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HIGH-TECH | Technology and progress at architecture’s service

High-tech architecture, also known as Late Modernism or Structural Expressionism, incorporates elements of high-tech industry and technology into building design. As an architectural style, it emerged in the 1970s …but it is possible to find some forerunners.

Among the high-tech buildings, there are four main typologies: the knit (Norman Foster’s Swindons Renault Distribution Centre), the mono-directional tunnel (Norman Foster’s Sainsbury Center, Renzo Piano’s Osaka Airport), the geodetic dome (theorised by Buckminster Fuller) and the tall building (Norman Foster’s Swiss Re in London).

One of the most effective examples is the Pompidou Centre (Paris, 1971-1977), designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. In this project the ventilation system hangs from the façade: all its ducts and pipes are prominently shown in elevation. The “pipe concept” is recalled also in the access to the building as visitors enter trough a large tube.

Richard Rogers, thanks to his modernist and functionalist designs, is one of the most representative high-tech architects . Among his projects: the Millennium Dome in London, the Senedd in Cardiff, the European Court of Human Rights Building in Strasbourg and the Lloyd’s of London.

High-tech architecture also spread the message of a renewed belief in the power of technology to improve the world and to achieve a new industrial aesthetic. This aspect is particularly evident in Kenzo Tange’s buildings. Below, are some examples that illustrate his architecture and his design concepts:  Fuji Television Building, Hiroshima Peace Center, IHD Center, Pavilion for Osaka Expo 1970, Tokyo’s St Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo Metropolitan Governemnt Building, Yamanashi Culture Hall and Yoyogi National Gymnasium.

Other significant examples of high-tech architecture include Jean Nouvel’s Torre Agbar in Barcelona, I.M. Pei’s Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and Norman Foster’s Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank HQ.

But where are the forerunners we were talking about?

Characteristics of high-tech architecture have varied somewhat, yet all have accentuated technical elements. They include the prominent display of the building’s technical and functional components and the use of pre-fabricated elements. Glass walls and steel frames were also immensely popular. This leitmotif have certainly be  influenced by Modernism, Mies Van Der Rohe highrise buildings in primis.

Let’s move to Italy.

Another high tech forerunner is “La Rinascente” headquarter in Rome, designed by the Italian architect Franco Albini in 1957-61. “La Rinascente” literally means “the rebirth”: the design maintains the basic massing of the 1887 building and transmutes the previous geometry into steel. The façade recalls to Renaissance and to surrounding buildings, but all traditional manners are reinterpreted by contemporary technology. Structure is not hidden but it’s taken outside both for ideological and functional reasons: not only to show the contemporary technologic progress but also to have an interior free plan.

If we continue our research about high tech origins’ we can’t pass over Antonio Sant’Elia, even if none among his project has been realised: drawings and designs are all that remain from his great experimental work.  Antonio Sant’Elia was one of the best exponent (and the only architect) of The Futuristic Mouvement, an Italian school of thought that developed in the 20s during Fascism. His concept was to apply every possible new technology in architecture, especially in the mobility field. Among his most famous designs there are some multifunctional centers that hosted both airport and train station inside one unique structure, at different levels. Nowadays it doesn’t seem so strange, but at that time the projects was really groundbreaking…too much to be built for real.


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