Belfast's Titanic visitor centre prepares for launch, while Venice rebuilds its bridges and Ron Arad reinvents the wheel
The dramatic structure of the Titanic Belfast visitor centre, due to open in April 2012, is now complete. With its wave-like aluminium facades, by the Belfast and Dublin-based Todd Architects, the building is as unforgettable as the story of the Titanic itself. It broods at the core of one of the biggest regeneration sites in Europe, which is also named after the infamous ocean liner: the Titanic Quarter.
Isn't this a bit like naming a new city quarter the Lead Balloon district or Ring-o-Roses quay? The facade of the Titanic Belfast even looks like the prow of a ship crashing into an iceberg. Perhaps it's meant to, although you would have thought such fraught imagery might be unsuitable for a major urban development.
Still, as the Titanic Quarter is due to include high-tech industry and housing as well as colleges and offices, it might just outshine Stratford City in east London, a huge urban development also closely linked to a historic transport hub ? in this case the Stratford locomotive works of the old Great Eastern railway ? which has been hyped to death because of its symbiotic relationship with the London 2012 Olympics.
Will Stratford City sink or swim after next year's Games? The big hope is that with little else to distract them (aside from a dip in Zaha Hadid's Aquatics Centre pool), Londoners and visitors to the capital will be seduced by the lures of the biggest building here, the �1.45bn Westfield shopping mall that opens on 13 September this year. Europe's largest shopping centre will even sport three hotels, for those who feel that shopping here cannot be done in a day.
Such vast schemes would be unthinkable in Venice. And yet plans to replace the 1930s timber-and-iron Ponte dell'Accademia across the Grand canal have been met with anger this week. The city argues that, as the bridge is a black hole of maintenance costs, it should be quickly replaced. A provisional design for a stone, steel and glass bridge by Bologna architects Schiavani, however, looks cumbersome, while Lidia Fersuoch of the conservation group Italia Nostra is quoted as saying: "The [existing] bridge now has its own dignity and should be restored. Venice risks losing a piece of its identity."
Whatever the quality of the new Accademia design and however rightful the concern for its conservation, there's the worry that any new bridge in Venice might share the same fate as Santiago Calatrava's stone-and-glass-decked Ponte della Costituzione, which opened in 2008. Not only was the elegant new bridge expensive, but tourists have a habit of tripping up as they mount its irregular steps. Although this has been used as a stick with which to beat the bridge's contemporary design, it might well be that holidaymakers are so busy looking at the view that they miss their step, as they do on the Accademia bridge, too.
The Titanic's tragic fate ? or something like it ? is about to befall the 26-storey Harmon Building in Las Vegas. While buildings have risen and fallen with the treacherous tides of the local property market, the Harmon Building is no ordinary slice of the developer's pie. The blue, oval-shaped tower was designed by Foster and Partners as the centrepiece of the $9bn CityCenter leisure development for MGM Resorts International. Due to open in December 2009, and at 49-storeys high, the building has never been completed and may well now be demolished. At the centre of a hornet's nest of lawsuits, the Harmon Building shows how gambling on property can sink even the best-laid architectural plans.
And finally, Ron Arad has decided to reinvent the wheel. A designer famous for his unexpected ways with furniture, Arad has shaped one of a range of customised "WOW bikes" for the W London as part of the hotel's fundraising campaign for the Elton John Aids Foundation, announced this week. Arad's bike boasts strange flower-like steel wheels. "I wanted to explore the idea of a bike with no wheels," Arad explained enigmatically in a press statement from the hotel, "with just the suspension ? like a smile without the cat." Guests staying at W London can ride this and other WOW bikes by, among others, shoe designer Patrick Cox, Paloma Faith and Alice Temperley ? until 29 October 2011 when they will be auctioned off for charity. Bon voyage, indeed.