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review BOOKS Studio Granda

The University of Michigan College of Architecture + Urban Planning, 1998. 48pp. £8.95. (Available from Triangle Bookshop 0171 631 1381)

Studio Granda, the practice which brought us the Supreme Court of Iceland and Reykjavik City Hall, delivered this year's John Dinkeloo Memorial Lecture at the University of Michigan. The talk, along with an admirably restrained selection of drawings and photographs, has been published in a slim volume sub-titled 'dreams and other realities'. The rather whimsical tone this suggests is reflected in a piece entitled 'landscape, culture, material' and a description of how a design for a family house was influenced by an allegorical tale written in the fifteenth century by an Italian monk. Although executed with charm, these musings are far less compelling than the more straightforward accounts of how a very young practice coped with very big commissions.

Margret Hardardottir and Steve Christer won the commission for a new city hall in Reykjavik shortly after overseeing the construction of their first project, a single-car garage. Imagine their surprise. Having undertaken the competition 'to test ideas rather than anticipating that the scheme might be built', they had set themselves some serious challenges - the building is geometrically complex, half under water, and partly covered in moss. It was also highly controversial, and the tale of tensions running high in Reykjavik is a great story simply told.

Highlights include the saga of the montage commissioned by the anti-City Hall campaign to show how terrible the building would look. Studio Granda was so taken with the image that it became a key part of their own presentations to the public. Funeral marches were broadcast during the opening ceremony, and somebody set off an explosion. When an older and wiser Studio Granda came to build the Supreme Court of Iceland, the process was altogether smoother. It's a modern-day fable, and the message is clear: 'Architects have to have a political instinct in order to get buildings built.'

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