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News Highlights of the Week: October 27 – November 2, 2007

November 2, 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.

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Santiago Calatrava is suing the city of Bilbao, Spain, for the “cheek, arrogance, and ignorance” of allowing Arata Isozaki to add onto a 10-year-old footbridge that the Spanish starchitect designed near the Guggenheim Museum, the U.K.’s Independent reported on October 26. The suit, which landed in court last week and is expected to be decided “soon,” alleges that Isozaki’s addition “breaks the symmetry of the bridge, clumsily distorts the design... and damages the integrity of his work”; it seeks $362,000 for “compensation and the dismantling of Isozaki’s extension,” or $4.3 million for “moral damages” if the new bridge stays put. Calatrava’s lawyer says that the city violated his intellectual property rights by allowing Isozaki to mimic the earlier design, but the Japanese designer’s office contends a public works project is not protected this way. Bilbao’s mayor shares this sentiment. “If it’s his intellectual property, let him take his intellectual property,” he said earlier this year. “We’ve had enough of the dictatorship of Calatrava saying we can’t touch his little bridge. We’ve had enough of this superstar.” Calatrava might want to save his energy for another battle. The Architect’s Journal reported on October 29 that Calatrava is “embroiled in a bitter row with city officials” in Valencia after his Palau de les Arts opera house flooded during heavy rains last week. As RECORD reported in July, the building stands amid a “surreal ‘city’ of... reflecting pools.”

Controversy of a different sort is raging in Washington, D.C, in what a neighborhood commissioner told the Washington Times on November 1 is a “battle between those who worship architecture and those who worship God.” Members of the Third Church of Christ, Scientist are seeking to block preservationists’ efforts to secure landmark status for the church, designed by I.M. Pei and completed in 1971. The congregation says that the building no longer suits its needs and wants the option to modify or replace it. Admirers, meanwhile, say that the building is an important example of Brutalist architecture. But these admirers appear to be few in number. Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher wrote that the church was labelled “rude” and “disorderly” when it was new, and that it remains “probably the city’s most unfriendly and depressing piece of spiritual architecture.” He added that even preservationists admit the church’s exterior spaces are used mainly as a restroom by homeless people—and that each time the congregation needs to change a light bulb in the sanctuary it must pay $8,000 to erect a scaffold. A developer proposes to raze the church and build a mixed-use complex in its place, but the city has halted this plan and was scheduled to meet yesterday to evaluate landmark status.

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In Palm Springs, California, meanwhile, a property widely recognized as a landmark is being put up for auction—the Kaufmann House, designed by Richard Neutra and built in 1946 for the same man who commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design Fallingwater. After years of alterations and neglect, Neutra’s mid-century Modern masterpiece was painstakingly restored by architectural historian Beth Edwards Harris and her husband, Brent, during the mid-1990s. But the couple are now divorcing and, The New York Times reported on October 30, plan to auction the house next spring at Christie’s in New York City; the presale estimate is $15 million to $25 million. It will join a growing number of Modern houses that have met similar fates. This year alone, a Marcel Breuer house in Dutchess County, New York, was sold for $1 million and Jean Prouvé’s prefabricated Maison Tropicale fetched $4.97 million.

And, finally, back to Spain where Rafael Moneo’s new wing of Madrid’s Prado art museum opened this week—an expansion years in the making. The Prado first held a competition to add onto its existing building in 1995, soliciting 700 entries, but abandoned this scheme after determining there wasn’t enough space to do so, the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph wrote on October 30. It then purchased land across the street, partially occupied by a 16th century cloister listed as a national monument. Moneo, who won a competition for the new site, reconstituted the cloister inside a modern building. The $219 million project took six years to complete, Germany’s Der Spiegel reported on October 29, and was costlier than expected: “Moneo had the cloister removed stone by stone, restored and then reassembled in the same spot but with a minimalist cube placed above it. The cube is illuminated by daylight channeled through the ceiling and into a glass well that can also be lit from within.”

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