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Is this building offensive?

"The Cloud" - Proposed building in South Korea by MVRDV Architects

The exhibit shows a proposed residential development in South Korea by Dutch architects MVRDV. The architects call it The Cloud because they want to create a sense of buildings rising through “the clouds”.

Critics however reckon they look like the twin towers exploding. I see what they mean, but I’m not certain that would’ve been my first thought. Had I not had the WTC meme inserted in my brain from the outset, I might’ve interpreted it first as some form of cancerous growth – a sarcoma – growing out of the façade of an otherwise benign host.

This guy calls it “Safde/Habitat on uppers”. It certainly reminds me of Moshe Safde’s famous Habitat 67 housing project in Montreal. It’s like an enthusiastic gardener grafted Safde’s DNA on to Mies van der Rohe’s and this is the result. Maybe it should be interpreted as the architectural equivalent of sampling in music!

Still, it’s hard to believe the architects didn’t see the twin towers connection themselves (this observer reckons they did but aren’t owning up to it). The way observers have reacted isn’t surprising really: there’s a picture in MVRDV’s PR material of two cloud-wrapped, generic looking towers – the inspiration for the idea – that look remarkably reminiscent of the WTC.

I’m not convinced emulating clouds is a compelling way to go about designing buildings that are literally tall enough to be in the clouds. Seems a bit like double counting. Still, clouds is a less pretentious explanation than the ludicrous guff offered by the architects of this similar-looking building.

Nor do I think the design does well on its own terms. As an expression of cloud-wreathed towers, MVRDV’s design is an unmitigated flop. There’s nothing in that heavy, concrete “growth” that comes even close to evoking the wispy, ethereal sense of clouds. They’re delicate, light, insubstantial and wraithlike – this proposal isn’t. It’s no wonder many people think of the twin towers.

But unlike some others, I don’t accept the design is in any way immoral, insulting to the USA, or a free ride for Al Qaeda. The human mind seems to have a special talent for projecting associations onto the slightest suggestion or stimulus. I accept the architect’s explanation that the 9/11 interpretation wasn’t intended – it’s something we’re projecting from our experience. It wouldn’t get past first base in the US, but I suspect the vast bulk of the world’s population wouldn’t see it in terms of 9/11, or care.

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  • 1
    Michael
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I’m looking forward to the day I’m surprised and delighted by a new architectural design, this just looks like another drab, brutalist, concrete eyesore.

  • 2
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s inescapable, and can’t believe the architects when they say it didn’t occur to them. A pretty clueless design on any number of fronts, judging by that image.

  • 3
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    They could achieve almost the same thing without it looking like the twin towers explosion. The architects are promoting themselves at the expense of others.

  • 4
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I can see the resemblence to the 9-11 towers (it was my first thought when I read “Is this building offensive?” but I also think its remarkable architecture.

    Perhaps its the countless hours I’ve spent playing video games but I certainly see the ‘pixelated-cloud’ they were going for. I also believe the form is both unusual and interesting.

    As for Chris’ comments above how would the artists achieve the same thing without it looking like the twin towers exploding? If the towers didn’t have the ‘pixelated-clouds’ I doubt people would compare them to the twin towers at all. The twin towers stood out because they stood dramatically above the surrounding buildings, these look like they’re of similar heights to nearby buildings. The twin towers were exactly the same height, these are considerably different. Apart from the fact that both were two towers and were built in a “square shape” (hardly unique for towers!) I see little resemblance. I guess they could have made the buildings less square, but that likely wouldn’t have worked nearly as well with the pixelated look, nor likely the site they have to work on.

  • 5
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    As a professional civil/structural engineer who has had to check the designs for many an exotic building, my first question is – What is the functionality of these excrescences? As buildings get taller and taller, the proportion of dead load stress at the base gets bigger and bigger, so that the margin for safety gets less and less. The dramatic collapse of the Twin Towers was due to the top ten floors collapsing onto the remainder of the building like an enormous hammer. In the current case, if the cantilevers have some useful function, then any imbalance in load will increase the stresses due to bending of the tower. All in all, a lot of money will have been spent just on effect. This might appeal to initial tenants or owners, but will very shortly be seen as pretty Ho-Hum.

  • 6
    Dudley Horscroft
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    “A basic Cartesian building is suddenly animated by internal program event, its evidence on the facade observe a new status of synergy, almost as if natural forces become managed by human construction skills of the 21. century. It simple yet complex appearance contributes to awareness of natural causality yet becomes a playful attribute to Istanbul’s awaking suburbia.” —
    As a piece of architectural gobbledygook this fluff is hard to beat. But this does not refer to the Twin Towers collapsing design shown above, but to an equally silly sketch for Istanbul (referred to as a “similar-looking building”).

    Architects seem to have two main strands – design a building “fit for purpose” – makes money but does not get into the newspapers, OR sketch something that is a monstrosity, excessively costly, difficult to engineer, not what the client asked for, will take far longer to build than was originally allowed – come to think of it, that is the Sydney Opera House to a T.

    No, it is not ‘offensive’, just very sad.

  • 7
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I think one of the silliest aspects of the whole exercise is the “pixellated” qualifier. If you’re going to do clouds, why on earth would you do pixellated clouds? And the implied “resolution” is childrens’ play blocks, not HD.

    I think it’s just a post-hoc rationalisation because the “clouds” are, of course, blocky and very un-cloud-like (they’re apartments after all).

  • 8
    Jac
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    I can definitely see Habitat 67 in this!

  • 9
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Indeed; I saw it instantly, and cannot see a cloud in there without suspending disbelief a little too much.

  • 10
    Posted December 13, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Whilst I hardly think “HD” was what they were going for, more likely from the era of Atari: I think the qualifier is irrelevant. How many people know/care that the little red part on the Eureka tower is meant to signify respect for those that died during the Eureka Stockade?

    As is the case with all architecture it comes down to a matter of taste. I think the building is both interesting enough to provoke a response and quite beautiful!

  • 11
    Russell
    Posted December 13, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Horribly ugly because I also couldn’t see past the ‘tumour’ look. But for a really ugly building nearing completion, look no further than the new BHP building in Perth. Is it not the ugliest new skyscraper in the world? (Can’t find a good picture, but there’s this:

    http://www.au.brookfield.com/images/Ch10_Skyline_Lights.jpg

  • 12
    Posted December 13, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    What is it with BHP? Their building at QV in Melbourne is pretty awful.

  • 13
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    incredible… wonderful figment of an architects imagination. I love it and would love to see the real thing.

  • 14
    T
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I did not see the association with the twin towers at all until I read the article. I see what they were going for here and I actually think it looks kind of cool.

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