Category Archives: Architecture

World Architecture Day

It’s World Architecture Day and recently we discovered that two of our favourite destinations, Oslo Opera House and Harpa, are recipients of the European Union Mies van der Rohe Award for contemporary architecture. We’ve decided to have a look at some of the other winners.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a German-American architect. Along with Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright, he is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modernist architecture. In 1937 he settled in Chicago, Illinois, where he lived and worked for the remainder of his life.

Chicago – Federal Building, 1975, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Flamingo, a red steel creation by sculptor Alexander Calder

According to architect Mies van der Rohe “less is more”. This penchant for pared buildings with flush details was something that the late architect’s buildings – including the stilt-supported glass box that is Farnsworth House, Illinois – reflected.

Farnsworth House, 1946-1951, by Mies van der Rohe

Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion for the Barcelona exposition (often called the Barcelona Pavilion) in 1929 is considered one of his two European masterworks and one of the best architectural works of the twentieth century. The Pavilion embodies the main objectives that led to the institution of the Mies van der Rohe Award: excellence and innovation in conceptual and constructional terms.

The European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award is granted every two years to acknowledge and reward quality architectural production in Europe.

In 2017, the winner of the award is DeFlat Kleiburg in Amsterdam.

DeFlat Kleiburg, Amsterdam

The photo on its own reveals nothing interesting and one might wonder, what the heck?

Yet it is truly innovative architecture. DeFlat Kleiburg in Amsterdam is an innovative renovation of one of the biggest apartment buildings in The Netherlands called Kleiburg, a bend slab with 500 apartments in Amsterdam’s Bijlmermeer neighbourhood. Consortium DeFlat rescued the building from the wrecking ball by turning it into a “Klusflat”, meaning that the inhabitants renovate their apartments by themselves.

Kleiburg is the last original apartment building in the Bijlmermeer: a building larger than life – 400 meter long, 10 stories high, 500 apartments (of about 100 square metres each), 4 kilometres of galleries.

Housing Corporation Rochdale calculated that a thorough renovation would cost about €70 million. But bulldozing the BMF and building a lucrative low-rise development instead was not economically feasible either. The proposal that won the day was from Consortium DeFlat to renovate the main infrastructure – elevators, galleries, installations – while leaving the apartments unfinished. The future residents can buy the apartment “shell” and renovate it by themselves. For a very low price. And entirely according to their wishes. Owning a home is suddenly within reach. And the low price means that residents can buy two or more adjacent flats and combine them into one, either on a horizontal or vertical arrangement or a combination of both.

For the first time the Mies van der Rohe Award went to a project of renovation of an existing building: DeFlat Kleiburg, whose authors are the NL architects and XVW architectuur for Kondor WesselsVastgoed.

NL architects were awarded the Emerging Architect Prize of the EU Mies van der Rohe Award in 2005 for their work BasketBar in Utrecht.

In 2015, the winner was Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin, Poland by architects Barozzi/Veiga (Studio A4 collaborator).

Szczecin Philharmonic Concert Hall by Barozzi Veiga

Located in the heart of Szczecin, close to the river Oder, the new Philharmonic Hall aspires to be a symbolic link between the old town’s past and future. The auditorium is built on the site of the old “Konzerthaus”, demolished during World War II, recuperating a historical area and providing it with a new, contemporary urban plaza in order to create a dialog between public space and the building.

Szczecin Philharmonic Concert Hall by Barozzi Veiga

The building is shaped as a large, massive volume, configured by the addition of multiple gestures that resonate with the surrounding landscape. Inspired by the verticality of the traditional steep roofs, the town’s picturesque neo-Gothic towers and urban blocks, the building emerges from its industrial environment to form part of the city. Its translucent glass walls reflect light and colour, as a sort of massive crystal that strives to transform the space around it.

Szczecin Philharmonic Concert Hall by Barozzi Veiga

The Philharmonic Hall’s façade is specially designed to create the impression of an abstract, homogeneous surface that seems to glow both during day and night. The vertical structure behind the glass panelling holds a simple, yet effective system of double-skin façade that provides an improved acoustic insulation as well as allowing for natural ventilation. The translucency of the chosen materials allow for very different lighting qualities; during the day, the sunlight flows through skylights on the roof – at night-time, a LED lighting system seems to light up the auditorium.

In 2013, the winner was Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Harpa Reykjavík
Architect: Henning Larsen Architects
Acoustician: Artec Consultants
Date Opened: 2 August 2008

Stay tuned for our visit to Harpa later this year!

In 2011, the winner was Neues Museum in Berlin by David Chipperfield Architects in collaboration with Julian Harrap.

Neues Museum in Berlin by David Chipperfield Architects

The museum was opened in 1855 in a large neoclassical building, designed by German architect Friedrich August Stüler. During WWII, the museum building was severely damaged; it was only reopened in 2009, after the completion of an ambitious restoration and renovation project designed by British architect David Chipperfield.

Neues Museum exterior after WWII bombing

Postwar, the Neues Museum found itself in East Germany, which, in its fervour to create a new world, had little interest in the old. Neglected, unloved and lucky not to be bulldozed, it was left as a hulking shell from 1945 to 1986, when some attempts were made to shore up its sorry fabric. It took the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to get the ball rolling again, with British architect David Chipperfield winning the 1997 competition to return it to, or even surpass, its former glory.

The Neues Museum, which once housed a commanding collection of Egyptian and prehistoric art in lavishly decorated galleries, is one of five imposing buildings that constitute Berlin’s Museum Island. Designed by Friedrich August Stüler, it was completed in 1855 and intended to house the overspill from the Altes Museum situated across the street.

There were those who argued that the museum should be restored to exactly how it had been. Others wanted a modern whitewashed affair with plenty of neutral gallery space, to help the artworks hold their own against the architecture. Some simply objected to the idea of a British architect working on such an important German building. But the judges were won over by Chipperfield, who brought in another British architect, conservation specialist Julian Harrap, to help him create what can only be described as a piece of architectural sorcery: a beguiling mixture of the restored and the new that should silence most, if not all, of his detractors.

Chipperfield reconstructed and renewed the building, while Harrap painstakingly restored murals, frescoes, mosaics, long-lost colour schemes and fine detailing. Where there was nothing left to restore, Chipperfield designed bold new spaces – notably the magnificent central stairwell. And he has cleverly tucked away modern lighting, heating and security essentials into hidden spaces so that Stüler’s great promenade of rooms is entirely uninterrupted.

Neues Museum Main Staircase

The marriage of old and new is respectful and subtle. Just look at that main stairwell. Retaining walls aside, there was nothing left of it after the war, so Chipperfield allowed himself a free hand, creating a show-stopping space: layers of old brick, render, paintwork and echoes of original frescoes blend into a modern palette of concrete and marble, all topped off with a timber roof. The effect is powerful and painterly. There will be no displays here. It’s an enormous breathing space, a ravishing hub visitors will return to again and again as they tour the museum’s connecting wings.

Stüler would probably have been pleased Chipperfield got the job. A great admirer of what was then cutting-edge British design and technology, the architect toured Birmingham’s ironworks and factories in 1842. He also visited the works of John Soane, the English architect whose Bank of England interiors influenced those of the Neues Museum, where each space is a new surprise. Thrillingly, Stüler’s debt to British engineering can still be seen throughout the restored museum. Despite its solemn stone-clad facades, which have been restored almost exactly as they were, the structure abounds in lightweight iron trusses and honeycomb brick and clay vaults, held in place by trim iron beams.

In 2009, the winner was Norwegian National Opera & Ballet in Oslo by Snøhetta.

Oslo Opera House
Bjørvika, (central) Oslo
Architect: Snøhetta
Acoustician: Arup Associates
Date Opened: 12 April 2008

Stay tuned for our visit to Oslo Opera House later this year!

2007 Winner: MUSAC – Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, designed by Luis M. Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón/Mansilla+Tuñón Arquitectod.

One of the hallmarks of this particular building is the façade of more than 3,000 stained-glass windows in 42 different shades, inspired by the main rose window (called The Falconer) at the local 13th century Gothic cathedral, Santa María de León.

2007 Winner: MUSAC – Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, designed by Luis M. Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón/Mansilla+Tuñón Arquitectod.
2005 Winner: Netherlands Embassy in Berlin by Office for Metropolitan Architecture / Rem Koolhaas and Ellen van Loon.
2003 Winner: Car Park and Terminus Hoenheim North, Zaha Hadid Architects, Strasbourg/France

Getting a world-renowned architect to design a car-park is pretty cool. One of the best aspects of the Strasbourg scheme is that it illustrates how good design can be used everywhere and not just in august projects beget by learned clients with a decent budget at their disposal.

2003 Winner: Car Park and Terminus Hoenheim North, Zaha Hadid Architects, Strasbourg/France

The work of Zaha Hadid has become universally appreciated. She has held an avant-garde position for many years. Despite its obvious graphic and scenographic power, the physical presence of the “building” is totally convincing. The EU Mies van der Rohe Award jury appreciated the economy of the project, with minimum means; not only the “shelter” of the tram station but also the surrounding field of car parking have been invested with great care and a place of great intensity and elegance has been created from an apparently “innocent” opportunity.

2003 Winner: Car Park and Terminus Hoenheim North, Zaha Hadid Architects, Strasbourg/France
2001 Winner: Kursaal Centre in San Sebastián, Spain by Rafael Moneo

San Se­bas­tián is a city lying in the midst of a com­plete geo­gra­phy: hills, be­aches and capes all live to­ge­ther with the urban fa­bric, crea­ting a world in its­elf. The Kur­saal site has the flavour of the geo­gra­phy and the “building” tries to keep that after rai­sing two gi­gan­tic rocks lying on the tidal wash where the river meets the sea. One “rock” faces Mount Ur­gull which protects the Con­cha beach. The other “rock” looks toward Mount Ulía, a fur­ther pro­mon­tory, which de­fi­nes the city bor­ders. The exterior walls are curtain walls made from curved laminated glass with an aluminium structure, and ap­pear as trans­lu­cent so­lids, able to wi­th­stand the harsh wea­ther con­di­ti­ons. This wall structure provides for changes in the appearance of the volumes. At night they become light boxes. The con­cert hall and con­gress hall “emerge” from a plat­form which holds all the other ele­ments of the pro­gram.

2001 Winner: Kursaal Centre in San Sebastián, Spain by Rafael Moneo

The double voussoir walls have flat glass on the interior. Coupled with the curved glass on the exterior, the walls become supreme sound insulators.

2001 Winner: Kursaal Centre in San Sebastián, Spain by Rafael Moneo
1998 Winner: Art Museum of Bregenz, Austria, by Peter Zumthor

Yet another building with a glass façade. The façade consists of etched glass shingles with several functions: they lend the building’s main body lightness with their transparency, insulate against cold and heat and form an essential part of the lighting arrangement for the building. The incoming light is refracted first on the façade before entering the interior.

The Kunsthaus Bregenz was conceived as a daylight museum. The façade serves as a skin to diffuse daylight which first passes through rows of windows and then through the light ceilings in the halls. Although the light has been refracted three times (glass façade, insulating glasswork, illuminated ceilings), it illuminates the halls differently depending on the time of day or year. In this way, a natural lighting atmosphere is created although the building has no visible windows. Over the hanging light ceiling, specially developed pendulum lamps, controlled by an exterior light sensor on the Kunsthaus roof, have been installed that complement the daylight. Every lamp can be controlled separately or as a group and can be infinitely dimmed.

1998 Winner: Art Museum of Bregenz, Austria, by Peter Zumthor
1996 Winner: French National Library Paris, France by Dominique Perrault

The National Library of France was the largest of Mitterand´s grand projects for Paris: formed from four L-shaped corners of a square, 25 storeys tall on the banks of the Seine with a garden in the middle. It is a simple and powerful building, with a clear programme. Less is more!

The National Library of France is the third largest library in Europe. The new library building opened to the public in 1996, but the library’s actual foundation goes back to 1480. Among the millions of photographs at the French national library is the world’s oldest photograph, taken by Nicéphore Niepce in 1825 (which took 8 hours to develop). In 1997 the French national library was the first library to provide full text access to a great deal of its collections via the Internet.

1994 Winner: International Terminal at Waterloo Station by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners

Designed by Grimshaw and Partners, International Terminal at Waterloo Station was one of the highest profile buildings in the world at the time of its completion in 1993, winning a number of prestigious awards. The building is best known for its roof, a superstructure of glass and steel held together by 299,000 individual components. Its luminous skin undulates gently as it curves and tapers along the tracks. Expansive glazing gives the arriving and departing trains impressive views out across Westminster, and the whole concourse a remarkable quality of light throughout the day.

The last international service left the iconic terminal in 2007 – just 13 years after it opened – when Eurostar moved to St Pancras.

Waterloo is the UK’s busiest station with more than 99 million people passing through each year, but the existing infrastructure was creaking under the strain. A £800m refurbishment project will get the station ready for longer trains and provide space for 30% extra passengers during the busiest times of the day, by rebuilding the former Eurostar terminal. Not sure if the roof will survive the redevelopment!

1992 Winner: Municipal Sports Stadium of Badalona, Spain by Esteve Bonell and Francesc Rius
1992 Winner: Municipal Sports Stadium of Badalona, Spain by Esteve Bonell and Francesc Rius
1990 Winner: Third London Airport, Stansted, U.K. by Norman Foster and Foster Associates
1988 Winner: Borges & Irmão Bank in Vila do Conde, Portugal by Álvaro Siza Vieira

Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

On 12 October 2002, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay opened as Singapore’s national arts centre. It was the first purpose-built arts centre in Singapore in almost 40 years.

The theatre and concert halls are located directly on the bank of the Singapore River, next to a bridge linking the historical part of the city, the river and the modern commercial parts of the city.

Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore

The architectural design of the ensemble has a contemporary style, avoiding any reference to superficial ethnic symbolism. The centre combines the standard size and form of concert halls and theatres with expressive architectural features, which are specific to the local climate and the cultural environment.

The entire centre comprises of five performance venues – primarily a 2000-seat theatre and an 1800-seat concert hall; including three smaller studios and a 450-seat outdoor theatre on the waterfront.

The principal idea is based on a three-sided creation, opening out from the central entrance hall and comprising the concert hall, the classical theatre as well as the smaller studios. All parts of the design have their distinct position in the structural hierarchy, with the entrance and a small round courtyard, which opens up to the waterfront, forming the centre of the object. The open design concept gives space for the most different approaches and trends. Archways, balconies and roof terraces form the links between the larger individual elements. They reduce the overall impression to a more perceivable scale, while at the same time smoothly bridging the gap between the internal and external spaces.

Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore

The complex comprises a shopping and restaurant arcade, with a multimedia library for theatre, cinematography, music and ballet. The most prominent elements of the new arts centre are the twin glass domes of the two large auditoriums (the Theatre and the Concert Hall) and the aluminium sunshades designed to shield the glass domes, allowing light in while keeping the heat out at the same time.

Cladding detail, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

With superb acoustics, the Esplanade Concert Hall was designed by world-renowned acoustician, the late Russell Johnson of ARTEC Consultants Inc, US. Noteworthy acoustics features of the Concert Hall include the acoustic canopy, reverberation chambers and acoustic curtains which enable the hall to adapt to different musical styles and to provide optimum sound quality.

The acoustic canopy above the stage, comprising three separate sections each weighing 17 tonnes, acts as an acoustic reflector that enables onstage musicians to hear themselves. Each section is adjustable and hangs above, roughly, the three sections of an orchestra and chorus – the strings; the woodwinds, brass and percussion; and the chorus. By manipulating the height of the three sections as well as the gaps between them, it is possible to affect the way the musicians hear themselves onstage, as well as the way the audience hears them.

The reverberations chambers, with a volume of 9,500m3, amount to separate rooms, isolated from the main concert hall by a series of airtight wall panels, or chamber doors. But the idea isn’t to keep the doors closed. All of the chamber doors can be opened in increments, anywhere from 0 to 90 degrees. Depending on how many doors are open, where those doors are (at the top, middle or bottom of the hall), and how wide they are open, the sound in the hall can be changed in a variety of ways. For instance, Open doors means there are fewer reflective surfaces in the hall for the sound to bounce off of. The reverberation chambers also provide sound isolation against extraneous noises and an environment which can be temperature, pressure and humidity controlled. The temperature in the Concert Hall is maintained at a constant 21C.

The luxurious curtains that can wrap around the hall are no ordinary decorative draperies, but magical sound soaker-uppers of voluminous velour. The acoustic curtains consist of around 15,000m2 of acoustic velour that can be deployed to wrap the entire hall to reduce unwanted reverberations during amplified performances. When not in use, the curtains are stored in pockets behind the walls.

While the Concert hall is designed especially for symphonic music it is also flexible enough to be used for other types of events.

In addition, the design and choice of materials of the hall’s interior surfaces maximise clarity and quality of music within the hall. The wood used in the hall is Tasmanian Oak.

Concert Hall, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Concert Hall, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

The Concert Hall also houses a 4,740-pipe organ with 61 stops which was designed and built by Johannes Klais Orgelbau, from one of the world’s most renowned organ building families. The orchestra platform can accommodate 120 musicians. And four bears 🙂

Concert Hall, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

The theatre, with a sitting capacity of 2000, houses Singapore’s largest performing stage and is easily adaptable to a variety of performances. It is designed to present all genres of the performing arts, from classical, traditional or contemporary dance to intimate or large-scale theatre performances. The state-of-the-art stage system has more than 100 functions for hoisting, illumination and screening, and offers more than a thousand variations in stage settings.

Theatre, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Theatre, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Little bears are spying on the rehearsals for Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress 🙂

Theatre, Circle 3, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress explores the life of one of the most controversial figures in Chinese history – Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi – adored, revered, feared and hated.

The most successful Singapore musical, the story is vividly brought to life with a stirring score and sumptuous costumes designed by London-based Singapore designer Yang Derong.

Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress
Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress
Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress
Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress

Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress was staged by the Singapore Repertory Theatre originally on 17-19 October 2002 at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, as part of its opening festival. Little bears loved it!

Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress
Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress photo booth 🙂

The Grand Foyer is the showcase of Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay and is the meeting place for guests attending performances. Three types of specially manufactured sheet glass have been utilized to provide high insulation value while shielding occupants from the sun’s infrared rays.

Theatre Foyer, Level 3, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Theatre Foyer, Level 3, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay also have a Visual Arts Program, with visual arts presentations located in the unusual spaces offered by Esplanade’s unique architecture. Featuring international and regional artists, the focus on contemporary Singapore and Asian artistic expressions gives a visual dimension to the centre’s performing arts events and festivals.

Table for 2 is 4… after the Big Bang
Vertical Submarine (Singapore)
Table for 2 is 4… after the Big Bang
Vertical Submarine (Singapore)

Imagining the intimate and domestic scene of a couple conversing after their meal, Vertical Submarine’s sculptural installation expands the dining table in scale, fragmenting and flipping the pieces, with all the meaningful elements that are usually above and below the table packed into a “sandwich” that exists within the typically overlooked space of a table top. The abstracted shards seem as if they are emerging from and sinking into the Concourse steps in a moment of simultaneous creation and destruction.

Vertical Submarine often construct elaborate narratives alongside their installations, and here they draw analogies to the big bang theory, which describes how the universe was formed by the explosion of a tiny, compressed singularity into complex galaxies. At the same time, the split structures of the installation hint at how more than two persons may be involved in a relationship, as the memories or reality of previous personal affairs and familial ties inevitably intrude upon any blissful pair.

Voyager
Adeline Tan and Chris Chai (Singapore)

This site-specific installation combines the distinct illustration styles and subjects of Adeline Tan and Chris Chai of Organisation of Illustrators Council (OIC). Chris’s arresting black and white pattern sets reference the geometries of machinery, architecture and other aspects of the built environment. Meanwhile, Adeline’s work takes the natural world as a source of inspiration for its strange and beautifully mutated flora and fauna. Together, the artists have created an installation that draws upon individual elements of each other’s work to create new forms, using diverse media such as drawing, painting, printing, sound and the moving image. The artists’ collaborative exchange is further symbolised by images of portals and passageways that suggest the movement between contrasting time periods of art styles and influences, making their works look at once both figurative and geometrically abstract, as well as futuristic and primeval.

Celebration 2000, by David Larwill in collaboration with the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, Australia, commissioned by the Victorian Government and Victorian Arts Centre as a gift to Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

The panoramic view of the surrounding city from the roof garden is spectacular.

Roof Garden, Esplanade, Singapore
Roof Garden, Esplanade, Singapore

Little bears had a great tour of the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Thank you Isni!

The failing architect who dreamt up modern America

What makes an architectural reputation? What does it need if it is to last? Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) can tell us a great deal. This year is the 150th anniversary of the American architect’s birth (today actually), and there is a great deal of activity to mark the occasion in the US. Historic Wright sites, museums and hotels are celebrating with special events, new exhibitions and anniversary packages.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York will honour Wright’s legacy with a major exhibition of his work from June 12 to October 1. Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive includes about 450 works ranging from the 1890s through the 1950s, featuring architectural drawings, models and photographs.

Milwaukee Art Museum is also set to introduce a new exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright: Buildings for the Prairie, showing from July 28 to October 15. With a focus on designs from the Wasmuth Portfolio — famous lithographs by Wright published in 1911 by the Berlin firm Ernst Wasmuth — the show also includes examples of his furniture, stained glass and textiles.

The Wright-designed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York will be open Thursday, June 8 (it is usually closed on Thursdays), offering $1.50 admission, free birthday cupcakes!!, a noon tour and rarely seen construction photographs of the museum. During the Museum Mile Festival (June 13), visitors can receive free after-hours admission and Frank Lloyd Wright temporary tattoos.

More than half a century after his death, Wright’s reputation looks in fine health.

The words ‘American architect’ feel a little bare when applied to Wright – convention pushes for the addition of a superlative, such as ‘greatest’ or ‘best loved’. He is routinely described as America’s ‘favourite’ architect, generating among the public the kind of affection that most 20th-century architects could only fantasise about. This pre-eminence was hard won, and never inevitable – in fact a snapshot of Wright’s career makes failure appear the recurring theme. And it’s a lonely sort of achievement: triumph for Wright, obscurity for his ideas.

The buildings that secured Wright his lasting fame came very late. Wright was born in Wisconsin in 1867. Fallingwater, the Pennsylvania house that brought him global fame, was completed in 1937, when he was 70. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the masterwork that crowned his career, opened in 1959, six months after his death at the age of 91. Though he built far more than his image as a prickly visionary might suggest – hundreds of works, mostly individual houses – those two bought him the lease on immortality, and he knew it.

Wright trained at the Chicago offices of the legendary firm of Adler & Sullivan, joining at the age of 20; in 1893 he left the firm and set up his own practice. He built scores of houses in a distinctive ‘Prairie’ style, with long profiles, low pitched roofs, and strips of windows under the eaves. Geometric ornament was applied with restraint and intelligence. Soon he was picking up more prominent commissions, completing a headquarters for the Larkin soap company in Buffalo, New York, in 1906, and Unity Temple, a Unitarian chapel, in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1908. Architectural historians seeking the first signs of modernism in the United States, would alight upon these buildings, although Wright’s relationship with the modern would always be characterised by difference and disagreement.

Then came a near-legendary series of disasters. In 1909 Wright abandoned his wife and children for Martha ‘Mamah’ Borthwick, the wife of one of his clients, and the couple went to Europe to escape the ensuing scandal. In 1914, after the couple’s return to the United States, a deranged manservant set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin, a house and studio built by Wright in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Mamah, her two children, and four other people were killed.

Cross section looking east of the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo (1913–23), Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, New York. © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Wright’s career was badly affected by the scandal, and the tragedy might have ended it entirely, were it not for his work in Japan. In 1913 Wright was commissioned to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, a story told in fascinating detail in Ken Tadashi Oshima’s essay for the large and beautiful catalogue accompanying the MoMA sesquicentennial show. Wright was already an admirer of Japan’s art, architecture, and landscape, and had travelled in the country. He had a particular, passionate interest in ukiyo-e woodblock art, which he began to import to the United States in 1905, and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1906. This became an important side business in the absence of architectural work. Completed in 1923, the elaborate Imperial Hotel kept Wright busy, but without American work his profile began to suffer. And his misfortune continued. In 1925 Taliesin burned down again, the result of an electrical fault, and Wright lost his stockpile of Japanese art. In 1929 came the stock market crash and the Depression. He declared bankruptcy and teetered on the edge of total failure.

In her book Wright on Exhibit (Princeton University Press), Kathryn Smith shows how Wright used exhibitions to keep his reputation alive. He tried for five years to secure a show of his work at the Art Institute of Chicago, finally succeeding in 1930 after a successful exhibition at the Architectural League in New York. A study focused entirely on an architect’s exhibitions, as Smith has provided, might seem specific to the point of narrowness – and for another architect perhaps it might be. But exhibitions and self-promotion kept the Wright flame alive. ‘Wright’s intention,’ Smith says of the Chicago exhibition, ‘was clearly to show that for the previous fifteen years, despite the implication of headlines in the popular press, he had been intensely active as an architect. Although the majority of the work remained unbuilt […] the exhibition proved that he had moved beyond the single-family house to large-scale commissions, including monumental buildings.’

The Architectural League exhibition, Smith demonstrates, rehabilitated Wright’s reputation, earning praiseful press in the New Yorker, the New York Times and Time. Wright had also won a champion in the person of the critic Lewis Mumford, who would become one of his most important advocates. The details of how architectural shows come together might not be immediately fascinating, were it not for the fact that exhibitions did provide vital turning points in his fortunes, and that Wright’s abrasive manner and perfectionism ‘invariably led to last-minute dramas of operatic proportions’, in Smith’s generously gentle assessment.

So it proved when Wright was included in the new-founded MoMA’s seminal 1932 exhibition of international modernism, curated by Alfred Barr, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and a young architect called Philip Johnson. The three men were devotees of the first generation of European modern architects, including Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius, and the initial agenda for the MoMA show had been to promote these men to an American audience. But the museum wanted Americans included, and an uncomfortable selection were added, including Raymond Hood and Richard Neutra. Last of all came Wright – admired by the curators, but very much in the past tense, as a has-been whose contribution to modernism was negligible and spent.

Wright could smell the condescension from Wisconsin, and was already ideologically up in arms against the whitewash-wielding European modernists. He disliked Hood, an enmity that may have informed The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand’s novel of feuding architects. ‘My way has been too long and too lonely to make my belated bow to my people as a modern architect in company with a self-advertising amateur and a high powered salesman,’ Wright telegraphed Johnson in January 1932, three weeks ahead of the opening date, in the most serious of his pre-show tantrums: ‘No bitterness and sorry but kindly and finally drop me out of your promotion.’ Mumford intervened and Wright reconsidered. Johnson was unable to attend the opening of his own show, as the stresses of putting it together had sent him to hospital with exhaustion. Even then, Wright was not finished, and demanded to be withdrawn from the touring part of the exhibition. ‘You can comfort yourself with the consolation […] that Michelangelo was impossible to get along with – and posterity has forgiven him,’ an exasperated Hitchcock wrote to Wright. ‘In so far as we are posterity doubtless we have already forgiven you.’

Perspective from the south of Fallingwater (Kaufmann House), Mill Run, Pennsylvania (1934–37), Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, New York. © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

But posterity was not yet finished with Wright. In 1932, ever battling to stay afloat, Wright had founded a school at Taliesin. Among the young ‘Fellows’ who came to study was Edgar Kaufmann Jr. His father, Edgar Kaufmann Sr. owned a Pittsburgh department store, and commissioned Wright to build a weekend home on a tight site beside a stream called Bear Run in the Laurel Highlands. Wright’s design was a series of smooth concrete trays cantilevered out over the stream where it tumbled over a small cascade. These trays projected from a central mass of stacked stone. Their dramatic horizontal lines, which might look harsh against the rough stone and natural setting, are almost unnoticeably curved at the edges, giving them remarkable subtlety. The lowest deck is reached from the stream bank by a suspended staircase that almost floats in the air. This house was called Fallingwater. In 1938, drawings and photographs of the house, which had been completed the year before, were exhibited at MoMA: a single-building show. Wright’s fame was secured. Time magazine put him on the front cover; Mumford, in his New Yorker column, called him ‘the world’s greatest living architect’.

Fallingwater was the distillation of the ideology that Wright had sculpted since the first years of the century: organic architecture. Wright had always been acutely aware of the peculiar responsibility of his generation of American architects. ‘How great is the privilege granted us, in being part, not of a Renaissance, but of a naissance in architecture,’ wrote Dankmar Adler, business partner of Wright’s mentor, Louis Sullivan, in 1886. ‘For there is surely being born into our world a new style, the style of America, the style of the civilisation of the nineteenth century, developed by its wants, its conditions and its limitations.’ Wright wanted to create this style for the 20th century, and was dismayed by what he saw as the corrupting European influences: first the Beaux Arts style, lumbering under the weight of ornament, and then the alien and unadorned work of the modernists whose party he had reluctantly crashed at MoMA.

Axonometric view of model D1 in the American System-Built (Ready-Cut) Houses project (1915–17), Frank Lloyd Wright. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Against this, Wright wanted to craft a distinctively American idiom. The first stirrings of this ‘organic architecture’ could be seen in the ‘Prairie’ houses of his early career, which took cues from the landscape of Wright’s native Midwest. ‘The straight line of the horizon became the low sheltering roof, trees and flowers were abstracted as geometric patterns in the art glass windows, and leaves contributed their autumnal palette to the plaster surfaces,’ Smith writes.

Wright would use biological metaphors in his buildings throughout his career, such as the tree-like columns at the Johnson Wax Headquarters building, a major commission completed in 1939. But in speaking of ‘organic’ architecture, Wright did not mean straightforward biomorphism of the sort that too often serves as a substitute for inspiration among ‘visionary’ architects. ‘Be warned this word “organic” is like the word “nature”,’ Wright wrote in his book The Living City (1958). “If taken in a sense too biological, it would not be what it is: light in darkness; it would be a stumbling block.’ Instead Wright intended a broader and more sophisticated connection to the landscape, both physical and human, ‘a daily working concept of the great altogether’. He imagined architecture and planning as playing roles in forging an American identity, one that united land, people, and democracy – Usonia.

Aerial view of Broadacre City model (1934–35), Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, New York © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The grandest expression of the Usonian dream was ‘Broadacre’, a continent-spanning utopian urban form. Broadacre dissolved the American city into the landscape, giving every one of its inhabitants an acre to call their own and marbling together homes, industry and farmland. It was resolutely low-rise, with only a few tall buildings, set in wide parks. There were to be no trains or streetcars, only broad freeways with multi-level junctions. The car was king: Wright categorised homes by the size of their garage, although he also imagined that helicopter taxis would be widely available. This was Wright’s retort to the agglomerated, centralised, congested city inherited by modernity, and to the functional city proposed by the modernists.

Broadacre prefigures the exurban sprawl of the American city in the later 20th century – the twisted, resource-hogging dystopian shadow of Wright’s Jeffersonian vision. Otherwise it was inherently impractical, and Wright knew it. Broadacre was ‘nowhere unless everywhere’, Wright said, as quoted in Neil Levine’s book The Urbanism of Frank Lloyd Wright (Princeton University Press). But it was a useful promotional tool for the studio, generating publicity at a time of considerable public debate about the future of the city. To aid this publicity, Wright prevailed upon Edgar Kaufmann Sr., who later commissioned Fallingwater, to fund the construction of a gigantic model of a section of Broadacre, for public display. The city also served as a clearing-house for Wright’s ideas as a focus for his creativity. It can perhaps be understood as a bold early effort to come to grips with the problem of the automobile, a technology that had not yet fully exposed its horrible urban effects – similar misguided efforts are today being made by architects to understand the implications of self-driving cars. And Wright’s engagement with the automobile gave rise to one of his most interesting and stealthily influential unbuilt designs, the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective, a drive-to, drive-through, drive-up viewing platform and planetarium proposed for a hilltop in Maryland. A spiralling ramp ran up its exterior, for cars to ascend to the platform – a form that would later be adapted to the Guggenheim Museum.

Perspective view of Gordon Strong Automobile Objective and Planetarium, Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland (1924–25), Frank Lloyd Wright. © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Wright’s advocacy for Broadacre was accompanied by polemics against the modern city, in particular New York. ‘Tier above tier rises the soulless habitation of the shelf,’ he wrote in The Living City, adopting the apocalyptic cadence common among urban critiques of the time:

‘Interminable empty crevices run up and down the winding ways of windy unhealthy canyons. Heartless, this now universal grip of grasping, unending stricture. Box to box on box-boxing, glassed-in boxing looking into other glass-boxing. Black shadows falling on glass fronts with artificial lights burning behind them all day long. Millions upon millions of little cavities, cells squared by the acre, acreage spread by the mile. This a vast prison with glass fronts. […] Incongruous mantrap of monstrous dimensions! Enormity devouring manhood, confusing personality by frustration of individuality? Is this not Anti-Christ? The Moloch that knows no God but more?’

Model of St Mark’s Tower, New York (1927–29), Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, New York. © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Diatribes like this have given rise to the impression that Wright was an anti-urban architect, a view Levine sets out to disprove. The Urbanism of Frank Lloyd Wright is a companion to Levine’s landmark study The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, published in 1997, and it is as monumental as might be inferred from the 20-year wait. To make his case, Levine teases out an urban thread from Wright’s earliest projects, including a plan for a residential subdivision of Chicago, and a 1928 scheme for three small towers at St Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie in New York. The St Mark’s scheme, often overlooked among Wright’s unbuilt projects in favour of flashier fare like his mile-high skyscraper brainwave, was clearly important to the architect – although squashed by the Depression, he continually returned to and recycled its plans and drawings. It was the seed of later urban schemes proposed for Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, consisting of towers sprouting from a part-buried slab that takes the form of a sculptural landscape. The organic principle of union with the landscape might seem to have lost some of its subtlety, but the ideas are spectacular: at Pittsburgh, the spiral ramp of the Strong Automobile Objective is inflated to megastructural scale, and an aquarium is sunk into the confluence of the city’s rivers, achieving something close to perfect union with the water. Levine concludes with one of Wright’s final projects, again unrealised, a masterplan for Baghdad.

Models of Wright’s St Mark’s towers are an important feature of the exhibition at MoMA, as is his original model of the Guggenheim Museum, and the catalogue contains a detailed examination of the immense effort that went into their restoration. As well as celebrating Wright’s 150th anniversary, the exhibition marks the transfer of the architect’s copious archives – 55,000 drawings, 125,000 photographs, 300,000 sheets of correspondence, dozens of models – from Taliesin and Taliesin West to the museum and Columbia University. This archive is the evidence of Wright’s decades of thought, writing, striving and designing – a body of architectural work of unique originality and vitality. It is the secret of why there is still much to learn about Wright, and why he rewards study. Fallingwater and the Guggenheim are the tip – the archive is the iceberg.

From the May 2017 issue of Apollo Magazine.

Lego’s Frank Lloyd Wright Collection

This is new!

It is, Lego has released the latest kit in their architecture series, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, for the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. It is a new rendition of the building. The original interpretation of the building was released by Lego in 2009. The new set provides a much more realistic portrayal of the Wright’s original building as well as the 10-story limestone tower added by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects in 1992 (based on Wright’s original sketches). Arch and bow bricks make up the swooping lines of the main rotunda and the rounded edges of the base. Even the porthole side windows are represented, as well as little taxis — rendered as two yellow bricks each — and other street details.

We took the little model to Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

The Lego Group and Adam Reed Tucker of Brickstructures, Inc. officially introduced the Lego Architecture line in 2008. In 2009, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation announced that the Lego Group was the exclusive licensed manufacturer of Frank Lloyd Wright Collection® Legp Architecture sets.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater models were shown at the opening of the Frank Lloyd Wright Exhibit: From Within Outward at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2009, to commemorate the 50 years of the death of Frank Lloyd Wright and the 50th anniversary of the opening of the museum.

Fallingwater is one of the most famous and ingenious houses in the world.

In 2011, Lego released a model of the Robie House. Robie House was the first property to be declared a National Historic Landmark based on its architecture alone.

In 2013, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was the fourth Wright design to achieve micro-scale Lego-dom. The Imperial Hotel was the first set in the Lego Architecture sub-brand that is no longer with us. Having survived both 1923’s Great Kantō Earthquake and the American bombing of Tokyo during World War II, Wright’s dramatic Mayan Revival-style structure proved to be no match for the wrecking ball when it was decided, not without protest, to raze the ailing H-shaped building in 1968 and replace it with a more space-efficient modern hotel tower. Portions of the hotel including the main entrance were, however, relocated and rebuilt at an open-air architectural theme park north of Nagoya, Meiji-Mura.

We’ve been there!

Time for cupcakes!

Crystal-clear Acoustics and Breathtaking Architecture

Advances in acoustics, increasingly sophisticated computer modelling and a better understanding of the politics of concert hall design – how to resolve the inevitable tensions between client, architect and acoustician – have largely resolved the dichotomy between how a building looks and how it sounds.

Concert halls and opera houses are also learning how to behave better in their urban environments. The days of separating a new performance space, such as the Opera Bastille in Paris, from the city by busy roads and forbidding fortress-like facades are probably over, too. Cities, in large measure reborn by the cultural economy, are loath to invest in cultural venues that are open only for performances, and only to those who can afford a ticket. The Oslo Opera House, designed by the innovative Snøhetta firm and opened in 2008, seems to rise out of the waters of the Oslofjord. It was designed to be both architecturally striking and inviting to the general population. You don’t need a ticket to enjoy its views of the water. And skateboarders have been given rights to use part of its landscape. The new Herzog & de Meuron-designed Elbphiharmonie, rising atop an old warehouse on the waters of Hamburg, also has a public plaza, animating and giving glamour to one of the cities’ grittiest areas.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Grand Avenue, Los Angeles
Architect: Gehry Partners, LLP
Acoustician: Yasuhisa Toyota, Nagata Acoustics
Date Opened: 24 October 2003

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Music Director Los Angeles Philharmonic, 1992 – 2009

The Walt Disney Concert Hall was the main goal of my entire tenure at the LA Philharmonic, the main focus from day one. The project was up and down, came to a halt a few times, finally got going again – there was not one day during that time when I wouldn’t have thought about it, or been doing something connected with it.

The miracle or masterpiece quality of that design is that wherever you sit in the hall you never have the feeling of being far from the performers. So despite the volume, which is huge, we have the feeling that we’re not playing to an anonymous mass but to a couple of thousand individuals.

Frank Gehry was very clear that he wanted to build the perfect concert hall, not an ego trip. We also talked a lot about what the role of a concert hall should be. I was a child of the ’60s and ’70s, when the idea of the concert hall was as a shrine, on a tall site, that you’d approach as if it were a cathedral or temple. There never was the feeling of such a building being approachable or accessible, and of concert-hall music, or classical music, being part of wider life. We felt the Walt Disney Concert Hall had to be different.

I remember walking in two months after it opened and seeing a newly-wed couple having photographs taken against the hall, and a fashion photoshoot going on elsewhere, and I thought: we have become part of the fabric of LA. For a town challenged by its geography and traffic, in which most of the architecture is private, and with a complex demographic structure, I felt the Walt Disney Hall had become a symbol of the forward-looking side of LA – the one that reflects the young, dynamic side of the city.

Not to mention the beary side!

Inside and out 🙂

On the stage at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Sitting in first row at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall – Blue Ribbon Garden

Walt Disney Concert Hall has windows that allow natural light into the auditorium during matinees. It’s a small detail but emblematic of the possibilities now available to designers. The hall has been symbolically reconnected to the outside world, without any loss to what most critics consider its admirable clarity and warmth of sound.

Chief acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota combined the best aspects of orchestral halls in Tokyo, Berlin, Amsterdam and Boston in a bid to provide aural warmth and clarity; the result of his endeavours is a virtually perfect acoustic that has been lauded by everyone from audience members to critics to musicians.

Parco Della Musica
Viate de Coubertin, Rome
Architect: Renzo Piano
Date Opened: 21 December 2002

Geoffrey Noris, former Chief Music Critic of The Telegraph (UK)

Renzo Piano’s Parco della Musica, opened in 2002, changed the face and focus of concert life in Rome, previously based at the much smaller and acoustically inadequate auditorium on the Via della Conciliazione, just down from St Peter’s.

Parco Della Musica, Rome
Outdoor auditorium at Parco Della Musica, Rome

The three halls that make up Piano’s complex – the Sala Santa Cecilia (2800 seats), Sala Sinopoli (1200 seats) and Sala Petrassi (700 seats) – revitalised the former Olympics site north of the Piazza del Popolo. Seen from above, they have been variously likened to beetles or computer mice, but inside they are light, airy and adaptable.

Main hall at Parco Della Musica, Rome

Drawbacks of the main hall: no organ, a “health and safety” barrier round the gallery obscuring vision; a stage so high that the view for front stalls patrons is primarily of the players’ feet. But the natural materials of the interiors make the acoustics almost ideal and the warm colour schemes induce a sense of well-being.

Oslo Opera House
Bjørvika, (central) Oslo
Architect: Snøhetta
Acoustician: Arup Associates
Date Opened: 12 April 2008

Adrian Mourby, award-winning writer and producer, journalist and novelist. With a sentimental and funny streak!

The Operahuset, or Oslo Opera House, has proved a remarkably successful building, although the general view remains that there is a lot of bloom to the sound and that the overall building is more visually stunning than its auditorium. The brief to architects Snøhetta was to create a new home for Norwegian National Opera and Ballet that would be ‘accessible’.

Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House’s Niice Curtain

The location, Oslo’s Bjørvika neighbourhood, was chosen because it was in need of urban renewal. The building had a subsidiary role in spearheading dockland redevelopment. Snøhetta opted for a roofline that rose from up from the waterline and the structure has been likened both to an iceberg and a stealth bomber that crashed into Oslofjord. The edges of the building can be used as a diving platform where they meet the water, and visitors can also walk up its sloping walls to the very top to admire the view. Passers-by often find themselves wandering into this fun structure without realising they have entered a concert hall.

Esplanade
Marina Bay, Singapore
Architect: DP Architects Singapore; Michael Wilford & Partners UK
Acoustician: Russell Johnson, Artec Consultants
Date Opened: 12 October 2002

Charlotte Smith, author

Few concert venues can boast the impressive state-of-the-art acoustic of Singapore’s Esplanade Concert Hall. Part of a purpose-built centre for performing arts on Marina Bay, the hall can adjust sound resonance and brightness via an ‘acoustic canopy’ of mobile reflectors above the stage and a ‘reverberation chamber’, comprising 84 computer-operated doors and flaps hidden behind its walls. It is also soundproofed, giving visitors the disconcerting impression of walking into a vacuum when empty of musicians and audiences.

Concert Hall, Esplanade, Singapore
Concert Hall, Esplanade, Singapore

With all its audio concern, one might expect a less than elegant visual impact. But the sophisticated acoustic technology is all the more impressive for its seamless integration into the hall’s circular design. On the outside, two glass domes covered in triangular aluminium shades enclose the space – often described as giant insect eyes.

Foyer, Esplanade, Singapore
Roof Garden, Esplanade, Singapore
Esplanade, Singapore
Elbphilharmonie
HafenCity, Hamburg
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Acoustician: Yasuhisa Toyot, Nagata Acoustics
Date Opened: 11 January 2017

Michael Hammond, co-founder and Editor in Chief of World Architecture News

Ever since Jørn Utzon transformed Sydney forever with his boundary-pushing opera house in the ’60s, harbourside sites have been favourite with city planners anxious to capitalise on the wider impact of iconic architecture.

The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg is an inevitable result when engaging architects of the calibre of Herzog & de Meuron to design a concert hall on such a prominent waterside site. Drawing on their extraordinary success with London’s Tate Modern, one of the world’s most visited cultural venue, the architects have pushed further and provided a dramatic addition to the cityscape.

Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg

Accommodated inside the building are two concert halls, a hotel, restaurants, a gym and residential apartments, further morphing the traditional topology of a concert hall with the demands of a 21st century city. Between the old warehouse and the glass structure is the Plaza – a public viewing area that extends around the whole building.

Main hall, Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg
Main Hall, view from the stage, Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg

Harpa Reykjavík

Harpa Reykjavík
Architect: Henning Larsen Architects
Acoustician: Artec Consultants
Date Opened: 2 August 2008

Michael Hammond, co-founder and Editor in Chief of World Architecture News

The magnificent Harpa concert hall, located on Reykjavík harbourside, is unusually defined by its facade. It’s a powerful statement created by fusing the creative visions of Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects and internationally acclaimed artist, Olafur Eliasson. The sparkling glazed fenestrations transform the public areas, which are now often seen as being almost as important as the performing spaces themselves.

Harpa, Reykjavík

It is probably no coincidence that although Eliasson is Danish, his parents are Icelandic, allowing the citizens of Iceland to have at least part ownership in this world-class success at a difficult time in their history.

Seen from the foyer, the halls form a mountain-like massif that similar to basalt rock on the coast forms a stark contrast to the expressive and open facade. At the core of the rock, the largest hall of the building, the main concert hall, reveals its interior as a red-hot centre of force.

Harpa, Reykjavík
Main hall, Harpa, Reykjavík
Musiikkitalo
Töölönlahti Bay, Helsinki
Architect: Marko Kivistö, LPR Architects
Acoustician: Yasuhisa Toyota, Nagata Acoustics
Date Opened: 31 August 2011

Manuel Brug, Music Editor, Die Welt

Helsinki already has two halls by Alvar Aalto – the brickstone House of Culture and the Finlandia Hall, looking like a marmorial cliff. Both of them are more famous for their design than for their acoustic. It took 20 years of planning, some diplomacy and a significant budget to finally open the Musiikkitalo in August 2011.

Prominently situated between the bay, Parliament, park and National Museum, it is the new home of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic and the Sibelius Academy.

Lobby, Musiikkitalo, Helsinki
Lobby, Musiikkitalo, Helsinki
Musiikkitalo, Helsinki

The democratic Musiikkitalo deliberately reveals its treasures only after one actually enters the building. In the lobby huge panoramic windows look into the dark stained concert hall. Not only does the rather understated building have an auditorium with 1700 seats and five smaller halls – there are also three saunas.

Main auditorium, Musiikkitalo, Helsinki

The stairs and stand of the auditorium are dazzling; the asymmetrical seats remind one of jammed rafts. The big hall resonates richly, but at the same time transparently; acoustics guru Yasuhisa Toyota was involved in the planning process from the start and did a great job here, where it is all about communication and not worship.

DR Concert Hall Copenhagen
Architect: Jean Nouvel
Acoustician: Yasuhisa Toyota, Nagata Acoustics
Date Opened: 17 January 2009

Andrew Mellor

In marked contrast to the masculine, ordered browns and blacks of Helsinki’s Musiikkitalo, Danish Broadcasting’s new concert hall in Copenhagen is assuredly female inside; sultry, curvaceous and clothed in aromatic reds and oranges. It is also spatially deceptive – a dreamlike melting of the vineyard terraces that plays as much with expected architectural biorhythms as the new Elbphilharmonie auditorium in Hamburg does.

Main auditorium, DR Concert Hall, Copenhagen

When the Koncerthuset opened in 2009, people spoke of a disappointing acoustic, but in truth it was probably more that the orchestra hadn’t had time to get used to playing here. These days the hall sounds clear and lively, but controversies remain: its out-of-town position and extortionate cost have had repercussions throughout Denmark’s musical and broadcasting communities, but they’ll be outlived by the boldness and wonder of Nouvel’s interior.

The Sage Gateshead
Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, UK
Architect: Foster and Partners
Acoustician: Arup Associates
Date Opened: 17 December 2004

Adrian Mourby, award-winning writer and producer, journalist and novelist

Viewed from Newcastle, The Sage Gateshead looks like a glass chrysalis abandoned on the shores of the river Tyne. This curved structure is a carapace enclosing three performance spaces, an increasingly common venue concept. The 1700-seater main hall has a warm and enveloping acoustic that offers clarity with reverberance. There’s good support for chamber orchestras yet the hall is never too loud for a large symphony orchestra. Modelled on the Musikverein in Vienna, Sage 1 has ceiling panels and curtains that can be raised and lowered to change the sound-profile of the hall.

The glass carapace makes good use of the view over the river Tyne and has made the building very popular. For too many years both Newcastle and Gateshead seemed to turn their backs on the river that had nurtured them. The Sage is a real step forward.

New World Centre
Miami Beach, Florida
Architect: Gehry Partners, LLP
Acoustician: Yasuhisa Toyota, Nagata Acoustics
Date Opened: 25 January 2011

Michael Tilson Thomas, Artistic Director of the New World Symphony and Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony

I’ve known Frank Gehry since I was a kid and he has a great love of classical music. We had talked over the years about what a concert hall could do. In this case, the hall at the New World Centre is the campus of the New World Symphony, ‘America’s Orchestral Academy’, so the building had to reflect that with lots of practice and ensemble rooms, and places to carry on all our long-distance learning. The hall itself is small – it only seats 750 people – but it’s appropriate for serving the purposes of the Academy. There’s also a large rehearsal room and other ensemble rooms, so lots of rehearsals can go on simultaneously.

I originally knew Yasu (Yasuhisa Toyota, acoustician) back in Japan where I ran the Pacific Music Festival. We had a warm relationship, and I was able to say to him, “I want an acoustic where you can float the note but still have clarity”. When the building was opened, by design it was quite reverberant – after two months we undertook the first of several tweaks to turn it down, and I’m now very happy with it. A real test for the hall was when we performed Janacek’s Sinfonietta, for which we used the hall’s multiple stages – it was breathtaking. Soon afterwards, Jordi Savall did a solo gamba recital and it was fabulous – so intimate and focused. We have a certain control over acoustics, but that’s only necessary during rehearsals – for performances, the acoustic just adapts itself to the music that’s being performed.

New World Centre, Miami Beach
New World Centre, Miami Beach

The mission when we started as to encourage the fellows [students] to be music communicators. To that end, a lot of thought went into how the building looks. When you approach it, you can see through the glass and you’re compelled to go in. Once inside, you see all these fantastically shaped structures – unmistakably Frank Gehry. We’re exploring a more impulsive approach to concert-going – there are some concerts that are only half an hour long so that, if people are in the area, they can just drop in. In the same way, thousands of people come to see our concerts projected live on the screen outside the building.

New World Centre, Miami Beach

The Centre has been transformative to Miami – it has created a whole new feeling of a city centre. To have this magnificent building and a park given over nearly all the time to very sophisticated things – our concerts, a whole array of video art that’s exhibited – is a wonderful thing.

Melbourne Recital Centre
Architect: Ashton Raggatt McDougall
Acoustician: Arup Associates
Date Opened: February 2009

The concert halls of Australia may be more famous for their defects than for their virtues, the Sydney Opera House being the iconic example of grand designs with poor acoustics. That all changed in 2009 when Melbourne Recital Centre opened its doors, eliciting praise from musicians and concert goers alike. It’s a hall everyone seems to enjoy being in. In a survey conducted by Limelight magazine of acoustics in halls across Australia, performance, critics, industry experts and audience members voted MRC best for Chamber Music and second-best overall. (Most outstanding acoustics in Australia, according to the survey, belong to the Perth Concert Hall. On the outside it may be on the ugly side, an example of Brutalist architecture, but musicians who tour nationally know that beauty and great acoustics come from within! Sydney Opera House’s 1,507-seat Opera Theatre was voted the worst of 20 major classical music venues around the country.)

Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre
Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre

Part of the MRC success is the no-bells-and-whistles shoebox shape of the main hall, which architects Ashton Raggatt McDougall modelled deliberately on the great halls of Europe – the Wigmore (London), Musikverein (Vienna) and Concertgebouw (Amsterdam). The MRC’s undulations of Hoop Pine plywood cleverly imitate the 19th century halls’ complex surfaces of caryatids, dentils, coffers and what-have-you. The only geometrical deviation from the shoebox model was made to provide sightlines for the entire audience. The principal Elizabeth Murdoch Hall (named for its benefactress) contains no proscenium, just a stage, and can extend to house orchestras (of up to 45 musicians).

Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre
Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre

The hall’s sound? Rich and reverberant with plenty of detail. The MRC has made the Melbourne public more pernickety when it comes to sound, as they now possess a truly audiophile venue. A concert venue must be a beautiful instrument in its own right; and the wood panelling of the MRC makes it sound, not just look, like one.

Melbourne Recital Centre

Little Puffles and Honey have visited two of these eleven amazing concert halls! Not a good record! I can see a whole lot of suggestions coming my way 🙂 Luckily by the end of the year, they will visit another four!! Busy little bears 🙂

Original article in March 2012 issue of Limelight magazine.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba

The crowning achievement of Islamic art in Spain is the Great Mosque of Córdoba.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba
The Great Mosque of Córdoba

It’s impossible to overemphasize the beauty of Córdoba’s great mosque, with its remarkably serene (despite tourist crowds) and spacious interior. One of the world’s greatest works of Islamic architecture, the Mezquita hints, with all its lustrous decoration, at a refined age when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived side by side and enriched their city with a heady interaction of diverse, vibrant cultures.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba
The Great Mosque of Córdoba

The Great Mosque of Córdoba was the most important public project of Abd al-Rahman I, the last surviving Umayyad. When his family, which had held the Caliphate, was deposed and murdered during the Abbasid revolution, Abd al-Rahman escaped and came to the Iberian Peninsula with an army supplied by his maternal grandfather in North Africa. This mosque, which would represent the first established Islamic rule on the peninsula, appropriated the city centre; and inscribed the public meeting space with architectural forms that proclaimed a new order with its open sprawling hypostyle plan.

Arab chronicles recount how Abd al-Rahman purchased half of the Hispano-Roman church of San Vicente for the Muslim community’s Friday prayers, and then, in 784, bought the other half on which to erect a new mosque. Around 785, work got under way on the new building, which the sovereign sited on the west side of his palace complex. Construction was based on longitudinal naves perpendicular to the wall used for prayer, a style imported from Syria, from where the ruling dynasty had emigrated. This was actually a continuation of the early-Christian basilica tradition, with a markedly wider and taller central nave. Continuity was also observed in the arrangement of arcades, with elevations revealing a deliberate relationship between Islam and the Roman legacy.

The mosque was constructed using columns, capitals and stone from Roman and Visigoth buildings in Spain, Europe and even Africa, making the early section a veritable archaeological museum. The hall is a hypostyle (the roof is supported by arcades of pillars). The roof was flat, decorated with gold and multi-coloured motifs. The arches rested on, eventually, 1293 columns (of which 856 remain today) made of stones such as jasper, onyz, marble and granite. The double arches allowed higher ceilings and are formed from a horseshoe arch at the lower level and a semi-circular arch on the upper level. The voussoirs (wedge stones in the vaults of the arches) in red brick and white stone are suggestive of a forest of date palms. They evoke Umayyad hegemony in Damascus – alternating voussoirs in Damascus and Jerusalem were made in the Late Roman way with Opus Sectile (inlaid marble into the arch), in Córdoba they were constructed of alternating stone and brick.

The Great Mosque of  Córdoba

Blind arches on the exterior of the mosque
Blind arches on the exterior of the mosque
Original roof
Original ceiling

The Muslim building emphasizes light and space, and the arches were superimposed in order to heighten and lighten the building and to make it possible to illuminate it from the courtyard. This innovative element seems to have taken its inspiration from Roman aqueducts. Umayyad oneness reflects local identity and tradition: horseshoe arches, which derive from the architecture of the Visigothic period; Corinthian capitals, which are part of the continuous classical tradition shared by the Umayyads and the indigenous Spanish Roman culture. Islam in Spain overlaid a previous Christian civilization, and earlier still a Roman culture, with, later, strong Jewish overtones as well. In its usual way, Islam absorbed these separate cultures to produce a refined society with no contemporary parallels in Europe, and very few since.

Due to the constantly increasing population of the city, the mosque was successively extended to the form seen today. The first extension (833-852) was carried out by Abd al-Rahman II and was the section most affected by the later construction of the cathedral. Al-Hakam II undertook the second, and richest, extension between 961 and 966, and is considered a fine example of Caliphal art. Like Abd al-Rahman II a century earlier, Al-Hakim II in the 960s lengthened the naves of the prayer hall, creating a new qiblah wall (indicating the direction of Mecca) and mihrab (prayer niche) at the south end. The bay immediately in front of the mihrab and the bays to each side form the maksura, the area where the caliphs and courtiers would have prayed. The mihrab and maksura are the most beautifully and intricately decorated parts of the whole mosque.

Mihrab, framed by the horseshoe arch
Mihrab, framed by the horseshoe arch
Mihrab detail
Mihrab detail

Above the mihrab, is an equally dazzling dome. It is built of crisscrossing ribs that create pointed arches all lavishly covered with gold mosaic in a radial pattern. This astonishing building technique anticipates later Gothic rib vaulting, though on a more modest scale.

Mihrab and dome
Mihrab and dome
Mihrab dome
Mihrab dome

The greatest glory of Al-Hakim II’s extension was the portal of the mihrab – a crescent arch with a rectangular surround known as an alfiz. For the portal’s decoration, Al-Hakim asked the emperor of Byzantium, Nicephoras II Phocas, to send him a mosaicist capable of imitating the superb mosaics of the Great Mosque of Damascus, one of the great 8th century Syrian Omayyad buildings. The Christian emperor sent the Muslim caliph not only a mosaicist but also a gift of 1600kg of gold mosaic cubes. The gold tesserae create a dazzling combination of dark blues, reddish browns, yellows and golds that form intricate calligraphic inscriptions from the Quran and flower motifs that adorn the arch and give the mihrab portal its magical glitter. Inside the mihrab, a single block of white marble sculpted into the shape of a scallop shell, a symbol of the Quran, forms the dome that amplified the voice of the imam (the person who leads Islamic worship services) throughout the mosque.

The arches of the maksura are the mosque’s most intricate and sophisticated, forming a forest of interwoven, lavishly decorated horseshoe shapes. Equally attractive are the maksura’s skylit domes, decorated with star-patterned stone vaulting. Each dome was held up by four interlocking pairs of parallel ribs, a highly advanced technique in 10th century Europe. Another outstanding features of this section are the cusped arches forming the entrance and boundaries to it and the ‘courtyard of columns’ characterised by its alternating colours with simple Corinthian capitals in the blue marble shafts and compound capitals in the red marble shafts.

Polylobed arcades surrounding the mihrab
Polylobed arcades surrounding the mihrab

The third extension, in 987, is the work of Al-Mansur. This was the most solemn of all and almost doubled the total area of the mosque.

For three centuries, this building was the focal point of Muslim life in the city and inspired countless artists and intellectuals. The poet Muhammad Iqbal, for example, described it as having “countless pillars like rows of palm trees in the oases of Syria”, while the people of al-Andalus said that its beauty “was so dazzling that it defied description”.

The Mezquita is often compared architecturally to the Great Mosque of Damascus, which appears to have served as a model. However, structurally speaking, the mosque was a revolutionary building for its time. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Great Mosque in Damascus placed an emphasis on verticality, but the Mezquita was intended as a democratically horizontal and simple space, where the spirit could be free to roam and communicate easily with God – a kind of glorious refinement of the original simple Islamic prayer space (usually the open yard of a desert home). The naves, though now closed, were open to the courtyard, and their forest-like pattern of pillars is repeated in rows of orange trees planted across the courtyard. Today, out of the 19 doors along the north side of the mosque, only one door sheds light into the dim interior, dampening the vibrant effect of the red-and-white double arches.

In 1236, Ferdinand III of Castile reconquered Córdoba and had the Mezquits reconsecrated as a church. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Capilla Villaviciosa and the Capilla Real, both located within the mosque. The minaret was converted to the cathedral’s belltower, and at one stage its bells were those taken from Santiago de Compostela. The most significant – and deplored – alteration to the mosque was, however, the building of a Renaissance nave in the middle of the structure. Permission was given for this by Charles V, but he is said to have repented of it when he saw the final result. Legend has it that when the king saw the result he was horrified, exclaiming: ‘You have destroyed something that was unique in the world.’ The cathedral took nearly 250 years to complete (1523–1766) and thus exhibits a range of architectural fashions, from plateresque and late Renaissance to extravagant Spanish baroque. Among the later features are the Capilla Mayor’s rich 17th century jasper and red-marble retable (altar screen), and the fine mahogany stalls in the choir, carved in the 18th century by Pedro Duque Cornejo.

Cathedral
Cathedral
Cathedral
Cathedral
Cathedral
Cathedral
Cathedral
Cathedral

Today it is impossible not to lament the destruction of the mosque’s original integrity, but it must be conceded that if the building had not been converted to a cathedral, it would not have been spared the destruction of the Spanish Inquisition, which hunted down “heretical” structures as well as people and saw to it that they were eradicated. The tinkering that went on at the Mezquita until the 18th century undoubtedly saved it.

The Patio de los Naranjos is a lovely courtyard, with its orange, palm and cypress trees and fountains, and forms the entrance to the Mezquita. Sources indicate that the mosque courtyard was planted with fruit trees at least as early as the 9th century. Moreover, there are clear signs that from the very beginning, the mosque was built with hydraulics in mind, both to fill the ablution fountains and to nourish the courtyard plantings. Water was collected first by a simple catchment system that collected and funnelled water from the roof gables into the courtyard, unseen from the ground. During the dry season, water was also brought by aqueduct that was an extension of a Roman aqueduct network, repaired in the Umayyad period. Through its intelligent harvesting of water, the mosque was linked to the larger environment of mountains, plain, river and city.

Patio de los Naranjos
Patio de los Naranjos

The principal entrance to the mosque is the Puerta del Perdón, (The Gate of Forgiveness), a Mudejar style portal from the 14th century located on the north side of the Mezquita. This is one of the most important doors in the ceremonial life of the Cathedral as it sees the passing of some of the most important religious solemnities. Completed in the year 1377, it has since undergone various reforms, such as that of 1650 by the architect Sebastián Vidal. On it we can see the remains of some mural paintings which, attributed to Antonio del Castillo, represent Our Lady of the Assumption, flanked by Saint Michel and Saint Raphael.

Puerta del Perdón
Puerta del Perdón
Mezquita - Cathedral of Córdoba
Mezquita – Cathedral of Córdoba

A Wonder of Islamic Art and Architecture

To paraphrase Monty Python, what has Islam ever done for us? You know, apart from the algebra, the trigonometry, the optics, the astronomy and the many other scientific advances and inventions of the Golden Age of Arabic Science.

Well, if you like art and interiors, there’s always the stunning patterns that grace mosques, madrasas and palaces around the world.

Muslim societies produced art of tremendous vitality and diversity for around 1500 years in centres from Spain and West Africa to South-East Asia and China. Their artistic production includes architectural monuments such as mosques, palaces, and civic centres to textiles, manuscripts, and portable objects in ceramic, gold, silver, metal alloys, ivory, and rock crystal.

Islamic craftsmen and artists – who were prohibited from making representations of people in holy sites – developed an instantly recognizable aesthetic based on repeated geometrical shapes. The mathematical elegance of these designs is that no matter how elaborate they are, they are always based on grids constructed using only a ruler and a pair of compasses. Islamic patterns provide a visual confirmation of the complexity that can be achieved with such simple tools.

Robert Byron, in The Road to Oxiana, wrote about Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan:

I know of no finer example of the Persian Islamic genius than the interior of the dome. The dome is inset with a network of lemon-shaped compartments, which decrease in size as they ascend towards the formalised peacock at the apex… The mihrāb in the west wall is enamelled with tiny flowers on a deep blue meadow. Each part of the design, each plane, each repetition, each separate branch or blossom has its own sombre beauty. But the beauty of the whole comes as you move. Again, the highlights are broken by the play of glazed and unglazed surfaces; so that with every step they rearrange themselves in countless shining patterns… I have never encountered splendour of this kind before.

The interior side of the dome. The decoration seems to lead the eye upwards toward its center, as the rings of ornamental bands filled with arabesque patterns become smaller and smaller. (Wikipedia)
The interior side of the dome in Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan. The decoration seems to lead the eye upwards toward its centre, as the rings of ornamental bands filled with arabesque patterns become smaller and smaller. (Wikipedia)
Mihrāb, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan (Wikipedia)
Mihrāb, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan (Wikipedia)

Little Puffles and Honey haven’t been to Isfahan, but they have been to Istanbul, home to an incredible wealth of historical sites, Byzantine and Ottoman.

The mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent occupies a commanding position over the old city of Istanbul.
The mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent occupies
a commanding position over the old city of Istanbul.

In selecting a building site for his most magnificent foundation, Süleyman decided against a site located directly on the triumphal axis. Instead he cut into the grounds of the Old Palace, on the north side. At the time, there were already four magnificent buildings along the triumphal axis – Haghia Sophia, and Beyazıt II, Şehzade and Fatih Mosques, as well as some more modest mosques. Süleyman used the opportunity to emphasize the skyline above the Golden Horn seen form the north of the city by placing his complex on a small peninsula.

Süleymaniye Mosque
Süleymaniye Mosque

Süleyman had just reached the height of his power: Western Europe had acknowledged the Ottoman Empire as the supreme world power. The Habsburg Empire had become his vassal. Once again he tried to challenge the imperial church, Haghia Sophia. Like Mehmet II with the Fatih Mosque, he tried to achieve a unification of teaching and religion in one large complex. Like Justinian, he wanted to legitimize his power through religion. One of Justinian’s specific goals has been overcoming the dogmatic rift between the East and West Christian churches. The aging Süleyman understood himself to be the guarantor of the Sunni faith who tried to counterbalance Shiite heterodoxy, which had begun to spread among the Turkomen tribes in Anatolia to the antinomian brotherhoods, even though they had once helped consolidate his power base and that of the young Ottoman Empire.

Haghia Sophia
Haghia Sophia

Süleyman’s mosque had to be able to stand up to the comparison with Haghia Sophia. At the same time, it had to meet strict rules and regulations of orthodox Islam and evolve as a new centre for religious teaching. The foundation deed of the Süleymaniye complex addresses these issues in detail: “If decorating the temple with silver and gold would agree with the religion of Islam and the laws of his excellency, the Prophet, we would certainly have adorned it with gold and silver; its walls and doors would have been studded with rubies and pearls to honour the temple and God in gratitude for his benevolence. But for the said reasons we have decided against it, focusing instead on a solid architectural construction.”

The cascading domes of Süleymaniye Mosque
The cascading domes of Süleymaniye Mosque
The cascading domes of Süleymaniye Mosque
The cascading domes of Süleymaniye Mosque

With these specifications in mind, Sinan went to work, adapting features from Haghia Sophia: the central plan, two semidomes above the central axis and the side rooms. Wisely, he chose more modest dimensions. The prayer hall of the Süleymaniye is 58.5 by 57.5 metres, almost a perfect square, while the main nave of Haghia Sophia is a rectangle, measuring 73.5 by 69.5 metres. The diameter of the Süleymaniye dome is 26.65 metres (making it larger than the dome of Fatih Mosque but smaller than the dome of Haghia Sophia) and the height of its calotte above the floor is 49.5 meters.

Süleymaniye Mosque Interior
Süleymaniye Mosque Interior
Süleymaniye Mosque - Legend
Süleymaniye Mosque – Legend

In all other matters, Sinan focused strictly on the functional and aesthetic requirements of the Ottoman mosque, as he did in the design of the Şehzade Mosque. The side rooms are not separated from the main hall, and the exedras have their correspondence in the floor plan. To east and west the dome is flanked by semidomes and to the north and south by arches with tympanums filled with windows. The dome arches rise from four great irregularly shaped piers. The side rooms that reach to the arches and tympanums, because there are no galleries, have no vaults, which are not an element of classical Ottoman architecture, but domes. Unlike the side domes in earlier imperial mosques, these side domes vary in size. Those in the middle have a diameter of 10 meters, corresponding to the corner domes, and are flanked by smaller domes with a diameter of 7 meters. On each side there are five domes, and three large supporting buttresses alternate with two smaller ones.

Süleymaniye Mosque Interior
Süleymaniye Mosque Interior

Haghia Sophia was the creation of two architects and mathematicians of genius who had been provided with the necessary means by a generous and enthusiastic ruler. Many generations had been involved in trying to maintain this monument, the symbolic meaning of which had increased over the centuries. A millennium later, another ingenious architect, who had been granted similar means and was driven by the same obsession, found a solution to the engineering problems that Haghia Sophia had formulated. The Süleymaniye was his solution.

In Haghia Sophia, exedras are used to give the plan its particular form. Sinan used them as a vital element in the dome construction, to help absorb and distribute the weight of the central dome. The same concept had entirely different functions. In Byzantine architecture, the exedras connected the roof construction to the floor, thus symbolically connecting Heaven and Earth. In Ottoman architecture, the unified interior space symbolized the community of the faithful and was therefore designed to be as open as possible.

Hagia Sophia - Exedra with Sultan's Loge
Hagia Sophia – Exedra with Sultan’s Loge

Entering the mosque, the visitor is immediately taken by its severely simple grandeur. The marble sheathing of the walls that reaches up to the arches is reminiscent of Haghia Sophia. The frescoes, which have been restored to the original designs, are surely far from providing the original impression, but other elements prove that this is indeed an imperial mosque. On the prayer wall (qibla), interspaced with verses and quotations from the Koran, as well as descriptions of paradise, have been executed in two new materials. The ceramic tiles that used to frame the mihrab are the earliest known examples of the new techniques of the Iznik kilns. The lovely stained-glass windows, by the glazier known as Sarhoş İbrahim, are framed in Ottoman tradition with rich stucco decoration. Similar windows are found in the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, which was built in 1548 in Üsküdar, on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.

Süleymaniye Mosque Mihrab
Süleymaniye Mosque Mihrāb
Süleymaniye Mosque - Iznik tile calligraphic roundel flanking the mihrab
Süleymaniye Mosque – Iznik tile calligraphic roundel flanking the mihrāb
Süleymaniye Mosque - window detail
Süleymaniye Mosque – window detail
Süleymaniye Mosque - window detail
Süleymaniye Mosque – window detail

According to contemporary admirers, the Süleymaniye surpassed by far the mosques of earlier rulers of the world, at least partly because of the meaning given to the four massive columns in the central hall from which the arches that hold the side tympanums rise. Sinan’s autobiography and the records of the imperial architects organization reveal that the first column came from Alexandria and represented Alexander the Great; the second from Baalbek, which in Islamic literature is the Temple of Solomon; and the third and fourth from Byzantium, from the Augusteion and the Hippodrome. The columns, like other precious marble such as the round porphyry plates of the courtyard, symbolized the claim of the Ottoman Empire to imperial power.

Süleymaniye Mosque interior - Close-up of porphyry column
Süleymaniye Mosque interior – Close-up of porphyry column
Süleymaniye Mosque interior - view of two of the four massive porphyry columns. One originated in Alexandria, on in Baalbek, and the other two in Constantinople. Contemporaries made reference to this when they wrote that this mosque rests upon the thrones of ancient rulers. The pillars do not absorb much of the dome's weight, but carry the arches with the tympanum wall, which are filled with windows.
Süleymaniye Mosque interior – view of two of the four massive porphyry columns. One originated in Alexandria, on in Baalbek, and the other two in Constantinople. Contemporaries made reference to this when they wrote that this mosque rests upon the thrones of ancient rulers. The pillars do not absorb much of the dome’s weight, but carry the arches with the tympanum wall, which are filled with windows.

The entrance portal, flanked by two buildings on three different levels, is another such manifestation of power. It is possible that the entrance area was fashioned after the Topkapı Sarayı and “Gate” and “Courtyard” are the sacred correspondents of the secular models.

Süleymaniye Mosque - View from courtyard entrance towards mosque portal (P. Blessing)
Süleymaniye Mosque – View from courtyard entrance towards mosque portal (P. Blessing)
Süleymaniye Mosque - View from courtyard (P. Blessing)
Süleymaniye Mosque – View from courtyard (P. Blessing)

In order to achieve the size, Sinan returned to a rectangular courtyard with nine niches instead of seven. The exterior of the portico and the three niches on both sides of the entrance portal on the central axes are higher than the others, so that one column has to carry arches of varying height, a problem that is solved through half-capitals with corbels in the middle of the column shaft.

The entire complex was completed in the year 1558. The mosque surrounded by additional building complexes, all covered with domes. They contained four medreses and the Dar-ül-Hadis, a medical college that remained unique in Istanbul, a hospital, a charity kitchen for the poor, an inn for travellers and Dervishes, a hamam and shops. The two medreses sloping toward the Golden Horn have special features. Because they are built on terraced terrain, each niche of the portico is six steps lower than the preceding one. The domes over the porticos and the adjoining rooms cascade from top to bottom. The classroom is on the upper floor. The mausoleums of Süleyman and his wife Hürrem, better known in the West as Roxelane, are located in the walled garden behind the mosque. The plan of the tomb of Süleyman, which lies directly behind the prayer wall of the mosque, is almost identical to that of the prayer hall.

Süleymaniye Mosque - Mausoleum of Süleyman the Magnificent (P. Blessing)
Süleymaniye Mosque – Mausoleum of Süleyman the Magnificent (P. Blessing)
Süleymaniye Mosque - Mausoleum of Süleyman the Magnificent (P. Blessing)
Süleymaniye Mosque – Mausoleum of Süleyman the Magnificent (P. Blessing)
Süleymaniye Mosque - Mausoleum of Hürrem Sultan (P. Blessing)
Süleymaniye Mosque – Mausoleum of Hürrem Sultan (Roxelane) (P. Blessing)