News Highlights of the Week: May 31 – June 6, 2008
Le Corbusier’s famous Ronchamp chapel (1954) in France is the center of a fierce online debate, reports Building Design. Cesar Pelli, Richard Meier, and Rafael Moneo are among the 1,500 people who have signed an online petition to block Renzo Piano’s scheme for new visitor facilities and accommodations for nuns at the landmark site. The Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris initiated the petition. In response, Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), and its client, L’Association Oeuvre Notre-Dame du Haut, have launched a counter-petition—and have collected nearly 250 signatures, including those of Peter Cook, David Adjaye, and Massimiliano Fuksas, according to the article. RPBW’s Paul Vincent, the project architect, says the foundation has used “outrageous and misleading” language to incite opposition to the project. “The Internet is a war machine,” he is quoted as saying. “It can be very dangerous when used like this.”
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Despite the fact he’s reportedly never been to China, Prince Charles is urging the government there to stop demolishing Beijing’s historic hutongs, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday. As the city has grown in recent decades, many of its pre-communist residential complexes—characterized by narrow alleys and low-rise courtyard homes—have been razed. According to the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre, more than two-thirds of courtyard houses have been torn down since 1949. The prince has expressed particular interest in saving Da Shi Lan, a hutong near Tiananmen Square; he also is trying to persuade the government to employ the traditional layout when designing new housing, rather than erecting concrete high-rises. The prince’s spokesman told the Guardian, “It’s not about criticizing Chinese development per se, just about ensuring vulnerable heritage is not lost.” Beijing is hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics, which start Aug. 8. Look for extensive coverage of Beijing architectural projects—along with an essay on hutongs—in the July issue of RECORD.
In other Olympics news, Chicago is one of four cities being considered to host the 2016 Summer Games, although it “has some heavy barbells to hoist if it is to capture the gold,” says the Chicago Tribune. On Wednesday, the International Olympics Committee announced the finalists, which includes Madrid, Spain; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Tokyo, Japan. The winning candidate will be chosen in October 2009. While Chicago beat out cities such as Prague, in the Czech Republic, and Doha, in Qatar, for the final four spot, it’s far from No. 1 on the list. According to the IOC working group’s report, Chicago needs to improve its transportation plan and ensure its financial guarantees meet the committee’s requirements. Its construction budget also is too low. Second City officials might have second thoughts about their bid if they take a peek at Athens. Many of the venues built there for the 2004 Games are “fly blown, closed to the public, and covered in graffiti,” according to a story in the British newspaper, The Telegraph. The article says “the hangover from the Games was tremendous,” leaving Greece with a 6.1 percent budget deficit.
Given New York City’s recent string of construction accidents—15 fatalities so far in 2008 alone—it might be a good thing it lost its bid for the 2012 Games. One week ago, a crane snapped apart at a Manhattan construction site, killing two workers. This came 10 weeks after another crane collapsed and killed seven people, leading to the resignation of the city’s building commissioner, Patricia Lancaster, FAIA. Now, local papers are reporting that Lancaster has taken a consultancy job with developer Durst Organization, whose “high-end properties define much of the Midtown skyline,” according to the Daily News. “She was hired to help us understand the new city building code,” a company spokesman told the newspaper. Developer Douglas Durst spoke on Lancaster’s behalf in an April 23 article in The New York Times, where he is quoted as saying, “She did a terrific job in getting the department back on track.” Others, including leaders of the AIA New York chapter, also have staunchly defended Lancaster. In related news, Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated during a Wednesday press conference that he wants the city to lift the rule that the building commissioner be a licensed architect or engineer. According to a June 5 article in the Times, the mayor says “the requirement was making it hard to find a new commissioner and that the most important requirement was that the commissioner be a good manager.”
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