Dancing to the music of time – Building Design

I’m a big fan of Herzog & de Meuron, the architects who reinvigorated the Bankside Power Station, which emerged after their work as the Tate Modern. In 2003 they completed the Laban Dance Center in Deptford, East London. I remember seeing beautiful pictures of it in architectural magazines, lit up at night, with the silhouettes of dancers visible through its translucent walls.

I’m critical, though, of the lack of reality in the visions of many architects. This comes a little, I think, from my huge distaste for the Uxbridge campus of Brunel University in West London, which I attended from ’88. It was (and may still be – I’m not sure) the nastiest example of post-war concrete aesthetic that I’d ever seen at the time. Big, gray, angular, unfriendly buildings that I imagined looked really great in the original architects renderings, which were probably done in a more abstract pen-and-ink, shown from some high angle that no pedestrian was ever likely to see, studded with images of lots of greenery and lounging students. Architectural renderings often lie. And I often wonder about the gap between the vision and reality, particularly when it comes to the softening and aging of a building that occurs through its occupation.

It’s refreshing to read this analysis, done by Herzog & de Meuron partner Harry Gugger, of the dance center done 4 years after its completion, studded with simple comments like “I think we could have chosen a stronger plasterboard…” after hearing that the material they used was studded with holes brought about by impact from children. More architects should learn from their mistakes.


Dancing to the music of time – Building Design
“Also, the paving tiles are supposed to be covered in moss. The tiles came impregnated with moss, but it didn’t take at all. You would think that moss would take over anywhere, but in this instance it refrained from coming here! It has worked very well in a project in Tokyo, but there we used a different method.”