Nature's Tensile Pavilions
A foggy dew of a morning reveals a garden festooned with triangulated nets of spider webs. It looks as if an arachnid Buckminster Fuller or Frei Otto has been at work. Magical!
The House that Jonas Built
From the luxuriance of the Californian flora to the austerity of the Salk Institute. This research institute founded by Jonas Salk of polio-vaccine fame, was designed by Louis Kahn and built in 1963. There is no decoration, no signs of life, no sculpture, and no vegetation on most of the site. The only offset to the stark concrete is blackened and bleached wicker-like wood cladding. But the view of the ocean flanked by the wings suggests something like a Mayan Temple to Science: a mystical view of the ocean and the promise of great secrets divulged. On the plane home, my neighbour, who turned out to be a cryogenic physicist, told me that some scientists didn’t find it a good place to work. Perhaps a bit of that California colour would help.
The best presents are always those items you've had your eye on for a while but haven’t bought because you thought they were a tad self indulgent. So I was given Paul Jackson's Folding Techniques for Designers (Laurence King Publishers).
There’s a chapter on origami in my book The Gecko's Foot. That is origami as used in technical devices from space arrays to architecture, and also in nature. Paul Jackson’s book is a manual of the principles that allow you to create structures from paper that fold up in remarkable ways. The best knowing examples are lampshades, but readily deployable buildings can be made by the same processes.
In the past, I’ve made leaf-oris and Miura-ori maps but never the more complex patterns. A new challenge for the New Year.
I don’t usually read the Travel pages (travel and food being the opiates of the chattering classes) but this stood out yesterday. Gobekli Tepe, in Turkey, is one of the new-old wonders of the world. Discovered only in 1994, this amazing site rewrites history by demonstrating monumental architecture at the dawn of agriculture, around 11,000 years ago. Most notable is that the huge limestone slabs are decorated in ways that already prefigure Egyptian or Assyrian art. The archaeologists are still working out what it all means. It is a vital link in the human story and one day the name will pass people’s lips as readily as do Stonehenge and the Pyramids.
Granary Square, King’s Cross, London, fronting the University of the Arts, opens this week. The Guardian yesterday (Sold-off cities, 12 June) heralded this by warning that large chunks of Britain’s cities like this are falling into private hands. One danger of this, according to an Occupy activist is: "a vision of society in which you work and you shop. At times when you are not working or shopping, you may go to restaurants. You may possibly go to some officially sanctioned kind of entertainment activity which is sponsored by X but there's no scope for people to do something of their own – to do something spontaneous."
At the King’s Cross development there are so far no shopping malls, although these will follow. The first big site to open was the London College of the Arts, bringing together four art schools, including the legendary Central St Martin’s. Just across York Way is the King’s Centre, a premier arts venue and home of the Guardian itself. Next to the British Library, just down the road, the new Francis Crick Institute is being built. This will be Britain's major biomedical research facility. The site includes Camley Street Natural Park.
The King’s Cross development is building towards being an intellectual and creativity hub. As for the offices, when they arrive, Google are slated to be one of the first occupants. The idea that no one will be able to do their own, creative, thing in this complex is ludicrous. I have no brief for the developers but, having watched this site slowing being transformed from decay and degradation, over the last 15 years, I have to say that I like what I see so far.
Biomimetic architecture has been making waves for some time. The latest stunning addition to the ranks is the One Ocean Pavilion at EXPO 2012 in Yeosu, South Korea, designed by the Austrian architects Soma. The pavilion is a homage to the ocean and marine life and its most dramatic feature is the gill-like array along the facade. These are flexible elements that buckle under compression to create the gill-effect. They are not merely decorative: they open or close to regulate both ventilation and light. The buckling mechanism is a classic out of the D’Arcy Thompson bioinspirational handbook. Forms created under such physical forces take up beautiful “graded forms” as D’Arcy Thompson called them. As the degree of flexure varies along the facade a pleasing serried cascade effect is achieved. I guess the facade could do a Mexican wave if you so programmed it. The pavilion opens today if you’re in striking distance of it.
The new concourse at King’s Cross station opens tomorrow and Rowan Moore has a piece welcoming it in the Observer. He pays tribute to the wondrous steel arch designed by John McAslan and Partners and built by the UK’s secret success story Arup but he criticizes the overall landscaping of the area and the way the new dome relates to the old classic industrial trainshed. I think he’s wrong on both counts. King’s Cross is classic London brick 19th century industrial building and the steel arch dome gives the whole another 100 years or so of life.
As for the whole site: the King’s Cross development: it is an exciting piece of landscaping, the only flaw being the inexplicable retention of ugly, gaunt tenements between St Pancras and Kings Cross, derelict and scaffolded for 10 years now. They should have been demolished. But with the landscaping of the canal, the new square between the canal and the London College of the Arts, and much more, this is the most exciting urban development in Britain today.
I'm a writer whose interests include the biological revolution happening now, the relationship between art and science, jazz, and the state of the planet