Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


The Story of O (2)



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In the flesh, Prince is a lot funnier than his reputation might suggest. He kick-starts his show at the O2 arena - the new incarnation of the Millennium Dome - with '1999' as if reminding everyone of the venues traumatic birth. His eighties-MTV-existentialism might have been an epitaph for the lacklustre state-sponsored millennium show: two thousand zero zero party over, Oops out of time.

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In the intervening years, the Dome has been cleared of its well-meaning, stilted, clunky sponsored edutainment and been redeveloped by the Anschutz Entertainment Group as the O2. As far as phase one goes, that means a 23,000 capacity indoor arena, a music club, an exhibition space and what's called an Entertainment Avenue featuring an 11 screen cinema, bars, restaurants, a temporary beach, various blow up or tented in objects. (But no super casino). There is more entertainment to come with phase two. All of this shelters like a hermit crab under the Domes shell which still provides the iconic image of the venue.

That's already a lot of stuff - a whole entertainment district - but inside, I'm finding it hard to see any architecture. The mass that one would traditionally expect to support this complex programme seems to have vanished. Think of the fly towers of the National Theatre expressed as blank blocks of concrete mass in the skyline, or of the Festival Hall, where the auditorium hangs over the concourse like an egg in a box. Or think of Wembley, where the great arch loops into the sky as statement of how the building is engineered. There are none of these kinds of architectural expressions here. Even the huge HOK designed area is almost imperceptible.

What you see instead is ephemera: a giant light sculpture, signage, screens, guitars on plinths, posters, palm trees, some stage-sett-ish scenography, and a lot of people. Even at 2am, there are people disembarking the Thames clipper heading into the O2.

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The O2 is UKs most complete example of an US style entertainment quarter. The explicit ambition is to pull entertainment activities that one might associate with metropolitan life and plug them into the core of the arena. It's scale and ambition is different to anything we've seen before and is matched by shock-and-awe opening programme: 21 nights of Prince, Barbara Streisand, The Rolling Stones, Bill Clinton, the Simpson's premier. Upcoming events include National Hockey League games (featuring AEG owned teams - an important detail, as I'll explain soon), Basketball, The Tennis Masters Cup, Ultimate Fighting Championship, the White Stripes, Festival of Scouting, Tutankhamun & The Golden Age of the Pharaohs, and - most excitingly - Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. Later it will see 2009 World Gymnastics Championships and the 2012 Olympics artistic gymnastics and basketball events. The event calendar crystalises the diversity of contemporary entertainments and demonstrates the complexity of the venues requirements.

You won't understand this kind of building from examining its architecture. In this new kind of entertainment centre, the business plan is the generator. So, to get how the O2 works, you need to know how AEG works.

AEG is a massive and broad company that also owns, amongst other things venues which include the Staples Centre and Home Depot Centre in LA. It is afiliated with Clarity Media Group (newspaper publishing), Walden Media and Bristol Bay Productions (film companies), Regal Entertainment Group (the largest motion picture exhibitor in the world), AEG Teleworks (broadcast center), Bounce (event marketing), Network LIVE (live digital entertainment provider). They also own various sport franchises in the US, Sweden, Germany and the UK. What you see here is a pattern of reciprocal companies who function is either content or distribution.

The intertwined nature of AEG is illuminated by its web of related business interests. AEG developed the $150 million Home Depot Center which they continue to operate. You can think of this as the 'distribution'. This is the home ground of the LA Galaxy who they also own and provide 'content' for the stadium. In an effort to improve the teams performance (and thus the value of the content) they signed media phenomenon and sometime footballer David Beckham. Beckhams media profile impacts on the recognition of the team, the venues ticket sales, the value of the stadiums naming rights, the demands of broadcasters, marketing opportunities and so on. The Home Depot is also home to the LA branch of the David Beckham Academy. The other site is here, in the shadow of the O2. This is business as feedback loop. It's an entire ecosystem, which comes with its own morality - best seen in the policy of AEG movies which tell uplifting stories appropriate for audiences of all ages, rated G, PG and PG-13 only.

Under these conditions, the idea of what architecture is transforms. The O2 isn't a building; it is an apparatus - a mechanism for putting on multiple shows, events and experiences simultaneously and in rapid succession.

Technically, it can switch from Prince's stage to the Rolling Stones then back within two days. It has on-site parking for 18 artics, reconfigurable for centre and end stage set-ups, for ice hockey (the stage base is a constantly maintained ice rink), basketball, and boxing. Attention to its performance is detailed: when the arena seats flip up, they have a padded underside making sound checks closer to the acoustic performance of a soft and fleshy audience. The arena is designed to generate ticket-value. It's arranged in tiers- just like those other new venues (also designed by HOK Sport): Wembley and Emirates stadiums - where you can purchase your way through levels of service and comfort.

The model was developed at AEGs Staples Centre in LA, where celebrity basketball fans sit courtside, and to enhance their experience are allowed to walk off court with the teams, and head into a 'chairman's room' where they are joined by the players post-shower. Proximity to the experience is what's on sale.

Buildings like this aren't objects but perpetual events. And everything becomes an event: Materials are sensations, lighting is an effect, circulation is theatre. Textures communicate ideas of quality and value. This surface mounted stuff is ephemeral, metaphorically (and often literally) glued together with low-tack adhesive. The visible realm of the building is often formed with graphics, lighting, screen based or projected media. It's as though the surfaces are always provisional and might flicker into other guises at any moment - what you might call programmable space.

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The O2 is experienced as a succession of sensations rather than a totality, like a montage which segways between non-sequiturs. You can ride up escalators whose vertical drama has been escalated with a wash of ultra violet light. You glide past one of the Domes trademark yellow skylon-esque support towers whose engineering has been dragged up to look like a fruit skewered cocktail stick in a Pina Colada. Opposite a fake beach, a sci-fi blow-up branded chill out space sits surrounded by palm trees. A huge picture of Tutankhamuns death mask advertises the forthcoming exhibition, next to what looks like a piece of the Chrysler building flattened by a car-crusher. The IndigO2 is housed inside a piece of faux Miami Beach art deco that leads into the 'architecture' of the Entertainment Avenue. The language is - inexplicably - drawn from 1930s Americana. The fake facades wrap around the arena to form a doughnut of 'street' scene with bars and restaurants on ground and first floors, like a three-storey Broadway bent into a ring road. It's the most solid part of the whole place but captures exactly the wrong aspects of cityscape. Instead of manufacturing a sense of authentic neighbourhood it recalls the useless dead weight of building. It's not just the seemingly arbitrary retro-references, it's also its real-ness - the bricks, the steel, the almost-authentic architectural detailing make it seem a step backwards. If you really want to be in a street you should never have left Soho, rather than a glowing hallucination of entertainment caught between hedonism and high security with your only route out of this isolated satellite a 30-minute boat ride along the tar-black Thames.

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At its best, the O2 uses the possibilities of sensation-addicted decoration with its own kind of truth to its lightweight materials.

The integration of sponsorship is integral to its workings. O2 secured the naming rights in a £6 million-per-year deal, and along with that came opportunities to create O2 branded spaces - a stretch rubber cave with bubble tanks behind the bar, and bar for O2 customers who can text their way past an electronic door policy. Beyond this are more subliminal associations: the bubble light-sculpture in the grand foyer, the new front door in the shape of a giant O which swallows visitors. Remember, here all architecture is information: materials, colours, and graphics are fertile ground for brand synergy. All this serves to remind that the O2 is an explicitly corporate entity, so you have your fun on their terms.

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Outside the O2, Peninsular Square provides the link to North Greenwich Tube. Designed by Barr Gazetas, it has another take on the idea of programmable space. Colour changing lights are embedded into all kinds of surfaces, so even the solid granite ground becomes an animated surface. Water features and screens are linked to electronic controls that alter the scale and atmosphere of the square. Provisionalism here is more a function of a phased masterplan. Green walls formed with bolted together steel framed structure holding sedum panels form edges against plots awaiting development. Peninsular Square claims to be the biggest new public space since Leicester Square. It suggests that public space is merging with media.

The O2 is not so much a landscape formed of distinct, articulated objects, more a haze of events, experienced in a motion blur of consumerism. It becomes a cascade of experience delivered with the just-in-time logistics originally developed by the military. Its dual architectural feats are to construct a hidden machine that manufactures endless entertainment opportunities and to make physical AEGs complex business model.

Increasingly, large scale developers are aiming to extend their involvement beyond building to become operators, delivering content in all its forms: as car-clubs, telephony, advertising, finance, food supply and more. This scenario recasts architectural ideas of form and function as content and mechanism. This is a challenge to architects. It simultaneously erodes their traditional role and presents a joined-up world where everything becomes an architectural opportunity.



Posted by anothersam at September 7, 2007 12:08 PM.

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Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

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