Starchitects couple up in Paris as Riba launches its 2007 conference with a collaboration theme
Collaboration is the theme for the RIBA International Conference 2007 and where better for people to understand the importance of working together as one than the French Communist Party’s HQ in Paris, designed by Oscar Niemeyer in 1967? Of course, ‘collaborating’ had a very specific meaning in mid-20th century France, but the less said about that the better.
This year’s line-up of speakers is fairly astronomic – already this morning we have had Rafael Vinoly, Jean Nouvel, Oscar Niemeyer and Foster partner Spencer de Grey give us their takes on collaboration amongst architects.
Vinoly was probably the most honest. “My gut reaction is that I kind of hate it,” he said in his languid South American accent. “Mostly it happens when you’re bored and want to see what others come up with.”
Niemeyer looked deeply at peace with the world in his ancient glory.
I interviewed Vinoly this week for a forthcoming issue of Building and he has an extraordinary way of speaking in sprawling, mutating sentences. You get the sensation that his brain works at a slightly faster speed than his words can keep up with; he will suddenly talk about the importance of ‘this’ without realising he hasn’t explained what ‘this’ is. You can be listening and taking notes for ten minutes before realising you have no earthly idea what he is talking about. I wonder if this might be common among architects.
Nouvel and de Grey stood up to talk about the Foster/Atelier Nouvel collaboration in the City of London. Foster himself couldn’t be there; no doubt he is in foreign climes planning his next stage of world domination.
The central tower in this new development has been referred to as the ‘Darth Vader Helmet’ by the gutter press (and Building) which is doubly appropriate as Nouvel bears an uncanny resemblance to Dr Evil. Blond and British, De Grey more resembles a golden labrador, so between the two of them they do a good job of representing this most bizarre of partnerships.
Pictures of Nouvel and Foster working together in matching black polo necks flashed up on the screen.
Pictures of Nouvel and Foster working together in matching black polo necks flashed up on the screen. Someone from the audience bravely asked if there had been any ‘clashes’ between the two starchitects. Nouvel looked distant for a second. I imagine any fight must have been like the Eastenders’ Mitchell brothers, similarly bald and black-clad. De Grey would have been the middle man, of course. “Leave it Norm, ee’s not wurf it”.
It was left to Niemeyer, one hundred years old this year, to put the day in perspective. Shown on screen being interviewed in Brasilia, the centenarian told the audience about his most famous collaboration; with the original starchitect Le Corbusier on the UN Building in New York. “It was my project, with modifications added by Le Corbusier,” said Niemeyer. “And it was really bad.”
Hang on. That’s not the message we came here to hear, is it? Niemeyer looked deeply at peace with the world in his ancient glory. “Life,” he said, “is much more interesting than architecture.” And there’s not very much I can add to that.