As discussed in the previous posts in this section on Contemporary Design I will dedicate this and the next few posts here to Local examples of Good and Bad contemporary architecture in my hometown. The kinds of buildings I’ll show wont be from the Likes of Zaha Hadid or Calatrava but from more local and national companies and less ‘conceptual’ in that regard. Everyday examples if you will. These are Urban architecture examples as distinct from Rural forms regarding the guiding aesthetic themes and spatial planning.
To make things more interesting and as a throwback to the original ‘Decider’ I’m going to categorise these examples into ‘Thumbs Up‘ (The Contestant/building succeeds and lives to fight another day!), ‘Thumbs Down‘ (Contestant fails to win the heart of yours truly and is thus destined to the architectural scrap heap) and ‘Jury’ Vote – which I will leave up for grabs to the deciding public for their opinions if I am torn between decisions!
So, let’s head down to the ring and gear up for todays matchups.
The lights go down, contestants are warming up backstage, trainers wrapping up the knuckles, some can be heard shouting taunts such as ‘You were Apt for your time’ , ‘You are not an Eastern-bloc style apartment block, you’re a clever twist on a modernist design.’ and also ‘Dont listen to them champ, pre-cast Concrete panels with flat windows look fantastic as institutional and commercial building facades’ . Also heard apparently was ‘Different is More, Different is More’ a similar phrase to another one I believe…A hectic warm up area just now….
To the opening event, Lights are low and music pumping now, the anticipation building as the host grabs the mike and yells ‘Arrrrrrrre you readyyyyyyy, to rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrummmbllllllllllllllllllllllllllle?!‘…
First out to show its pedigree is this example.
1) WOODBROOK PLACE, Bishopstown Road, Cork City
- WoodBrook Place
Verdict: Thumbs Down
From the Terrible Door Styles, Horrible Downpipe and Gutter design and colour, to the Cheap Grey colour of the roofing and windows, to the ‘acupuncture’ nature of the room vents in the facade this is not a nice aesthetic. The idea of the railing in front about a 1 foot away from the facade is terrible too.
If its going to be white it should ALL be white, not ruined by awful grey trims and windows. ALL white would at least have maintained a Modernist Geometric form and style and could create the feel of being carved out of a White stone block but the finished product here is all over the place. And thats not to mention the reference to the other houses and buildings next door to it in the pics below
- Woodbrook Place and the old terraced houses next to it.
- Woodbrook Place from another angle
- Woodbrook Place at Junction showing other pitched roof houses
In what scheme of things was this considered a suitable design for this corner featuring quaint old terraced townhouses on one side and decent enough 70′s era residential on the other side all with pitched roofs, seemingly a point stressed to designers in this area except in this case. If this is to be the exception in the area it should have been a thing of beauty not a mutation of a nice idea on paper.
Take away the grey roof trims and make them cleaner with better flat roof parapet details to hide the external fashing from view with maybe minimal trims as per the infill segments of the building up high between the thick grey roof trims. Why was there dark grey fascia boards or pieces stuck on below the roof lines??? If this was minimal it might actually look like a decent shape. The grey windows would surely have looked better being more subtle in a lighter colour also, to enhance the ‘white marble block’ style aesthetic?
And that gutter and downpipe layout?? Could be more linear, should probably be painted white to blend in aswell and the vents look hideous. Perhaps they could have gone with an alternating external finish like different stonework, or maybe wood with the white walls in between or been more inventive with the window styles and door openings but this just doesn’t work on any level for me.
As can be seen they stuck to the roofline height overall but…a pitched roof dormer style terrace house does not look the same height as a standard 2 story house with flat roof. The many vents stuck into the facade also create an ugly finish, as do the mainly glass front doors, 80′s style (terrible choice, even tho obviously helps with light inside there are always other options)
Heres a pub on the opposite corner built on a former premises in the early to mid 1990′s. Note the Pitched roof and traditional nature of some of the details, windows and chimney feature. This is a non linear 4 way junction and the white new building is just visible in the background beyond the bar
- Bishopstown Bar, Cork City, Ireland
Next up, It was built really quickly and under some anticipation too but it has quickly become an icon of horrible contemporary block styles that harp back to the Soviet era… It is:.
1) VICTORIA MILLS APARTMENTS, Western Road, Cork City
My verdict: Thumbs Down
This went up in 2 phases. The first phase was this large rectangle shape with yellow tiled squares as rainscreen cladding with FLUSH metallic grey windows which look just like the horrible old grey metal windows of the Late 1980′s before uPVC came in. Remember this>
Does anyone think these flat metal windows that sit flush with the pre cast facades look good? No, I didn’t think so. So why would you repeat this mistake so similarly.
The south face is nicer, I’ll grant it that, mainly because there are more balconies cut into the facade giving it some important depth and strength, but this south face is hidden from view from the street side, (which is why I don’t have photo’s today of it) and is only viewed from the university campus behind. This is where much of the problem stems from. It is seemingly negligent of the visual impact that the public facade on the north side has with its surrounding.
This side is the side everybody else sees passing thru town. It is flat and pretty horrible. There used to be a wood mills on the grounds over a river here before this went up, explaining the name, but thats where the similarity ends. There really should have been much more attention paid to a considered design, given the proximity of nearby historical buildings and also the viewability of such a site from nearby roads approaching the area. Heres a shot of a building on a hillside overlooking this part of the narrow valley…
If it was just located within campus grounds in its own space away from something else it would be different but this is surrounded on most sides by small scale, old and historical buildings many of cultural noteworthiness nearby along the western road and surrounding areas. This sticks out like a sore thumb. The quality inside is of a very high standard, I would expect nothing less from this architect but the outside and scale raises questions. The larger windows look terrible flush to the face when there are so many of them while the lack of depth overall does not help. Shortly after this was built they then built the second phase, this>>>>
How is this a nice idea? It needs depth and massing. There is too little depth in other areas to counter this flatness. It really does hark back to the Previous Pics of the Prefab technical college windows…
How did this get the go ahead??? After building the Victoria Mills Student Accommodation they put up a different student accommodation block next to it like this. Both of them have flaws but the one to the right is not even finished cleanly. Poor choice of materials, styles, completely different levels also to Victoria Mills to the left. All wrong! (Tear hair out…) I’ll show more of that in the next post if I get some pics of it.
Both sides of the road show dark materials, I would have thought something lighter would have been appropriate here considering the need for brightness and reflection onto the dark corner. The sun is shining here as a result of the evening sun just about to set and being in line with the road.
This 2nd part of Victoria Mills is certainly as bad, if not worse than the 1st phase! Maybe it was actually meant to make the 1st phase in yellow look better!
The brown building arches over the road. Again, I’m sure in the right surroundings it might have looked a bit better but not in this context. A tight but heavily trafficked twisting route, lots of hardscape surrounding this building with no green or trees on its north facing which would at least provide contrasting colours, a row of older homes opposite but none are over 2 stories, this road needs light and colour and some bit of reference from this design, not this large dark coloured brick mass blocking out the light and the view.
Brick and Window type
The issue here is more the window detail than the material. Brick has an amazing quality, its varieties and textures can provide beautiful facades, but only when utilised in the right way. To emphasise the hardness and volumetric nature of brick you should provide depth, holes or cut angles in the volume to highlight this. A Large Brick cube looks superb when you cut out a small rectangular opening on one side, provide a recessed window or if you undercut a side, giving it this depth. It does not look good if you place a window exactly flush with the brick on a face unless sparse, or countered by significant angles and holes, as this leads to an unnatural softening of the brick material. Adequate ‘Massing‘ of the material is at stake here. If anyone has an example of such an extensive ‘flush’ window design type that looks good with brick in a contemporary or traditional sense please show me as I have not seen it yet.
So, the first problem is the window detail, the second problem is context….from the other side of the other river bank within campus grounds this building looks a little better even with its flaws as it it is separated from other hard forms and aided by green colours. But from the street side it does not get away with it due to the turbulence, harshness and claustrophobic nature of the street which lacks a natural setting such as trees or greenery for most of it. On this side the colour of the brick does present a problem. It does not reference or appear sympathetic with the other buildings nor does it provide a pleasureable contrast….it needs to feed off of the street somehow, live with it side by side rather than attempting to swallow it up in a ball of darkness and confused industrialisation.
On scale and orientation…
Since the facade is north facing, and is 4 stories of vertical flat structure for much of it, right on a roadside, you can just about see the sun creeping up and behind the roof line only if fully across the road to the opposite footpath. This brown brick rectangle simply creates an extra large shadow over the road. Its akin to viewing a solar eclipse! Thats the type of distortion. The development dwarfs the surrounding area in the wrong colours, shape and shadows.
This ‘just aint right’. The effect of the flush windows, the lack of real depth and profile to emphasise the brick correctly, and on top of this, no appreciation of immediate surroundings on the street side, of history, or of context here. Did anyone request a model of how the building would look from the street rather than all the promo pics of it from the largely hidden campus side bathed in trees and greenery???The building shape is part of the problem, the main issue is the materials and window positions combined with the choice of colour, considering the north face and size of the road and nearby homes. This Architect has done several projects following a similar theme of using mainly brick with simple geometric shapes while using flush aluminium style windows again, but the ones that work are the ones that used more irregular and alternating patterns instead of windows in large grid layouts ie….they would be positioned alternately or less extensively while primary focus was on the mass of the brick, its shape usually countered by an angle or hole cut into it to show off the quality of the brick and not the underwhelming flatness of the windows.
The decision to put a small shop mart on the ground floor on a busy bend with on street parking is also questionable. Cars pull in and out of a few bays positioned on an extremely busy and tight bend creating very hazardous conditions for those parked and those using the roadway.
To finish with this building though, using cut outs to add depth and character would have been beneficial in Victoria Mills but as it lacks most of these characteristic traits it simply fails to inspire.
The following is a building that shows how to use brick in a very pleasing way…from Cork Institute of technology’s newer campus here is a few pics and I will talk about it in the next post along with some more examples
Plenty of Massing and depth going on here, even with the flat-ish windows (not quite flush though they are still recessed slightly, and also the window layout is singular and alternated rather than grid like expanses on a single facade)
Note the linear but sparse windows in comparison to the scale of the brick facade and the recessed nature of these windows. The low horizontal window layout and style here emphasises the brick’s nature and mass.
Well, thats it for now, This example and much more to follow in the next post! See you then…time for a cuppa now