I’ve had my share of vitriol for Thom Mayne in the past over the hostility and anxiety that his buildings exude, so I was excited to see that he had taken my criticism to heart for this Parisian office block.
I think it’s beautiful, but let’s look at the structure: steel emerges from the ground as bundled roots or muscle fibers (definitely organic, but I wonder what the intended metaphor is?), then distributes itself, forming a structural skin that envelops the building in a kind of distended exoskeleton, providing an impressively redundant lateral system.
Unfortunately, that system appears to have many members that are weakened by kinks and inefficient placement or are just completely extraneous. Those negatives, combined with the modeling nightmare that is the tower’s shape, may mean that the designers choose to treat the triangulated exterior structure as cladding; mere dead load along the building perimeter.
Note that the interior structure of the tower quickly becomes linear, which also suggests that Phare Tower’s radical engineering is really only skin deep. Compare this building to Foster’s Gherkin, which relies almost entirely on the exterior skin for structural support, and the Mayne building becomes less impressive — the equivalent in honesty and utility of throwing a brick face on a 2×4 house.
But that’s par for the course in this kind of pomo architecture, where paying homage to the base structure is paid without regard to the actual physics of materials — symbolically only (which is to say, not at all). Thankfully (sadly? my inner masochist asks.), I’m not the one that has to deal with this system — which is either extremely complicated, or extremely dishonest — and can just enjoy the aesthetics. which are wonderful!
But somewhere out there is a young engineer building a Revit model and cursing the name of Thom Mayne long into the night.