Cast your mind back to the heady pre-crash days of 2007 and try to remember what the architectural landscape looked like. Despite murmurings from the fringe, the era of icon-building carried on regardless – context-free deconstructivism was the order of the day, with buildings from Coop Himmelblau and Daniel Libeskind among the high-profile openings. It was also the year that Jean Nouvel’s plans for a world-class art gallery in Abu Dhabi were first mooted.
Next month, the French architect’s Louvre Abu Dhabi will finally open. It is a building conceived in a more ambitious, not to mention frivolous, era, and surely owes its realisation to the length of Emirati purse strings, if not the unwavering nature of Nouvel’s vision. But what of that vision? Purely in architectural terms, it is a triumph. Our correspondent discovered a building that marries ancient Arabic architectural typologies – the dome and the citadel – with a virtuoso feat of engineering that enabled the intricately detailed roof. To describe it as contextual might be overstating it, but it is a long way removed from the European spaceship it could so easily have been. That said, we are unlikely to see its like in Europe or North America anytime soon. This is partly down to money, but also to shifting attitudes.
A barometer to where the current architectural scene is heading was provided by this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial. The show underlined how a new generation has once again looked to history for inspiration, which marks a subtle but sure evolution from the last few years of austerity modernism. From the conversations I’ve had, the older guard is still a little uncertain, wary the postmodernist corpse could rise from its gaudy mausoleum to threaten once more. But this is something different – a more considered examination of what the past can offer us and, budgets aside, not a million miles away from the spirit of Nouvel’s new Louvre.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
Scene End of the road for Ventura Lambrate, RIBA Gold for Neave Brown and Foster to revamp Cedric Price’s London Zoo Aviary
London Design Festival Our pick of the new product launches
Sleep What you can expect to see at the hotel industry showcase
Diary Our pick of exhibitions in December
Crimes Against Design A pox on public sculpture
Opinion Artists just don’t get architecture, writes Joe Lloyd
New American Design How the recession kickstarted a bold new era for US design
Tom Karen We meet the man behind the Reliant Scimitar, Marble Run and the Raleigh Chopper
&New The Leicester-based design studio’s colouful, experimental designs
Icon of the month: Futura Paul Renner’s san-serif font is the aficionado’s choice
Q&A: Sebastian Herkner German imprecision from the workaholic designer
Louvre Abu Dhabi Julian Worrall steps inside Jean Nouvel’s long-awaited ‘universal museum’
New London Vulgar Jay Merrick on the British capital’s outbreak of monstrous carbuncles
Icon of the month: Pissotières Until the 1980s, these roadside urinals were one of the sights and smells of Paris
Q&A: Elias & Yousef Anastas The architect brothers on the transfiguration of the Palestinian city
Review: Chicago Architecture Biennial Johnston Marklee on architecture and nothing but architecture
Review: Pablo Bronstein In his RIBA exhibition, the artist takes a wry look at Britain’s conservatism
Rethink: Cross-breeding fonts Leon Dijkstra dumps the pedigree typefaces
Obsession: La Congiunta Niall Hobhouse on a 20-year journey that led to his Hauser & Wirth exhibition