Author: Rafael Gomez-Moriana

Fake Architecture News II

Screengrab of article in A few posts back, I discussed “fake architecture news” (FAN) in blogs and social media, describing an offer I had recently received to allow this very blog you’re reading to feature unidentified “sponsored content” in exchange for financial compensation. Another example of FAN is this story, published in an Australian real-estate magazine, about a stunning house by the Iranian firm Nextoffice. “A feat of engineering” is the first line we read in the caption below the opening image; a term that strongly implies that the work in question is built. After all, there is a big difference between a building consisting of real bricks and mortar –and with real people actually living in it– and one that exists merely as imagery, no matter how perfect. Considering how radical the design is, it would indeed be quite a feat of engineering if this house actually existed. (It would also probably be a feat of money-spending and  –given all the glass– air-conditioning, but that’s another story.) Let’s start reading the article: “It appears to be made from improbable shapes, architecture too sophisticated to be true. Yet this futuristic home in Iran is a feat of engineering as much as it is impressive design.” Note the use of the words “made”, “true”, “in Iran”, and the repetition of “feat” in the opening paragraph. This stunning house must surely be for real!...

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How Much Does Your Conscience Weigh, Mr. Foster?

Dear Norman, I just read the following in the Architect’s Journal: “Amid an escalating crisis over the missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi authorities have announced Foster’s place on the advisory board of its $500 billion NEOM project. An official statement seen by the AJ and dated last Tuesday (9 October) announced that Foster is one of 18 ‘global experts’ on NEOM’s global advisory board, which would help realise the mission of the proposed desert mega-city, described as the world’s most ambitious project.” I know you superstar architects can never say no to a project when a generous budget is involved and you are given carte blanche by the client, not to mention immunity from environmental feasibility studies, community participation workshops, or building permit applications. Those things –like taxes– are for little architects. You would know better than anyone. I, for one, wish to hereby inform you of my refusal to cover the NEOM project in the future in any way, shape or form. And I call on all critics to follow suit. Sincerely, Rafa   P.S. Just so you don’t feel singled out, Rem was the recipient of a similar letter some years ago, on a similar topic. Source:...

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Is Tourism the Only Thing Killing Barcelona?

La Rambla on a warm summer night: tourists, tat, prostitutes, and more tourists. A few days ago, The Guardian published a piece titled “Why Tourism is Killing Barcelona” that describes the damage that “overtourism” is causing in this city. However, to complete the picture (and since the comments section of the Guardian article is closed), I would like to point out some other things killing the city as well. Drugs. Heroin is back, and Barcelona’s heroin is among the cheapest in Europe. Sometimes it sells for as little as 5€ a fix. How do I know? I live in El Raval, where there are dozens of “narcopisos” (drug dens), which are mostly bank-repossessed flats squatted by drug traffickers. The junkies, many of them homeless, are from all over Europe and elsewhere; speaking English, Italian, German, and Dutch, among other languages. Now I suppose we could say that they are “narcotourists,” but what is certain is that they are attracted to the city not by its sights, but by the apparent leniency of local law enforcement, which is concentrating its efforts on jihadist terrorism ever since the attacks of one year ago. Dirt. In my 17 years of living in Barcelona, I have never seen so much trash in the streets. The city’s cleaning crews can’t keep up. Is it all tourists’ garbage? A good part of it is, yes, but much of...

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Overarching Craft

[Originally published in The Architectural Review July/August 2018] Frontal view of Casa IV. Matola, a hamlet in the semi-desert of the southeastern Spanish province of Alicante, Valencia, is a tiny crossroads that sports a community centre, health club, hardware store, supermarket, bakery, and several bar-restaurants specialising in local rice dishes. Beyond this loose concentration of roadside businesses, however, lies a sprawl of large residential lots tightly enclosed by fences, gates and hedges that shield every style of house, from modest vernacular constructions to neo-neo-classicism or the latest in narco-Minimalist neo-Modernism, a style loosely inspired by Le Corbusier’s white period that seems to appear in Spanish news media whenever a drug lord or political leader is arrested. The guest suite and patio-garden Matola’s semi-rural residential fabric exemplifies a kind of exurban sprawl found throughout Europe. What makes Spanish exurbia unique, however, is that much of it consists of second homes. It is not unusual, especially in Valencia, for a family to live in a flat in town during the week, and to spend weekends and Spain’s long summer holiday period just outside town —sometimes only minutes away— in a rural retreat. For wealthier families, a third property on the coast, or even a fourth at a Pyrenees ski resort is not unheard of; real estate comprising one of Spain’s largest economic sectors, not to mention one of its cesspools of financial...

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Knock on Stone: A Brief, Informal Acoustic Experiment at the Barcelona Pavilion

The original Barcelona Pavilion is believed to be the first time that stone was “hung” in the form of thin panels from an internal structure, with an airspace separation instead of mortar. In other words, it is the first case of a non-monolithic stone wall, as opposed to the solid, load-bearing masonry walls of time immemorial. The reason for using thin panels was probably to save money, as well as to be able to reuse the precious stone after the pavilion had served its purpose. Yet, the pavilion walls also contains segments of traditional solid stone, namely at the ends of its characteristic “free” walls. This was presumably done to avoid having to expose an edge of a stone panel when turning a corner, which would reveal its thinness. It’s a simple detail, but it shows how important it was for this building to convey a desirable appearance over and above its constructional reality; in essence, to establish a certain decorum. It was built for an international exposition, after all, a type of event which is entirely scenographic. In fact, it’s known that the back-sides of the pavilion had stuccoed brick walls painted to look like stone. I have visited this building on countless occasions, and never actually noticed that it contains both monolithic as well as superficial stone, and that the only way to distinguish these is by knocking on them...

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