08 February 2008

Arup Shapes a Better World?

Four high-profile members of the international design and engineering firm Ove Arup and Partners gave a panel lecture at USC on Wednesday night. The theme of the evening was "Arup Shapes a Better World", which is also their company motto, and which is a reference to the sustainable development that Arup is encouraging around the world. In the first part of the discussion, the most well-known of the group, Cecil Balmond, presented some of the projects that they have had the pleasure of working on in the past several years. Among them was Daniel Libeskind's addition to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which amounts to a 500 meter long ribbon of concrete....

image courtesy of citycomforts.com

image courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

....and the CCTV Tower by OMA in Beijing, which is a 700' tall cantilevered spectacle.

Both are engineering feats for sure, but as one audience member very insightfully asked, how do they resolve their daring engineering work for their "starchitect" clients with their mission of building a more sustainable future? The two do not often mesh, and one only needs to look at the picture of the CCTV tower above to know that this building was not designed with economy of material in mind. I believe Mr. Balmond's response to the question when asked was "good question."

I'd like to take a stab at answering it myself; I think it has to do with innovation. I think that, as an architect, I get excited when I see that buildings like the CCTV tower are possible, but I'd also like to know that this building could be sustainably built. I think it could be, and I think that companies like Arup are helping us to evolve to that point. I think that, like CCTV, there are these two arms of design, and they are working hard to meet in the middle: on the one side, there is innovative and revolutionary design, and on the other hand, there is environmentally sensitive design. We'll get to the point where they are connected and interchangeable, but we have a little ways to go. The good news is, although they used an unfathomable amount of steel in this project, steel is recycled and recyclable....and in 100 years or whenever they decide to take this behemoth down, they will certainly have plenty of steel to reuse!


liz said...

the fact that this post included both the words "starchitect" and "behemoth" is awesome

Z said...

Hi Emily,

Good thoughts! Love to see innovation debated in these different contexts.

One issue I might take is that you contrast "innovative and revolutionary design" with "environmentally sensitive design," which would imply that innovative is at odds with environmentally sensitive. But I would argue that because innovation is the process of transforming new ideas into tangible societal impact, both types of design can be innovative--but only if they end up in wide practice.

So in my opinion, the designers that can bring the two worlds together will be the true innovators!


BTW - I agree with Liz... and I just love the term "starchitect"