Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Modern Green Architecture in Accra

In article by Shelley D. Hutchins featured in Architect Magazine "...California-based Stephen H. Kanner, FAIA, has expanded his practice to another West coast—the one in Africa. Accra, the capital of Ghana, has captured both his attention and his creative passion. “Ghana is on the coast and faces the same direction—southwest—as Los Angeles,” he says, so its conditions are not entirely alien to him. But Kanner's chief lure was best friend and longtime collaborator Joe Addo, who moved back to his birthplace four years ago.

On his first visit there, Kanner was so impressed by Addo's efforts to revitalize his hometown, he offered the full support of his firm and his own financial investment. “Joe is really involved in political issues that will better the quality of life through roads, water systems, and schools,” Kanner explains. Together they've formed a development group called Concept Ghana, with a focus on improving low-income housing, aiding in neighborhood and city planning, and designing upscale housing to help lure wealthy Ghanaians back home.

The Augustino Neto Condominiums, slated for completion in 2008, are among the for-profit projects. The 1,500-square-foot units will sell for about U.S. $300,000. All 25 condos have two bedrooms, two and a half baths, and two balconies opposite each other for unimpeded cross-ventilation. The ¾-acre site is on the airport road, which also houses the city's embassy row. “The town grew around the airport, and the wealthiest district happens to be right below the flight path,” Kanner says. But the building's debut of Concept Ghana's soon-to-be-patented material, PozzoGhana, will help insulate against jet-engine noise. The green building product, which combines local sedimentous soils, waste palm kernels, and Portland cement, will form the exposed structure of the condo building.

The condos will showcase other sustainable materials easy to come by in Ghana: bamboo for the poolside cabana and balcony railing; adobe plasters for the walls; and recycled oil drums as large-format shingle siding. Responsibly harvested native woods in wide planks will lend clean, contemporary lines to wall panels. “The building's frame is our concrete product,” Kanner says, “then we mixed in ancient local building materials in a modern way.”..."

Photos courtesy of Architect Magazine

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Beckmann-N’Thépé Architects

Françoise N’Thépé and Aldric Beckmann, founders of Paris-based firm Beckmann-N’Thépé
Sam Lubell's article in Archrecod says"...It’s always difficult to be a young architect.."

"...the challenges are especially acute in France, due to a strongly established hierarchy and a conservative outlook on experimentation, especially toward those without much experience. “People don’t want their money to be spent by ‘amateurs,’ ” says N’Thépé. The situation is even more difficult for her, since she is a woman and a minority (she was born in Cameroon). “Yes, I sometimes feel myself as an exception,” she says..."

"...N’Thépé studied at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris (she originally wanted to be an interior designer, but amazingly she signed up at the wrong school!), where she studied with French architects Odile Decq, Paul Virilio, and Frédéric Borel. She worked for French/German firm LIN. Beckmann, born in Paris, studied at the Ecole d’Architecture Paris la Seine, and worked for architects François Seigneur,Will Alsop, and Jean Nouvel. The two met at Seigneur’s office, where N’Thépé was freelancing.

Their first big break came when they won the Nouveaux Albums des Jeunes Architectes Award, a major prize organized by the French Ministry of Culture, in 2001. The requests and contacts that came after this allowed them to formally start their new firm the following year.

The firm has a strong interest in research and investigating new materials and new processes, combined with sensitive, intuitive design. Their buildings are unique, sculptural (N’Thépé says the firm has a “plastician” way of drawing projects), and even sexy, but they all feel strongly rooted in their locations. “Our first approach to architecture has always been about how cities function,” says N’Thépé. “We’re very aware of how our ‘sculptures’ emerge, about the context and the stories we want to create.”

With its Versailles project, completed in 2005, the firm made small changes throughout the Classical-style school, like spiral-shaped neon lighting, new skylights, and bright new colors. It also fit a bold translucent Teflon membrane on top of the building’s courtyard, and created a futuristic new classroom with a translucent drop ceiling that projects fluorescent lighting patterns and colors. Their public housing project, finished this year in a tight development zone called Paris Rive Gauche, maximizes natural light through a large “fault” cut into its center.

The Vincennes zoo project will use artificial materials like steel, Teflon, glass, and plaster to create naturally inspired forms, such as massive rocks and a bubbly, translucent greenhouse dome. The firm, which has also stayed busy participating in exhibitions in Paris, Bordeaux, and Brazil, is now looking to branch out in both architecture and urbanism, “especially abroad,” says N’Thépé. So, if all goes according to plan, there will be a whole new set of hierarchies and expectations to defy..."

Photos are courtesy of Beckmann-N’Thépé website