May 30, 2016
by juan
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High tech architecture: a new aesthetic that strives for improving the world using technology as an ornament, but taking advantage of its functionality


The architectural movement known as high tech is known for incorporating technology into the architectural space, not only as a building element, but considering its aesthetic role, even though it must be pointed out that the technical elements are used not only for aesthetic purposes, but also for functional reasons.

But high-tech architecture, does not only aim at using technology with an aesthetic role, but also exhibits it and this ostentation of technology can be seen as an act of provocation, even of rebellion. In fact, is this ostentation one of the elements that differentiate this stream from the modern movement that precedes it: the “living machine” of Le Corbusier sought efficient design but without displaying the technological components. The high tech movement reinterprets the modern style, providing it with a strong technological image that makes it survive to the present times.

High tech architecture also feeds from the metabolism, a movement of the 60`s where Japanese architects like Kenzo Tange, Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa and the Archigram group, proposed buildings with futuristic aspects, almost with a science fiction look, showcasing technology deliberately.

High tech takes its name from the book: “The Industrial Style and Source Book for The Home”, published in 1978 by Joan Kron and Suzanne Slesin, where they put in evidence the attitude of rebellion of the high tech architecture and raise a discussion about its aesthetics.

High-tech architecture reflects the enthusiasm of 70´s for the space race, and in general, for the scientific and technological innovations of the time. Philosophically speaking it happens to be positive and naive at the same time: confidence in this technological progress generates in the architects of this movement the idea that through the use of technology it is possible to improve the human habitat and thus human life on the planet.

In the 80´s high tech architecture evolves in parallel to the so-called postmodern architecture to the point that it becomes difficult to differentiate one trend from the other, but at the 90´s high tech architecture, reemerges with its own identity, with the founding in 1993 of the READ Group, aiming at incorporating the use of renewable energy in architecture. With this evolution, the high tech movement ends up by adopting new names such as eco-tech movement and sustainable architecture.

High tech architects often make use of prefabricated components. Preferred materials are the walls of glass and steel structures. In what has to do with interiors, all aesthetics has to do with industry appearance.

You can read about it in less than 5 minutes …

Piano & Rogers and a “factory” for the arts: the Centre GEORGES POMPIDOU

One of the first examples of high tech architecture is the Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris, of the Italian architects Renzo Piano (1937) and Richard Rogers (1933). The curious thing about these two architects, is that they associate themselves in 1971 for the contest of the Beaubourg Centre (first name of the Georges Pompidou Center), and once launched, they continue their careers separately. They have as common ground the fact that neither of them had previous great professional experience, but both emerged from this work achieving worldwide recognition, and running other works of great importance.

The Pompidou Center is designed as an “evolutive diagram” from the point of view of the use of space, and has a number of features that makes it revolutionary for the time. Everything that was hidden before, now is exposed, displayed on purpose: the supporting structure, the auxiliary elements such as ducts of ventilation and air conditioning and the great mechanical escalator. At the same time, and as the entire structure is on the outside, each of its floors display as a “loft”, which gives the building enough flexibility to be easily transformed for different exhibitions and thus able to mutate over time according to the requirements of each exhibition. This is because architects have aimed at generating a “living place”, and thus that image of living organism, is not only accomplished by equipping the building with the ability to mutate, but has wisely been emphasized with the use of the color red in everything that has to do with the movement of people, (escalators, elevators), alluding to the blood that circulates through an organism.

In addition to the use of red color to point out human circulation, the architects made a strong use other colors, in a way that can be seen as ostentatious and functional at the same time: blue for air circulation, yellow for the movement of electricity, and green for water circulation.

The entire structure of the building is open, in order to integrate the outside and the inside, stressing its openness to the city: a large square occupies half of the architectural space. The materials employed are the obvious for high tech architects: 15,000 tons of steel and 11.000 m² of glass were used in the construction of this building.

ARCHITECTS: Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers


SURFACE: the building has 10 floors of 7 500 m2 each which include 12 210 m2 for the collection of the National Museum of modern art, spaces for temporary exhibitions, cinemas, theatre, library, etc.

LOCATION: Place Georges Pompidou. Paris, France.

YEAR: 1974-1977.

Ieoh Ming Pei and Feng Shui in the Tower of the Bank of China in Hong Kong

Ieoh Ming Pei (1917) –often called the “master of modern architecture”- is a Chinese architect whose personal style flourishes in the 60´s, and since then, never ceases to produce buildings around the world. Always looking to plant his Chinese seed in modern architecture, Pei projects can be identified by both its purity of lines and its functional effectiveness.

His most famous design for Bank of China – the tallest building in Asia until 1992 – is one of the most recognizable buildings in Hong Kong. Its triangular structure of glass and aluminum evokes a stem of bamboo that shows new outbreaks, which indicate vitality in growth. Bamboo is a Chinese symbol of prosperity and the sustenance of life: that’s why it can be said that this building integrates traditional Chinese architecture to modern concepts.

The tower is raised on an atrium of white granite with 17 levels. The top floor is 288 meters of height, the last terrace to 305 meters and from there, its two masts reach 367, 4 meters in height. Reinforced concrete is the main element employed in the vertical structural elements, while the horizontal structures are made from steel.

In this building, Pei seeks both aesthetic impact, and efficiency.   The whole structure is supported by five steel columns raised to different heights and located, one in the center and the other four at the corners. The tridimensional structures created from these columns are efficient in achieving a lighter weight than traditional ones, thus saving energy and resources.

The sloping terraces allow a more natural lighting and therefore the tower requires less energy for the artificial lighting. The reflective glass of silver used, not only creates a striking aesthetic effect when reflecting light, but it reduces the energy consumption for lighting and heating purposes.

Hong Kong is known as the most devotee Feng Shui´ city of the world and, from the point of view of Feng Shui, the Tower of the Bank of China is the “most aggressive building in the world”, since the edges of the triangles face directly the front of their competitors´ buildings which from the point of view of Feng Shui is interpreted as a “direct attack” to the surrounding buildings.   The funny thing from the Western perspective, is the defensive retort that this generates in neighboring buildings: for example the architect Norman Foster, on the roof of his building, the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank which is located just in front of this tower, had to place two cannons pointing it.

Arquitecto: I.M Pei

Estudio de Arquitectura Thomas Boada I. M Pei & Partners – Sherman Kung & Associates Architects Ltd.

Ingeniería estructural: Leslie E. Robertson Associates RLLP.

Constructor: HKC (Holdings) Limited

Promotor: Banco de China

Altura: 367,4 MT

Pisos: 72 mas 4 pisos de sótanos

Superficie construida 135.000 m2

Emplazamiento: nº1 de Garden Road, en el distrito financiero Occidental de Hong Kong, República Popular China

AÑO: 1985-1989


BRUCE GRAHAM and the first building designed entirely by computer: the ARTS HOTEL BARCELONA

Another exponent of the high tech architecture is the Colombian architect turned American Bruce Graham (1925-2010) who was deeply involved in many aspects of the modern development of the city of Chicago, designing also important buildings all over the world, such as the Arts Hotel of Barcelona.

He had an important career as an architect and as a teacher, and was the director of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the largest architecture studio in the United States. His commitment to the study of the theory of architecture led to the creation of the SOM Foundation.

Bruce Graham was a great art collector and has frequently invited other artists to create works of art in tune with his architectural works. A sample of this is the sculpture that emulates a fish, located at the entrance of the Arts Hotel of Barcelona, requested to his friend the famous architect Frank Gehry.

The Arts Hotel, located at the entrance of the Olympic port of Barcelona, is one of the focal points of the city, and home to a luxurious five-star hotel from the Ritz-Carlton chain. This is one of the first buildings designed entirely by computer.

A white iron exoskeleton, envelops the greenish glass tower, and gives the building its high tech aesthetic. But this exoskeleton does not only function as an ostentation of technology: its crosses at the corners act against horizontal motions, as the caused by the wind.

ARCHITECT: Bruce Graham

ARCHITCTURE STUDIO: Skidmore Owings Merrill Architects

HEIGHT: 154 meters.

LOCATION: Barcelona, Spain

DATE: 1991-1992

Bruce J. Graham of SOM Chicago from Edwin A. Lee, A.I.A, Architect on Vimeo.

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