Mies van der Rohe Award 2009

Where is it?

La Triennale di Milano, Design Museum. Viale Alemagna 6, 20121 Milano.

What is it?

An exhibition of around 30 buildings shortlisted for the 2009 Mies van der Rohe Award, including 5 finalists and 1 winner. Each project comprises an A1 board with text, plans and photos, and a physical model.

What do we think?

Whilst some of the exhibited projects are dull, most display a high level of investment in design, and a few stand out that really grab our attention. The winner, the Oslo Opera House by Snohetta, is an excellent building that we visited in August this year. It is a pleasure to look at, be in and walk on. It also does very good things for a section of the Oslo waterfront currently at the front end of a major regeneration. One of the finalists, and probably our favourite, the Luigi Bocconi University by Grafton Architects, is another worthy contender that we have visited a number of times this year. It is a subtle but powerful addition to the Milan streetscape and, as we know from experience, performs in exactly the way intended by the architects – the public is drawn into the street level of the complex, with lecturing spaces opening up below and office spaces hovering above.

One of the questions we asked ourselves as we walked around the exhibition was: “Would we put energy into visiting this building?” A few other projects who earn a “Yes” to this question are: the simming pool complex in Le Havre, France, by Jean Nouvel, that seems to contain the same exciting presence of water as the Vals baths by Peter Zumthor; the Selexyz bookstore in Maastricht, the Netherlands, by Merkx + Girod; and the beautiful though probably outrageously expensive Bell-Lloc winery in Girona, Spain by RCR Arquitectes.

What did we learn?

It is impressive to recognise that such a large number of high-quality projects have been built in only the last few years in a geographical area as small as Europe. Countries like Spain, France and the Netherlands are particularly well-represented in the exhibition. It is clear that the density of good architects and clients interested in good architecture is high in this part of the world.

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