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Constructive criticism: the week in architecture

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Constructive criticism: the week in architecture

| architecture, architecture critic | May 20, 2011

Over-reaching ambition is the order of the week as Liverpool tries to outshine Shanghai, an ex-footballer plans to outdo the Teletubbies and Shoreditch lands a shiny skyscraper.

Bright lights ... Why does Liverpool want to emulate Pudong's showy sky at night? Photograph: Image Source / Rex Features

Ambition can get the better of architects, buildings and even entire cities. When you hear people joking about British cities turning into lesser versions of modern Shanghai – all shiny high-rise towers – you should ask them to take the subject more seriously. Liverpool is twinned with Shanghai, and just as the two cities boast superb early 20th-century waterfronts – Liverpool’s Pier Head and Shanghai’s Bund – so Liverpool now wants to emulate its Chinese twin’s bombastic new Pudong district.

Unesco has taken Liverpool to task for this. If the city grants planning permission for the Liverpool Waters development proposal put forward by Peel Holdings for a shock of Shanghai-style skyscrapers, its historic centre could well be struck off the official list of World Heritage Sites. Liverpool Waters does resemble a parody of Shanghai or Dubai; if nothing else, developing it will make Liverpool look behind the times now that the tide is turning against such over-the-top Blingitecture. Peel Holdings, however, doesn’t think much of Unesco: “We are right and they are completely wrong”, a company spokesman told the Liverpool Daily Post.

Sore-ditch ... will Amanda Levete be the woman to ruin east London? Photograph: David Levene

Amanda Levete was also in hot water this week, criticised by Turner prize winning artist Rachel Whiteread over her design for a twisting, shining and very prominent 225ft skyscraper planned for Shoreditch, north of the City of London. As Chris Dyson, a local architect, told Building Design, “The choice of architect is glamorous and she [Levete] is very good, but the building is inappropriate for the context.” Shoreditch is not downtown Chicago, where Jeanne Gang has designed an eye-catching skyscraper that rises elegantly and appropriately from its site.

In her tower’s defence, Levete told The Architects’ Journal: “I understand the emotional issues raised by large developments. But the evolution of a city is bigger than us all.” And, so much so, that if and when Shoreditch shoots skywards and goes slickly corporate, the very artists who have done so much to inject new life into this old quarter will probably move elsewhere.

Flower power ... Make's petal house for Gary Neville. Photograph: Make Architects

How about Bolton? Here, Gary Neville, the former Manchester United defender, has been granted planning permission to build a house that is either an interesting example of Land art, or else something to do with the Teletubbies. Designed by Make architects, this underground “eco” house will look like the petals of a flower from above, radiating from a central kitchen. The architects compare it, rather ambitiously, to the neolithic Skara Brae settlement in Orkney, but with all mod cons.

Meanwhile, Saif al-Islam Gadaffi, who once studied architecture and engineering science, was charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity. In 2007 Gadaffi junior announced a hugely ambitious scheme to turn the east coast of Libya into “the world’s largest sustainable region”, albeit one with new luxury hotels, resorts and spas, all under the design guidance of Norman Foster. My Guardian colleague, Steve Rose, was at the launch in Cyrene; Steve was justifiably sceptical.

Finally, it was announced this week that two men would stand trial for the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the would-be architect who was stabbed to death at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London in 1993. The murderers ended Lawrence’s life and ambition, yet his memory lives on not just among family and friends, but in the Stephen Lawrence prize aimed at encouraging young British architects and their ambitions for the future, skywards or otherwise.

Source:  Guardian UK

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About the author

After working at various design practices on a full-time and freelance basis, and starting his own design firm, David McFadden saw that there was a gap to be filled in the industry. In 1984, he created an expansive hub for architects and hiring firms to sync up, complete projects, and mutually benefit. That hub was Consulting For Architects Inc., which enabled architects to find meaningful design work, while freeing hiring firms from tedious hiring-firing cycles. This departure from the traditional, more rigid style of employer-employee relations was just what the industry needed - flexibility and adaption to modern work circumstances. David has successfully advised his clients through the trials and tribulations of four recessions – the early 80’s, the early 90’s, the early 2000’s, and the Great Recession of 2007.

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