Category Archives: Modernism

The New, Green Museum


The California Academy of Science in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park has long been dedicated to the study of nature, and after 8 years and half a billion dollars in sustainable renovations, Italian architect Renzo Piano’s design is a pioneer in sustainable architecture. Unlike traditional theater museums, this museum is built inside the park, well underneath it to be more specific. The 2.5 acre living roof is the signature element. After walking the grounds in silence and observing the hills from a run down building, Piano sketched a simple rolling hill with a line underneath and with only his sketchbook, Piano beat the other five competitors.

Not only has Piano’s design been compared to Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiraling Guggenheim Museum and Frank Gehry’s titanium Guggenheim in Bilbao, the new museum is expected to capture the attention of the public with its design and green focus. Hoping to receive the highest ranking from the U. S. Green Building Council, a platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, the living roof absorbs storm water and according to the museum will prevent 3.6 million gallons of polluted water from entering into the eco-system. The living roof is also home to wildlife and California wildflowers. It is said that the roof keeps the building 10 degrees cooler and turns carbon dioxide into oxygen.  Solar cells produce 5-10% of the museum’s energy as well. The structure is insulated by nearly 216,000 pairs of Levi’s jeans, paying homage to the native San Francisco denim company.

Underneath the living roof, the museum houses the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, Kimball Natural History Museum and includes a four story rainforest, a coral reef, a 100,000 gallon tank with Pacific coast marine life, a swamp, a habitat for penguins and exhibit on climate change and global warming.

Piano explains, “You almost never get a chance to build something in the middle of a great park, so it needed to be transparent…here you need to know about the connection with nature, so almost anywhere you are in this building you can see through to the outside.”

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Green Architecture, Brave New World

For some urbanites, a sustainable lifestyle means unplugging their MacBook at night, carrying a reusable tote bag to Whole Foods, and buying organic cotton t-shirts at American Apparel. While doing all these things can certainly help to lower one’s carbon footprint, believe it or not, there are even greater ways to live green. Enter a new wave of architects and designers, who (literally) take green lifestyle to new heights.

As natural resources dwindle, it is no wonder that sustainable architecture is a rapidly growing trend. Carbon neutral buildings and green housing projects are cropping up in cities around the world. Many countries now have their own rating systems for green buildings, such as the well-known LEED standard in the US. Companies like URBN Hotels are revamping the concept of eco-hotels by updating them for the urban jet-set. These new hotels feature minimalist aesthetics, recycled materials, and 5 star luxury, just for starters. From New York to Singapore, green housing projects are also making appearances. The benefits of living in one of these apartment complexes include solar powered energy, water-based air conditioning, and rain-water collection systems. Even the pre-fab home has seen a recent rise in popularity since it’s mid-century beginnings, with a new exhibit at MoMA in NYC dedicated solely to these DIY properties. Lastly, another emerging and innovative concept is the “smart building,” which incorporates bio-mimicry techniques into architecture, creating buildings that are seamlessly integrated with their surrounding environments.

What is interesting, and relevant, about all these new concepts is that it takes sustainability to a whole new level. In these new eco-buildings, people don’t have to consciously change their behaviors to live green; rather, it becomes their surroundings that are changing instead. Instead of focusing on changing the way people act, these buildings are designed to directly change the way people live by infusing sustainability into their daily lives. WU

Master of Modernism

There are few architects who are able to successfully blend minimalism and functionality.  Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, is one of the few.  He is the mastermind behind architectural beauties such as Osaka’s famed Church of Light, high-end shopping mall Omotesando Hills, and Roppongi’s 21_21 Design Sight. In New York, he brought us Morimoto.  Working mainly in Japan, Ando is famed for his clean, Modernist buildings.

Recently, Ando has completed one of his latest projects on this side of the Pacific.  His new masterpiece is the Stone Hill Center, at the Clark Art Institute in Williamston, MA.  True to his roots, Ando brings us another architectural work of art that bridges Japanese simplicity with 20th century Modernism. What makes this, and many of his previous works, noteworthy, is his use of lines and light.  In his buildings, Ando utilizes clean geometric shapes that play with the dynamics between shadow and light, creating spaces that feel pristine and zen-like.  Most importantly, Ando does not let his minimalist aesthetic interfere with accessibility.  He understands that, no matter how beautiful a building is, at the end of the day it must be functional.  The linearity of Ando’s walkways and stairs flow seamlessly to create subconsciously simple paths of navigation.  With the completion of the Stone Hill Center, Ando has once again brought 20th century Modernism to the 21st century.  WU

Visit Ando’s latest masterpiece, the Stone Hill Center, at the Clark Art Institute.  225 South Street, Williamston, MA  01267.  413.458.2303.

All photos courtesy of the Clark Art Institute.