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News Highlights of the Week: April 5 – April 11, 2008

April 11, 2008

By James Murdock

Daniel Libeskind is accused of “hypocrisy of the first order” after it was learned that he is working in Hong Kong—despite having recently called for architects to boycott jobs in what he called the “totalitarian regime” of China. The UK’s Building Design magazine reported on April 4 that construction has begun on the 269,000-square-foot Creative Media Center at the City University of Hong Kong. But back in February, as RECORD reported, Libeskind urged architects to “take a more ethical stance” by avoiding work in China and other countries that have a poor record on human rights. His apparent about face drew immediate criticism. The head of a group called Architects & Planners for Justice in Palestine told Building Design that Libeskind’s actions were hypocritical. The head of a Tibetan rights group added: “If you call for a ban on architects working in China—full stop—then you have to accept that includes Hong Kong.” Speaking in the architect’s defense, his wife, Nina, denied that this was the case. “This is not a dogmatic idea for Daniel,” she told Building Design. “It’s a personal thing for him. We’ve seen what has happened in Tibet, but there is a rule of law in Hong Kong that Daniel is comfortable with.” Missing from the controversy is any discussion of architecture—namely, the quality of Libeskind’s design in Hong Kong. But the silence is perhaps understandable. As an author of the architecture.mnp blog wrote of the crystalline-shaped building on April 7: “This thing is a) basically the same as maaaaaaaddddd other Daniel Libeskind designs (I’m pretty tired of these starchitects, frankly) and b) carbon copy or not, it’s kind of a mess.”


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The Zaryadye project in Moscow

Image courtesy Foster + Partners.
The Zaryadye project in Moscow, designed by Foster + Partners.
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A Russian appeals court has voided the construction contract for the Foster + Partners-designed Zaryadye project in Moscow, The Moscow Times reported on April 8. The 4.3-million-square-foot, retail and hotel redevelopment scheme was to begin construction last September on the 13-acre site of the now-demolished Rossiya hotel, near the Kremlin. But as RECORD reported in July, rival bidders alleged that ST Development, which offered the city $800 million to build Zaryadye in 2004, had been favored and given inside knowledge of the bidding process. The case has been making its way through the legal system since 2006, the Moscow paper wrote, and now an appeals court has ruled that ST’s contract was “illegal” and the job must be “re-tendered.” Although Zaryadye’s fate seems as uncertain as ever, the developer indicated it wishes to proceed with construction—and signs are that it may get its way. “‘We have no plans whatsoever to relinquish the project. We are going to appeal ... right to the country’s highest court,’” said Ilya Levitov, an ST representative. The Moscow Times added: “A real estate developer, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the case, said Levitov’s statement could mean that City Hall is considering signing a direct agreement with STT Group to redevelop the property.”

The price tag keeps growing for Zaha Hadid’s London 2012 Olympic Aquatics Centre in the Lower Lea Valley—now projected to cost nearly $500 million, more than three times the original estimate. This upward spiral is despite the fact the building’s size has been scaled back twice already since Hadid’s initial design was unveiled in 2005. According to an April 8 item on the BBC’s Web site, “The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) said construction inflation and [taxes] had raised the price. Overall construction costs remained within budget, it added.” The 17,500-seat facility, to be constructed by the British firm Balfour Beatty, will contain two pools, which will remain open for public use after the Games. Hadid was asked to help cut costs by redesigning it so that most of the seating would be contained in temporary, wing-like appendages; when RECORD reported this redesign in February, the building’s cost was just $400 million. The Aquatic Centre’s opening date has been pushed back to 2011, the BBC also wrote.

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