Foster’s 425 Park Avenue skyscraper tops out in New York

Norman Foster has declared that the stepped 41-storey office tower his firm has designed for New York‘s Park Avenue will “set new standards for workplace design”, as the building tops out in the city.

The British architect celebrated the construction milestone in New York City yesterday, as a beam was hoisted atop the skyscraper – the first office tower builr to occupy a full block on Park Avenue in 50 years.

425 Park Avenue by Foster + Partners
Foster + Partners celebrated the topping out of the Park Avenue tower yesterday

Called 425 Park Avenue, the high-rise office features a tapered steel and concrete structure, which outlines three stepped volumes that rise 724.5 feet (221 metres) to the roof. A glass feature set to be added atop later will complete the formation, and add an extra 36 feet (11 metres) to the total height.

Foster + Partners‘ tower joins a host of modernist skyscrapers along the famed boulevard, such as Mies van der Rohe‘s 38-storey Seagram building – behind which the firm’s super-skinny One Hundred East Fifty Third skyscraper is nearing completion.

425 Park Avenue by Foster + Partners
The skyscraper comprises a tapered steel and concrete structure, which outlines three stepped volumes

“The design for 425 Park Avenue emerged as a response that is respectful of its historical context, while reflecting the spirit of its own time,” said Foster in a statement. “It will set new standards for workplace design and provide an enduring landmark that befits its renowned location.”

Triangular steelwork knits together the three glass volumes, as they gradually recess from the seven-storey-high base to form a central section, and a final slender portion on top.

Each of the diagrids will enclose double-height planted terraces to encourage tenants relax and socialise, with the staggered arrangement designed to optimise views towards the nearby Central Park.

The firm – which won a Dezeen Award for its Bloomberg Headquarters in London last week – has placed the vertical circulation to the rear of the structure. The elevators will be glazed to provide vistas of the East River on the other side.

425 Park Avenue by Foster + Partners
425 Park Avenue is designed to complement modernist structures along the boulevard. Rendering by Dbox, courtesy of Foster + Partners

The concrete and steel external structure will also allow for column-free and flexible workspace layouts inside.

An amenity floor will be located in the middle volume to make the most of the park view. Here, tenants will have access to dining areas, meeting spaces, as well as a relaxation and mediation room.

“The building’s design is about providing a sense of light, air and space within the dense urban environment of Manhattan – reflected in the fact that it will be the first WELL certified building in New York City,” said Foster + Partners’ head of studio Nigel Dancey.

425 Park Avenue by Foster + Partners
The tiered design tapers towards the top to maximise views of Central Park. Rendering by Dbox, courtesy of Foster + Partners

Another standout features of the tower is a three-storey entrance lobby, which will adjoin a new flagship restaurant from chef Daniel Humm.

“Everyone enters through the soaring triple-height lobby, which forms the social heart of the building,” Dancey added.

425 Park Avenue’s topping out was documented in true Foster style on his Instagram account. It rounds off a busy few months for his architecture firm, which recently unveiled plans for a tulip-shaped viewing tower in London.

Its unusual shape has sparked much debate, with London City Airport concerned that the structure could impact its radar system. Meanwhile, architect Peter Cook claimed the structure is “not spooky enough”.

Photography is by Nigel Young, courtesy of Foster + Partners.

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Design Museum research finds “shocking” lack of women in design

Just one in five designers in the UK are women, according to new research by the Design Museum.

The survey found that women make up just 22 per cent of the design workforce, even though seven out of 10 students taking design at A level are women.

“This uptake does not feed through to the design workforce where women continue to remain underrepresented,” the Design Museum said.

The percentage of women working in design has risen just four per cent since 2004 and women are under-represented in all design disciplines, including architecture, civil engineering, town planning, software design, fashion and product design.

“Failure to draw on all the talents out there”

The survey, conducted by the Office for National Statistics, was issued to coincide with the centenary of women being allowed to vote in UK elections.

The museum said the survey “reveals shocking gender imbalance in the design industry”.

“As we mark 100 years since the first UK general election in which a percentage of women were permitted to vote, these figures show just how far we have to go – in many spheres – in order to reach equality,” said Design Museum co-director Alice Black.

“The fact that the percentage of women working in the design workforce has remained virtually unchanged since 2004 shows a real failure to draw on all the talents out there, and promote inclusiveness in our industry.”

Women Design event at museum this week

Later this week the London museum hosts Women Design, a two-day programme of talks highlighting women in the industry.

In addition, the museum’s Designers in Residence programme, which starts on 8 December, will this year feature an all-female line up.

“We must take this moment to commit to work together to improve gender diversity in all sectors of the workforce,” said Black. “In the design industry, this means encouraging girls who take design-related subjects in schools to become product designers and civil engineers.”

Designers Hester Buck, Ella Bulley, Legrand Jäger and Helga Schmid will take part in the seven-month residency, which will explore the relationship between design and home.

Black said: “At the museum we are committed to finding new ways to make women more visible in the design industry and inspire change, and I am delighted that we have a cohort of talented women designers in the Designers in Residence project this year.”

“An impoverished future for design”

The Women Design talks take place on 7 and 8 December, and features architects Farshid Moussavi and Odile Decq, sociologist Saskia Sissen and graphic designers Marina Willer and Frith Kerr.

“While we might think that women’s voices are echoing around the world right now through the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, in design publications, conferences, judging panels and other public realms, women designers tend to be outnumbered by their male counterparts,” said curator Libby Sellers, who is hosting Women Design.

“Whatever the rationale behind the gender bias, it has already eliminated or repressed an overwhelming majority of talent in the industry. To continue without championing a balance, would only encourage an impoverished future for design as a result,” she added.

“Perhaps, as we will do through Women Design, by highlighting some of the historical injustices and also seeking out and celebrating role models we might be able to create a discernible difference.”

Last year, Dezeen’s survey of the 100 biggest architecture firms in the world found a “quite shocking” lack of women in senior positions. Just one in 10 high-level staff were women, while only three of the 100 firms were headed by a woman.

Photograph of the Designers in Residence is by Felix Speller.

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west must lose “sense of superiority”

Rem Koolhaas says the west is missing out on crucial conversations about architecture and urbanism because of a prejudice towards projects in authoritarian countries.

Dutch architect Koolhaas, who said he “believes deeply in democracy”, has warned that an automatically negative approach to work completed in China, Russia and the Arabic-speaking world is counter-productive.

“In China, there’s a very authoritarian regime that is doing wonderful things in many ways for its citizens,” said the OMA founder in a keynote speech at the World Architecture Festival on Friday.

“What preoccupies me is the only thing we can do is judge, and judge those developments entirely as negative,” he stated. “We are unable to be both critical and have sympathy.”

“There is too much moralism going on”

The architect, who is also a professor in architecture and urban design at Harvard University, called for western architects to adopt a more nuanced approach when looking at developments in countries with dictatorships.

“We are not active enough in undoing the sense of innate superiority that we have seen as our birthright,” he added. “Dialogue is clearly crucial. There is too much moralism going on that sabotages that.”

Rem Koolhaas at World Architecture Festival: CCTV Headquarters by OMA
“Chinese architecture will benefit” from CCTV building, says Rem Koolhaas

OMA has completed projects in all of the places Koolhaas mentions. Among them are the Garage Museum in Moscow, the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing and the Qatar National Library in Doha.

The architect says the CCTV Headquarters is a good example of how architecture can benefit from broader international engagement.

The twisted skyscraper, which forms a technically impressive loop, was only achievable because the design process mandated over six meetings with 150 of China’s top engineers, said Koolhaas.

Architecture can “intervene to defend values”

The building proved controversial – OMA sustained criticism both from the west for working with the Chinese government, and then from within China when president Xi Jinping called for an end to “weird architecture”.

But the collaborative effort created a shift in the conversation, said Koolhaas.

“One of the effects of CCTV is that China you can now do more experimental structural things,” said Koolhaas.

“[Architects] can intervene in a way that modifies maybe slightly or defends certain values,” he added.

“Once we have a crisis, we have an alibi not to deal with it”

Western democracy itself is under threat from within, said the architect, due to a pervasive lack of “imagination” to engage with current issues or think critically about them.

“If you now listen to American businessmen in Silicon Valley, that conviction that democracy may be a form of inconvenience and that other regimes are more pertinent seems to be widespread,” he said. “I feel that a society like ours is unbelievably passive in indulging that kind of reading.”

Koolhaas takes particular issue with the destructive language favoured by tech companies. For instance Facebook, which has come under the spotlight for the potential impact its platform may have had on elections in the US and UK, used to operate under the motto “move fast and break things”.

“I’ve been for a long time also very surprised that the word disruptive, disruption, has such a magical appeal, because I find it in the context a rather off-putting word,” he said.

He claimed that, while business leaders undermine democracy, there is a growing complacency on issues such as identity, immigration and the refugee crisis. Even the word crisis has become problematic, he said.

“We call everything a crisis and, once we have a crisis, we have an alibi not to deal with it,” said Koolhaas.

“It’s deeply depressing or sad that there is not more energy emanating from… the classes in the countries that are in as frankly privileged a position as we are,” he added.

The Netherlands is now “absolutely hostile”

He bemoaned that the Netherlands, a country that was once “totally open” has in just three years become an “absolutely hostile environment”.

“It seems like the last energy we are ready to spend is to retain our own privileges.”

The keynote speech took place on the final day of the World Architecture Festival 2018, held in Amsterdam from 28 to 30 November.

Other speakers included David Adjaye, who spoke out against the corrupting force of money in architecture and urged architects to “push justice into the equation” when designing for cities.

Main image courtesy of WAF.

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Madeline Gannon’s Manus robots move together like a pack of animals

Robots are programmed with traits such as impatience and confidence in an installation by designer Madeline Gannon, whose work explores the potential for humans and machines to live harmoniously.

Gannon – who last year charmed visitors to the London Design Museum with Mimus, an industrial robot that played with passers-by like it was a 1200-kilogram puppy – worked with 10 robots for the new installation, titled Manus.

This time the machines, standard ABB IRB1200 -5/0.9 industrial robot arms, act like pack animals. Lined up in a row and controlled by one central “brain”, they move as people walk in front of them, each robot with its own idiosyncrasies.

Madeline Gannon's Manus robot installation at the World Economic Forum in China
Gannon programmed robots with traits such as impatience and confidence in her installation

“The robots in Manus don’t look like and they don’t act like us – but they can still connect with us in meaningful ways,” said Gannon, who has a PhD in computational design from Carnegie Mellon University and co-heads the independent research studio Atonaton.

“Subtle things like their posture, their motion or even the sound of their motor can all be harnessed to build a body language that can better communicate with the people around them,” she explains in a video.

“When a group of robots are imbued with these behaviours, they begin to feel less like manufacturing equipment and more like a pack of mechanical creatures, each with their own personality and quirks.”

Madeline Gannon's Manus robot installation at the World Economic Forum in China
The robots move as people walk in front of them, each with its own idiosyncrasies but controlled by one central “brain”

One of the reasons Gannon’s robots appear to move so naturally is that their actions are not directly programmed; instead, they follow the motion of a simulation that is triggered by the positioning of the people in front of them.

Twelve depth sensors at the base of the installation track a 1.5-metre area around the work, in particular focusing on people’s hands and feet.

Slight differences in the robots’ programming gives each one a different “personality”, so they respond to people in varying ways.

“Some have ‘less patience’ so they are more likely to move towards a new person more often,” Gannon told Dezeen. “Others have more ‘confidence’ so they are more likely to approach closer and from above a person’s head.”

“These subtle behavioural differences help push these machines away from their normal mode of operation – at 100 per cent choreographed coordination — to misbehave a bit and move more like a pack – a group of individuals all responding to the same external stimuli.”

Madeline Gannon's Manus robot installation at the World Economic Forum in China
Slight differences in the robots’ programming gives each one a different “personality”, so they respond to people in varying ways – some have less patience while others have more affection

The kinds of movements the robots produce give viewers an insight into what they’ll do next. For instance, when a robot notices a new point of interest, it will look towards it before moving.

Other movements inspire affection – an example is that the robots will never hold a pose too long before shifting their weight. The implication is that they’re tired or uncomfortable, although in reality they could hold a still, outstretched position all day.

One of the observations Gannon makes about her animalistic industrial robots is that people seem to warm to them quickly, without the “Uncanny Valley” effect that makes humanoid robots seem creepy.

She sees this as a useful lesson for designers and engineers in the robotics field.

Madeline Gannon's Manus robot installation at the World Economic Forum in China
Gannon observed that people seem to warm to the industrial robots quickly without the “Uncanny Valley” effect that makes humanoid robots seem creepy

“As designers and architects, we are trained with a hypersensitivity to how people move through space,” Gannon told Dezeen. “So we intrinsically understand and believe in the power of environments, and the people in those environments, to shape our behaviours. But this is not the approach that most roboticists and engineers take, which, due to their own disciplinary training, tends to be more robo-centric.”

“I see a great potential, and a need, for architects and designers to contribute their specialised spatial knowledge to the field of robotics, especially as these intelligent, autonomous machines are becoming more normal inhabitants of our built environments.”

Manus was commissioned by the World Economic Forum and displayed at its 2018 Annual Meeting of New Champions in Tianjin, China in September.

The psychology of robot-human bonding is an area of active research, with Cornell University engineers making a robot that gets goosebumps to communicate its “feelings” and BMW working on ways to increase people’s trust of self-driving vehicles.

Autonomous car designers also want the vehicles to communicate easily with pedestrians. This concern led Jaguar Land Rover to recently test a car with eyes.

Gannon wrote on the topic of human-robot coexistence in a column for Dezeen.

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Airbnb’s Backyard initiative to roll out house designs in 2019

Airbnb has announced a major move into the architecture and construction industry, with plans to release a new housing prototype late next year.

The house designs are being developed as part of Airbnb‘s Backyard initiative, which is spearheaded by the company’s offshoot design studio Samara, launched in 2016.

As revealed by Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, the project will see the company devise a new way  to design, build and share homes suited to contemporary lifestyles.

Airbnb's Samara launches Backyard initiative
The first prototype for Airbnb’s Backyard initiative will be revealed next year

“With Backyard, we’re using the same lens through which Airbnb was envisioned – the potential of space – and applying it more broadly to architecture and construction,” said Gebbia in a project statement.

Gebbia, who originally trained as a designer, initiated the company’s venture into building design when he realised that many Airbnb hosts were modifying their homes in anticipation of guests, finding many residences unsuitable.

Backyard designs will draw on Airbnb sharing model

“We began with a simple question,” said Gebbia. “What does a home that is designed and built for sharing actually look and feel like? The answer is not simple at all.”

Set to reveal its first prototype late next year, Samara is working on schemes to will draw on the Airbnb model of home sharing to include architectural features designed for this goal, but also respond to a number of issues that “quickly emerged” on further investigation, such as keeping up with the changing needs of residents and “the rate at which the world changes”.
The project is being led by Samara – the design studio Airbnb launched in 2016

“Simply put, nothing addressed long-term adaptability from a systemic perspective,” Backyard project lead Fedor Novikov said. “The only way to close the gap was to work from first principles and imagine entirely new approaches for building homes.”

Research includes investigations new manufacturing techniques, such as prefabrication, smart home technologies and eco-friendly materials, to address the current issues within the building industry, including “a tremendous amount of waste”.

Housing prototype to counter “outdated and wasteful” construction industry

“In the US alone, we’re starting construction on an average of 3,300 new homes every day,” said Gebbia. “For us, this goes beyond a business opportunity. It’s a social responsibility.”

“The way buildings are made is outdated and generates a tremendous amount of waste,” he added. “In order to meet the demands of the future, whether it be climate displacement or rural-urban migration, the home needs to evolve, to think forward.”
Gebbia, pictured, intends the project to disrupt the architecture and construction industry

Gebbia graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with a dual degree in Graphic and Industrial Design, before co-founding Airbnb with fellow design graduate Brian Chesky, and Nathan Blecharczyk, in 2008. The company has since caused a major disruption to the hotel industry.

Airbnb launched the Samara arm eight years later to focus on projects including architecture, service design and software engineering. It kicked off with a prototype house designed and built for Kenya Hara’s House Vision exhibition, featuring a community centre on its ground floor and traveller accommodation in its gabled roof.

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Snøhetta updates proposal for Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building

Snøhetta has revealed an updated proposal for the overhaul of Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building, after a major backlash against its initial scheme resulted in the postmodern tower gaining landmark status.

Johnson‘s postmodern AT&T Building was awarded landmark status earlier this year, sending Snøhetta’s controversial renovation plans for the Midtown Manhattan skyscraper back to the drawing board.

Since the landmarking, the architecture firm has worked on revising the scheme to meet approval from New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

Revealed 4 December 2018, the updated design scraps the original proposal to replace part of the masonry building with large expanses of glass, which triggered the outcry in the architecture industry, and instead aims to “preserve and revitalise” Johnson’s existing design.

550 Madison proposal by Snøhetta
Image courtesy of LMNB and Snøhetta

“We’re leaving the bulk of the building alone,” Snøhetta co-founder Craig Dykers told a group of journalists during a presentation of the design on 29 November 2018. “We’re not changing the iconic identity, and the pediment that everyone is familiar with will stay the same.”

“We think it will be transformative without stepping on the toes of the people who think there are important components we need to respect,” he added.

Snøhetta has now proposed restoring and sprucing up the existing brickwork, and offered a more subtle approach towards the masonry Madison Avenue facade, and the gridded glasswork that fills the main arched opening at the centre of the building.

The six 60-foot-high (18-metre-high) openings running along the front will be stripped of the black-painted glass, which has filled the openings since Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman made updates to the building in the 1990s.

550 Madison proposal by Snøhetta
Image courtesy of Moare and Snøhetta

As Johnson originally designed these to be open, Snøhetta would fill the openings with slender mullions to make them as transparent as possible. Other amends to the ground-level areas, which will be occupied by shops, include pushing out the external wall that runs down the shorter sides to meet street level.

Snøhetta’s project involves updating the empty retail level and the office spaces in the 647-foot (197-metre) tower – also previously known as the Sony Tower, but now named 550 Madison.

In order to accommodate the growth of occupation – expected to rise from 800 to 3,000 – existing elevators in the multi-tenant building would be replaced with larger ones. These would be rotated to create a window to the patio at the rear of the building, so that it can be viewed from the street.

This intervention forms part of Snøhetta’s plans to turn this glazed atrium into a large new garden, which it bills as the “biggest outdoor space in Midtown” that would be free for the public, complementing the nearby small Paley Park.

“We really pushed hard to make a public space that is unlike any other space in the city,” said Dykers, who hopes the new feature will help swing opinion during the LPC review.

550 Madison proposal by Snøhetta
Image courtesy of Moare and Snøhetta

To achieve this move, the firm plans to rip out the curved glass shell currently covering the space and annex buildings to create more room. A new white steel cover would be added in, featuring an “airplane wing-link shape” that parts in two just off-centre.

A series of areas would be located across the patio, marked by patterns on the flooring, which Snøhetta designed to draw on the circle motif often found in Johnson’s designs.

Among these different areas are a hearth, which will be heated in the winter, a “living room”, and a “water wall” to control the acoustics in the space. Seating would also vary, with some fixed and others movable.

Vegetation, including 42 new trees, would fill the space covering over the car park entrance and truck dock, to form a buffer along the rear wall. It is hoped that this will form a welcome habitat for wildlife living in and around the nearby Central Park.

Other updates to the 34-storey tower would include bolstering its environmental factors to meet LEED certification.

Johnson and partner John Burgee completed 550 Madison in 1984 for American communications giant AT&T, and the building is recognisable for its reddish brickwork and “Chippendale” roof line. It is regarded as the first skyscraper in the controversial postmodern style, which emerged in the late 1970s as an ideological reaction against the utopian ideals of modernism, and often splits opinion.
Snøhetta revised the scheme after the original proposal was nixed when the postmodern tower gained landmark status earlier this year

Dykers admits that he wasn’t surprised by the major backlash Snøhetta faced following the unveiling of the first proposal last year. The outcry included protests and the move to landmark the building, which was publicly backed by architects Norman Foster and Robert A M Stern, and critics including Olly WainwrightAlice RawsthornAlan G Brake and Alexandra Lange.

“It’s a volatile design,” said Dykers. “Philip Johnson’s work was always volatile.”

“We knew that was going to happen,” he added. “We weren’t afraid of that.”

Speaking to Dezeen last year, Foster said said although he didn’t particularly like “cartoonish” postmodernism, some of its buildings are worth saving – a sentiment that Dykers agrees with.

“I always say just because you have an aesthetic direction, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just tear down the building,” he said. “In this time, architects need to respect things even if they don’t always agree with them aesthetically.”

“You shouldn’t just be tearing down buildings because it’s not the style now, so find the best way to improve it.”

Featured image is courtesy of LMNB and Snøhetta.

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“My 3D printer will be printing my barf bag”

In this week’s comments update, readers are debating the need for faux-meat foods, following the unveiling of a 3D-printed vegan steak.

Meaty discussion: the “world’s first” 3D-printed meat-free steak, designed by Italian bioengineer Giuseppe Scionti from Spanish startup Novameat, has caused controversy among readers.

“You should worship plants. Your existence came from and depends on them,” commented DanD, in favour of the creation.

“What I like about plant-based meat substitutes getting closer to the look and feel of the real meat, is that it could encourage more meat eaters to question whether they really need an animal to live a miserable life in captivity,” countered Gavin.

Nicole D disagreed though: “I stopped eating meat because I don’t want to look at a piece of cow. I do not need my plant proteins to look like this, I much prefer them looking like plants.”

“I can’t wait to tuck in!” joked Alan Smith. “Just as soon as I print out my knife and fork. And while I’m eating, my 3D printer will be printing my barf bag.”

This reader had an important question:

What do you think of the “steak”? Join the discussion ›

House of the Year 2018: Lochside House by HaysomWardMiller Architects

Less is more: not everyone agrees that Lochside House, a cottage designed by Haysom Ward Millar Architects, should have been crowned RIBA House of the Year 2018.

“No character whatsoever. Good for a Christmas card though,” argued Ted.

Dcbzyxkji went on: “It’s ‘breathtaking’ only because I was so bored by it, I forgot to breathe.”

Ragedrooster felt differently though, saying: “What, no curves? Not designed by a starchitect? It fits the environment without distracting from it. It displays a huge amount of restraint and attention to detail and function.”

“A worthy winner! A lovely, sensible, off-grid house in harmony with a stunning location. Much better than last year’s monstrosity,” concluded Mark.

Another house should have scooped the prize, according to one reader:

Was Lochside House the rightful winner? Join the discussion ›

Oakland A stadium by BIG

Game plan: BIG has released visuals for a new baseball stadium in Oakland, California, as well as separate masterplans to redevelop the city’s Coliseum sports ground. Some readers think it’s all a game though.

“When you’ve given up on credible design you resort to gimmicks, BIG gimmicks,” laughed Jb.

Miles Teg shared the sentiment: “This is too big even for BIG. This is just overkill.”

“Got a BIG ugly stadium concept? Put a park on it!” added Orangeeli.

Benny was equally disappointed, saying: “Wow, what a rehashed mashup of old BIG ideas with a ball park clumsily inserted. Fail. Oaktown deserves better.”

This reader had a different observation:

What do you think of the plans? Join the discussion ›

House of the Flying Beds by Al Borde

Bedknobs and broomsticks: readers agree that The House of the Flying Beds in La Esperanza, Ecuador, is unusual. But some are concerned for resident’s safety, while others dispute the house’s name.

“In a word: quirky,” said Benny.

Eric continued: “Pretty cool concept. Though I imagine the sleeping pods might feel a tad claustrophobic given their apparent lack of windows.”

“I’d like to see a photograph of one of these flying beds,” said Jdjorden sarcastically.

“Building regulation’s wet dream!” exclaimed British Card.

Meanwhile, this commenter was preoccupied by a different feature:

Do you fancy sleeping in a flying bed? Join the discussion ›

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Fikra Graphic Design Biennial “sets a precedent” for adaptive reuse in UAE

The inaugural Fikra Graphic Design Biennial, in the UAE emirate of Sharjah, shows how the region can rethink its approach to adaptive reuse of buildings.

The first of its kind in the region, the month-long biennial has highlighted the wealth of graphic design talent in the Middle East region.

At the same time, installed in the city’s former Bank of Sharjah building, it has also thrown the issue of regeneration in the UAE into the spotlight.

The dilapidated 1970s building and its neighbours – considered by many to be important examples of Arab modernism – are due to be demolished next year to make way for a new restoration project that promises to bring back the city’s historic quarter.

However, according to the biennial’s organisers, authorities could be reconsidering their plans for the building’s future following the exhibition’s success.

“Biennial has set a precedent”

“The significance of doing something like this is that it’s an eye opener,” said Tarik Al Zaharna, the architect that led the transformation of the old bank.

“The biennial has set a precedent,” he told Dezeen. “I had a conversation with someone who said ‘we have empty buildings that we don’t know what to do with’ and this is really interesting for us.”

“For architects elsewhere, it seems obvious to reuse them, but for people here, that’s just not how they think. They’ve never been trained to think that way, as they have plenty of land and permission to build.”

Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 2018 is set inside a former bank
The inaugural Fikra Graphic Design Biennial took place in the former Bank of Sharjah building

The inaugural Fikra Graphic Design Biennial, which took place throughout November, was organised by Salem and Maryam Al-Qassimi, founders of Dubai-based graphic design studio and education platform Fikra, alongside art directors Emily Smith, Na Kim and Prem Krishnamurthy.

They chose to hold the event in the bank building, after discovering it among a cluster of derelict buildings on the city’s waterfront. The modernist building stood out, with its sand-coloured facade and tiers of curving balconies decorated with a swooping serpent-like graphic, added by street artist eL in 2015.

Al Zaharna’s Dubai-based practice T.ZED Architects was charged with transforming the building into an exhibition venue, with restrooms, a bar and a working lift.

“No one thinks about reusing a building”

According to the architect, this type of commission is rare in the UAE. Unlike in Europe, where refurbishing, re-appropriating or reconstructing parts of a building is commonplace and often necessary due to a shortage of land, here land is plentiful and planning for new buildings is easily granted.

“Dubai is a place where anything can happen and that’s great for us, but no one ever really thinks about reusing a building,” he said.

“Typically, the way that architecture and spaces are approached here is that if you need a new space or you need an architecture to host something you create it – you build it from scratch,” he explained.

Yet Sharjah, located just an hour’s drive away, offers many opportunities for adaptive reuse.

Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 2018 is set inside a former bank
The dilapidated 1970s building and its neighbours are considered to be important examples of Arab modernism

Although the bank had been derelict for some time, it was still in a useable condition.

“The bank building still had an office fit-out and looked as if everyone had left overnight,” said Al Zaharna. “You could switch on the AC and it worked, the phone still had a tone. There were office objects and artefacts, servers – everything had been left in place after the financial crisis eight years ago.”

Refurb creates chance to showcase both old and new

Jana Shamseddine of T.ZED Architects, who was appointed lead architect on the project, ensured that much of the office furniture and fit-out, including the original safes, were retained. In places, the nostalgic interior corresponds with the the graphics being exhibited, including the early work of Sharjah-born, self-taught designer Hisham Al Madhloum who designed the first logo for Sharjah TV.

In the space of just two months, the team were able to transform the interior into a flexible exhibition space that blended original features with new interventions – something that would never have been achieved in a new project.

Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 2018 is set inside a former bank
The interior was transformed into a flexible exhibition space that blended original features with new interventions

For example, the stone entrance counter on the marble-lined ground floor was protected and exhibited behind plexiglass. In other places, patches of original tiles and wallpaper were preserved.

“It took 15 days to strip out the whole building – it was a fast-track demolishing process,” said Shamseddine. “We were making decisions on what to keep and what to dispose on site. For instance we had a shaft that we weren’t sure was structural or not and therefore if it could be removed until the last minute. The coordination was on a daily basis.”

Sharjah’s buildings reflect important era for UAE

The exhibition was imagined as a fictional Ministry of Graphic Design, made up of six tongue-in-cheek departments with names such as The Department of Graphic Optimism and The Department of Mapping Margins.

The departments were not only a humorous nod to the country’s real life governmental departments – the UAE has ministers of state for happiness and an Office of the Future – but also the building’s own administrative past as a bank.

Within these departments, spread across five of the building’s levels, the exhibition showcased the work of over 40 designers from 20 countries.

Although each floor had its own distinct character, the first floor was where most of the building’s original finishes and fittings were left visible.

Here, the biennial’s archival display showcased a series of cutting-edge magazines that were produced in the 1970s, demonstrating how progressive the city was during this era. All of the titles were eventually banned in the 1980s.

Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 2018 is set inside a former bank
The exhibition was imagined as a fictional Ministry of Graphic Design, made up of six tongue-in-cheek departments

According to Shamseddine, both the exhibition and its contents have highlighted how much heritage there is in Sharjah to preserve.

“These buildings are from the 1970s and they reflect a very important era in the UAE, when these buildings were in Sharjah, Dubai didn’t even exist, they predate almost every building in Dubai, so it’s quite significant,” she explained.

“Sharjah was the hotspot that everyone would go to in the ’70s and ’80s before Dubai became what it is now. Everyone was there. So to completely eradicate that from the history is unfortunate.”

“An eye opener” for developers and local authorities

Shamseddine believes that the bank and its neighbours, which surround a square currently being used as a parking lot, could all be replanned and rejuvenated, to turn the area into a vibrant cultural hub.

“Bank of Sharjah is one example but if you look around the city there are endless typologies that are abandoned now, but if they are used they can activate all of the areas around them and draw people to that part of the city,” she said. “Even now with the Fikra Biennial, it is drawing people to an area of the city where no one would typically go.”

Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 2018 is set inside a former bank
One display showcased cutting-edge magazines from the 1970s, demonstrating how progressive the city was during this era

The local authorities haven’t failed to notice, said Shamseddine.

“The authorities gave us this building to do with as we wish, as it was going to be demolished anyway, but since they’ve seen what we’ve achieved, they are rethinking whether it should be demolished or not,” she explained.

“The project has opened the eyes of the authorities and developers as to how these spaces can be reused directly. They see the opportunity that comes out of these spaces where maybe, just because they saw it in a very different context before, they couldn’t tell that there is so much opportunity within these sites.”

Change in mindset needed for architects in UAE

The biggest challenge now, according Al Zaharna, is finding other architects willing or able to work on these types of projects. There are currently no local architects specialising in restoration because there is no demand for it.

“We have tens of thousands of new units being developed every year as the plan to develop and to grow the city of Dubai and Sharjah. But very few people are actually willing to take the time to refurbish and look at successful buildings that have been in place for the longest time,” he said.

“They are not necessarily bad buildings, they are just old. It’s more complex and more costly but all it takes is a little bit of thinking and a lot of work. The culture we have here in terms of approaching architecture is very different.”

“Developers might think, we can’t restore this building because there aren’t any architects to help us do that,” he said.

Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 2018 is set inside a former bank
Authorities could be reconsidering their plans for the area’s future, following the exhibition’s success

The Fikra Graphic Design Biennial was on show from 9 to 30 November.

Also unveiled in November was the Jameel Arts Centre, located in the neighbouring emirate of Dubai. Designed by London firm Serie Architects, the “very un-Dubai” building is one of the first independent not-for-profit contemporary arts institutions in the city.

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Camille Walala completes Salt of Palmar hotel in Mauritius

Sea blues, sunny yellows and bold monochromatic stripes appear throughout this boutique hotel, designed by artist Camille Walala to complement to the landscape of Mauritius.

The Salt of Palmar hotel occupies a riad-style building on the east coast of the far-flung island. It contains 59 guest suites, a restaurant and a spa, all of which Camille Walala has decked out in tropical hues and graphic prints.

It is the first in a series of Salt-brand hotels that resort group Lux plans to open in the coming months, and will soon be joined by outposts in Turkey and China.

Salt of Palmar hotel, Mauritius, by Camille Walala

The brand’s brief to Walala was to “weave strands of distinctly Mauritian aesthetic into the fabric of the interior” of Salt of Palmar, to encourage guests to form an affinity with the destination.

This led Walala and art director Julia Jomaa, her long-term collaborator, to develop a colour scheme that directly relates to Mauritius, including both its man-made structures and natural terrain.

Salt of Palmar hotel, Mauritius, by Camille Walala

“I was blown away with how many vibrant and bold colours you find around the island,” explained Walala.

“From the emerald green of the plants to the ever-changing colours of the sky, I wanted to marry these warm and natural tones to my signature pop colours.”

Interiors of SALT of Palmar hotel, Mauritius, by Camille Walala

The building’s exterior, which was originally burnt orange, in now a lighter peachy shade, emulating the pastel facades of typical Mauritian homes.

Meanwhile the outdoor daybeds, chairs, and cushions have are upholstered in shades of cobalt blue and turquoise to mimic the hue of the Indian Ocean.

Interiors of SALT of Palmar hotel, Mauritius, by Camille Walala

At several points Walala has also introduced her signature monochromatic graphics, previously seen on projects like her inflatable London Design Festival installation in 2017.

It features on the sunshine-yellow walls of communal lounge areas and parasols by the pool, as well as the tiled underside of water features.

This is echoed by a series of striated partition walls made from thin beams of timber, which can be seen in the hotel’s dining area and bedrooms.

Interiors of SALT of Palmar hotel, Mauritius, by Camille Walala

Walala also called on the help of local creatives that specialise in crafts such as pottery and basket weaving to produce pieces of decor like circular pendant lamps.

“What was different for me this time is the sheer quantity of things to take into consideration when designing; not only do colours and pattern have to complement each other, but fabrics, textures, surfaces, light, functionality and moods are also critically important to consider,” she explained.

Interiors of SALT of Palmar hotel, Mauritius, by Camille Walala

Other large-scale projects that Walala has turned her hand to include a colourful mural on the facade of a 40-metre-high building in Brooklyn and a colourful labyrinth inside London’s Now Gallery.

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Grafeoiphobia by Geoffrey Pascal is a furniture collection based on beds

Geoffrey Pascal has created a collection of office furniture that responds to the growing number of people working at home in their beds.

The three pieces in Pascal‘s Grafeiphobia: Unexpected Office collection are each based on the frame of a basic, slatted wooden bed. Different adaptations and foam upholstery allow the user to work in positions that emulate being in bed but also support the body in NASA’s Neutral Body Position.

Developed to promote health in astronauts in zero-gravity, the Neutral Body Position spreads the user’s weight over multiple points across the body. This contrasts with the typical seated desk position, which concentrates force downwards on the lower back.

Grafeoiphobia by Geoffrey Pascal is a furniture collection based on beds
The three pieces are each based on the frame of a basic, slatted wooden bed

Pascal began working on the idea during his studies at Design Academy Eindhoven after analysing his own difficulties working at a desk and after reading about a growing number of people that are working at home in their beds.

The name Grefeiophobia relates to a fear of desks.

“When I am working behind a desk sitting on chair, I always have the feeling of being forced to work, that I have to get it done. I feel stress and pressure, which doesn’t make me more productive, it is rather the opposite,” explained Pascal.

“I decided to experiment on myself and to work in bed everyday,” he told Dezeen. “And it is true that when lying down in bed your relation with work changes, you have more comfort, the aspect of time changes too, you become less stressed and more focused.”

Geoffrey Pascal's Grafeiphobia office furniture collection imitates being in bed
Different adaptations and foam upholstery allow the user to work in positions that emulate being in bed but also support the body

Pascal also researched the negative aspects of working in bed.

“Staying there the entire day isn’t so good,” he said. “It is not recommended to mix sleeping and working environment and also in terms of hygiene it is not so nice. I decide to extract the positive elements from working in bed and try to reapply them elsewhere.”

The designer used various densities of foam, provided by Recticel, a company that specialises in mattresses, to experiment with different positions that are common when lying in bed.

The three pieces in his collection could be used in a traditional office environment as well as by home workers.

Grafeoiphobia by Geoffrey Pascal is a furniture collection based on beds
The Basic Besk was inspired by sitting in bed with a laptop on the lap

The Basic Besk was inspired by sitting in bed with a laptop on the lap. It consists of three modules – a three-part back rest, a seat and a foot rest, which also doubles as a small storage box. A small rectangle cushion, a large rectangle cushion and a round bolster provide the back support.

The separate pieces mean the design can be adjusted for people of different heights and with different leg lengths. Pascal recommends this furniture for long tasks of up to three hours.

The Triclinium Gum is based on a side-lying position, with a sloping frame supporting a mattress and an additional cushion for placing between the legs for comfort.

Further cushions can be added using straps to allow the furniture to be used in different ways and a complimentary design called Popsicle can be used as a laptop stand or standing support. This design is intended for tasks that take between five and 30 minutes.

Grafeoiphobia by Geoffrey Pascal is a furniture collection based on beds
The Triclinium Gum is based on a side-lying position

Finally, The Flying Man is based on lying on the front and consists of three pieces – one for the lower legs, one for the torso and a laptop desk that has a reversible top so it can also be used as an upholstered stool.

The leg and chest support can also be used as a more conventions seat and desk. This design is for tasks of up to one hour, and for the end of the day when workers feel more tired, according to Pascal.

“What is important is the idea of movement, to go from one furniture to another, not to stay static and to find the right pieces according to the job that need to be done,” said the designer.

“By doing so the worker isn’t getting as tired and bored as if he would have stay on a chair. He can work for a longer time but in more welcoming, playful and comfortable environment.”

The dome-shaped and flat cushions on the pieces are upholstered in vibrant colours and with two types of fabric by manufacturer Febrik.

Geoffrey Pascal's Grafeiphobia office furniture collection imitates being in bed
The Flying Man is based on lying on the front

Grafeiophobia was on display at the Design Academy Eindhoven Graduate Show 2018 during Dutch Design Week in October, alongside other graduate projects including a portable yellow toilet for women.

It is one of many projects exploring the death of the desk, in response to the growing number of nomadic workers, changing expectations from employees and recent evidence that extended periods of sitting can be unhealthy.

At this year’s Orgatec furniture fair, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby unveiled a modular seating system that doubles as a workstation, while Swedish company Blå Station launched seating that can be customised with surfaces and power points.

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