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Architectural Superstars in London

The rising stars who are brightening up the London skyline

Written by . Published on October 19th 2011.

Architectural Superstars in London

THIS year’s Stirling Prize was awareded to the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton, designed by internationally renowned architect Zaha Hadid, and it appears that over the next few years London will become a hotbed for worldwide architectural talent. Many of the world’s leading architects, or ‘starchitects’ as many have now dubbed, are descending on London in droves. A hub for European culture and design, the next decade will see the cream of the design world make their mark on London’s iconic skyline with some equally stunning and captivating buildings. 

Extraordinary works of Hadid’s practice, such as the spectacularly organic glacial Hungerburgbahn funicular railway in Innsbruck, have gone on to heavily influence the works that are now being produced here in the city.

For years now, London has been the canvas for many British masters such as Norman Foster and Richard Rodgers to flex their substantial architectural muscles, endowing the city with an archetypal London design style – reliant on glass, steel and modern technologies. Icons such as the Gherkin, Lloyds Tower and the Millennium Bridge embody what contemporary British architecture represents. Though now, a new generation of architects who have been mainly confined to mainland Europe have begun to design a new wave of exciting structures, which will soon start to challenge the existing fabric of the London design scene.

Although Iraqi born Zaha Hadid has been raised and educated in London, it is only recently that Londoners have been able to appreciate her visionary work. With her offices based in London, Hadid’s work has mainly graced parts of Germany, Denmark and Austria, where designs reliant on concrete with hard surfaces like Hadid’s are more prevalent and don’t quite have the same stigma attached to them as they do in Britain. However, Hadid has proven time and again that concrete can be beautiful with her fluid sculptural forms, which integrate so beautifully into the surrounding landscape. Extraordinary works of Hadid’s practice, such as the spectacularly organic glacial Hungerburgbahn funicular railway in Innsbruck, have gone on to heavily influence the works that are now being produced here in the city.

The fluid forms of the station beautifully echo the surrounding glacial landscape. - Werner Huthmacher.The fluid forms of the station beautifully echo the surrounding glacial landscape Photograph by Werner Huthmacher

Hadid’s Aquatics centre is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the Olympic park in Stratford, with its undulating roof and impossibly low elegant profile. The sweeping organic structure imitates the water and pools within the structure, and is supposed to emulate the movement and flow of water creating an amazingly striking form. Hadid’s recent Stirling prize winning building though is far simpler, and uses space and limited resources in a highly innovative way – which in a time of severe austerity was deemed by the judges to be highly commendable. Despite many limitations, Hadid was still able to create a building with a great sense of character, whilst still encompassing her signature use of sweeping organic and almost gravity defying shapes and forms.

The Aquatics Centre%26#8217%3Bs highly distinctive roof emulates the movement and flow of water. %26#8211%3B ODA Images.The Aquatics Centre's distinctive roof emulates the movement and flow of water Image courtesy of ODA Images

Visionary French Architect, Jean Nouvel, also recently completed his first foray onto the London architectural circuit with the completion of One New Change, situated adjacent to St Paul’s Cathedral. Currently, Nouvel is causing a stir across Europe with gorgeous gem-like structures, and is renowned for experimenting with light and colour in ambitious and highly imaginative ways. Like Norman Foster, Nouvel seems to have the ability to create iconic landmarks, bestowing numerous European cities with structures that become synonymous with the city.

In London, Nouvel has created a consumerist mecca of cool black glass and concrete, a structure which sits in stark contrast to the light and airy buildings surrounding it. This faceted quartz-like jewel is situated boldly and bravely right next to St Paul’s, unashamedly modern and unforgiving. The compelling angles and colours used within this structure truly set it apart from anything else in London. Walking through the darkened fjord-like ravines which penetrate the structure to then be confronted by Wren’s impressive dome is a truly awe-inspiring experience, demonstrating how Nouvel’s alien forms and foreign use of materials sit in comfortable juxtaposition to the surrounding environment.

The modern form of One New Change sits unashamedly next to Wren%26#8217%3Bs masterpiece. %26#8211%3B One New Change.The modern form of One New Change sits unashamedly next to Wren's masterpiece Photograph courtesy of One New Change

Herzog and de Meuron’s extension to the Tate Modern is an equally exciting addition to London’s cultural scene and will see capacity at the Tate almost double as a result. The practice are responsible for the current refurbishment of the Tate Modern, and this further addition will again shun modern building styles, whilst instead utilising the classic London brick in a highly unorthodox manner. This will create an angular and contemporary form, which complements the existing power station. This Swiss practice is responsible for some of the most ambitious projects seen in recent times, such as the breathtaking Birds Nest stadium used for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. This time round though, Londoners will get to experience what the dynamic Swiss duo can achieve from the ground up. Due for completion in 2016, the addition is sure to be an instant hit contributing further architectural prowess to the South Bank.

The Tate extension utilises traditional London building methods in a highly imaginative way %26#8211%3B Hayes Davidson and Herzog and de Meuron.The Tate extension utilises traditional building methods in a highly imaginative way Photograph by Hayes Davidson and Herzog and de Meuron.

Italian born Renzo Piano too is causing a stir right in the heart of the city. No stranger to British trends, he collaborated with Richard Rogers on the iconic Centre Pompidou, a contemporary Parisian landmark. Here in London, Piano’s new Central Saint Giles complex is dividing opinion with its citrus coloured terracotta facades. Despite the divisive use of colour, Piano’s design undoubtedly injects some much needed life and character into a once forgotten corner of Holborn, and is set to regenerate and reorganise the area substantially.

Renzo Piano is also responsible for the much maligned Shard in London Bridge, a structure set to become a London icon perhaps purely down to its sheer size rather than architectural merit. For a really good example of Piano’s work, Central Saint Giles comes top of the list. The complex's cluster of bold and vibrant blocks recreate – in a really clever, contemporary way – the manner in which many old London streets intertwine, opening out unexpectedly and excitingly into squares and open spaces.

Luckily for us, London is quickly becoming one the world’s most exciting showcases for the most vibrant and eclectic design on offer today, leading the way in new design and architectural ideas. As the likes of Zaha Hadid, Renzo Piano and Jean Nouvel continue to make their mark on the capital, London is set to cement its position as a centre of design excellence.

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