Article - Issue 28, September 2006

The Barbican’s ‘Future City’ exhibition; the return of the Constructionarium; Japan resurrects a forgotten engineering talent

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Hairy houses

From 15 June to 17 September 2006 the Barbican Art Gallery hosts ‘Future City – Experiment and Utopia in Architecture 1956–2006’. This new exhibition showcases 70 radical projects from maverick architects who have stretched and broken the boundaries of conventional architecture over the last fifty years.

‘Future City’ is the most comprehensive look at experimental architecture ever to be held in the UK and features work from 1960’s heavyweights Archigram and SuperStudio, Kisho Kurokawa’s Floating City,Watanabe’s Jelly Fish house series and many others. Hairy houses, inflatable pods, inhabitable sculptures and extraordinary towers are among the ideas on display. The exhibition begs the question: is this a fantastical vision of architecture in the future or truly the shape of things to come?

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A forgotten talent

Virtually unknown in the UK,William Kinninmond Burton is hailed in Japan as the engineer who saved the nation from cholera in the 19th century with his urban sewerage system and built the country’s first skyscraper, Ryounkaku (pictured). In south-west Japan a sand filtration system implemented by Burton produces water of such purity that it is now bottled and sold with his picture on the label.

Burton was born in 1856 and grew up in Edinburgh. He first went to Japan in 1887, when up to 110,000 people were dying from diseases such as cholera every year. Over the next 12 years Burton revolutionised the delivery of fresh water and established sewage systems in most of Japan’s major cities. Ryounkaku was a 12 storey structure that towered above the rest of Tokyo’s low wooden buildings. It was octagonal in shape and boasted the first elevator to be installed in a Japanese building. This ‘cloudsurpassing pavilion’ become a landmark, visited by thousands of Japanese a day, but was pulled down after being damaged in the 1923 earthquake.

Burton died in 1899, aged 43, whilst preparing to return home to the UK with his Japanese wife and young daughter. A group of Japanese engineers pay annual tribute at his grave in Tokyo, and now his admirers are planning to remind Britain of this homegrown talent by erecting a monument to Burton in Edinburgh. The memorial will be in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Burton’s birth and will be at Old Craig House, his childhood home, now part of Napier University. In Tokyo this anniversary will be celebrated with a series of lectures and concerts.

Academy's Senior Fellow, HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburg at The Contructionarium site

Academy's Senior Fellow, HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh at The Contructionarium site

Return of the constructionarium

The Constructionarium, at the National Construction College in Norwich, was in the news again recently when the Academy’s Senior Fellow, HRH Prince Philip,The Duke of Edinburgh, visited the site in June. Prince Philip read about the 10 acre site in issue 24 of Ingenia and requested a visit. He spent an hour touring the site and spoke to students who were in the final stages of their projects.

The Constructionarium was created to allow Civil Engineering students from Imperial College London the hands-on experience of building their own versions of engineering landmarks, in as close to a real working environment as possible. Endeavours undertaken by students include lifting a seven metre high suspension bridge into place by crane and floating a mini oil platform on a man-made reservoir. Students plan the unit costs of raw materials, negotiate contracts with major contractors and manage a workforce.

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