[THIS WEEK] Now architecture has its own bestiary, writes James Pallister
In 2006 Knut the baby polar bear became the most famous orphan in Germany, if not the world. A year or so later, as Knut changed from cute cub to grumpy adolescent, maulings, death threats and concerns over his weight followed, and he took the sad-but-predictable career path trodden by many child stars. Knut did a Britney.
Animals have long been part of the popular imagination. In the medieval period animal stories were hugely popular and the Physiologus – the Christian collection of animal lore – was translated widely, said to be the most-widely distributed book in Europe after the Bible. A later development saw the birth of the ‘bestiary’, a collection of extravagant beasts strange to the modern eye: crocodiles that look like dogs, whales with scales, and serpents with feet and wings.
Now architecture has its own bestiary. Monsterpieces is a new book from two Harvard graduates, Aude-Line Duliere and Clara Wong. Running with the premise that form follows function, Duliere and Wong’s historians from the future diligently reverse engineer some of the more eccentric and exuberant form-making of contemporary iconitecture.
Thus Herzog & de Meuron’s Bird’s Nest becomes a Recycling Center (sic), its structure ‘made of multiple rails aiming in all directions, allowing for flexibility of garbage displacement’, Foster’s Hearst Tower becomes a Spaceport, its chamfered elevation perfect for launching rockets. Illustrations make the scenario very believable.
There’s a little bit of an echo of the 2008 Polish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale where collages also played with change of programme, violently re-envisaging famous landmarks. This type of investigation, like all good satire, helps cast light on absurdity, or prods us into re-examining familiar objects. It’s also fun, a sometimes underrated quality.