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Architectural Narrative

Architecture Discussion by Trevor Tucker

2 Mar 2010

Architecture Narrative

Being Canadian, it’s tempting to view this week’s buildings through a hockey lens. What is the gold medal architecture around the world? Is there tough competition against traditional rivals? Are there any youthful architects stunning the world with their passion and skill? Who are the goal tenders saving our hides?

Trevor Tucker author of Architectural Narrative article
Trevor Tucker

As fast as it is, hockey is a game about stability. I always marvel at those fellows who can stick handle down the ice past numerous opponents, take the hits, and still hold onto the puck. Two of our features this week stand in stark opposition to each other when it comes to “firmness”. One is Andel’s Hotel Lotz, which seeks to preserve an old mill and landmark.

Natural wood, open, stable spaces with solid angles and evident structure; the other, Shanghai’s Chandelier, is, well, glass. And compare sitting in the café or lobby at the Lotz to being “suspended by steel cables” at the café in Chandelier. One provides stability and repose. The other, though supposedly a respite for one’s sea legs after being tossed about upon the open waters, leaves its patrons literally hanging. The overarching and essential purpose of this gimmickry – “the first of its kind in the world” – is unclear. “More breathing spaces” are useless if they make you hold your breath.

Andel’s Hotel Lódz, Poland : OP Architekten / Jestico + Whiles
Andel's Hotel Lódz - Architectural Narrative
photograph : Ales Jungmann

Shanghai Chandelier, China : Sparch
Shanghai Cruise Terminal Buildings
photo : Christian Richters

Speaking of holding your breath, a special part of the Winter Olympics (in which Canada won gold in hockey, did I mention) was those feel-good human interest stories. Sidney Crosby, who scored the winning goal for Canada in the gold medal game, is 22, from a little town on the east coast of Canada, and last year helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. On the American side, Zach Parise, who earned the tie-up goal with 20 seconds left on the clock is the son of J.P. Parise who scored two goals for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series. This past Sunday, Zach’s father admonished him to keep his nerves about him.

What is the narrative on our page? Are there great stories here? The hotel in Poland is taking a cue from strong public sentiment and the desire to keep this landmark. People have an affinity with the place. It has signature modern elements, but they are worked into its character, which remains intact. The building tells the story of Lotz’s industrial past and its increasingly bright future. The felt prosperity emerges from the blood, sweat and tears already a part of the building.

Now, the Chandelier…what is the story for this the latest entertainment splash on the Shanghai shores? A walk-through turnstile where weary travelers will rest only momentarily? Is this a place to put your feet up? Does the light emanating from The Chandelier call travelers into its warm embrace or is it more like a lighthouse warning sea goers to steer clear? What does it reveal about the character of this Asian Las Vegas?

If the Chandelier tells a story it is more like an infomercial for leisure and decadence. So what if the high-priced condos and Armani suits are cooled by ocean water. On the other hand, neon blemishes notwithstanding, the more slowly emergent, organically crafted and conceived hotel in Poland addresses its historical roots and seeks to tie new would-be travelers to those roots and to the community context. Its long dining tables, ballroom, and sense of shelter heighten a communal experience. It also doesn’t trumpet itself to the world as anything more than it is.

When it comes to winning gold medal hockey games, you can have all the youthful flourishes you want, with catch-phrases and a big corporate presence, but if you can’t also keep your wits about you and focus on the basics, you won’t be a team to be reckoned with for long. Everybody loves the star who remembers where he came from.

Trevor Tucker

Trevor Tucker is an Editor and sessional professor of English literature at the University of Ottawa, Canada.
Trevor Tucker

Comments on this Architectural Narrative article by Trevor Tucker are welcome.

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