Nov 22, 2006

Tales from Argentina

Got three hours of sleep last night, working late on trying to figure out a secondary steel structure for our concrete superstructure.

Monday, Dan was telling us something that happened on the way to school. He was standing at the bus stop waiting for the bus when he saw an overweight woman get out of the rear side door of one of the public buses here. Her pants got caught on something as she was getting out, and the bus moved on, flipping her on her back, and dragging the poor woman over 50 feet before Dan and another pedestrian managed to stop the bus. She was pretty badly beat up with a bloody nose and probably a broken bone.

Yesterday, we finally got to see Nicolas, our systems teacher, present his competition winning project. His firm won the international competition to design a bicentennial park/plaza area with a complete renovation and intervention in an existing building to create the Buenos Aires Cultural Center. The scale and nature and prestige of this project is comparable to that of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.The extent of the project includes the Plaza de Mayo, and a huge strip of land running directly behind the Casa Rosada. The actual cultural center is a renovation and redesign of the interior of the old Palace of Mail building, a huge Beaux Arts structure with lifted collumns and a massive mansard dome.

Nicholas's plan has three main conceptual pieces which fit inside a massive interior courtyard. The courtyard itself is a cube approximately 160 feet on each side. There is a metal cage structure which will be built first, to reinforce the aging structure of the existing building and to provide structural support for the other pieces of his intervention. On the main floor, the cage will support a giant free-form philharmonic orchestra hall. This hall will be enclosed in a giant blue sculptural shell which was designed by acoustic engineers, and sit in the center of the main central courtyard. It looks very much like an abstracted sperm whale. Above the philharmonic whale, a cubical 3 story museum structure like an inverted wedding cake will be hung from the roof of the cage, and will house exhibition spaces. The roof will be almost constantly occupyable, with a restaurant, bar, and the tiles of the massive dome replaced with glass, creating a lantern and observation space akin to the Reichstag dome redesign in Berlin.

The lead architect on this project is our teacher who has been teaching us a bit about sustainable architecture. Nicolas in person almost seems to nice to be able to pull off a project of this scale. However, to his credit, he DOES run his own office, and he has been successful with the Argentine bureaucrats so far. In truth, he put the entire project together with a 35-person team including outside consultants, in just three months. He is thrilled to death to have this once in a lifetime opportunity, but he's also extremely nervous at the same time. The scale of the project is too big for one firm to handle, so he's going to have to hold further contests, delegate, and organize other architecture firms and teams to handle the individual pieces. One team will get the philharmonic hall, one for the museum, one for restoring the old building, at least one, if not more for the bicentennial plazas. Nicholas will act as master coordinator and overall architect for the project, assuredly a daunting prospect.

Some minor details I found highly interesting: The project is mostly being funded by the Spanish government, which has some kind of agreement of goodwill with Argentina. This is doubly interesting as the project is a celebration of the anniversary of the INDEPENDENCE from Spain. Only some of the assistance is financial- a lot of assistance will come in the form of donated technologies and building material. Apparently Spain produces something like 30 percent of all construction material in Europe, and this construction industry funds entirely the architectural periodical Croquis.

Last night, Aldo, Saori, and I went to get coffee. Out on the street, we watched as a guy's car refused to start as he was struggling to push it while his female compainion was trying to start the engine. A passerby unhesitatingly hopped off the sidewalk and helped the guy push the car until it started, and then continued on his way without a second glance. Portenos (forgive me, my keyboard doesn't have a tilde key) are fascinating people. They'll really help strangers without a second thought, they will never admit that they're wrong to others, and they check themselves out in mirrors mounted in public transportation. I'll miss them.

But finish studio first.
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