second World War bombing, a great many historic buildings remain. The fineness of the Brandhorst’s facades represents an attempt to respond to that shift of scale. Viewed up close, their polychromy certainly appears pretty strident but from a distance it seems to dissolve into a white noise, or more precisely a pastel one which takes its place comfortably enough among the rendered facades of the surrounding streets. That said, one might still question whether the building’s urban obligations are adequately met by such a consistently applied facade treatment. The fracturing of the building into three differently coloured volumes is really the only visually significant modulation that the cladding accommodates, and while this gesture clearly introduces a sense of variety, what it determinedly does not do is instill any kind of hierarchical division. Indeed, very little distinction at all is made between the building’s front, back and sides. Whether this ambiguity serves to ameliorate or compound the confusions of the masterplan is a moot point but it does make for a building that feels pretty disengaged from the urban concerns of its neighbours.
OK, enough gripes. The Brandhorst’s interior really is very successful indeed. In the interests of maximising hanging space, visitors are almost entirely denied views out of the building but their journey is far from a monotonous one, modulated through variations in the layout of the galleries, their size and the the ways in which they receive daylight.
Configured in a meandering enfilade that frustrates long views through multiple rooms, the ground-floor galleries are the most intimately scaled and are further distinguished by being sidelit. This is achieved through the provision of a continuous clerestory along the external wall of each gallery, the light from which is reflected off a coved ceiling before being diffused and scattered by a bank of stretched fabric louvres. While this feature has a more demonstrative character than one might ordinarily expect to find in an art space the bullish Polke, Koons and Warhol pieces that live here prove more than capable of holding their own.
Vertical circulation is by way of a monumental stair that ranges freely in plan. It is disengaged from the adjacent walls in order to open up a slot within which large canvases — at 12m in length, Warhol’s piquantly named Piss Painting is the largest — can be hoisted up and down. The stair enjoys a very direct relationship to the exhibition areas. In fact, on the lower level it touches down in the middle of the largest gallery — an epic 460sq m top-lit room of quasi-industrial character. Immediately alongside lie the only rooms without daylight — spaces that have been designed to display early 20th century works on paper. The hard juxtaposition of these different viewing conditions feels particularly rich in curatorial potential.

The rooms on the upper level also vary dramatically in scale but are lit consistently by way of an Okalux light. At present, the whole floor is given over to works by Cy Twombly, some from the Brandhorst collection and a number loaned by the artist but made in response to the spaces of the new building. Among those from the museum’s own holdings is a series of 12 gigantic canvasses, which depict the 1571 Battle of Lepanto. The Lepanto Cycle is one of the principal monuments of Twombly’s late career and — uniquely among the works in the collection — has been put on permanent display in a gallery that has been tailored to its specific needs. This room occupies the upper level of the “head” but its plan has been developed independently of the external form. The given geometry of the room has been dummied out by a series of faceting planes, with the effect that as visitors enter through a centrally located door they discover the entire series laid out panoramically in front of them. It really is a tremendous coup de théâtre.
The Brandhorst collection comprises about 700 works, of which less than a quarter can be shown at any one time — a fact that lends weight to Sauerbruch Hutton’s suggestion that the site was ultimately too small for the brief. It is a tribute to the architect’s skill that the galleries feel in no way compromised by that situation. The challenges are, unfortunately, rather more legible in the building’s external expression. We can but wonder what the architect might have made of the task if the building’s mass had not been determined so rigidly by the masterplan and if the demand for hanging space had not precluded the introduction of windows to such an extent. Given that three more museum buildings of broadly similar proportions are set to be constructed immediately alongside, this would also surely be an opportune moment to reappraise the Braunfels masterplan in the light of the lessons that the Brandhorst now offers.

Project team:
- Architect Sauerbruch Hutton, Client Freistaat Bayern, Landscape architect Adelheid Gräfin Schönborn, Structural engineer Ingenieurbüro Fink, HVAC engineer Ingenieurbüro Ottitsch, Daylight Arup Lighting, Electrical engineer Zibell Willner & Partner, Acoustic engineer Akustik-Ingenieurbüro Moll