Herzog and de Meuron Stirling Prize
Now on this unlikely site rises the newest building for Europe's leading institution for contemporary dance training. It is named after Rudolf Laban, the Hungarian choreographer and teacher who was a pioneer in Central European modern dance. Open since February 2003, the building has also become a focal point for the local community with various programs for both children and adults.
You may be forgiven for thinking that a plastic building would look cheap and flimsy, but in the hands of Herzog and de Meuron the material achieves a certain elegance. Clad in a pastel-colored polycarbonate shell punctured by large clear windows, the building shimmers in shades of lime, turquoise, and purple. Artist Michael Craig-Martin worked with Herzog and de Meuron on the design.
Laban is a two-story concrete-frame building, primarily rectangular but with a curved main facade. The curvature is a deliberate reference to the nearby 18th century church of St. Paul by Thomas Archer. The design program called for links between the church, Deptford Creek, and the new landscaped gardens. The curve is seen as an embracing gesture.
The use of color gives the building its special magic. Due to technological advances, polycarbonate has risen from its humble beginnings as greenhouse cladding to become an important construction material. It is now more durable and no longer turns yellow or opaque after a few years.
At Laban, vertical tongue-and-groove strips 20 inches (500 millimeters) wide and up to 46 feet (14 meters) long run the full height of the building. The polycarbonate is by Rodeca of Germany and is a 1.6-inch- (40 millimeter-) thick, 4-layer system.
Rob Leslie-Carter, project manager for engineering firm Arup, explains that for Laban they developed a special technique to allow only the innermost layer to be colored, and for nonstandard colors to be used.
Thirty inches (800 millimeters) from the polycarbonate assembly runs a parallel layer of white laminated double glazing. The resulting cavity allows air movement and access, and the glass diffuses the light coming into the building.
This polycarbonate has many properties that make it ideal as a cladding material. It is transparent, with light transmission properties similar to those of glass, but it is virtually unbreakable. It is also nonflammable and serves as a protective shield against sun, glare, and heat radiation, contributing to energy conservation.
Describing the facade the architects say: "The shadow images of the dancers, which will fall onto the matte surfaces of the interior walls and facades, have a magical effect and are playing an active part of the Laban's architectural identity."
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