New terminal puts Shenzen star on global architecture map

After a build time of only three years and a budget of $1 billion, the new Terminal 3 Building at Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, designed by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, makes a dramatic architectural statement. This is the first airport project for the Rome-based architects and one intended to launch them into the frontline of high-design transport terminals.

The building runs 1.5 km in length, covering an internal area of half a million square meters. But its most striking achievement may be its unusual form, which the architects liken to a “manta ray,” and its textured “double” skin.

…The project wears the sculptural design with the confidence of a major international hub, a sign of the city’s growing prominence within China, but also of the country’s continuing penchant for large-scale, high-profile architecture commissions…

The vast interiors, the architects say, emphasize the theme of “fluidity … the idea of movement and the idea of pause.” This means that, in addition to designing a visually stimulating environment, they focused on the practicalities of processing times, walking distances, ease of orientation and crowding. But these necessities aside, it’s easy to see an edgy sci-fi film being set in and around the sleek, organic elements.

The client, Shenzhen Airport Group, is said to be so pleased with the results that it is taking steps to try to copyright the design. Studio Fuksas are working on two further phases of development on the airport, due for completion in 2025 and 2035.

Wow! Kudos to the administration of the Shenzhen Airport Group for accepting such a daring design. Studio Fuksas are someone worth following forward to what should be a brilliant architectural career.

A house for all seasons in a changing Chinese village

China has set itself the goal of transforming half of its rural population of 700 million people into productive, comfortable members of urban conglomerations in the next three decades. Thus far, the process has moved along with a great deal of work for civil and mechanical engineers and the construction industry, but very little role for architects in the generically styled concrete and brick urban buildings. Award-winning architect at the University of Hong Kong John Lin and his associates believe that this process of urbanization also calls for a flexible approach to house design in rural areas.

…Lin’s recently completed project looks at the role of the stereotypic village house and attempts to propose a prototype which reaches toward contemporary living styles while respecting the functionality and traditions of the past.

The project won the prestigious Architectural Review House award for 2012

Rural life in China is centered around the domestic courtyard, where much of daily life takes place. Most of a village’s open space is within the walls of the houses, which tends to turn most social customs and rituals inward. The courtyards of a house are designed to be supportive of the activities taking place in the nearest rooms, setting up a relationship that is visual and functional. Basically, the house is designed around the courtyards…

The history of many countries teaches that the process of rural development favors the destruction and abandonment of the traditional in favor of the new, often at a rate that makes the rural population uneasy and insecure. The Shijia Village Houses reflect an attempt to bridge between the two extremes and preserve the intelligence and experience embedded in the use of local materials and techniques.

Functionality, adaptation of the old to new use, simple and cost-efficient, the best of modern architecture serves needs as old as collective society has ever been – and will be – even as regional and national economy changes.

Yahoo switches on Green chicken coop data center

Yahoo is officially opening a very energy-efficient data center in upstate New York, a building that shows how design often trumps high-technology widgets.

The facility in Lockport, N.Y., near Buffalo, will get almost all of its cooling from outdoor air, which is a significant energy saver. The Yahoo data center, which can hold 50,000 servers, will have a power usage effectiveness rating of 1.08, far less than the industry average of 1.92.

The cool climate of upstate New York helps reduce the need for the chillers usually used in large data centers. The building itself will use what the company calls the Yahoo Chicken Coop design, a long, narrow building that makes it easier to circulate in outdoor air. The building is positioned to take advantage of the prevailing winds, too.

The basic laws of thermodynamics work the same in New York state as California. Amazing!

The data center…will use 40 percent less electricity than typical data centers and only one percent of its energy bill on cooling. Scrapping chillers saves water as well, conserving enough drinking water per year for 200,000 people, according to Yahoo.

Although it may sound like an obvious way to get free cooling, using outdoor air to cool data centers is not a common practice in data centers. Yahoo is seeking a patent for its Chicken Coop design which it could use for other data centers.

Which is absurd. You may as well grant patents for chimneys or attic fans.

Yahoo deserves credit for combining local, natural resources – for being willing to move traditional design from one genre to another. Not so uncommon in upstate New York. Witness folks who built homes based on local core constituents from the Unadilla silo company.

Lose the beancounter attitude about patents, folks!

Rising price of maintaining arks in France’s shrinking parishes

Gesté’s church reflected in a shop window

The soaring steeple, airy flying buttresses and steep slate roof of the 19th-century parish church that dominates this town in western France is — like many other village churches in France — scheduled for demolition, a victim of its size, its condition and, ultimately, municipal budget concerns.

Although the church, dedicated to St. Peter, is arguably the sole architectural jewel in this town of 2,400 people, the town has decided to tear it down and replace it with a new one that will be far cheaper to keep up.

Erected in stages to accommodate 900 people, the formidable stone building has stood sadly empty since 2006. Completing the picture of dereliction, it is surrounded by a wire fence to protect visitors from the very real threat of crumbling stonework.

“Because of its size and complexity it will always be costly to maintain,” said Jean-Pierre Léger, 61, a retired engineer who is Gesté’s part-time mayor. “It is a victim of its considerable size. It is too big.”

The mayor and the town council voted, 17 to 16, two years ago to demolish the church, saying it would cost $4.4 million to renovate, against $1.9 million to demolish it and erect a new one…

The struggle is not unique to Gesté. Across France, villages are being forced to ask hard questions about their churches, many of them deteriorating, as the number of parishioners and priests dwindles and the cost of upkeep mounts.

Béatrice de Andia, the founder and president of the Religious Heritage Observatory, in Paris, estimates that there are about 90,000 church buildings in France, of which about 17,000 are under government protection for their historic or architectural value, giving France the greatest density of religious buildings of any European country. About 10 percent of the protected churches are in perilous condition, she says, because of a lack of government financing for their preservation, as are a far larger percentage of the remaining churches.

“The Church may be eternal, but not the churches,” said Ms. de Andia, a retired government cultural official who founded the observatory in 2006 to raise awareness of the parlous state of the country’s religious heritage. “In the past, these buildings were sacred, but today there is no sense of the sacred.”

And even less need.

World’s ugliest buildings – Take 2

As many of you know, last year’s list of the “World’s Ugliest Buildings” not only made the front page of, but caused quite the controversy in Boston where some took issue with our choice of Boston City Hall as the world’s ugliest building.

As comprehensive as the list was, there are still dozens of buildings out there that make us want to avert our eyes when we walk by, so with that in mind, we’ve compiled our 2nd Annual List of The World’s Ugliest Buildings! Enjoy!

From the merely unpleasant to the borderline criminal, ugly buildings somehow manage to pop up in even the prettiest cities. With this in mind, has announced its 2nd Annual List of the “World’s Top 10 Ugly Buildings,” as decided by its members and editors. general manager, Giampiero Ambrosi discusses the list’s significance: “Many of these buildings don’t have the warmth of an ice cube while others don’t even seem completed. Either way, they make for very interesting conversation.”

My personal best goes to #8, Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. I wish it would finish falling down.