Zaha Hadid Architects - Leipzig, Germany
Zaha Hadid’s extraordinary design for BMW’s £34 million Leipzig plant aims to bring together factory and office in a shared experience of manufacturing cars. The BMW Central Building is a communication knot, a centralized node connecting three production buildings, providing a common space for workers, management, technicians and visitors. And this building can multitask. It is a showcase, somewhere for workers to eat and grab a cup of coffee, it is a meeting place, an office, a laboratory.
Viewed from the autobahn, this low-rise building does not look like much - a sprawling shopping mall, perhaps, or some other dull commercial complex. Up close, however, this building is anything but boring. Its entrance is dramatic and sculpted, a vast arrangement of concrete fins, beams and glass. The lobby is generous, it allows views deep into the building and is occasionally punctuated by courtyards to admit daylight and improve visibility deeper into the space.
There are two particularly remarkable and theatrical features of this fluid, sinuous creation. One is the audit zone, a central focus point in which technicians dismantle every 50th car produced in order to check for quality and consistency. But the highlight of the show is the theme that ties it all together: the cars themselves, which glide, half-finished, along conveyor belts suspended high above the heads of workers and visitors, on their silent journey from one production area to another.
O’Donnell and Tuomey - University College, Cork, Ireland
Opposition to the idea of building an art gallery in the old gardens of University College, Cork, was hardly surprising. The site is a tranquil beauty spot on the banks of the River Lee, hardly an appropriate setting for a flashy art gallery in the Bilbao Gugghenheim mould.
Fortunately, O’Donnell + Tuomey, the firm of Dublin architects, approached the project with great sensitivity. Instead of constructing a ‘statement’ building, they built an enormous, graceful treehouse that blends into its natural surrounds. The teak-clad gallery space is supported by trunk-like pillars and is approached from below. The base, like the old university buildings, is made of local limestone. No trees were removed in order to clear a space for the gallery, nor does it rise above the tree line, it is raised among the trees, not above them.
Once visitors have ascended to the main gallery, they find themselves in an open, flowing space, without sharp corners or indeed any doors, which makes navigation through the art space very easy. Although there is a white cube, a windowless space for hanging more sensitive works, much of the gallery is unusually light, with large windows giving vistas of the river, the gardens, the university and the city of Cork itself, 2005’s European City of Culture.
EMBT/JMJM Ltd - Edinburgh, Scotland
This is the most controversial – and expensive - building on the RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist, though the controversy surrounding the Scottish Parliament has not been artistic in nature. The build was fraught with problems, not least of which were the elections for the Scottish Parliament in 1999 which meant the architects suddenly had 129 different clients – Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) – to answer to; the death of the Enric Miralles, the architect, in 2000; and the death of Donald Dewar, the buiding’s original champion and visionary, just a few months later. The upshot was that this building was eventually completed three years late and more than ten times over budget, coming in at a total cost of £430 million.
But all this cannot detract from the Scottish Parliament’s merit as an exciting and complex work of art. The Scottish Parliament comprises a campus of several buildings whose exterior seems to reflect the landscape which surrounds it, fulfilling the architects hope that the Parliament would “arrive into the city almost surging out of the rock”. If the exterior is bold and imposing, the inside of the Parliament buildings is extraordinary, described by turns as rich, intricate, strange, beautifully crafted, the stuff of fairy tales.
But for all its strangeness, the Parliament is functional too, providing a unique working and meeting place for MSPs, and a welcoming space for members of the public – 400,000 of whom have visited the Parliament in its first year.