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News Highlights of the Week: March 17 – March 23, 2007

  • Renzo Piano and Trans National Properties, which hired the noted Italian architect to design an 80-story skyscraper in Boston, have parted ways, The Boston Globe reported on March 17. Although neither party was talking, sources said that Piano was frustrated by the developer’s requests for “inappropriate” modifications to his design. As reported last week, the office tower has sparked controversy because Trans National wants to demolish a historic building by Paul Rudolph on its site. It’s unclear how Piano’s departure will affect these plans.

  • Observers in Australia are questioning the authenticity of improvements to the Sydney Opera House after it was revealed that its architect, Joern Utzon, is losing his eyesight, The Australian reported on March 20. Utzon designed the iconic structure in 1957 but it was not finished according to his plans; the Australian government re-engaged him in 2002 to oversee upgrades. Now 89 years old, the Danish designer suffers from age-related macular degeneration. “If you can’t see what you are doing, and you can’t draw, you can’t function as an architect,” Utzon’s biographer said in another article also published March 20. A spokesperson for the opera countered that the architect’s failing vision has been “a matter of public record for some time.”

  • Ludwig Mies van de Rohe’s famed Tugendhat House, in the Czech Republic, is the subject of a battle for control, The New York Times wrote on March 22. Built in 1930, and now a World Heritage site, the house is described as “fundamental to the development of Modern architecture.” But the largely glass-walled structure is decaying and in dire need of repairs worth $7.5 million. The city of Brno has delayed this work, prompting members of the Tugendhat family to ask that the house be given back to them. Although it initially agreed, the city council voted against doing so earlier this week.

  • Last but not least, an item for the “hell freezes over” department. English Heritage, one of Great Britain’s leading preservation groups, is urging the government to work harder at protecting the character of suburbs. Preservationists are concerned about an increase in teardowns, paving gardens for parking, and “ill-planned” alterations to houses, The Daily Telegraph reported on March 20. More than 80 percent of Britain’s population lives in suburbs, English Heritage said, and the architectural character of these neighborhoods is often what attracts them there.


James Murdock