With the global recession running as a backdrop to many of the world’s great architectural projects at the moment, investors have faltered and many projects have fallen by the wayside. However, most of us assume that projects built by some of the most famous and influential architects of today will weather the storm – particularly if they’re near to completion or have already been opened to the public.
Niemeyer Centre, Asturias, Spain – photos courtesy of penchytu and SurfAst respectively
If Spain’s recent example is anything to go by, probably not. The Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Centre in Asturias, designed by internationally renowned 103-year-old Oscar Niemeyer, opened to great acclaim earlier this spring. The Niemeyer Centre was based around three tenets – education, culture and peace – and was to be ‘an open square for the humankind’. The gentle white curves of the open central area and the exhibition dome are juxtaposed against the more angular thrust of the viewing tower and the bright red and yellow of the auditorium, transforming the local port area and creating a vibrant landmark for the town. The Centre has even had its fair share of celebrity performers: amongst others, Woody Allen has played jazz here, and a run of Richard III that was directed by Sam Mendes and starred Kevin Spacey was a recent sell out. However, just six months after its opening, the Niemeyer Centre is being shut again due to financial reasons, and looks set to remain closed for at least the next two months.
Fontainebleau Resort, Las Vegas – photos by VegasInc and Jay Bonvouloir
Similarly, the Fontainebleau Resort in Las Vegas has hit similar problems, albeit at an earlier stage. Set to be a luxurious hotel and casino, it would have featured 27 restaurants and lounges (including two Michelin starred restaurants), a performing arts theatre, indoor and outdoor conference space and an ‘adult playground’ with 5 pools, 3 restaurants, 3 spas, cabanas, a nightclub and lounge and an open-air casino. Construction began in 2007, and the project had reached 70% completion before financial difficulties led to the project being brought to a halt in 2009. Due to the global recession, the Bank of America refused to continue to finance the project, and the combination of lack of funding and corporate infighting led to the partially completed resort being sold on to a new owner, who subsequently auctioned the resort’s intended furnishings and fittings. The building now would need an estimated $1.5 billion to reach full completion – and as a result has been left to gather dust on the Vegas Strip for the foreseeable future.
Interestingly, the phenomenon of world-class architecture – and skyscrapers in particular – falling foul of financial recessions has led to the economic theory known as the Skyscraper Index. Developed in 1999 by Andrew Lawrence, the idea behind this theory is that business cycles and skyscraper development timelines clash in such a way that most skyscraper construction projects fall either shortly before or during a recession. In this way, the more skyscrapers that are planned, the more likely it is that a recession will occur, as investment in such projects usually peaks as growth is exhausted.
Left: Burj Khalifa, Dubai – Nelson Ebelt
Centre: Render of 60 – 70 St Mary Axe, London
Right: The Shard, London – curiouslypersistent
Still, not all is lost. The Skycraper Index suggests that as the economy recovers, projects that have been put on hold will be completed. Some projects have even had a lucky escape, as evidenced by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The exterior of the tallest building in the world was completed two months before the Dubai government came close to defaulting on its loans in 2009. Still, the building had its grand opening in January 2010 following bailouts from Dubai’s neighbour, Abu Dhabi, with the tower being renamed from Burj Dubai to Burj Khalifa in honour of the UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan due to his support. There are also exciting new developments on our own doorstep, with projects such as 60 – 70 St Mary Axe currently at planning stage and The Shard on the final stretch of cladding for its enormous spire. Even in times of recession, some exception architecture can still break through.