Manhattan Bar Chart, by OMA
One way of analyzing the program for a commission is to make a bar chart. Do it in 3-d and it looks almost like architecture. A chart with more than one row is even called a ‘Manhattan’ chart. For the competition for the new headquarters of Gazprom in St. Petersburg OMA, the architectural office of Rem Koolhaas, proposed a design that is literally a Manhattan Bar Chart. One does not refer to an American something in Russia, so OMA talks about ‘pixels’ instead of ‘bars’. Since the size of the Gazprom Company continuously shifts, OMA argues, each ‘pixel’ can change its color, i.e. each ‘bar’ can grow or shrink. The building measures 4 x 4 pixels, and has two atria inside.
The design looks familiar. The Sears Tower in Chicago was made of 3 x 3 ‘pixels’, already 30 years ago.
The first reference, the chart, was built in Seattle (Seattle Public Library). At that design however, the chart actually had a differentiated program that could generate form. In St. Petersburg it is more office, or less office.
The second reference, Manhattan, has been apparent in the work of OMA since its start and originates obviously from Koolhaas’ ‘Delirious New York’ studies. OMA already almost got a Manhattan-looking building built in the eighties in the city of The Hague (Municipality Building).
There is also a third reference which, which I mentioned before in the Museum Plaza project of ex-OMA firm REX, and that has to do with the way OMA designs. The 3-d Tetris or Wooden Blocks look of OMA buildings seems an effect of using a foam-cutter to design.
The other five entries for the Gazprom competition, by Herzog & de Meuron, RMJM, Fuksas, Libeskind and Nouvel, are presented at a special website on which the public can vote for their favorite. Ironically, the design that looks like a chart, is the least popular of the chart. The winner will be announced 1 december 2006.
Update: Wannes commented that pixilation is a big theme at OMA right now, and that its principal partner Rem Koolhaas is obsessed right now” with the artwork that Rachel Whiteread had made for the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London.
“She cited the end scenes of both ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘Citizen Kane’ as visual precursors, she also spoke of the death of her mother and a period of upheaval which involved packing and moving comparable boxes.” Wikipedia. So in the end: Indiana Jones in St. Petersburg?
For me the most important question would be: Why make a pixelated form, if you can also make a highly defined form, as the other architects in the competition do?
Pixelation is a way of abstracting an image. It is maybe even still a Modernist theme in that way. Note the contrast between the precisely rendered Neo-Baroque Church in the image above, and the almost brutalist abstract form in the back by OMA. Is that progress?
Another project by OMA exploiting pixelation is the Beijing Books Building. In that case the pixels are much smaller, i.e. the size of a book, or a bookstack.
Art is connected to iconography. Tim Lai commented that the Birdsnest Olympic Stadium of Herzog & de Meuron looks exactly like a work of the artist Olafur Eliasson.
There are scenario’s around the competition at Bldgblog, and concerns from different parties about the proposed height of 300 meters in relation to the old city of St. Petersburg, reported in the NY Times
and Der Spiegel.