Hubert Burda Media

Mini Architectural Feats Magnified

In the age of the statement skyscraper, some big-name architects still believe that small is beautiful.

In the world of architecture, size matters. Everyone seems to be racing to design the most cloud-busting tower, the longest bridge or the grandest gallery. But while such record-breaking projects hog headlines, the world’s leading architects still make time to work on more intimate structures. Zaha Hadid relished working on a human scale, creating the Chanel Contemporary Art Container – a portable exhibition space that travelled to cities around the world – and the seashell-like Burnham Pavilion in Chicago. Rem Koolhaas has also worked on smaller structures, including several for Miuccia Prada, a long-time friend of his and a supporter of his studio. Following the lead of those two industry giants, Prestige searched out four contemporary architects who prove that good things can come in small packages. 

Asif Khan

Asif Khan rocketed into the architectural big league when he won a competition last year to design the new Museum of London building. For that project, the Brit partnered with London-based practice Stanton Williams, submitting an ambitious proposal that melded the Victorian heritage of the site with practical suggestions on how to turn the museum into a buzzing public space. It blew the other designs – including one by headline-grabbing Danish architect Bjarke Ingels – out of the water.

But winning such a big commission doesn’t mean Khan has abandoned smaller-scale projects. The 37-year-old is behind this year’s UK Pavilion at Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan, an event that provides an international platform for more than 100 nations to promote themselves as innovative and creative. 

Khan took the expo’s theme of “Future Energy” to heart, designing a UFO-like circular pavilion with a central dome ringed by a screen spanning almost 360 degrees. Following the path between the two structures, visitors experience videos, light shows and animations that tell the story of the universe, from the Big Bang to the present day – an entertaining and educational experience that Khan devised with Catherine Heymans, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh. The visuals are accompanied by a soundtrack composed by pop pioneer Brian Eno.

Expo 2017 is open until September 10.

Kengo Kuma's Teahouse in Vancouver

Kengo Kuma

Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is the Zen master of contemporary architecture. While other high-flyers have built bigger, bolder and often brasher buildings as their careers have progressed, Kuma’s designs have remained remarkably restrained, many of them showcasing his fondness for wood and interest in Buddhist philosophy. Not all such buildings are low-rise and many are in cities, but it’s still surprising to find a creation by Kuma perched on the 19th floor of a skyscraper. 

And yet that’s exactly where the pint-sized Tea House by Kengo Kuma has recently been installed: on a terrace halfway up Vancouver’s Shaw Tower. Commissioned by property developer Westbank, the teahouse is a permanent structure that can be used by residents of the tower as everything from a meeting room to a meditation space.

As with many of his projects, the 62-year-old architect’s teahouse blends Japanese aesthetics with cutting-edge engineering. The building’s frame looks traditional, but it’s actually made from steel, glass and Douglas fir (rather than from the cedar historically used in Japan). Similarly, inside are paper shoji screens much like those one might find in Japanese teahouses dating back to the 15th century, but hidden tracks in the floor mean these can be slid out of sight to give guests panoramic views of Vancouver’s picturesque Coal Harbour.

Francis Kéré's Serpentine Pavilion

Francis Kéré

There was no school in the village of Gando, in Burkina Faso, where FrancisKéré grew up, and the youngster was regularly sent out into the arid bush, where  the  temperature  often  hit 45 degrees Celsius, to tend to his family’s livestock. Beneath a blazing sun, Kéré would cut branches from the hardy desert trees and build spindly, ephemeral wooden structures to shelter himself from the heat. 

Such early architectural experiments took Kéré far from his home town. First to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, where he had the rare privilege of attending school. From there he went to Berlin, to study architecture and set up his eponymous studio. Finally, they led him to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the 52-year-old architect is now a tenured professor at Harvard. Kéré juggles his teaching commitments with managing his practice in Germany, which is currently working on several major projects, including Burkina Faso’s new parliament building.

Kéré is also following the giants of contemporary architecture (among them Hadid, Koolhaas and Daniel Libeskind) by designing this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, a temporary structure erected every summer in the grounds of London’s Serpentine Gallery. 

Lush and leafy Kensington Gardens could not be more different from the desert outside Gando, but Kéré has used the pavilion to reflect on his childhood, creating a simple, circular structure that’s topped by an enormous wooden disk. This dramatic rooftop mimics the canopy of a tree that stands in the centre of Kéré’s village, while patterns on the pavilion’s walls echo the texture of ceremonial clothes he wore in his youth. 

The Serpentine Pavilion is open until October 8.  

Frank Lloyd Wright's Demolished Banff Park Pavilion

Frank Lloyd Wright 

Yes, this is the same Frank Lloyd Wright who designed the spiralling and curvaceous Guggenheim Museum in New York. Yes, this is the same Frank Lloyd Wright whose grandiose buildings were matched only by the size of his legendary ego. And yes, this is the same Frank Lloyd Wright who died in 1959.

But Wright is working from beyond the grave through a group of fans operating under the umbrella of the Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative, which is dedicated to constructing his unfinished projects and reconstructing his buildings that have been demolished.   

The first that the organisation is hoping to rebuild is the Banff Park Pavilion, a visitor centre on the banks of the Bow River in the Canadian resort town of Banff. First constructed in 1914, the wooden pavilion became a popular picnic spot and community centre, but a combination of frost and flooding meant it sustained structural damage and – despite local protests – was demolished in 1939.  

A long, single-storey building, the pavilion was the only example of Wright’s famous Prairie style of architecture in Canada. Prairie-style buildings (inspired by the flat, expansive landscapes of the American Midwest, where Wright founded his studio) are characterised by dramatic horizontal lines, and some are regarded as among the architect’s most successful structures. Although the Banff Park Pavilion doesn’t have the grandeur of some of Wright’s larger projects, it embodies his big ideas. If all
goes to plan, reconstruction will start in 2018.