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Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: HYBRIDS II

HYBRIDS II: Low-Rise Mixed-Use Buildings edited by Aurora Fernandez Per, Javier Mozas and Javier Arpa
a+t architecture publishers, 2008

The second installment in a+t's exploration of mixed-use buildings turns the first on its side. Where Hybrids I looked at high-rises, the successor presents ten low-rise projects, ranging from a couple relatively compact buildings in the urban centers of Madrid and Nuremberg by Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos to Office dA's sprawling Sports Shooting Club in Kuwait City. The movement from small to large points to a predilection for a new generation of megastructures, this time realized, diverse in character and -- obviously, as the title implies -- diverse in function. Yet similarities can be found in many of these European, Asian and the Middle Eastern projects, in terms of context, form and program.

Besides a few tabula rasa and city center conditions found in these pages, most of the projects are sited in areas of outdated infrastructure, next to waterways or railroads just beyond the urban core. Jakob + MacFarlane's recently completed Docks de Paris highlights these conditions, in its conversion of a concrete building on the Seine into a mix of education, exhibition, office and retail functions. An undulating green glass exterior wall unites the different uses, echoing the flowing water of the river just beyond the glass. Other projects share the linear form of this dockside building, including Office dA's long floating canopy, Dominique Perrault's Ehwa Campus Complex in Seoul and Steven Holl's Vanke Center in Shenzhen, China. The last -- a mixed-use building including hotel, offices, condominiums, and public park -- is referred to by the architect as a "horizontal skyscraper" with linear pieces composed into a scattershot arrangement that resembles a stick-figure animal from above. Raised on formidable pilotis, the design splits the hotel, offices and condos into three main segments, a separation of function that the project shares with others here. Only OMA's Bryghusprojektet project in Copenhagen appears to break down the clear distinction between uses, even though the design is comprised of orthogonal blocks. Their stacking and adjacencies are so complex that even the helpful sections and 3d-plans can only go part of the way towards making ones movement through the various spaces within the building understandable. The "distinctive mix of architecture center, foundation headquarters, residential units, offices, public program and playground facilities" thrown into a programmatic "heap" is sure to be a happening place on the city's waterfront.

The projects described above illustrate how this second installment of the HYBRIDS series improves upon its predecessor. The horizontality of these pseudo-megastructures seems to invite experimentation by architects beyond the predictable stacking of high-rise buildings. One would think that the small footprints of skyscrapers would make them more favorable in urban situations, but these horizontal hybrids are especially adept at maneuvering the complex conditions of many city sites, especially the drosscape created by industry and infrastructure relocated over time. It's an exciting grouping of projects and one that gets me looking forward to the next installment.

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