Category : architecture

chbl

Chess Academy Baku

Wolf Prix is well known for its incomprehensible sketches. And I was fortunate enough to be around when he made one for the Baku Chess Academy. Before we continue, first some background info. The same client of the Central Bank project happened to be involved with chess as well. He wanted the best chess academy and commissioned Wolf Prix, founder of Vienna architecture firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, for the project.

I briefly worked on this project and saw Wolf Prix when he sketched out his vision. This is what it looked like:

It took the team several weeks, ultimately they came up with this:

I guess the Central Bank of Azerbaijan was designed the same way? Maybe clichés about architects are true after all.

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Central Bank Azerbaijan

“And here’s the Non Disclosure Agreement”, simultaneously, she presented me with a piece of paper which I had to sign. Otherwise, my stay at Vienna architecture firm Coop Himmelb(l)au would be very short lived.

The Non Disclosure Agreement prevented me from including three CHBL projects in my portfolio and blog. But… finally I’m allowed to share one of the projects with you. In fact, it’s the project I worked on most. It’s a skyscraper located in Baku, Azerbaijan. And this is not just any building, it’s the Central Bank of Azerbaijan headquarters.

During the course of three months, I worked on countless floor plans, exterior views, some elevations, the vault, the bank president’s office (including a private elevator) and much more.

Read more about the project on the Coop Himmelb(l)au website.

The color of luck

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part seven; “The color of luck”.

In Las Vegas, I met Dave. He told me everything in Vegas is done for a reason. For example, the Chinese color of luck is red, which is something you should remember in case you ever want to start your own casino.

Dave works at the Encore casino in Las Vegas. Together with the adjacent Wynn, which is owned by the same organization, this is one of the most luxurious hotels and casino’s in the world (with a combined price tag of about five billion dollars). One day, I strolled around the casino floor, where almost no people were present. Actually, the ratio of staff to customers was about 3 – 1, which means there’re way more staffers than customers. This was also true for the game Dave was responsible for.

He supervises a game – of which I don’t know the name of – but it involves a long table, some dice, five staffers and by the time I walked by, just a single customer. The supervisor wasn’t too busy supervising, since the other four employees needed something to do as well. This allowed me to ask him the one obvious question: “Why are there so many employees present at this table?” The supervisor, Dave, told me it’s a money issue. Over a million dollars was present on the table… sigh.

After that, our conversation continued for about an hour. Dave allowed me to ask him anything, like what happens when the power goes out (there’s an entire protocol for that), how much money he ever saw someone win on a single day (over 10 million dollars), or lose (over 4 million) and I asked if he ever met a celebrity (he met Ben Affleck just a short while ago). While this was all fun, the most interesting part of the conversation came when I started to ask questions about the architecture and design of the casino. I learned about the bold vision of Steve Wynn (the owner) for the Wynn and Encore casino’s and why casino’s are built the way they’re built. Also, Dave told me about the impact of the economic crisis (the Encore opened in 2008, just a few months after the crisis broke out). Then, our conversion shifted to China.

The Chinese elite continues to have deep pockets, which is why Steve Wynn – the owner of the casino – wants to attract as many people from China as possible. Therefore, Dave pointed out, the Encore casino has lots of ‘little’ details to appeal to the Chinese. Everything inside is done for a reason. For example, the Chinese color of luck is red… so, take a guess which color is most abundant inside the casino (hint: Check out the photos below). This ‘little’ detail is one of the reasons why the Encore is the most popular destination for Chinese gamblers in Las Vegas, which keeps the casino afloat during the economic crisis and gave me a reason to write about it. Thanks Dave!

The Encore is a true red casino. Most notably, it has a red floor and red chandeliers. These chandeliers are extremely expensive, they cost tens of thousands of dollars a piece.

Does this feel Chinese to you? To me, it does.

There’s more of the outdoor inside the Encore than at any other casino in Vegas. For example, check out these beautiful skylights.

My next stop: Chicago

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest
Part 6: The most beautiful road of the world

A new capital for Australia, part 1

A while ago, a friend and I participated in an international architecture competition. The task: Design a new capital for Australia. Unfortunately, we didn’t win (oh well, it was a longshot anyway). Nonetheless, I’d like to share our thoughts about this new capital with you.

Why does Canberra look the way it does?

It’s not that hard to figure out which factors influenced the 1912 design of Canberra. Old design documents mention the capital should “suggest grandeur” and “effectively symbolize a national capital”. Which makes sense. After all, back in 1912 Australia was a new country with little to no history (apart from the Aboriginals). They were in need of something that would unify them. A capital possibly?

The leaders of Australia hoped their new country would be a perfect democracy, a perfect country. They tried to reflect this on the nations capital, because this city could be the symbol for their new nation. This is exactly why Canberra is a perfect master planned city with plenty of parks and lots of public services. Ironically, because of its master planned characteristics, many Australians view their capital as a city unlike the rest of Australia. This is something which could be fixed with a new capital.

Does Australia need a new capital?

Tthe not-so-good feeling many Aussies have about Canberra doesn’t justify a new capital. Instead, there’re more compelling reasons, like the rise of the Internet, global warming, terrorist attacks and a global economic crisis. These are factors which influence our daily lives in a big way and couldn’t be more different than a hundred years ago (when Canberra was founded). This new reality brings new challenges and prompts questions like:

– Can Canberra be transparant and terror-proof at the same time?

– What does the rise of the Internet mean for government?

– Government grows bigger, while individualism is on the rise. How can a capital bridge this ever growing gap between individuals and the (mega) government?

In a way, the current Australian capital represents the old (check out the Canberra mega parliament building below). But times have changed. This all leads to a single question: Is a conventional capital like Canberra even capable of fulfilling her duties in this modern age? One could argue that a new capital is needed to represent the new and modern Australia.

What is a capital

OK, so we might need a new capital (without the need for a new capital, there wouldn’t be an architecture competition anyway). But what’s a capital exactly? In my view, a capital is just a city… a place where a lot of people live, work, study and relax. But there’s one major difference between a capital and any other city. The capital is a symbol. A symbol of power and, for western countries, democracy. It’s the symbol for what a country is or wants to be. For western countries, this symbol is embodied by a parliament building, a home for democracy. Since Australia is a democracy, a parliament building should be the centerpiece of this new capital as well.

But this home for democracy can be more than ‘just a building’. It’s much more powerful when it embodies the era in which it’s built. Which is true for buildings like the US Capitol and the German Reichstag.

US Capitol (1811)

This parliament building embodies the era of democracy, which started just after the US became independent from Britain. Democracy is the reason why the US Capitol is built on a hill in the exact center of the city, thus visible throughout Washington DC. It shows everyone that the people are in power. Which is also why the US Capitol is much bigger than the White House, residence of its head of state (bigger = more power). Until then, this was something unheard of in other western countries. It’s not surprising why people regard the US Capitol to be a symbol of democracy.

Reichstag (1999)

The historic Reichstag with its new glass dome symbolizes the era of unity, and not just for Germany. Instead, it symbolizes the unity of the entire western world. Inside, graffiti from both Nazi and Communist soldiers is preserved, thus reminding everyone Germany won’t forget its history. The glass dome, which tops the Reichstag symbolizes the long wished for transparency of government. And, not coincidentally, it was designed by a British (!) architect, Sir Norman Foster.

These two examples illustrate the era’s in which these parliament buildings were built. Currently, we live in the era of the Internet, which changed everything we know, including politics. Which prompts the question: Why not create a parliament building which symbolizes this era?

Where should the capital be located?

Well, that leaves us with one final important issue. Where to locate this new capital? That’s a tough nut to crack, since the size of Australia’s land surface is incredible. Still, the country is one of the most urbanized in the entire world. An incredible half of the population lives in just four (!) cities. Let me repeat that: Half the population lives in four cities! For the new capital, this could be an ideal situation. Why not situate the capital near these four cities, which allows the city to serve at least half of the countries population. And it’s easily doable, since there’s only 4000 kilometers separating some of these cities… hold on… did you say 4000 kilometers?

I guess that’s not gonna work.

Another option is to locate the capital in the exact middle of the country (near Alice Springs). However, this results in a natural barrier of thousands of kilometers for almost the entire population. That’s no good as well.

Let’s go unconventional

Apart from the everything mentioned above, constructing a new capital involves more than just erecting a parliament building. For a new, conventional, capital, an entire ecosystem of houses, offices, stores, entertainment and public services is needed. It takes some time to build, but ultimately this new city won’t be that different than Canberra. No problems will be solved, but a lot of money is wasted.

This is why we believe a conventional capital is not an option. Let’s go unconventional.

End of part one.

Google vs. Apple

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today it’s time for part two; “Google vs. Apple”.

Second stop, Silicon Valley, California. It’s the place where companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and thousands of small technology startups have their headquarters. Since I’m interested in technology and use Apple and Google products every day, I decided it would be great to visit these two companies in their real Silicon Valley habitat.

Apple

Apple is well known for its vertically integrated products. It is impossible to (legally) install an app on my iPhone without using the Apple App Store. And their operating system (Mac OSX) only runs on Macbooks and iMacs only. They simply want to be in control of everything. The same applies to their Cupertino headquarters at One Infinite Loop.

Outside, the grass is mown with greatest precision, bushes and flowers are aligned perfectly and the building looks very ‘introvert’. Apple is in full control. Nonetheless, it was possible to go inside and take a quick look at their courtyard.

The same desire for control is apparent here. The courtyard is designed with ‘oversight’ as purpose. There are not trees, no hidden corners, there’s nowhere to ‘hide’ for its employees. But at least they tried to make it look a bit more fun by adding the parasols.

Google

Google’s next. It’s the company who brings us software like Google Search, Gmail, Chrome and Android. Their software, contrary to Apple, can be used by nearly everyone on almost any device. Google believes in an open society, which can be seen in the way they set up their Mountain View headquarters.

There are no fences to stop tourists, they even allowed us to walk among Google staffers in the courtyard at the Googleplex.

There are Google bikes everywhere. These GBikes are used to pedal from one building to another and are free of charge for employees.

Also, Google staffers can use many recreational facilities, like a volleyball court. How cool is that!

And what to think of Stan, the life-sized T-Rex skeleton that lives in the middle of the campus?

But Google definitely won the cool-factor for their headquarters when I saw the driverless Google car which drove around on the parking lot.

It will be interesting to see which of these companies will ultimately win the software battle. Google (open) or Apple (closed). Meantime, based on my visits, Google decisively won the real-world headquarters battle. But how long will their victory last?

Update: In November 2013 I wrote about the new Apple Headquarters. Click here for the article.

My next stop: Highway 1

Read part one of my USA trip here.