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Architectural Spotlight

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The New Library of Alexandria


The city of Alexandria in Egypt has long held a place in history as a center of learning, the Great Library of Alexandria was created around 295 B.C. when Demetrius of Phalerun convinced the Egyptian Pharaoh Ptolemy to build a library that would house all the books in the world and become a center of culture and learning.

According to history Ptolemy developed such a passion for his library that any ship that came into harbor saw all of its books seized. The Pharaoh was good enough to make copies of the books but those were what were returned to the ship while the originals stayed in the library. The library was said to have amassed more then 700,000 scrolls before its eventual destruction by fire.


The New Library of Alexandria was created by Egypt, and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization with the goal of making it once again a focal point for research, and the advancement of knowledge and the open exchange of ideas. A number of countries contributed to its building, including the fallen government of Suddam Hussein, whose check for 21 million cleared the bank just days before the start of the Gulf War.

“In a world worried about the clash of civilizations, about war, about hatred and about killing, I think it’s significant that out of Egypt comes this new library, a place of understanding, learning, tolerance and brotherhood,”

Ismail Serageldin, the library’s director and a former World Bank vice president. s

alexandria_egypt-libraryThe current incarnation of the library has about 250,000 books which is less then most college libraries contain in their collections. The library currently has space for about 5 million volumes, while the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress has nearly 20 million. While the book collection is not even close to being the largest in the world, the library is notable for being the one and only mirror site (backup) for the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive (IA) is a nonprofit organization that maintains a on-line library and archive of web and multimedia resources. One should also not that this is the only library in the world whose collection is mirrored, (at least publicly.)

forecourtThe Library was designed by the Norwegian firm Snohetta in the shape of a disc tilted towards the Mediterranean to suggest the image of the Egyptian sun illuminating the world. The walls are built of grey Aswan granite and are carved with characters from one hundred and twenty different human scripts.

The exterior of the Library has a large reflecting pool and a public plaza which link the building to the sea and the city. The pools assist in cooling the building’s environs and naturally collect dust to improve air quality on the site.

Ithaa, The World's First Undersea Restaurant.

The view from inside Ithaa

The view from inside Ithaa

There are few experiences in dinning that could be considered more unique then this one. Ithaa is the first undersea restaurant in the world. The construction of the restaurant is primarily a T-Cast acrylic roof, which offers a 270 degree panoramic view to its customers The Restaurant has a capacity of fourteen guests, so needless to say it is pretty exclusive. Meals in this fish tank range from 120$ US for hotel guests on a full meal plan, to $250 US for guests who are on a Bed & Breakfast meal plan, whatever that is.

While some may ask what a resort restaurant like this is doing in an urban blog, for me it comes down to the likelihood that another fancy coastal city is going to want one of these soon too. Seattle, Vancouver, LA, Sydney, New York is unlikely as the Hudson is still a little too dark, but my guess is that it is only a matter of time before some other city decides to commission one of these.

The restaurant was conceived by the Crown Company in the Maldives who wanted to make an undersea restaurant which was both unique and the first of its kind. The first vision for the restaurant was of a more rectangular shaped box with glass windows but later came to favor a tunnel design that was originally conceived for the Kuala Lumpur National Science Center.

The restaurant was constructed in Singapore in 2004 and then later transported by barge to the Maldives. After its arrival it was lowered onto four steel piles and secured to them with concrete. The lifespan of the structure is estimated at 20 years.

One has to wonder what the fish who swim by may think. I would however definitely advise resisting the urge to tap on the glass, after all if the dome goes it would make you the main course.

The Chanel Mobile Art Gallery

The Gallery Entrance

The Gallery Entrance

The Chanel Mobile Art Gallery could be coming to a city near you. One of the latest creations by Zaha Hadid, an architect who is certainly making a mark on the urban fabric of a great many towns, The Chanel Mobile Art Gallery is traveling the world in a movable building that started its tour on the top floor of a park aid in Hong Kong. There is a video on the site that talks about how this building is revolutionary, how the geometry was solved, and generally just loving on itself, but this gallery does bear special mention.

Its shape reminds me of a shell you might find on the beach, but instead of a shy little crab the inside of this travelling room is full of art pieces inspired by the iconic handbag label. Patrons enter and exit the gallery through the same area and filter into the gallery taking a circuitous route that eventually circles back on itself. The shape is alien enough in its look that it would be impossible to miss in any urban area. Imagine coming upon it parked in the corner of a park or parking lot the simple fact that it is very ‘not square’ would trigger your awareness.


Interior views

Above: The Interior views      Below: The shell like Shape

The shell like Shape

While it would be easy to write this gallery off as a travelling sales man for a big name company a look at the artists listed as part of the tour makes this gallery more then just display case. One of the artists featured is the Blue Noses. The bio lists them as having been formed at the time of the millennium bug, as a collective of happy imbeciles, they use comedy to make critiques on the stupidity of modern society and its values. Their scenes are often very comedic but with an underlying violence. The Blue Noses are considered the rascals of contemporary Russian art.

On of the Blue Noses' scenes

On of the Blue Noses' scenes

The tour visits following six cities; Hong Kong, Tokyo, New Tork, London, Moscow, or Paris, you can check out the and if you live in New York or one of the latter four you can swing by the site to check out tour dates. If you were not able to catch it in one of the cities that it visited click the link below for a virtual tour, with some pretty creepy sound effects.

Chanel Mobile Art

Surreal Estate

I came across one of the most interesting property videos today. While looking for video’s on YouTube came across a number of video’s by Squint/Opera showing the work of architecture firms. This particular video was produced for Alsop architects in London of a property  they renovated. The Victoria House property is a mixing together of traditional and modern styles. The video is a surrealists trip through the property starting with the more traditional aspects of its architecture an moving to the more modern elements as the footage progresses.

16mm film of a redeveloped 1930s building in Bloomsbury, London.

Shot on 16mm, the film narrates the character of this redeveloped 1930s building in Bloomsbury, Victoria House. The architecture was designed by Alsop Architects and developed by Garbe.

Tapestries In Glass

The Residences by Jean Nouvel

The Residences by Jean Nouvel

While I have not intention of making this blog simply about real estate I do want to make another apartment post. As I mentioned in the 200 Eleventh Ave post a number of new buildings are springing up in the area around the highline and the new residences by Jean Nouvel are part of the regeneration of this area. The marketing write up for the new residence hails it as, “a vision machine,” while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it that, the project is a very unique in that the building has over 1,700 different and distinct pieces of glass to make up the façade of the building. The building’s web site explains it as such;

“The buildings gently curving curtain wall of different sized panes of colorless glass – each set in a unique angle and torque – will sheath one of the most meticulously customized, high performance residential addresses in the nation. This dazzling window pattern will frame splendid views from within the tower while producing an exterior texture that serves as a poetic analog for the vibrancy, density and changeability of New York City.” source

Interior Common Areas

Interior Common Areas

Proximity To the High Line

Proximity To the High Line

The building is designed with a number of staggered terraces and uses large single pane punched through windows to highlight certain areas. Nouvel has designed a six story vertical garden within the core of the building with built in planter boxes designed to allow plants to fill the interior space.

I mean seriously a building with no two windows the same? Its going to be very unique, but a bit of a pain when it comes to replace those windows don’t you think?
For more information on the building see the site here.

Mississauga is growing up

Mississauga City Center

Mississauga City Center

One of Toronto’s largest suburban communities is growing up, quite literally. Amacon Developers decided to release both of the buildings in its Parkside Village project in order to meet the demand for units.

People were standing out in the rain waiting for them,” she said of the 36-storey Residences at Parkside Village and the 45-storey Grand Residences that became available last week. “Amacon didn’t want them to come in just to see a sea of red dots, and think that everything had been sold.” source

Absolute Tower, aka The Marilyn

Absolute Tower, aka The Marilyn

The Parkside Village project is part of the eleven block “urban village” that Mississauga is developing in its city center. One of the features of the development will be its 10 to 12 feed wide sidewalks, to allow for cafe seating and an active street life.

Amacon has been in the news in the past for the Absolute Tower or the “Marilyn Monroe” for its sexy shape.

The development of the “urban village” fits with Mississauga’s changing demographics. The city recently released an ‘Engagement and Directions Report’ which shows that the population of the city is aging. It is expected that the percentage of the population over 65 years of age will shift from 8% currently to 25% over the course of the next 30 years. The city currently is not seeing many young families or much of an increase in the less than 44 age group.

These urban living style developments are in high demand for all these aging baby boomers, most of whom made the exodus from urban areas for that two story detached with garage in the burbs. However out in the burbs there are very few amenities and services within walking distance and transit is thin in suburban areas. Condos provide an alternative in a densely packed urban core.

The Parkside Village development project is on 12 hectares of property in downtown Mississauga and turning it into a more pedestrian friendly city with smaller block sizes, (Jane Jacobs would be pleased) and using communities like Montreal’s old part as a starting point. Abandoning the excessively zoned style that Mississauga was built with and building stores and restaurants, a recreation centre, a wine cellar, a film screening room, patios, and a hectare of parkland centered on a green arcade down the middle of the development.

I for one am happy to see any move in the suburbs towards urbanisation, and with the Greenbelt that now encircles the Greater Toronto Area we are likely to see more projects like these as these ring cities are forced to start going up due to both limits on sprawl and the desire of the population for walk able urban developments.

Emporis.com’s listing of buildings for the City Center development.

The Life At Parkside Site.

Mississauga's Potential Skyline

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'Arc d'Atlanta' just who's vision of architecture is right?

The Millenium Gate

The Millenium Gate

This past July 5th weekend the City of Atlanta welcomed an 82-foot-tall Roman arch as the tallest monument in Georgia, knocking Marietta‘s 77-foot-tall “Big Chicken” out of the number one spot. The monument is the first classical monument to be built since 1936 when the Jefferson Memorial was completed. There has been much commentary about the monument and its supposed value. I first caught wind of the monument while surfing ANMP – a great site if you love buildings like I do.  AMNP doesn’t think too highly of the monument. Even the base article at the Christian Science Monitor asks the question as to whether it is just kitsch for a city in search of an identity. Personally, I still like older classical monuments and don’t have an issue with seeing new ones go up. That isn’t to say that I don’t like modernist monuments and feel that they have no place in our cities.  Quite the contrary; I enjoy a number of modernist monuments in the city.

What is most interesting about this article and the online debate over it is the belief by some that there is no place for new classical monuments in our towns and that they are kitsch. Not to mention the assertion by classicists that it is impossible to build structures like these any more.  In the video attached to the article, Hugh Petter, the architect of the ‘Millennium Gate,’ states:

Unfortunately after World War Two the Modernist establishment really took over and in Britain they still have complete control over what happens. I could never build this in Britain, and we are part of the European Union and there is all sorts of legal reasons why things of this scale, even if it is funded with private money have to go to competition, competitions are always judged by architects with a very particular outlook and people like me who do this kind of thing, which is quite specialised would never get a look in with something of this scale.

In the AMNP blog, the author asks the question “Shouldn’t we have some kind of committees set up – maybe even at the federal level – to stop this kind of shit from happening?” I suppose that these are the types of committees that Hugh Petter is talking about.

Is this Gate To Kitchy for You?

Is this Gate To Kitchy for You?

So this all begs the question in my mind as to whether or not the modernist establishment has in fact gotten a strangle hold on public design as Petter suggests. There becomes an inherent issue with an idea, no matter how well intended, when it becomes a self-propelled juggernaut secure in the belief that it is the right way. It’s something that one of my least favourite professors ever once brought up when he was talking about the New Urbanist movement, the current flavour in planning and city design. ‘Don’t just jump on because it’s the new better way, there are issues within this movement that also need to be addressed.’ These are lessons that we have had to learn the hard way from the failings of Le Corbusier’s design for housing projects  and our century of car centered city planning. Should all our monuments be modern? Is there room for classic revivals? Is there perhaps room for a little bit of both?

Read the Christian Science Monitor article here.

Check out Architecture My Ninja Please!

Read AMNP’s response in the comments section.

The 'Hotel Of Doom' Awakes!

The Hotel of Doom!

The Hotel of Doom!

The infamous 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang has awoken from its slumber and is once again seeing construction work. It has been reported that Egypt’s Orascom group has been contracted to refurbish the top floors of what has been termed by some as the ‘Hotel of Doom.’ Construction originally started in 1987 and it was thought that the tower was a jealous response to the South’s Olympic construction boom. The structure is 105 stories high and, if it were fully finished, it would contain 3.9 million square feet of floor space. Kim Ill Sung started construction to show off the state’s burgeoning economic power. Had it been completed it would have been the tallest hotel in the world at that time, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea lost one of its main economic benefactors and could no longer afford the price tag for the project which varies depending on the source (the Wiki entry estimates the bill at US$750 million according to Japanese newspapers; the Reuters article lists South Korean sources as suggesting that the structure would cost close to 2 billion to finish the structure and bring it up to code.)

The structure has been panned by critics as a horrible design, completely unrelated to the city surrounding it.

It is not a beautiful design. It carries little iconic or monumental significance, but sheer muscular and massive presence,” said Lee Sang Jun, a professor of architecture at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Design Aesthetics aside, the building is a great example of ‘Blade Runner’esque, futuristic architecture and is notable for being one of the few (partially) constructed examples of communist super architecture.

The North Korean Government used the hotel extensively for a number of years in its ideology, with it appearing on North Korean stamps before it was finished, and it was boasted about extensively in state media. However, after construction work ceased, the hotel came to be seen as a symbol of the state’s failure to become an economic power and was airbrushed out of pictures of the capital and, according to foreigners living in the North Korean capital, that even though the structure is so massive that it can be seen from anywhere in the city, it was impossible to get anyone to talk about it at all.

While it is unlikely that the current construction work is to ‘finish’ the Hotel, it appears that the top levels are going to be adapted for some sort of use. Perhaps Dr. Evil decided to lease some space for a new lair.

Check out the Reuters article here.

The Wiki entry is here.

Inside the Tyson Mansion

I have to admit that I wasn’t going to post about abandonments; when I conceptualised what I thought this blog was going to be about it didn’t include them.

Until today that is.  Illicitohio is a site devoted to exploring these areas forgotten or otherwise blocked off from the rest of the world. These photos of Tyson Mansion are of a remarkably preserved look at what was once a boxer’s swinging pad.


Mike's Front Door

Mike's Front Door

žižkov television tower

Žižkov Television Tower

Žižkov Television Tower

Deputy Dog has a post with some photos of a very interesting television tower in Prague. The žižkov television tower was built between 1985 and 1992 by the then communist regime. What makes it even more interesting is that it appears to have a number of faceless alien babies crawling up its sides. While these actually are an installation by Czech artist David Černý in the year 2000, they were later returned to the tower in 2001 as a permanent installation. Deputy Dog does a great job of letting the figures creep up on you in his pictures saving the best and, as he puts it, most disturbing photo for last. I would tend to agree, though I would also agree that I really like this art installation.

Continue Reading Deputy Dog’s post.

Some Wikipedia factoids about the tower.

The structure of the tower is unconventional; it consists of three concrete pillars that carry cabinets for the transmitters, a restaurant and cafe, and three observation rooms. From afar, the tower resembles a rocket launchpad. The tower is 216 metres (709 feet) high, with the observation decks at 100 metres (328 feet) and the tower restaurant and cafe situated at 63 metres (207 feet) in the lower ‘pods’. Elevators, equipped with speedometers, transport passengers to the different levels at a rate of 4m/s. The tower weighs 11800 tons and is also used as meteorological observatory. It is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers.

Continue reading the Wikipedia entry on the tower.

The Tower is Located at Point B
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Oh and if you didn’t click on the artists name yet, I suggest you do.  The entrance to his site is very fun.

Care to live on the Queen’s Estate?

Double fronted ambassadorial residence anyone?

Double fronted ambassadorial residence anyone?

Oakmayne Bespoke is in the process of renovating and restoring Cornwall Terrace into six residences and four apartments. The land which was formerly leased to British Land for their headquarters came up for sale after their lease ran out. According to the Luxury Property Blog;

Cornwall Terrace is part of the Crown Estate, and as such, you can honestly say that you live in one of the Queen’s houses should you choose to buy one. Cornwall Terrace is also a grade one listed building, and must therefore be restored in a way that remains true to the original features and styling.

The property is located in the middle of Regent’s Park overlooking the Rowing Lake. If you have a $100 million laying around you too could own one of these. Though the sales are by invitation only so you may need to contact Oakmayne Bespoke and flash them your bank account details.