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Icon 163 – Downward Curve

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Icon is a monthly magazine focusing on the best, most inspiring buildings, interiors, furnishings and fittings. It also celebrates the design process and the talented designers behind the most innovative work. It can be enjoyed equally by architecture and design professionals, and the design-literate public.


In Icon 163, Downward Curve, we visit AL_A’s beguiling Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon, and consider whether the era of gratuitous shapemaking architecture is finally over.

Icon 163: It is doubtful, with the exception of Donald Trump, that many people will look back on 2016 with much fondness. The rest of us watched as, one after the other, our favourite musicians, actors and writers merged with the infinite. Architecture did not escape unscathed, losing its most audacious talent in Zaha Hadid. It feels like the end of something. Yes, I know the death of gratuitous shapemaking architecture has long been proclaimed, but despite this, the conveyor belt of iconic shapes continued to roll. Our cover story this month suggests this era is finally drawing to a close. The evidence comes in the beguiling, but distinctly low-key, form of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon, or more specifically its juxtaposition alongside the Triennale installation The Form of Form. Curated by Diogo Seixas Lopes, The Form of Form was a curious agglomeration of volumes – a timely reminder that a new generation is viewing architecture and cities in a very different way. It is certainly too early to predict how the landscape will change, but change it will.

Closer to home and the creative industry, still in mourning over Brexit, has something to cheer about with the opening of the new Design Museum. Now housed in the former Commonwealth Institute, this is a massive step up in scale for an institution that has spent the past 17 years in a diminutive Bauhausian banana warehouse in Shad Thames. The intention is to do for design what the Tate Modern did for modern art. An admirable goal, but the project is not without its critics. First there is the hollowing out of one the country’s most interesting examples of post-war modernism. Second, and more contentious, is the OMA-design luxury housing that sits in front of the building.

Necessary to make the numbers work, but in the context of London’s well-documented housing crisis, disappointing. Still, shifting an established institution across the city and rehabilitating a crumbling landmark is an impressive achievement. And despite the aforementioned reservations, the real challenge is how to attract sufficient visitor numbers to an unloved part of London to make the thing stack up? Should the Design Museum pull this off, all other concerns will melt away.

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