Of course, the year has been an eventful one in terms of art and culture; while the 56th Venice Biennale took center stage, various European cities saw the openings of museums and concert halls designed by brilliant architects; the project for the new Guggenheim museum in Helsinki was finally accepted, and in Copenhagen, the artist Olafur Eliasson presented a superb illustration of where the future is heading – via the merging of disciplines – with his architectural/art object, a canal bridge. What was your biggest surprise in new architecture this year?
Andrew Miksys, photographer (Lithuania/USA)
The removal of the Soviet era sculptures from the Green Bridge in Vilnius. This is not exactly “new” architecture, but it was a significant change to the city, and the quick decision by the new mayor to remove them came as a surprise. Seeking to remove the architecture of the past is nothing new in Vilnius. Just in the last hundred years it’s happened over and over again. But there seems to be some renewed energy these days to remove anything Soviet; maybe out of some fear that it might come back from the dead if it’s not removed quickly enough.
I live in Berlin, one of the greenest cities in Europe. Since reunification, the cityscape has developed calmly and kept its openness through smart spatial solutions; it's well-integrated with the pace of the city and its people, humble in regards to its history, and makes use of carefully restored and reused existing building complexes… And then there are its parks, like Park am Gleisdreieck, a lovely and unique community-led public park with rose gardens and trails for skaters and joggers on an old railway site. I want to dedicate this part not to one single building, but to this grand city for being so brave and inspirational on so many levels.
Julijonas Urbonas, artist and designer (Lithuania)
The exhibition architecture for the XII Baltic Triennial, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania.
The Kvæsthus Project. Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter
Marie Laurberg, curator and head of research at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
I am continuously surprised and inspired by the work of the architect Lene Tranberg – when it comes to a sense of believing in architecture as a medium of real, lived experience. Her work is so very far removed from any idea of architecture that seems conceived for the medium of a Powerpoint presentation. Tranberg's buildings always reflect a strong sense of sustainable craft and materiality, as well as enact her idea of architecture as something which generously gives for free and takes part in the life of the city. It is a true joy to live so close to many of her finest works in Copenhagen. Literally, every time I encounter her work, I am surprised by its impact.
Raul Keller, Estonian artist
Very local - I'm surprised how people are building houses that look from the end of 19th century in my neighborhood, because of the heritage protection of the area. It really makes me think about time and people and the experience in living in a brand new old house. It's like building a an authentic Ford T.
Modern Art Center Vilnius (MMC). Studio Libeskind
Dr. Vytautas Michelkevičius, commissar and curator of Lithuania's pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale
After the failure of the Guggenheim project for Vilnius in 2008/2009 (the competition's finalists: Zaha Hadid (winner), Massimiliano Fuksas, and Daniel Libeskind), the starchitect Daniel Libeskind is returning as a phoenix to Vilnius: last winter saw the announcement of his project for the Vilnius Beacon Ski Center, and this autumn – for the Modern Art Center (which will house the biggest private collection of modern and contemporary Lithuanian art). For the latter project local architects’ competition and its result was cleared out. The second most important architectural event in the Baltic region was the completion of the renovation of the Latvian National Museum of Art (with a huge underground space – hopefully slated for contemporary art), which was the work of the Lithuanian architectural firm Processoffice.
Dmitri Bulatov, curator (Russia)
The works that I find the most interesting are always the ones that do not focus on the appearance of things, exploring the ways in which they relate to the world instead – the ways in which the author brings them out into the world. For this reason, I would single out Tomás Saraceno’s project dealing with sonification of Singaporean spiders, presented in October at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The famous Argentine architect, artist and arachnophile Saraceno had decided to take break from filling exhibition spaces with his web-like installations and embrace sound art. In his installation ‘Arachnid Orchestra’, he made use of the intrinsic qualities of spider’s web and the incredibly complex vibration-based communication system of the arachnids, amplifying the ‘howling’ of male spiders and the oscillation of the webs as they are being woven. The result is a unique ‘spider chorus’ – acoustic rhythms experienced by the visitors in real time. I was most delighted by the fact that a number of actual jam sessions between local sound artists and Saraceno’s spiderweb-plucking architecture. With his architectural-artistic practice, Tomás Saraceno makes a very direct attempt to stage various methods of survival between the human and the non-human existence. I consider this work an excellent example of the ways in which we can engage the world into an artistic interplay.
The Latvian National Museum of Art. Photo: Kristīne Madjare
Ieva Zībārte, architecture and design critic (Latvia)
The only thing that surprises me about today's architecture is the fact that architects still hope and believe that their profession still has as much prestige as it did in the 20th century, and earlier. Consider, for example, the press releases that an architecture critic receives on a daily basis – in these, as well as in publications on new buildings, the architect's name is barely mentioned: there's the commissioner, the builder, some other people – but the architect is only named if the information comes straight from the architectural offices.
Emotionally, the Liepāja Concert Hall definitely left the biggest impression on me. I had arrived in Liepāja late in the evening and stayed in a hotel that had a view of the “Great Amber”. When I first saw it in the morning, lit by the morning sun, I was overtaken by great emotions, and I felt that something had to be done. I found the Second Part of Imants Kalniņš's 4th Symphony in my smartphone, and listened to it while standing and looking at the Concert Hall.
Kadri Uus and Andra Orn, founders of NOAR, an Estonian-based internet platform for art sales and information
It is good to see how architecture moves increasingly more in unity with the environment: creating green squares on top of apartment or office buildings doesn’t surprise anybody anymore; solar power plants in California or the Mojave Desert also seem a part of everyday life, especially in light of global warming and the fact that news stories such as dramatic air pollution in Beijing is hardly newsworthy anymore.
There are, of course, numerous examples of magnificent buildings being erected in various parts of the world, but in advocating young talents from our region, and those who work on a smaller scale, we'd like to mention that the megaphones for listening to the sounds of nature – installed in the forests near the Estonian-Latvian border – offered a nice, quirky little surprise to many. This project – planned and executed by a team of experienced designers and architects, as well as with students from the Estonian Academy of Arts – also received a lot of international attention.
Olesya Turkina, curator and art critic (Russia)
The architectural solution that left the strongest impact on me was the transformation of the Venetian church of Santa Maria della Misericordia into a mosque by Christoph Büchel during the biennale. I see the seeds of a new ecology in this simple yet effective gesture. Instead of the modernist desire to create a new world, it is about filling the existing one with a new meaning.
Fondazione Prada. Photo: Una Meistere
Viktor Misiano, curator and editor of the Moscow Art Magazine
In 2015, I saw two new buildings by Rem Koolhaas: Fondazione Prada in Milan and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow. One of them, while overtly glitzy, has been executed masterly. The other, while masterly conceived, has been executed overtly sloppily. I am not saying which one is which, though – to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings…
Milena Orlova, art critic, Editor-in-Chief of The Art Newspaper Russia
Sadly, I have not had an opportunity yet to visit the new building of the Louis Vuitton Foundation in the Bois de Boulogne, the new Whitney and the Broad – three of the loudest architectural museum-related premieres of the year. As far as I can judge from photographs, all three of them are very impressive buildings. I was genuinely excited by two Rem Koolhaas’ projects that were completed in 2015: the Fondazione Prada complex in Milan and the new building of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in the Moscow Gorky Park. While both of them are new buildings, they are also – more importantly – manifestations of the new architectural philosophy regarding historical legacy.
In both cases, the architect did not create his buildings from scratch, in an empty space: he made use of existing structures. In Milan, it was an old late 19th-century factory, completely transformed by Koolhaas with the help of new factures, colours and materials, as well as a number of new-built objects. In Moscow, it was a Soviet restaurant dating from the late 1960s. Neither of the old buildings was a unique architectural monument; it was Koolhaas who made them special, valuable and fashionable with his intervention. The methods and factures are similar in Milan and Moscow. Namely, it is his use of transparent polycarbonate in which he encased – speaking of the Moscow building – the quite ordinary box of glass and concrete like in a sarcophagus, preserving the various ‘cultural layers’ inside, as they are conserved by archaeologists.
Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow’s Gorky Park. Photo: Yuri Palmin
For Moscow and Russia, this gesture of adding new value to structures of the Soviet (post-war, to be more precise) era, examples of the so-called Brezhnevist modernism, is extremely important. While architecture of this era dominates the urban landscape and has to be adapted for new functions, it is nevertheless still not recognised as cultural legacy by the general public. Meanwhile, a new trend of studying and promoting the gems of this historical style has been born among the intellectuals and enthusiasts of architecture in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia, culminating to date with the proposal by the Archnadzor movement in favour of landmark conservation to preserve examples of the ‘Khrushchyovka’ style of mass-produced apartment buildings.
The same subject was discussed apropos the renovation of the VDNKh where the ensemble of the Stalin era pavilions was diluted in the 1960s and 1970s with a number of modernist pavilions and facades, stuck, as in Koolhaas’ case, on top of the older original structures. The public debate on what to knock down and what to preserve was so heated that a poll was held among Muscovites on the style of buildings they preferred. The Stalinist style won. In this context, the appearance of a landmark building by one of the greats of the world architecture, further enhanced by the charisma of the founders of Garazh, can become a turning point that leads to a new approach to the Soviet legacy, the way it happened with monuments of Soviet avant-garde which, after decades of neglect and demolition, are now finally being restored and protected.
The Broad. Photo: Iwan Baan
Speaking of Russia, 2015 saw the renovation of the Nizhny Novgorod Arsenal building housing the local branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Art (the largest exhibition space outside of the Russian capital) and plans for two interesting projects featuring international stars of architecture announced in Moscow: reconstruction of the power station building in the city centre, designed by Renzo Piano, and a new branch of the Hermitage Museum on the premises of the former ZIL factory, designed by Hani Rashid.