Originally created 07/17/04

Skyscraper models at MoMA show global changes in urban architecture

NEW YORK -- A postmodern boom in high-rise buildings is occurring in cities around the world, featuring unusual shapes, daring facades and mixed-use interiors that draw city life into the ground level.

Skyscraper towers with traditional lines are being supplanted by radically new forms, whose complex geometry is spurred by high-speed computer modeling and high-tech construction techniques. Architectural teams from competing firms often share the blueprints, another break with custom.

"Tall Buildings," which opened Friday at the Museum of Modern Art Queens, ranges over these and other concepts of contemporary high-rise architecture and engineering, showcasing innovative structures in a miniature cityscape.

The zeal to build the tallest apartment block or the biggest commercial edifice lost allure after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was destroyed.

In reappraisals of skyscrapers that followed the disaster, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives, sheer size yielded precedence to boldly aesthetic designs geared more to local needs. Safety features have gotten new emphasis in high rises, including more escape and rescue routes and better fire suppression systems.

The engaging MoMA-Queens exhibit comprises 25 scale models of high-rise projects worldwide, about half of them completed, along with wallboard explanations of each building concept.

The detailed models in cardboard, wood and plastic vary from two feet to 14 feet in height and are lighted for effect. They include tall buildings either finished, under construction or on drawing boards in the Americas, Europe or Asia.

Projects in New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Mexico City, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, among others, were chosen for display from scores of prominent designs from the last decade, according to chief curator Terence Riley.

The adoption of alternate models to the skyscraper tower is probably the most significant development in the new urban architecture, Riley writes in the exhibition catalog. "Linked buildings, Mobius-like constructions, and other previously unseen forms not only act as defining markers but also create vast spaces and channel vision over great dimensions," he notes.

The show has a mock-up of the Swiss Reinsurance headquarters under construction in London, which is shaped like a huge rocket ship on a launch pad pointed 590 feet skywards. Architect Norman Foster and engineer John Brazier collaborated in a project due to open this year.

The "Turning Torso" office-apartment complex being built in Malmo, Sweden, was designed and engineered by Santiago Calatrava. The model shows a twisting profile reminiscent of a drill bit, 623 feet high when it's completed in 2005.

Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, an opulent pagoda of business soaring 1,380 feet above the Yangtze River, was the work of architect Adrian D. Smith and engineer D. Stanton Korista, both of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. It combines modernity with Chinese decorative effects.

A model of The New York Times' new headquarters, scheduled for completion in 2006, has the more traditional profile of a slender tower, topped with a pinlike antenna. Measuring 1,140 feet tall, the project was designed by Renzo Piano and a host of architectural and engineering collaborators.

The new World Trade Center is a distinctive collection of interlocking high rises planned for the site of the former twin towers. An architectural team, including Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey and Steven Holl, is working on the plan.

Other path-breaking tall buildings included in the models are Edifico Manatiales in Santigo, Chile; Monte Laa PORR Towers in Vienna, Austria; Electricite de France headquarters in Paris; Highcliff and The Summit apartments in Hong Kong; and Arcos Bosques Corporativo Tower 1 in Mexico City.

Giants of contemporary architecture whose works are represented in models include Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas and Arata Isozaki.

The models are on display through Sept. 27 at MoMA's temporary quarters in Queens and won't travel. It is one of the last shows before MoMA returns to its rebuilt quarters in midtown Manhattan in late November. Structural engineer Guy Nordenson of Princeton University is the co-curator.

On the Net:

Museum of Modern Art www.moma.org


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