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    Top Architectural Record award for Guangzhou Opera House? Really?

    lawrencewspeck Aug 8 '12 38

    Architectural Record recently gave Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House its Best Public Project: Honor Award in the Good Design Is Good Business: China competition and published it on the cover. http://archrecord.construction.com/ar_china/China_Awards/2012/Guangzhou-Opera-House/Guangzhou-Opera-House.asp

    Unbelievable! I visited the building last January and was absolutely dismayed at how inept and poorly designed it is. Had anyone from the awards jury (which “included editors from Architectural Record and respected Chinese architects and experts”) actually visited the building? If so, I cannot believe they would consider it “good design.” The building’s failures are glaring and are certainly no secret. The fellow showing me around in Guangzhou did not want to take me to the opera house because he was “ashamed” of it.

    The photos in Architectural Record do look dazzling—proof again that photos can be made to lie. The images are dominated by distant views and night shots that obscure the building skin. Included here are some of my own shots, presented without the benefit of Photoshop.

    If you were an arrogant westerner it would be easy to say that the embarrassing crudeness of the building is not the architect’s fault, but the result of a Chinese building industry not yet up to the visionary imagination of the designer. But that notion is belied by the fact that within view of the opera house are the extraordinary Guangzhou New Library by Nikken Sekkei, the Guangdong Museum by Rocco Design and the Guangzhou Tower by Mark Hemel and Barbara Kuit—all of which are ambitious, meticulously designed and beautifully executed. The problem at the opera house is poor design.

    Is it possible to create curvilinear forms with very tight radii, superimpose a series of triangular grid patterns, make the building out of a very heavy, brittle material like granite, and realistically expect any sort of success? These seem to be ill-fated conceptual directions. When things very went badly awry, fat caulk joints apparently were the universal solution to poorly resolved design.

    The interiors have the same kinds of problems—chases that seem to have been added as an afterthought, indirect lighting imbedded in sumptuous glass-fiber-reinforced gypsum forms where the faceted T-5 fixtures are clearly visible because no one checked cut off angles to be sure the lamps would be concealed.

    Promoting clearly flawed design as the “best” we have to offer is demeaning and makes us look ridiculous to people outside the architecture subculture. This is how we lose power in the larger society and become marginalized as a discipline. Elevating “stars” and “signature design” at the expense of deeply rooted and rigorous standards of excellence does a disservice to our field.

     

     
    • 38 Comments

    • mfischer3387
      Aug 8, 12 11:57 am

      Now that AIA isn't forcing an Arch Record subscription on members, is anyone still reading the publication on a consistent basis?

      lletdownl
      Aug 8, 12 12:42 pm

      wow your photos are really shocking... i wish there were more!  

      as for arch record... who cares what they think is good and bad, i still think they do a decent job presenting current work... its still a nutritious part of a balanced breakfast 

      lletdownl
      Aug 8, 12 1:04 pm

      oh and heres another pretty well executed project in guangzhou...

      Seth Embry
      Aug 8, 12 2:15 pm

      this begs some sort of comparison between the sort of dysmorphic photoshopping in women's magazines and that of architectural publications.

      design
      Aug 8, 12 2:31 pm

      great to see architecture ruffling feathers again.

      Thayer-D
      Aug 10, 12 7:36 am

      It's nice to see the AIA begin to recognize what so many architects have known for a long time.  That our profession is increasingly irrelevant to the public that has come to expect this kind of uglyness being promoted as the best work.  No amount of i-pods or social media will elevate this computer driven work in the eyes of the public.  Only when architects move beyond the modernist fetish of originality will we produce work that the general public will care about.  Till then, we are just another isolated society.

      toasteroven
      Aug 10, 12 10:33 am

      Is it possible to create curvilinear forms with very tight radii, superimpose a series of triangular grid patterns, make the building out of a very heavy, brittle material like granite, and realistically expect any sort of success? These seem to be ill-fated conceptual directions. When things very went badly awry, fat caulk joints apparently were the universal solution to poorly resolved design.

       

      well - if they had developed some sort of mechanical joint system to accept the granite it probably wouldn't have looked so f-ing sloppy (and didn't switch back and forth between curved and straight pieces - it should all be straight pieces without the tight radii).  tessellation is all about the joints - if you screw that up it always ends up looking like shit.  this sort of joint treatment and tight radii is more suited to something like SSM or metal (hell, even EIFS or wood would have looked better).

      design
      Aug 10, 12 12:42 pm

      No amount of i-pods or social media will elevate this computer driven work in the eyes of the public.Only when architects move beyond the modernist fetish of originality will we produce work that the general public will care about.  Till then, we are just another isolated society.

      Yes, beyond into fairy hippie land. Technological engagement doesn't just happen by itself. Pencils don't count.

      Seriously, you people don't know what the hell you're talking about. Just like the aquatics center. The embarrassment is when architects default to mediocrity or Steven Holl ripoffs like the Guangdong Museum which the author seems to love.

       

      Ridiculous.

      Stay tuned.

      toasteroven
      Aug 10, 12 3:31 pm

      The embarrassment is when architects default to mediocrity or Steven Holl ripoffs like the Guangdong Museum which the author seems to love.

       

      aside from luddite comments about digital tools and computation-driven form - doesn't the detailing look like complete shit?  seriously - I don't think "glue granite to drainboard" is a particularly elegant solution to a complex curved facade.  looks like some first-year's bass wood model they f-ed up because they cut the pieces too tiny and they used zap-a-gap and a glue gun while wearing oven mitts.  and how the hell could the person doing CA think this looked ok?  my guess is that they started installing and were like "we already have all this granite cut and sized, we're behind schedule - this doesn't look so great going up - but I guess since no one else has done this sort of thing there's nothing we can do... oh well..."

       

      god - at least someone could have come up with something to make it look less shitty.  If this were my project I'd be really f-ing embarrassed.

      design
      Aug 10, 12 6:04 pm

      lawrence speck has no basis to speculate on the ZH construction team.

      go ahead buy his books.

      EKE
      Aug 12, 12 1:14 pm

      This is what you get when you design something having absolutely no idea how it will be detailed or constructed. This building was designed as pure form, and the technology to make it happen is simply not up to the task. If your design language does not have embedded within it some wisdom about the physics of how structures perform, some structural logic, this is what you end up with, I'm afraid. This type of architecture is critically dependent on sealant joints, and that's a recipe for disaster. Those joints will all fail in 10-15 years, if they aren't failing already. In my opinion, it's irresponsible. I bet this building is leaking like a sieve. That AR would give an award to this building, knowing what it looked like up close, is morally reprehensible. No wonder our profession is so profoundly estranged from the general public.

      juliet.fajardo
      Aug 13, 12 2:00 pm

      Sure, this may be a bad building, but to say that , "...This is how we lose power in the larger society and become marginalized as a discipline" is a bit unfair and a bit under researched. I personally think that this blog entry would be better if you had details from Zaha's work from all around the world. Then decide whether or not her signature design is a "disservice to our field".  It would be interesting to see what her buildings in Europe look like in detail. If you could provide some detail photos of those then I might consider more your commentary here. I need more evidence... that's why blogs do a disservice to good writing.

      design
      Aug 13, 12 6:11 pm

      50 years from now our grandchildren will worship this building.
      By then it will be so easy to deploy triangulated stone on a frame, pseudo-religious arguments will long be forgotten.

      toasteroven
      Aug 13, 12 9:01 pm

      lawrence speck has no basis to speculate on the ZH construction team.

      go ahead buy his books.

       

      I don't care about lawrence speck or his books - someone posted a bunch of pictures that look like they belong on a punch list - that's what I'm commenting on.

       

      50 years from now our grandchildren will worship this building.
      By then it will be so easy to deploy triangulated stone on a frame, 

       

      there are a bunch of classic mistakes in this building which makes me think someone really just took a NURBS model and just exported it to a polygonal model to get the granite shapes (sort of looks they probably exported it into sketchup).  the power of parametric software is that you could have taken that surface and figured out some kind of regular tessellation shape(s) for a rigid material such as granite and built it out of that (and we'd all be more impressed) - but the corners where the windows meet the granite surface are pretty telling that someone had no idea wtf they were doing (and if you've done any work with sub-d, you know those spots are a real bitch to work out).  someone took materials that were more suited to polygonal modeling and tried to apply it to a NURBS model.  the team worked backwards, instead of thinking about the systems and working with these systems in tandem.  My guess is they weren't thinking about alum frame windows and granite from the beginning.

       

      the fact that the granite shapes are all over the f-ing place makes it look even worse.  if they were irregular, yet the same size - and the corners met, maybe it would have worked, but this just looks sloppy.  completely irrelevant with how "difficult it is to deploy triangulated stone on a frame."

      design
      Aug 14, 12 2:01 am

      one day it will all make sense, i promise.

      cmrhm
      Aug 14, 12 2:56 am

      I wonder how many posters here have experience in curtain wall design and construction?

      cooldude1988
      Aug 16, 12 4:16 pm

      Check out the ArchDaily Article there's more photos!

      mfischer3387
      Aug 23, 12 12:24 pm

      Those rounded structural corners look like they were not really figured out. I realize it probably would have compromised a lot in the mind of ZH's design intent, but seriously, there had to have been a better drainage and cladding solution where all those tessellating triangle arrays are intersecting...

      will gallowaywill galloway
      Aug 23, 12 9:43 pm

      my guess is that zaha office did not get to supervise construction and possibly didn't get to do the DD either.  that is pretty common in china.  maybe the author knows?

      wang shu designs with low technical skills in mind for a good reason, proved fairly well here.

      don't know how nikken sekkei was able to pull off better building next door but it could be they also managed construction themselves.  they are a massively large construction company in their own right and know how to build perfect buildings.  if they built the zaha building prolly it would have come out perfect.

      definitely a poorly built project though, whoever is to blame.  amazing that it wins awards, looking as bad as it does.  must be quite painful for ZHA to see.

      Thayer-D
      Aug 30, 12 10:28 am

      My guess is Zaha could care less about the way the building was going to be built, rather they where more interested in the cliche dusk shot where humans are nonexistent. 

      design
      Aug 30, 12 11:30 am

      Not exactly, only a luddite would believe that.

      Thayer-D
      Aug 30, 12 1:47 pm

      Oh no, here comes the "luddite" criticism when one dares to question the orthodoxy of modernism.  Are organic farmers luddites becasue they question the use of modern pesticides?  Are acoustic musicians luddites for prefering the sound of non electric instruments over synthetic sounds.   I hope "one day it will all make sense".  Till then, I'll stick to my modern inheritance that tells me to look for the best solutions to modern problems regardless of provenance. 

      design
      Aug 30, 12 2:12 pm

      ZH is not orthodox modernism, that's the problem with sentimental nostalgics, you lampoon everything as being against you.

      I'm surprised your not going against the author of this blog too, saying things like "inhumane, gizmo-green, the ego, oh mother earth." Tea party of architecture indeed.

      yes organic farmers are at worst bioluddites and at best cautious food producers.
      yes musicians unable to differentiate "electric" sounds from "non-electrical" ones are luddites too.

      I do hope one day it will all make sense, and would be happy to provide a reading list to your "perennial" protoge to expedite the process, for a small fee. Till then, don't bother relying on corrupt cerebral data telling you the answers are in copying the past.

      Thayer-D
      Aug 30, 12 2:23 pm

      Right, becasue no one ever learned anything from copying the past, least of all children.  Why, when I read my kids Dr. Seuss, I cringe that they see me as a phony for reading the same stuff that was read to me.  Keep up your name calling, it says everything about you, and nothing about who you're attacking.

      design
      Aug 30, 12 2:25 pm

      Children grow up one day, think for themselves, and rely more upon adaptation than copying what was behind them, building upon the past in way. It' called emergence, spread the word.

      Thayer-D
      Aug 30, 12 2:31 pm

      So you admit there's a place for copying in the educational process, with out name calling.  You're making progress, but I'm going to have to sit out the rest of your education.

      design
      Aug 30, 12 2:38 pm

      Your obfuscating copying with progressing.
      oh wait you think progress is a mirage right? things were better back in the day and we should spread that everywhere.

      t a m m u z
      Sep 6, 12 6:46 am

      what was the ZHA-Local Consultant /Inspectors-Contractor setup like? Its easy to blame the big name but there might be other reasons.  It might be a lack of  ZHA architects presence on site per the contract or it might be politicking between local inspectors and contractor and the undermining of the architect...

      its not just a question of bad weathering but this definitely looks there is a miscoordination between the design intent and the construction.

      Thayer-D
      Sep 6, 12 4:43 pm

      It could also be that designing tight curves with stone curtainwall facets is dumb.  Maybe poured concrete might have been more appropriate.

      larslarson
      Sep 6, 12 6:55 pm

      I don't think 'curtainwall' (at least in American English) means what you think it means.  Do you mean stone veneer? 

      I agree that it would've been better in poured concrete or maybe even panels... but as others have said Zaha may not have had a ton of oversite by the time construction happened.  The projects my old firm did in china were usually ended at the DD phase and then constructed and reviewed via photographs... They don't always follow how you want it built.

      will gallowaywill galloway
      Sep 6, 12 9:28 pm

      thats our experience too lars.  china is not the norm, and there are many zaha buildings that came out perfect so is not reasonable to blame it on her just because it fits a world view.

      i must say she got the good photos though.  really impressive photoshopping or camera-work.

      as for curves being modern and anti-historical hence bad for the soul, there are tonnes of ancient and just plain old buildings built with curves that are purely design driven, same as zaha.  it is more the remorselessly square buildings that are the legacy of modernism othodoxy.  ironic thought isn't it, that the neo-cons have substituted the lessons of lecorbusier and gropius for what the ancients believed and did. 

      Thayer-D
      Sep 7, 12 12:14 pm

      I thought a curtain wall is a veneer that's hung from a structural frame, while a veneer (stone or brick) sit's on it's own weight whether held up by steel angles or tied to a back-up wall?  Please correct me if I'm missing something, but from looking at the upsidedown curve, I'd say the panels aren't sitting on eachother.  I have no doubt that China CA is not up to our standards, but isn't that all the more an indightment on the architect who didn't think about local working conditions?

      "as for curves being modern and anti-historical hence bad for the soul, there are tonnes of ancient and just plain old buildings built with curves that are purely design driven, same as zaha"  -  Who's saying that curves are strictly modern?  But I'm glad to see we are begining to bridge the divide between traditional buildings and modernist ones by admiting many designs are purely design driven, what ever style one preferes.  But then you blow it by name calling people who prefer traditional styles.  Neo-cons?  That's just silly.   

      design
      Sep 7, 12 3:06 pm

      Anybody seen the latest images of a project Chris Alexander helped out with?

      so much for trying to save the world..
      neocons, go figure.

      design
      Sep 7, 12 4:10 pm

      acutally I would add, when its home-grown, traditionalists probably relate more to the tea party.
      when they try to export, it's like neocons.

      Thayer-D
      Sep 7, 12 4:17 pm

      You're anger seems similar to LeCorbusiers when he proposed the whole scale demolition of Paris.  Now I just have to figure out if you copied it or are simply progressing...

      design
      Sep 7, 12 4:22 pm

      I'm pretty certain you associate one too many things with Le Corb, like a broken record oblivious of risk strategy.

      Thayer-D
      Sep 9, 12 9:26 pm

      "I'm pretty certain you associate one too many things with Le Corb, like a broken record oblivious of risk strategy"

      Considering this comes right on the heals of your previous statement  ", traditionalists probably relate more to the tea party. when they try to export, it's like neocons."  I'm going to guess that self-awareness is not your strong suit.  Let's just agree to disagree and be happy there's enough variety to suit anyones tastes.

      design
      Sep 10, 12 4:51 am

      You're anger seems similar to Leon Krier when he thought he could hijack some projects from contemporary architects.

      does the analogy sink in now? Corb is not part of the lumpit logic

       

      keep the traditionalism to a minimum.

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About this Blog

Although it may sound cliched, I live, eat and breathe architecture. I’m currently a principal in the architectural firm of PageSoutherlandPage and a professor, as well as the former dean, in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. My teaching and my blog are aimed at educating people on the importance of great architecture in contemporary American culture.

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