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Rarely has a building inspired so many people to wax poetically: a “noble space”, “generator of a new architectural experience in the city” and a “work of art”. And all this to describe a carpark.

That’s the thing, says Mark Loughnan, principal of HASSELL and former associate architect with Swiss-based architecture practice Herzog & de Meuron (HdM) where he was involved in the design phases of the carpark 1111 Lincoln Road, “in an ideal world there is a possibility to experience that feeling in any public project”. We interviewed Loughnan about his experience on the early phases of the Lincoln Road project, and his current thoughts on architecture and its process.

Ray Edgar: How did the project start and what was the client asking for?
Mark Loughnan: The client [developer Robert Wennett] wrote a letter to ten or twelve of his preferred architects around the world with an idea about a project with a mixed used and car park program. He mentioned afterwards that he wasn’t sure that he’d get any response. He wanted to question and consider site and its impact on Lincoln Road and how a carpark can be integrated within the urban realm. To many architects that was intriguing. It opened the door to design, as there was no pre-determined idea. He then flew around the world and interviewed and spent some time with the various architects, before deciding to engage HdM. The whole commissioning process was quite interesting.

RE: It’s not just a carpark, were the apartment and shops part of the 
initial proposal?
ML: Yes, the former bank building was partly redeveloped as well. The ground floor was redeveloped. The retail and entrance to an elevator provided direct access to the rooftop restaurant. The bulk of the building was already let 
by MTV Latin America. The ground floor and roof were redeveloped with 
a section of the roof connected to the top-level carpark as a private residence.

RE: How big was the team that was working on this project?
ML: Probably six to eight people.

RE: Is that a lot?
ML: No it was the right amount. When it went into the next phase there were probably eight or ten and there was a lot of studies and experimentation. The project needed to work on many levels from its integration with Lincoln Road and its retail component and we also had the psyche of ‘let’s reinvent the carpark. What can we do? What makes sense and what doesn’t?’ So there were a lot of ground-floor integration and structural, access, parking and circulation gymnastics to consider.

RESEARCH DRIVEN

RE: What do you mean by gymnastics?
ML: In terms of the carpark—testing the rationale for why things are the way they are: access, turning circles, slopes of ramps, ease of movement and all these things. In Miami the general regulation is that carparks should be clad so that they appear as ‘buildings’. We decided quite early on that we would question this requirement, and the notion of the car park in the context 
of Miami. So we had an approach that flipped the regulation on its head 
and said ‘We’re going to celebrate the car, and the movement of the car, 
and the movement of people.’

RE: How did you convince the council that cladding was surplus to requirements?
ML: HdM studied the whole context and content of Lincoln Road and Alton Road and the neighbourhoods all the way to South Beach. We researched right back into the history of the city.

RE: In this case, presentations show images of Lincoln Road being cleared 
of its trees in the late 19th or early 20th century. The irony raised is that 
even though trees had been felled to create Lincoln Road, it was the only part of Miami that had been converted into a tree-filled mall.
ML: It’s much more compelling to put forward a proposal that you understand, as opposed to just ‘pull this and twist that and there it is’. Understanding a history is part of building that story—that makes sense for this particular project. What’s also important—it’s a philosophical approach—that each project is for its place. It’s for Lincoln Road.

RE: Why wouldn’t this carpark sit anywhere else?
ML: You could ask the same question of many projects. I think there’s a lot 
of reasons why 1111 works in Miami. Miami has an outdoor climate. It’s also part of the culture of Miami. It’s ‘here I am let me show you what I’ve got attitude’. Miami is more like that than other cities, which are less overt. I think it had been referred to as ‘all muscle’.

RE: Is personifying that muscular beach culture really what the structure was referring to?
ML: It came out of those early studies and direction not to clad the building. Straight away it has a strong muscular presence. The structure is the architecture. At HdM we had many study models of a carpark structure and they were all different and had a different rationale. We clearly had to make it practical and fulfil the clients brief for a mixed-use project (including a certain number of cars).

TESTING

RE: Were the studies wildly different?
ML: We looked at the variation of floor height and tested the circulation of cars and all variations of driving through the building, for example, driving up the middle in a spiral, driving on a whole series of sloped platforms or rising and circulating the perimeter. The size of the car and radius of the turning circle was a factor. The building would almost react to the movement of the car. It was very rational in the end.

RE: So the greater the height between floor plates the steeper the ramp?
ML: No, the ramp would simply be longer to rise to that height and therefore it might land in a different space, which might have a minor impact on the floor plate.

RE: Why did you want to make it mixed use?
ML: It was part of the client’s brief. It’s also about context on Lincoln Road and adding diversity of use and life. So the car park was a building HdM were interested in adding another dimension to. Rather than just have similar stratas, we thought it would be interesting to introduce a potential for mixed program, which also partly generated the floor-to-floor heights. This divided it from a typical car park environment and resulted in floors with a much more spacious and brighter environment, that could present opportunities for varied programs. It could be used for retail and commercial outlets through to cultural events. It’s also very much a building for the arts. It’s also been used for fashion shows, weddings, yoga, fitness and athletics training.

RE: Is that because of the view?
ML: For many reasons, I think it’s a very dramatic building to be in.

RE: How does it achieve that?
ML: There is a generosity of space and the outlook is great. Ferrari had an event there where they filled the carpark with a collection of Ferraris that celebrated their history.

RE: Are any ugly cars allowed in?
ML: Of course, it’s a public carpark. The owner joked one day saying he might have a day where only white cars are allowed in, for example. The beauty of it is that because of its aesthetic nature and how open it is each time it fills up it’s an art piece or installation in a way, because it’s different every time and it’s exposed. I’ve even heard taxi drivers are getting asked to divert through the carpark on their way to various destinations.

The beauty of it is that because of its aesthetic nature and how open it is each time it fills up it’s an art piece or installation in a way, because it’s different every time and it’s exposed.

PUBLIC BUILDINGS

Very few buildings encourage people to describe them in such poetic terms. It’s certainly interesting and questions many issues. The typology of a carpark is that it’s a public building—anybody can go into a carpark. You can’t say that about a lot of buildings any more. With security and the changed world somehow—even museums and office lobbies now scan you on entry. There are the public squares, public civic buildings, libraries, and other cultural buildings, and then there’s also carparks—maybe. It’s a typology that is for anybody to enter.

RE: Was this realised after the fact?
ML: These were all part of the early discussions. I think that’s why all the architects were interested in participating, because of the nature and the prevalence of the carpark in our urban environments. There is also an interesting architectural pedigree of carparks around the world.

RE: Which did you look at?
ML: There’s quite a few in South America. Simply also just from an engineering point of view there’s some beautiful carparks and very sculptural objects. It’s a purely functional building, but there’s no reason it cannot be engaging spatially and aesthetically pleasing.

 

MAJOR INSPIRATION

RE: A Detroit cinema that has been transformed into a carpark informed this project didn’t it?
ML: There were many inspirations but it certainly grabbed a piece of our imagination. It created a lot of discussion about re-lifing, and just the drama of a carparking lot in a theatre is really interesting, especially in the American context. Again it’s this everyday, public building put into a more cultural and spatial environment.

RE: Did you try to bring that literal theatricality into this project?
ML: That’s part of it. Rather than getting sandwiched in a dark narrow basement you’re suddenly in an environment that is really pleasing to be in. It’s celebratory. You know those places where you go and just stand there and take it in again. It’s a place that’s comfortable.

Rather than getting sandwiched in a dark narrow basement you’re suddenly in an environment that is really pleasing to be in. It’s celebratory. You know those places where you go and just stand there and take it in again. It’s a place that’s comfortable.
RE: Was Coop Himmelblau’s BMW World—or a showroom aesthetic—an influence?
ML: Showrooms were something I never remember coming up. It was never about deliberately showing off the car.

SPATIAL EXPERIENCE

RE: HdM often works with galleries like London’s Tate and Serpentine 
and artists like Ai Weiwei. How important is art to this particular project?
ML: During my time at HdM on the Miami project I can’t recall specific artists being involved per se. Certainly art was going to be part of the program and the use, and potential for the building. We were looking at the opportunities for mixed use and art related use as if this could be a cultural building in a way. We never presented it that way, but we always hoped that it would have a diverse life beyond the car.

RE: Why is that?
ML: It’s this whole idea of it being a public building with flexibility of use. One of the most interesting things about architecture—whether it’s a house or a carpark or a museum or whatever—are those moments of uplift and inspiration you experience in a particular place, for example the feeling you get when you walk into a cathedral. It could be a lot of different things. It might just be the feeling of materials.

RE: So how do you achieve it?
ML: It’s very difficult and the client is a key component.

CREATIVE PROCESS

RE: How do you set in place a process that allows you to create a great experience? What questions do you keep reiterating?
ML: What is the client looking for? Who’s using this building? Who are the actual users? Do they really need what you are telling us they need? Do they really need that much space? Do they need something else? Do they need something more? Do they need something bigger or smaller? Do they need something alternative to that to give them something else? Is there some other program that we can add to it? Is there a different way of doing what you’re asking us? There are many questions and a great deal of dialogue.

THINK DIFFERENTLY

RE: Is it about being different and going against the grain? Does every experience have to be different?
ML: Well does everything have to taste the same? That would be pretty dull and boring. Everything doesn’t have to be different, but I think we certainly look at everything in a different way. We would never copy something somewhere and build it somewhere else.

LIFESPAN

RE: Did you also consider the idea that ‘one day this carpark’s use will also change?’
ML: As architects we often think about that in buildings we design because we’re aware that the lifespan of buildings is much less now—depending on the building typology. The general office building may have a 30-year lifespan, then it will get reclad or even knocked down and redeveloped. Whereas a cultural building might have a 100-year lifespan or more.

RE: Is that one of the questions you ask?
ML: Sure it’s another one of these parameters about buildings. A modified carpark could become a something else in the future—an office building at some point, or perhaps even residential. There are often lots of potential uses to consider in the future. The materiality was a question and how do we build this. So concrete was a topic and we decided early that this was the right material because it was very much an integral material. It had mass and quality and it was contextual to the Miami experience.

LUXURY

RE: How do you capture or convey luxury, particularly in something as utilitarian as a carpark? What sort of detailing and finish do you provide?
ML: We talked about the experiential thing before—smells and touch and the aesthetics of something. There’s the detail of a building and there’s the experience within. Luxurious in this context would have to be the space, and the aperture, the air, the freedom and a new and surprising experience.

There’s the detail of a building and there’s the experience within. Luxurious in this context would have to be the space, and the aperture, the air, the freedom and a new and surprising experience.

RE: That’s a rare commodity in Miami?
ML: No, but it’s a luxurious experience in terms of a beautiful carpark. Even the vistas from the different floors and the experience going down open stairs. You don’t have to go in to an enclosed fire escape to get through the building. You circulate through a public open stairwell.

RE: So it’s not your typical bunkered carpark stairwell?
ML: There are art installations all the way up and the balustrade is transparent and elegant.

RE: Everyone describes its sculptural qualities.
ML: Yes I think it’s very sculptural. That’s the other thing about using a carpark. The process involves that you’re transferring, turning, rising. This is reflected in the structure. So there’s this celebration of movement and exposure. You can see people and vehicles moving up and down and in and out. This was also part of redefining carparking. You don’t have to be in a basement. You don’t have to have low ceilings. You don’t have to put people in a firestair. People can simply circulate safely and adequately through this open public environment.

RE: Did that project change the way you worked or have you always followed the same working methodologies?
ML: Similar methodologies were used and with the client we were given some time where we worked together developing and discussing ideas.

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