The big, the beautiful and the bonkers - Ike Ijeh and Thomas Lane dish out the awards to an international array of projects that helped keep construction headlines lively in 2010

The world’s most inclined building

Capital Gate

Leaning tower of Pisa eat your heart out. In June a brash new pretender from Abu Dhabi called Capital Gate pushed the famous Pisan landmark into second place in the Guinness Book of Records for the title of the‘World’s Furthest Leaning Man-made Tower’. Capital Gate leans over by a gravity defying 18 degrees which trounces the Renaissance building by a factor of nearly 5 with its piffling 4 degree lean. Apart from angle and age the key difference between the two buildings was Capital Gate was designed to lean over. A deliberate 18 degree incline sounds daft but is seen as normal in a land of fantasy buildings. The client wanted a chest beating display of technical prowess to draw attention to its rather more mundane exhibition hall below. There is also some architectural guff about the building looking as if was shaped by the prevailing winds. The building stands up by using a pre-stressed core which helps it cope better with the extreme forces generated by the lean. There is also rather more structural steelwork than is normal for a tall building plus a big atrium at the top helps keep the loads down where the lean is most acute. The downside of having your building stuffed full of structure and empty voids is there isn’t much floorspace – some areas of the building are only fit for cardboard boxes but hey, it got into the Guinness Book of Records so what the heck…

Britains newest tall building

The Shard

The Shard has the distinction of becoming the UK’s tallest building as of November. It’s also distinguished by being the only significant commercial project under construction in the UK at the moment but the less said about that the better… Now the Shard is 235m high you can begin to appreciate the scale of the thing. Forget those visualisations showing a delicate, transparent shape politely nibbling at the London skyline, the reality is this is one very big beast. The bottom third of the building is now fully clad so you get a good idea of how it is going to look. This building dwarfs everything around it. The Gherkin and Tower 42 look modest by comparison and the Telecom tower has all the presence of a matchstick. The letting agents, who were appointed in November, are going to rack up a huge phone bill in a bid to offload nearly 600,000sqft of office space in the current market. The team used an innovative form of construction which enabled them to build the core upwards before they had finished the base in a bid to save time. Given the near horizontal state of the property market you can’t help wondering what’s the rush. Still, at this rate with just another 75m to go Sellar will be able to draw some comfort from the kudos of being the developer of soon to be Europe’s tallest building.

Most flamboyant launch of a new building

Khan Shatyr

When the wealthy president of an obscure country times his 70th birthday with the opening of a building you can guarantee a big party. That’s exactly what happened when the Foster + Partners designed Khan Shatyr in Kazakhstan opened in July. It was attended by the presidents of neighbouring countries and the world’s press, who were specially flown in to mark the occasion. This crowd were treated to an interesting mix of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli mixed up with lavish displays of traditional horse riding skills, folk music and an explosive firework display. Thankfully the building was more than up to all this attention as it is probably the world’s largest tent at 100,000m2, 20,000m2 bigger than the Millennium Dome. The ETFE clad, Buro Happold designed structure is 150m high and supported by a single tripod in the centre. The contents continue the play time theme as like the Millennium Dome the building houses a cheesy theme park. Astana, where the building is located, freezes in -40 degree centigrade temperatures and is thousands of miles from a beach. Why not give locals a beach experience complete with water lapping against real sand, palm trees and sun loungers? When people get bored of sitting on the beach the Blackpool theme continues with slot machines, dodgem cars and a monorail complete with little plastic cars that give a bird’s eye view of proceedings. Judging from the crowds on opening day this building differs from the Millennium Dome in one important respect; the locals loved it.

Most important UK project

The Olympic Park

Now we’ve lost the 2018 World Cup bid the Olympics is the only game in town. Enjoy it while it lasts as the Olympic Park is racing towards completion. Bovis Lend Lease has already started to talk redundancies as the Olympics Village will complete in early 2012 and ODA chief David Higgins is jumping ship to take the helm of Network Rail. The Velodrome is the current star of the show as it will be the first venue to be finished early next year. The roof is done, the wooden track is complete and the timber cladding is on. It will also be the most elegant and cleverly engineered building on the Park – it has a similarly shaped roof to the Aquatics Centre but only 100 tonnes of steel is needed to hold it up compared to 3,500 tonnes for the Aquatics Centre. The latter building is also coming on well with the roof finished, work progressing on the temporary stands, and tiling on the pool underway. The seats are going into the main stadium and the basketball venue is shrink wrapped in a shiny white PVC coat. The landscaping work is pulling together all the buildings and gives a sense of the promise that this will transform East London from down at heel into vibrant new.

Most controversial project

One New Change

A famous post-war Punch cartoon had an ingenious solution to the heated debate surrounding what to build in the bomb-damaged area around St. Paul’s: it proposed a dozen exact replicas of the cathedral scattered around it. No such deference for Jean Nouvel whose controversial One New Change, a £450m new office block in the shadow of the cathedral, opened in October. Not only is this Nouvel’s first UK building, it also contains the City of London’s first major shopping centre and marks its determination to transform the social fabric of a part of London previously left deserted whenever office-workers went home. Another first is London’s only dedicated roof-top public space. But One New Change didn’t hit the headlines because of its milestones but its architecture. Nouvel describes his work – which survived a covert attack from Prince Charles - as a “stealth bomber”. This is in reference to the invisible envelope protecting views to St. Paul’s it had to sit underneath. But in practically all other respects the building – a brown, hulking glass bauble squashed and chamfered into a deformed prism – maintains a provocative relationship with its historic context.

Biggest project row

Chelsea Barracks

Once again this year Chelsea Barracks managed to dominate the headlines without a single brick, or depending on which side of the style schism you sit, steel column, being laid. In June a High Court judge chucked more fuel onto the already raging fire by concluding that Prince Charles’s notorious intervention into the scheme was “unwelcome”. Cue more agonised verbal salvos between the assorted ranks of the RIBA, architectural establishment, traditionalists and planners. Behind the scenes however Dixon Jones, Kim Wilkie and Squire & Partners have been quietly working on a new masterplan for the site which will be revealed to no doubt forensic scrutiny next year. Meanwhile an unrepentant Prince Charles provoked architectural ire once again when his Foundation for the Built Environment pitched in to assume the role vacated by the defunct CABE. What will eventually be built at Chelsea Barracks is still far from clear. What isn’t is that love him or loathe him, the Prince of Wales is likely to remain a force in British architecture for the foreseeable future.

Most extravagant structure


Within minutes of being unveiled by a beaming Mayor of London last March, Anish Kapoor’s mammoth sculpture unleashed a wave of publicity in newsrooms, chat-rooms, blogs and social networking sites across the country – much of it negative. It wasn’t just the odd name that attracted such controversy for the ArcelorMittal Orbit, it was its unconventional, abstract appearance. The asymmetrical steel sculpture is to be constructed in the Olympic Park for the 2012 games and is a brooding mass of twisted, contorted steel precariously surmounted by a public viewing platform. Primarily funded by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, around £3m of the £19m budget was intended to come from the London Development Agency. However the LDA’s own uncertain future now places that subsidy in doubt. At a towering 115m high, a symbolic 3m higher than St. Paul’s, the proposals immediately attracted criticism of ugliness, irrelevance and megalomania. Whatever your view of the Orbit, it provides a salient reminder that it takes more than money, celebrity designers and publicity to create truly “iconic” architecture. 

Most deserving prizewinner


Before this year’s Stirling Prize winner was announced, one word neatly summed up Zaha Hadid’s career in British architecture: nearly. Famously bruised by the collapse of her Cardiff seafront proposals and never one to actively court popularity, she seemed to flounder on the reactionary sidelines of the British architectural establishment. All that is set to change. The stunning MAXXI museum in Rome marks the first time a woman has won the prize independently and is also a clear statement of intent to her peers back home. MAXXI contains all the signature architectural traits of its creator: swooping geometries, sepulchral forms, plunging voids and contorted spaces. But it infuses these elements with a kinetic energy that creates a work of architecture as close to fluid motion as you will ever find. Many have claimed that it is too narcissistic a building to ever successfully achieve the spatial and visual subservience that is the accepted basis of art gallery design. They miss the point. Firmly grounded in the Mannerist and Baroque tradition, MAXXI is as much as about creating a sensuous and melodramatic work of art as it is about housing them. And that is why Ms. Hadid thoroughly deserves her prize.


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