Velodrome & Pool

Velodrome & Pool in Berlin, Germany by Dominique Perrault, 1999

Dominique Perrault's name became internationally known after he designed Francois Miterrand's last grand projet, the National Library in Paris, France. In that design he explored the relationship between building, landscape, and the city, inserting a submerged courtyard between the four "L"-shaped towers of the library. Here the landscape is brought inside the realm of the building, while his design for an Olympic velodrome and pool in Berlin, Germany, brings the buildings inside the realm of the landscape.

Deriving their footprints from their athletic functions, the pool and velodrome are a square and circle, respectively, located symmetrically in a large park with grass, trees, and paths. Instead of merely placing the buildings on the site, though, Perrault submerged the interior functions into the earth (the opposite of the Library which raises the buildings on a grand plinth), lessening the large structures' impact on the park. In effect the roofs act as an extension of the ground plane, their reflective surfaces visible by pedestrians.

Unfortunately this visual extension of the ground plane indicates a missed opportunity on the part of the architect, for it is merely perceived. Making the roof accessible to pedestrians would have subverted the two buildings even further, realizing what Perrault calls "the absence of architecture" he tried to achieve. Instead sloping surface link the park to the pool and velodrome entrances, creating spaces of shelter and a zone between outside and inside.

The recent abundance of projects and built work addressing the relationship between architecture and landscape (Zaha Hadid and Herzog & DeMeuron, among others) indicates an acceptance of both an ecological approach to architecture and a subversion of the building as an object. Perrault's intelligent solution in Berlin, much different from both Hadid's and H&D's designs, will hopefully extend this acceptance and influence city governments to promote sensitive urban interventions.