iass day one


So that’s about the most incredible piece of 100-year old board formed concrete I’m ever likely to see…

Wroclaw’s Jarhhunderthalle was designed by Hans Poelzig and city architect Max Berg to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the region’s liberation from Napoleon.  Exactly 100 years later, the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures celebrated the first night of its conference here.  It’s an awesome, awesome piece of work in the literal sense–imagine a couple hundred structural engineers walking into a space and stopping dead in their tracks.  And it’s not just the technical achievement, especially given the primitive state of concrete engineering and construction at the time.  It’s the unbelievable scale of the thing–the largest dome in the world in 1913, and the first one to span farther than St. Peter’s or the Pantheon.

IMG_6794There’s another aspect to it for those of us who were Cold War kids.  I remember very well seeing this and Erich Mendelsohn’s Einstein Tower in Potsdam in my first architectural history class.  They’re both examples of German Expressionism (albeit two very different takes on the theme), and both of them were total mysteries, being behind the iron curtain and completely out of reach for westerners.  Both were assumed to be in ruins, but having now seen them both I can attest that they survived in fine form–you can see that the Jahrhunderthalle was being set up for a rock concert.  It’s an amazing thing to see something in person that was once considered unseeable.

IMG_6787Wroclaw has been a great host city–eminently walkable despite the rain (0% chance today, but guess what…)  The papers today that I saw were all solid, including one by the poor structural engineer working on Libeskind’s double sphere office tower in Milan (don’t ask…)  His take on it was, basically, sometimes the engineer just has to say sure, we’ll make it work.  Frei Otto was supposed to attend to receive the Torroja medal, but is too ill to travel–nevertheless there were enough superstars in the structural firmament to keep things interesting.

Tomorrow’s all-day session on Nervi awaits.  I’m going to change my slides around one last time before nodding off…

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