Tuesday, 27 January 2009


I've become somewhat enamoured recently with the word 'cack'. I like the symmetry of the two plosives, and the brittle sound when spoken, like ice breaking. I also like the fact that it describes something like this:

This is, of course, Zaha Hadid Architects. They've won a competition for a new port authority building in Antwerp.

Actually; it's a cock'n'balls:

It won the competition because apparently:

the design preserves as much as possible of the dignity of the present building as a monument, adding a new object to the site.

I'm sorry, what?
Being made into the testicles that hang beneath the new phallofractal offices is not a dignified fate for the existing building. Fair enough, lifting the new above the existing does allow the old to be mostly retained, but retention is not automatically the same as respect. There's no way the old building will ever be 'readable' in a dignified manner now, what with that member-like object thrusting out over it.

This is more honest, however:

the board and its advisors had confidence in a team such as Zaha Hadid Architects being able to further develop the project so as to achieve a high quality end result that can act as a “shop window” for the Port Authority.

Aha, the 'Brandwagon' again. This is about selling. 'Iconic' building = economic stimulus. Signature architect = investment. Architecture = advert. That's all the reading necessary, or possible here. The architectural merit of the building is precisely its imagined capacity for 'selling' the city. Now, of course, this has always been the case with architecture, but whereas there was once a notion of 'grandeur', whereby the scale, level of detail and price of materials would signify the power and status of the civic authority client, nowadays we have little more than shape, as seen in visualisations and photographs found in magazines or on the internet.

The budget is 30 million euros. That's not much, even for a 'normal' building, so the chances are that if it ever gets built, this building will quickly look rather like an unhappy shed that got lost; cackitecture, rather than the sleek, glistening cockitecture suggested from the visualisations ('what's it made out of'? 'Oh, em, shiny-white-stuff'). ZHA have previous for this sort of thing, of course, which lends a certain poignancy to their professed dynamism, but even when it's obvious that Antwerp will get a cheap, poorly built, intellectually vacant and culturally insignificant block of offices, the faith still seems to be persistent that a superficially attractive piece of starchitecture has some kind of magical effect on a civic environment, conjuring money out of thin air.

Anyway, that's enough time spent thinking about this kind of silly cack, especially as the ongoing collapse of the entire world means that this building isn't likely to end up getting built, but- as part of my pledges from new year, I'll suggest better ways of doing this kind of thing:

Now, we're not fans of Alsop by any means, but this is a less phallic, cheaper and more endearing way of doing the 'floating extension':

And this, by EMBT, is part of a far more intelligent way of preserving the 'dignity' of an existing building:


Xolas O Lobo said...

Yes, this is certainly not a project about dignity, I agree. So the the existing building is respected by clearing out the buildings around it, and by the new building appearing to barely touch the old? I wonder if there is there a word for partially informed idiocy? Or better yet a word that describes those that claim to push forward a particular tradition, but infact totally miss its point and pervert it? To try to explain: this time atelier Hadid shows us abit of Melikov mixed with a newish retreading of the 'parasite' concept currently present in some of Londons finest architecture schools (her finger as always is on the pulse the students of digi-something). I think we can safely say that in this Hadid project the strategies of respect instead become a violation of the old building by the new. Figuratively (this is after all how the project asks us to judge it) the new appears to use the courtyard of the old as a toilet bowl. The old is humiliated by the exposure of its violation (clearing the building around it). And worse yet the new finds the old so disgusting it can barely bring itself to touch it. I believe there was once an idea that the breaking of old architectural orders is linked to the breaking of old and existing political hegemonys, but this project is more like architectural bullying. Amongst other things the project breaks the symmetry of the old only to set up the symmetry of its own body (note: what is this return to symmetry we see around us really about?). The project is a giant all seeing monster towering above you, ready to penetrate and invade you how ever it likes. Good message for a Port Authority. Nice one Zaha, oh yeah, keep the radical flag flyin'. The old building does not seem to be of any value (why would such a scheme win otherwise?), and Hadids project is much more interested in setting up a visual relationship with sleek infrastructure around it (fair enough). So better knock the old building down and get old zaha to do a one story building with an uninhabitable tower (she is after all a brilliant landscape designer). Architectural strategies of 'respect' is something that says a lot about today, abit yesterday, and I suspect abit about tomorrow.

steve said...

I have difficulty taking the word seriously living over here in France. To hear adults say "Cacka" instead of good awd fashioned, though English I suppose, "shit", "shite" or "crap" just sounds plain wrong. And when the French equivalent of the FSTE comes on the telly the Cac 40, well, at first I thought it was Les Top des Pops in French. . . but in reverse.
Have you done a Cac 40 British Pop Music recently? Number 1. Too Shy Kajagoo - Kajapoopoo. New Order 'Love's got the World in Bowel motion' 'I turd it through the grapevine' - bah I'll shurrup

ECW said...

Great post. Here's my response of sorts: