Building Interest: architectural tourism

Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort, China.
Build it and they will come. Or will they? Belinda Jackson rounds up the best newcomers on the architecture scene.

Could you visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Or miss the Blue Mosque when in Istanbul? The Tower Bridge is a London essential and Cairo's pyramids are possibly the oldest tourist site on the map.


But tell friends you're going to Oslo to see the new design by Renzo Piano and chances are you'll be tarred with a try-hard hipster tag. "Architecture is the great public art," says Eoghan Lewis, architect and founder of Sydney Architecture Walk, in defence of architectural tourism.

While not buying into the tallest-fattest-most-brightly-coloured debate ("Do people really travel to see the new tall?"), he readily admits to admiring Burj Khalifa, but describes Sydney's Opera House as "the most important 20th-century architectural moment", matched only by Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia basilica, in Barcelona.

The Cardboard Cathedral, New Zealand.
However, if you were so inclined, the battle for the tallest, longest and shiniest building has just two serious contestants: the UAE and China, with Dubai's Burj Khalifa, at 829 metres, currently the tallest building in the world. Pitch that beside Australia's loftiest offering, the Gold Coast's Q1, and we come out looking positively puny at just 322 metres high.

Architecture aficionados have their 2013-14 diaries full, with a smorgasbord of beautiful little offerings from Britain and plenty of Zaha Hadid curves in Asia.

Off the list is the tediously square new George W. Bush presidential centre. And while we'd love to jet to Lima for sheer wackiness, its cliff-hanging hotel is, unsurprisingly, still at the planning permission stage, while Shanghai's Songjiang Hotel, where two floors are underwater, won't open till 2015.

Back home in Australia, now is the time for quiet, beautiful, subtle achievers. Read on for a baker's dozen of great new architectural statements going up around the world.

ASIA
Here's a statistic that will probably be outdated by the time we go to print: nine of the 20 tallest buildings currently in construction across the world are in China. But just because they're tall doesn't make them fabulous: they have to be beautiful, too.

At heart, many travellers are mountain goats who need to climb to the top for the birds-eye view of a new city. So take a look at the new Shanghai Tower, which erupts from Pudong, one big paddy field until a couple of decades ago.

he stats are impressive: the futuristic skyscraper designed by American super-firm Gensler, was "topped out" in early August at 632 metres, making it China's tallest building; well under Burj Khalifa. It is expected to be overtaken in the sky race even before its completion by the ambitious Sky City, in Hunan, which aims to scrape past the Burj by nine metres. Is it just me, or does this smack of playground politics? Would it make you plan a trip to Hunan to see a pointy tower that won't fit in your camera lens?

Still big but less pointy, the new Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort, also near Shanghai, is dominated by what's unscientifically been dubbed a "doughnut". Perhaps "glowing horseshoe" is a kinder term to describe Beijing-based MAD architects' work: the ring is covered in a metal skin covered with LED lights, which erupts 100 metres high from a lake. The resort opened this year to the tune of about $1.5 billion and should win dinner parties as the ultimate Shanghai weekender.

The Iranian-born, British-based architectural powerhouse Zaha Hadid has been one seriously busy woman, with the new Dongaemun history and culture park opening in Seoul next year. With her signature organic curves, Hadid's "urban oasis" is in the centre of old downtown Seoul and includes a design museum and traditional Korean gardens. Detractors say Hadid hasn't tried hard enough to keep the old city but her admirers won't be disappointed (ddp.seoul.go.kr/eng/).

As an aside, while she's not everyone's cup of tea, Hadid's work definitely is admired by a group of Chinese builders, who have pirated her Beijing Wangjing SoHo complex, in Chongqing. The copy may even be completed before the original is finished, in 2014.

For more organic forms and materials, head to Kontum City in Middle Vietnam for a cup of coffee at the waterside cafe in Kon Tum Indochine Hotel. Designed by Vo Trong Nghia architects, the cafe's roof is upheld by 15 gigantic bamboo columns inspired by Vietnamese fishing baskets. The cafe is on the shortlist for an award at this month's World Architecture Festival at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore (indochinehotel.vn).

Den Bla Planet, Denmark.
SCANDINAVIA
For most, the drawcard of Copenhagen's Den Bla Planet (The Blue Planet) won't be the architecture, it'll be the 20,000 marine animals wriggling around on display at this new aquarium, designed by Danish architects 3XN. The largest aquarium in Northern Europe, Den Bla Planet holds seven million litres of water inside, is encircled by a reflection pool outside, and the building's form is inspired by a whirlpool, a visual treat from the air when you fly in to nearby Copenhagen Airport. Australian aquarium architecture specialists Crossley Architects, who spent almost four years working on the project, name the Amazon display as the best in show (denblaaplanet.dk). The aquarium has just won its category for display architecture at the 2013 World Architecture Festival.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Masdar City
Normally, we'd associate the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with excess: the world recreated in man-made islands ("Anyone for Nigeria?") or very, very big, pointy towers, a la Burj Khalifa. Abu Dhabi's new World Trade Centre won't disappoint on that count but for something completely different, Dubai's bankroller is also home to a sustainable, zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city.

Set beside Abu Dhabi's airport, Masdar City is designed by British architect Norman Foster of Foster & Partners. A so-called "arcology" project, which marries architecture and ecology to create self-sustaining, densely populated cities, Masdar City runs on solar energy - sensibly, given it's built in a sunny desert.

Expect super-modernity from the car-free city, which is connected by little driver-less pods, but expect also lessons from the past, such as wind towers, or barjeels, Iran's ancient alternative to air-con (masdarcity.ae).

The Shard
BRITAIN
Architects feature consistently in the top 10 sexiest occupations, which must make Renzo Piano, co-architect of Paris's Centre Georges Pompidou, absolutely irresistible. Britain is currently revelling in golden years and Piano's Shard, which opened in February, is the new jewel in London's skyline. Stats first: topping 310 metres, yes, it's the tallest building in Western Europe, with 11,000 glass panels and, amazingly, 90 per cent of its construction materials are recycled. It's not just a viewpoint, the tower will soon house a hotel, four restaurants and residencies with a price tag from £30 million ($50 million) (the-shard.com).

Shard aside (and we haven't even gone to Glasgow's Commonwealth Games build), this year's top talking points are all low-to-the-ground historical landmarks, led by the new Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth, which opened in May. The Mary Rose, a 16th-century Tudor warship, was built on these docks in 1510, sinking after 34 years' service. She was raised from the bed of the Solent River and four centuries and $56 million later, is now encircled by a modern museum displaying her sunken treasure. The museum is designed by architects Wilkinson Eyre, the name behind Singapore's Gardens by the Bay and the Crown Sydney resort at Barangaroo (maryrose.org).

Going further back into the mists of time, the new visitors centre at Stonehenge is set to open in February next year, after two decades and more than $60 million spent on planning and construction. The building has sparked interest among the design community for the hurdles it faced: the low-key design, by Denton Corker Marshall, sits lightly on the ground so as to not disturb nor detract from the ancient Salisbury plain (stonehenge.co.uk).

The Mary Rose.
Serious design aficionados already have their names down for the chance to sleep amid the serene architecture of celebrated architect Peter Zumthor, winner of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal 2013. The Secular Retreat, which taps into the concept of "ecclesiastical architecture" (read "monastic use of rammed concrete") is located among the rolling hills of South Devon and will be completed in 2014 (living-architecture.co.uk).

OCEANIA
As a half-Tasmanian, here's a sentence I never thought I'd utter: "You must go to Glenorchy and check out this amazing piece of architecture." The Glenorchy Art and Sculpture Park (GASP!) sits on the banks of the Derwent River, just a couple of kilometres downstream from another fine architectural statement, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).

GASP, Tasmania
Designed by the young guns at Room 11, a boardwalk that curls around the bay to MONA opened in 2011, followed in April by a new pavilion of rose glass and concrete that juts out over the river. GASP! is already a popular promenade and there are plans for regular art events and a new social enterprise cafe and food truck. Ferry to MONA and hire bikes to coast down to GASP or borrow free Art Bikes in Hobart and ride 30 minutes to GASP! (gasp.org.au, arts.tas.gov.au/artsatwork/artbikes).

Across the pond to New Zealand, the Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch officially opened in late August, already has a solid fan base. Designed and donated to the city by "emergency architect" Shigeru Ban after the Anglican cathedral was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake, the temporary cathedral is an exercise in the resilience of faith and community. Made from gigantic cardboard tubes, it has a life span of about 20 years (christchurchnz.com/planning/cardboard-cathedral).

Architecturally, across the world there is no one trend: there are small conversations and there are immense statements. With Australia's and the world's top awards soon to be announced, the conversation continues.

FIVE CITY ARCHITECTURE TOURS
MELTOURS ARCHITECTURE TOUR
Found in Melbourne; costs $39, phone 0407 380 969; see meltours.com.au.
SYDNEY ARCHITECTURE WALKS
Costs from $30; phone 0403 888 390; see sydneyarchitecture.org.
CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION
Costs from $10; phone +312 922 3432; see architecture.org.
THE BAUHAUS TOUR
Found in Tel Aviv, Israel; costs $18; see bauhaus-center.com/tours.php.
EDINBURGH ARCHITECTURE TOURS
Found in Scotland, phone +44 1620 825722; see edinburgharchitecture.co.uk.

FIVE MORE OCEANIA BUILDINGS

MELBOURNE
Occupying the corner of Swanston and Victoria Streets, the super-restrained Design Hub by Sean Godsell Architects is tipped to clean up at this year's national architecture awards, agree Eoghan Lewis and Jerome Miller, of Meltours Architecture Tours. The building's "skin" is a grid of disks that can be rotated to catch the sun, ultimately to power the building. Jerome also names 700 Bourke Street, Docklands worth a look for its vivid "slices", best seen from Southern Cross Station.

CANBERRA
Opened in February, the National Arboretum is 250 hectares dominated by a dramatic amphitheatre with secret gardens, cork oak forests and high-arched, stone-clad visitor centre overlooking Lake Burley Griffin, designed by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects and landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean (nationalarboretum.act.gov.au).

SYDNEY
The new Prince Alfred Park+Pool in Surry Hills is designed by Neeson Murcutt Architects and Sue Barnsley Design. The 50-metre heated outdoor pool lined playfully with palms and smart, sunny yellow umbrellas, set amid grassy mounds that "fold" over the main building, hiding it from street view (princealfred.org).

AUCKLAND
The Auckland Gallery Toi o Tamaki has just been named 2013 World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival. It was remodelled by Sydney's FJMT and Auckland-based Archimedia and reopened in September 2011 (aucklandartgallery.com).


This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

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