The Take

Strange architecture: Weird baroque takes over

Posting in Architecture

Strange buildings and interiors flourish, and SmartPlanet's C.C. Sullivan looks around and sees a new kind of ornament emerging.

Around the world, a few strands of design are making us bizarre houses, buildings, shops and furnishings. It's fun and decidedly weird. I vote yes.

My favorite strand is the latest neo-baroque madness, epitomized not by the likes of Designers Guild's infectious florals but by the recent cover of Wallpaper* magazine, with its exquisite, Franken-Madonna photos by Italian photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari (courtesy Wallpaper*). The magazine spreads inside unleash some beautifully intricate, quasi-punk decoration, especially fun for ornament fetishists like me.

The ideal is upheld by such fashion houses as YSL, Gucci and Ferragamo. Another, Louis Vuitton, recently unveiled an astounding concept store at Selfridges in London by 84-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, with her trademark polka dots taking on structural form as arches, tables and oversize lamps. (Photo by Stephane Muratet, courtesy the fabulous Louis Vuitton.)

BLOBBIES, TOO

The blobbies and the computer nerds are taking note: The self-replicating geometries of blobitecture are ideal for small-scale uses, not just big Frank Gehry land monsters.

The recent Chelsea Workspace by Synthesis of Los Angeles and London is an example, with its ribbed, CNC-milled birch plywood surround for some investment banker's home office.

L.A. and London are deep into ornament. A walk through the London Design Festival revealed the rococco of couture, courtesy shoe designer Jody Parchment.

Ingo Maurer's Red Dragonfly Lamp looked like one of Salvador Dali's suits, studded with flies for surrealist effect. Unlike its Tiffany inspiration, here Maurer liberates the bugs from the light fixture.

Maximalism makes for the best eyeballing. Classic examples include the nutty Inntel Hotel by WAM Architects, a 11-story-tall stack of traditional housing typologies in Zaandam, the Netherlands.

The project calls to mind the Austrian artist Irwin Wurm's House Attack, which dumped a house, upside down, atop the Museum Moderner Kunst in Vienna. Here, the architects balance the houses atop each other to celebrate their neoclassical gingerbread. (Photo courtesy WAM.)

MINIMALISM: D.O.A.

Minimalism, on the other hand, is dull and dead.

The latest glass house proves the point. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto's public restroom for women in Ichihara City is a glass cube set in a 2,000-square-foot garden of cherry, plum, and peach trees.

To make this strange idea work, he builds a six-foot-high wall around the potty park. Personally, I'd prefer a few minutes inside the men's room at Red Bull's new Amsterdam headquarters, with its tile-mosaic cupids and winged urinal.

For a new minimalism -- with visual interest, mystery and even a dollop of decoration -- consider Magma Architecture's Olympic Shooting Ranges in Woolwich. The gorgeous temporary tensile structures, all white and pocked with what look like octopus tentacle suckers. The red circular openings were actually used for ventilation. (Photo courtesy Magma.)

But for the new baroque, the weirder, the better. The Thai visual artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, for example, is the creative force behind a large new Buddhist temple planned for Chiang Rai, Thailand.

The bone-white building, called Wat Rong Khun, radiates energy from its fantastic glass ornament, all symbolic of Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Kositpipat drew attention to the temple design thanks to his plans to include interior wall paintings of Superman, Batman and Neo -- the protagonist from The Matrix -- who all help further Buddha's message, according to the artist.

At the very least, it will help further my message.

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C.C. Sullivan

Columnist (Architecture)

C.C. Sullivan is principal of a marketing and advertising agency by the same name focused on the shelter, construction and architectural markets. Formerly, he was chief editor of the magazines Architecture and Building Design & Construction, and launched the Home of the Year awards with Metropolitan Home. He holds a degree from Yale University and previously worked for the architects Tai Soo Kim, Emery Roth & Sons, and Angel Fernandez Alba (Madrid). Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure