Architecture: new look for the Danube Flower building – but what about the environment?

Posted: December 28, 2008 in creativity
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Communist architecture wasn’t exactly known for aesthetic beauty or bold futuristic design. The only exception I’m aware of so far (and there are probably a handful of  others) was the colossal Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, which remained a shell coz the regime ran out of money. Here though is another, much more modest example (in a round-about way): the Danube Flower building in Belgrade, Serbia. 

It was built in the early seventies, sponsored by the communist government of the time and championed by the then ubiquitous dictator president J.B.Tito, who also was the first diner at its elite restaurant on November 22nd, 1973. It was a famed hangout spot first for the regime’s rich and infamous until its decay in the nineties; its final closure coincided with the start of the civil war in the country

Architecturally it’s quite interesting, as described by the mob who was charged with revitalising it: “In many ways the building is particular but above all for its synthesis between architectural and structural reasoning. The main volume of the building, triangular in plan, is elevated some fifteen meters above the river and the ground level with the pedestrian esplanade. It is supported solely by the central core which contains two elevator shafts and double spiral staircase. Cantilevers are reaching out some twelve meters giving a levitating feel to the building. In addition one more structural move is crucial for seamless interaction between exterior and interior of the building. Concrete floor-slab and ceiling shell are not connected at the perimeter of the building, allowing for the continuity of the glass façade to the full extent. Uninterrupted glass strip, with the total length of 150 meters, is wrapping around the building to give constant presence of the Danube River in the interior, with sweeping views reaching far out, both upstream and downstream.”

Now it has become an up-market gym (funny how it seems to remain a spot that’s out of reach for the plebs). Called ‘Sky Wellness’ and therefore conjuring up feelings of light and spaciousness, the idea took hold that visitors should be getting an impression of entering a cloud on arrival. In response the floating designers “opted for reflective resin floor finishes throughout and a semi translucent Barrisol stretched ceiling; both aiming to expose sleek forms of Technogym training equipment in the open plan arrangement”. To break free from the original equilateral triangular grid design and get the cloud feel, the designers replaced the ceiling with approximately 390 backlit panels that, varying in shape and size, are suspended from the triangular steel construction. 

I could think of softer cloud material but: it doesn’t look bad. I bet though these guys never had any sleepless nights over the state of the environment: I doubt for example that the ceiling is backlit by skylights or, certainly at night, illuminated by LED bulbs. I also wonder about all the chemicals used in the production of the ceiling panels and the floor resin, leave alone the embodied energy factor or the health-conscious breathing in mega volumes of solvents and other nasties. I guess the old communist adages of carelessness and grandeur morphed seamlessly into the capitalist combo notion of design and material misuse, and therefore won’t make this building shortlisted any time soon for the next sustainable architecture/interior design award.




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