2011 in Review: Hits and Misses

2011 in Review: Hits and Misses

Azure associate editor Nina Boccia takes a look at the best in design, technology and social innovation. Top picks include Jurgen Mayer H.’s Metropol Parasol, the digitization of Massimo Vignelli’s map for New York’s subway system and the Mutant Architecture & Design exhibit in Milan.

The Hits

1 8 Spruce Street, New York

Frank Gehry’s first skyscraper is a knockout. At 76 storeys, it is home to 903 rental apartments, a public school and a luminous stainless steel exterior that ripples like waves – an asymmetric feature that works its way into the interiors. Besides offering renters spectacular views of the Brooklyn Bridge, 8 Spruce Street is a testament to the firm’s commitment to pushing the envelop (so to speak) in computer modeling software. The tower cost $875 million, which is not much more than the non-descript luxury residential towers going up everywhere else.

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2 Metropol Parasol

When Jurgen Mayer H.’s laser-cut waffle canopy in Seville, Spain, was unveiled last March, it was an immediate conversation starter. Its overwhelmingly grand design is made from nearly 3,500 polyurethane-coated laminate wood panels held together by 3,000 joints. In Azure’s July/August issue, University of Toronto instructor Rodolphe El-Khoury commented on the parasol’s boisterous CAD-like appearance and what made it such a contentious project: “To the layperson, the crate may seem ingenious; to the pro, it’s all too vulgar, an oversized version of the ubiquitous models that litter design studios and classrooms.” Regardless, we’re fans.

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3 Ice Cube celebrates Charles and Ray Eames

Earlier this month, a video on America’s famous modernist couple went viral, primarily because rapper Ice Cube is seen touring the Eames House in Pacific Palisades while providing an insightful and surprisingly personal commentary. “It’s got off-the-shelf factory windows, prefabricated walls,” he says knowingly while wandering the grounds. “They was doing mash-ups before mash-ups even existed,” he observes. Cube also likens the Eames’ style of mixing materials to his own approach to the sampling of ‘60s and ‘70s records early in his career. The unexpected pairing of him and his love for the Eames is yet another excellent mix.

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4 The Weekender

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority unveiled a very useful web-only map of the subway system. Redesigned by Massimo Vignelli, it shows which trains are running (and more importantly which ones aren’t running) on weekends. The goal is to help commuters plan their trips into the city with up-to-the-minute news on service changes due to chronic slowdowns caused by construction and maintenance. Flashing dots identify stations that aren’t in full service. It’s a saving grace and a clever gadget that makes arriving on time actually possible.

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5 Mutant Architecture & Design at Università degli Studi di Milano

During the Milan design week, the exhibition that blew everything else away took place within the courtyards of the city’s oldest university campus. Nine installations by such titans as Zaha Hadid, Richard Meier and Snøhetta explored building practices through the creation of environments that read like miniature versions of their greatest hits, but with far more experimentation and pizzazz. Our favourite was Ingo Maurer’s leaning A-frame house that appeared to be ablaze within. With a blackened exterior, flaming red interior and the occasional puff of smoke, it was an unforgettable spectacle of theatre and atmosphere.

The Misses

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1 REX’s Louisville Museum Plaza gets the axe

In August, REX‘s 62-storey skyscraper in Louisville, Kentucky, was nixed due to inadequate financing. It’s too bad because the unusual project had so much going for it. On an otherwise unuseable narrow strip of land between a highway and a flood wall, the New York firm proposed a cluster of three towers to accommodate condos, retail and restaurant spaces along with the Louisville contemporary art gallery and university fine arts program, housed 24 floors up. It was great to see a concerted effort to bring culture right into the residential realm, and it would have been the first big tower to go up in a city that’s been hit hard by the recession.

2 Canada pulls out of Kyoto

On December 12, Canada’s commitment to climate change reached a new low when Environment Minister Peter Kent announced Canada was ditching the Kyoto Protocol. When the Liberal government joined in 1997, Canada agreed to reduce CO2 emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by the time 2012 rolled around. Our carbon emissions actually soared to 35 per cent higher than 1990 levels in that time. Withdrawing from Kyoto now means we avoid major financial penalities and the government insists it still plans to reduce emissions, calling for a 20 per cent cut from 2006 levels by 2020. But that’s just three per cent from where we were at in 1990. It’s an unfortunate, embarassing step backward that could easily take another lifetime to fix.

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