Saturday, 20 December 2014

That heliostat again: enough already.

Now that Jean Nouvel's One Central Park apartment building has been invested with the exalted status of “Best Tall Building Worldwide” by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (), it's time to put that infamous heliostat to bed.  Especially as it hardly got a mention in the metaphorical shadow of the breatless claims for the world's biggest, ot tallest green walls by Patric Blanc.

Up front:  The heliostat works as described in an earlier post in this blog.  See the diagrams and descriptions at "Clued in on the heliostat".  And a video here. No, it doesn't do anything to improve winter sun for the apartments at all.

It's function is to reflect some sun into public spaces of the shopping area at the base of the building, including through a rather pathetic little water filled skylight in the central atrium, you can just see some evidence of the sunlight from above.  But like Harry Houdini was fond of saying about making the elephant in the room disappear, it's all a distraction; look elsewhere in the image, and you see a shopping mall of gloom and artificial light.
Gloom at One Central Park
OK, the gesture is not altogether pointless. Natural light and sunlight vary in intensity and spectrum, and do make a difference to people's perception of wellbeing, which no artificial ligh can yet reproduce. So having even a little might be worth it.

But all up, the big cantilevered frame of mirrors works better at night as a bit of public art, flashing its multi-coloured LEDs.

So what about the green fuzz?  Nobody seems brave enough to authoritatively claim benefits of environmental performance.  Much is made of the watering being done with storm-water retained on the site, and topped up by other treated waste water.  But don't look too hard at the underlying 'water budget', because it is at best tenuous, at worst an actual liability.  And there are no regulatory or other safeguards in place to maintain the green walls if the building's owners' corporation gets sick of paying for them.
Bloom at One Central Park
But what also worries me is the claim for the 'biggest and the best'.  The curtain wall glazing is indeed getting much more covered than it seemed at first it would.  But in terms of building integration, the green fuzz at One Central Park pales in comparison with the recently completed Bosco Verticale by Boeri Studio in Milan, Italy.  Confusingly, that project has won the 2014 , deeming it to be the “most beautiful and innovative highrise in the world.” And ironically, the forested apartment block was selected from a competitive shortlist of towers by Rem Koolhass, Steven Holl and Jean Nouvel, praised by the jury for bringing 800 trees and 14 thousand plants to the Milan skyline.

Even more spectacular to my way of thinking is Ken Yeang's Singapore development Solaris.  Rather than dripping with unnaturally thin vertical planting, that building has a continuous perimeter landscaped ramp – an uninterrupted 1.5 kilometer long  linear park that stretches all the way from the ground to the uppermost roof areas, providing a viable connected ecosystem. The ramp, with its deep overhangs and large concentrations of shade plants, is also one part of a comprehensive strategy for the ambient cooling of the building facade.  Remarkably, it provides a vegetated 'ground' surface something like 1.2 times the area of the site.  OK, so it's easier to grow plants in the tropics.

At the end of the day, I still think  One Central Park  is a bunch of pretty ordinary curtain walled boxes.  But as well as a tour-de-force of marketing, it is an object lesson in how the ordinary building can be literally 'clothed' in a public layer, to transform it into remarkable architecture.  That might sound superficial.  But the point is that the physically superficial is the key to a profound aspect of architectural thinking.  Jean Nouvel has shown before that he is a master of simple, but not simplistic gestures that address complex conditions of urbanism first, while the building itself plays out a a much more relaxed agenda behind the veil.

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