Tuesday, November 30, 2010

bricks and mortar

Town hall in Lund - Klas Anshelmafter a visit to Lund last weekend I suddenly realised the striking similarities between Klas Anshelm's Town hall (1964) and Giancarlo De Carlo's Magistero (1976) in Urbino. having known about both buildings for years and having been very fascinated by De Carlo's since I first saw drawings of it I can't see why it took me this long to realise. even though De Carlo did have contact with Lund through ILAUD in the 80s I haven't found any information suggesting he was aware of Anshelm's building while designing the Magistero.

first and foremost they're both large brutalist buildings in the context of a medieval town* and secondly they're organised in a very similar way: the plan is one huge expanse into which multi-storey bodies housing specific programmes are set leaving the rest of the plan for circulation. in both cases the shapes for the main functions are clearly visible from outside, thus hinting at the functions inside. for his building De Carlo chose to work with non-directional plan shapes like circles and semi-circles while Anshelm deploys the directional mandorla shape for his two most important rooms – the assembly hall and the audtorium. in one way you could make an analogue comparison between the open floor plates of the buildings and the 'western' modernist idea of endless free-flowing space in city planning. in this comparison the multi-storey volumes are seen as buildings.**

19th century map of Lundas well as similarities there are, of course, some major differences, especially in how these buildings relate to the surrounding city. De Carlo's project is built inside an old monastery where the existing brick perimeter walls are retained and thus camouflage the building when seen from the surrounding streets. in Lund Anshelm actually demolished buildings around the existing Town Hall and put a free-standing triangular building in their place. although the triangular shape doesn't align with the geometry of the surroundings it is very appropriate – creating some very nicely proportioned interstitial spaces when you walk around it – and doesn't feel like it ruptures the streetscape.

to the east of Anshelm's building there is a narrow office-building, separated from the Town Hall by a pedestrian path, which is also part of the original scheme and that Anshelm built against an existing firewall. while this side adapts to the constraints of the site the other two work to both separate the new building from the existing Town Hall and to act as a backdrop to the classical building when seen from a distance.

apart from being beautiful pieces of architecture in and of themselves I would say that both buildings serve to show alternative ways for modern buildings to relate to their surroundings without resorting to explicit mimicking. in the case of the Magistero you could claim that its camouflaging is a way of cheating but I would see it ass more of a trojan-horse manoeuvre in that it manages to slip radically modern accommodation into a sensitive medieval context without compromising either context or programme, and there are some modern windows and doors visible from the street that hint at the transformation of the space behind the walls. in the case of the Town Hall it neither simply adapts to the existing street-pattern nor is integrated in the building mass of a bigger city block, instead it is a free-standing volume – in full accordance with modernist dogma – but placed in such a way that it actually improves the existing streets and patterns of movement.

ps. I apologise for the lack of good drawings etc. but at the present all my books are in storage so those pdf:s are what I managed to find online.

* the similarities between brutalism and medieval architecture crept up just a while back in a comment to a post Owen Hatherley did on Southampton. see also the chapter on Scottish tower houses in Andrea Deplaze's Constructing Architecture where he compares their general layout and Louis Kahn's Phillips Exeter Academy Library.

** this 'western' conception of space was the main theme for Gunnar Asplund's inaugural lecture as professor at KTH (the Royal Institute of Technology) in Stockholm. a concept Asplund found in Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West.

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