In a year filled with architectural oddities, here are 2014's standout stories that struck us as the most unusual, fascinating, and downright peculiar.
1. Two-Story Wax House Melts in London
As part of the annual MERGE festival in London, British artist Alex Chinnek designed a life-size, two-story house made out of 8,000 wax red bricks. Built at the end of September in the middle of the city, “A Pound of Flesh for 50p” was systematically built out of terracotta sand cast in paraffin wax to melt throughout the duration of a month. By the end of this time, all that would remain would be the roof and base of the structure, wading in a pool of melted wax.
2. Prince Charles Provides His Principles for Architecture
Prince Charles, "the bane of the architectural profession" according to critic Douglas Murphy, made waves in the industry when he published his 10 principles for urban design in the Architectural Review earlier this month, an event that landed on critic Aaron Betsky's 2014 list of 10 lamentable moments in architecture. The prince has been known to sound off about various building designs—he famously called the design of the extension on the National Gallery in London a "monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend." And Prince Charles's comments like this have actually had major impacts on the industry. After those harsh words—given at the celebration of the 150th anniversary gala of the Royal Institute of British architects—the plans were dropped. His quote also spawned the Carbuncle Awards, given by architecture magazine Urban Realm to ugly buildings in Scotland. He also influenced the cancellation of a Mies van der Rohe building in London, which was replaced by the postmodern No 1 Poultry building by Stirling/Wilford.
3. Chinese President Speaks Out Against "Weird Architecture"
In October, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for an end to the country’s "weird architecture"—the unusual buildings created in the rushed wave of the country's construction boom of the past decade. China does have its share of unusual buildings—the CCTV headquarters, the Lotus Building, and the Guangzhou Circle to name a few. But maybe the real problem is that China’s "weird architecture" just peaked during Jinping’s era, says Cao Li in a New York Times op-ed. This event also appears in Betsky's list of the worst architecture moments of the year.
Critic Oliver Wainwright compiled his own list of the country's strangest buildings.
4. Washington, D.C.'s National Mall Face Installation
There are some big heads in Washington, D.C. But the biggest head in 2014 was undoubtedly the “facescape” that took over a 10-by-6-acre plot on the National Mall this fall. The art installation, which involved 2,000 tons of sand and 800 tons of soil, could be best viewed at the top of the Washington Monument. Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada designed and created the massive landscape portrait by using GPS to map the ground with 15,000 pegs to indicate the facial features and linking the pegs with string to form an outline to place the sand and soil.
5. Hefei Wanda Culture and Tourism Exhibition Center Breaks Guinness World Record
Guinness World Records identified the Hefei Wanda Culture and Tourism Exhibition Center in Hefei City, east China's Anhui province, as the world's largest drum-shaped building in October. The two-story structure, nicknamed "China Drum," had been open for a year. Perhaps this is another building that Jinping had in mind when he spoke out against China's strange architecture.
Check out our original post on this story.
6. North Korean Architects Envision Future of Pyongyang
In an unusual commission surfacing from the world's most secretive country, North Korean architects dreamed up the future in response to a topic brief on what tourism might look like in Pyongyang, if given no restrictions. The designs, which harken back to Jetsons-era architecture, were featured in an exhibition called "Utopian Tours" at the Venice Architecture Biennale. As Oliver Wainwright wrote, the "paintings provide a fascinating window on what contemporary architectural culture looks like in a place cut off from the world since 1948, a land immune from the churning feedback loop of design blogs and glossy magazines. ... The general aesthetic is as if Bjarke Ingels had traveled back in time and worked as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, sci-fi cartoons inflected with a homely crafts sensibility."