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News Highlights of the Week: August 18 – August 24, 2007

August 24, 2007

by James Murdock

Editor’s note: You may read the news digest below or listen to it, plus other news headlines from ArchitecturalRecord.com, as a podcast by clicking this link.

Click the play button to begin | Click here to download

Most of New Orleans will be spared flooding if the Army Corps of Engineers completes $7.6 billion in levee and floodgate improvements by 2011, according to projections and maps released this week. The enhancements are designed to protect the city against the failure of its pumping system during a 100-year storm, equivalent to Hurricane Rita, the Times Picayune reported on August 22. Calling the release of these projections the most important event in Louisiana’s recovery to date, Donald Powell, federal coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding, said “If I were in the real estate business, or if I were anticipating coming to live in New Orleans, the first thing I would look at are these maps.” He added that President Bush will ask Congress to allocate $6.1 billion in federal funds for the levee upgrades, with the remaining funds to come from state and local sources. But state officials worry that their share may be higher and that they will be unable to afford it, according to an August 23 item by the Associated Press. Moreover, The New York Times reported on August 17 that without the levee enhancements, New Orleans remains imperiled despite more than $1 billion in repairs so far.

The wait appears to be worth it, reviewers in London have decided, for the Serpentine Gallery’s seventh annual summertime pavilion. The exhibit opens today, several weeks behind schedule, after a last-minute decision to delay a design by the German architect Frei Otto in favor of one by Snøhetta’s Kjetil Thorsen and artist Olafur Eliasson. The duo’s 50-foot-tall structure resembles a spinning top: a spiral ramp leads visitors to a viewing platform, while its interior will feature a series of architectural experiments—details of which are TBA—created by Eliasson to activate all five senses. “The entire structure is a happy play of spatial illusions,” The Guardian’s Jonathan Glancey wrote on August 21. “As you climb up around it, it seems much bigger and more solid than it really is.” Ellis Woodman, of The Daily Telegraph, wrote that Thorsen and Eliasson’s design “frames a room as memorable as any created on the site previously,” satisfying the increasingly “daunting” task of innovation within “a simple brief and an absence of planning constraints.” The pavilion will be open through November.

“In the last 30 years just about every major building you think of came through a competition,” Thom Mayne told The New York Times on August 19, and yet architects have mixed feelings about entering them. Charles Gwathmey and Renzo Piano say no to them; Richard Meier wishes he could, but admits that some of his best buildings result from competitions. The problems with U.S. competitions almost seem to outweigh the benefits: stipends, if offered, cover barely one-third of an architect’s expenses, and unlike Europe, where clients seek undiscovered talent, in the U.S. competitions are often open only by invitation. And yet the public can feel more involved in these events, particularly when its input is sought—as is currently the case with San Francisco’s Transbay competition. Imperfect as competitions are, they suit some architects’ personalities. “I’m a competitive human being,” Peter Eisenman told the Times. “When I stop getting invited to competitions is when I quit. That’s what makes me alive.”

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Speaking of Peter Eisenman, he’s been making headlines a lot recently—but not always for the right reasons. As RECORD reported earlier this month, experts estimate that it will cost $38 million to repair cracks in the concrete blocks that comprise his Holocaust memorial in Berlin. But Eisenman is far from contrite about these failures in his work: “At least it’s not falling down and killing people, like that bridge in Minneapolis,” he said in The Week magazine’s August 24th edition. It’s a safe bet that Eisenman is pleased he’s off the hook financially for making these repairs. The 75-year-old architect told The New York Observer earlier this month that “my son who graduated from law school three years ago makes more than I do after 40 years of working.” He also advised the Observer reporter: “If you were a son of mine, I wouldn’t want you to be an architect, because it’s a tough way to be in the world.”

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