Constructive Criticism: The Week In Architecture

Submitted by: Saran Hetrick

Ain’t no mountain high enough … are Hoffers and Kr ger’s plans for a man-made mountain twice as high as Mount Snowdon (and in Holland) for real?

Imhotep certainly set a trend. History’s first architect at least, the first we know by name designed and built the stepped pyramid at Saqqara in Egypt some 4,500 years ago. Ever since, cultures around the world have built artificial mountains, mostly for religious purposes.

None has been as ambitious as a new plan to build a mountain twice as high as Mount Snowdon in Holland, a country famous for its flatness, give or take a few hills on its border with Germany. The idea began as a kind of joke, with an article in the Dutch tabloid De Pers by the cyclist and journalist Thijs Zonneveld. Zonneveld wrote: “Flat is ideal for growing beetroot, raising cows or building straight roads, but it’s a catastrophe from a sports point of view. I want a mountain, a real one. In the Netherlands.”


An entertaining image of what such a mountain might look like (but no other details) can be found on the website of the mysterious architects Hoffers and Kr ger. This is not the first time a firm of Dutch Noi That real or otherwise has toyed with a man-made mountain. In 2004, the Rotterdam-based MVRDV announced plans for the following year’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London’s Kensington Gardens; a 23-metre artificial mountain was to have smothered the gallery. It never happened.

RAFAA and BrightSource Energy’s solar plant towers Hot property … RAFAA and BrightSource Energy’s plans for solar plant towers in California’s Mojave desert. Photograph: RAFAA

The Dutch mountain may well stay on paper, but out in California’s Mojave desert, Zurich-based RAFAA have been working with BrightSource Energy Inc on the design of a series of 225-metre towers for the eye-catching Ivanpah Solar Electricity Complex. Construction work on the plant, designed to supply 140,000 homes with solar-generated electricity via underground cables, begins in October. RAFAA’s proposed towers, shaped with the Stuttgart engineers Schlaich, Bergermann und Partner, are crowned with receivers designed to catch concentrated solar rays from a field of 173,500 heliostats (rotating sun mirrors) set on the ground beneath them. Energy gathered at the tops of the towers will be used to drive steam turbines, to generate electricity.

Lake Windermere Full steam ahead … architects are vying to revamp Windermere Steamboat Museum. Photograph: Don McPhee

Mountains flank Lake Windermere in Cumbria, where the Windermere Steamboat Museum nurtures an older form of technology (although plenty of boats have been powered by steam turbines in the past). The museum is planning a major revamp, for completion in 2015; a shortlist of eight architects taking part in a competition for the design has been announced this week. Any one of them Carmody Groarke, Adam Khan, Niall McLaughlin, Terry Pawson, Reiach and Hall, 6a, Sutherland Hussey or Witherford Watson Mann would make a good winner. With a beautiful, wide-open natural canvas to set their designs against, the winning architects will be asked to bring together the museum’s wet dock, exhibition space and conservation studio into a new design, and to open this up to the lake. The visitor experience should be a seamless one, conveying an understanding of how the boats are built, restored, steamed, sailed and conserved. The winner will be announced before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, in the tight confines of central Glasgow, Nord architects are hoping to open up a side alley and demolish an old stone terrace to build a glamorous new 100-bedroom hotel fronting Royal Exchange Square. Nord, a Glasgow- and London-based practice, set up in 2002, has a fine track record the Shingle House in Dungeness is special but there are those who would like to keep the narrow, chiaroscuro alleys of the old city as they are. You can keep up to date with the bright modern city spaces v atmospheric stone alleys debate here. Giay Dan Tuong.

Finally, Dublin-born Angela Brady is the new, and 74th, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Only the second woman to hold this office, she took over this week from the first, Ruth Reed. A director of Brady Mallalieu Architects, Brady is well known for her urban housing designs, but my eye was caught by this modest open air theatre in the less than wide open spaces of Barra Hall Park, Hayes in west London (where Bend it Like Beckham was filmed), an area where man-made mountains or even very tall buildings will never happen: low-flying jets skim close by, in and out of the determined flatlands of Heathrow airport.

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