Foresight Analysis: New Takes On Transparency

Transparency in Architecture

Jewel Changi Airport

First seen in a report by Esther Gray for MIX Magazine in issue 43, here we chart the current interest in architecture that celebrates transparency and fluid geometry.

In a world where constant change is a given, the permanence and structure of Vitruvian architectural ideals seems somehow out of kilter. Certainly this is true for the new headquarters of Google, Mountain View Campus in California, designed by Heatherwick Studio and BIG. “Instead of constructing immoveable concrete buildings, we’ll create lightweight block-like structures which can be moved around easily as we invest in new product areas,” explains David Radcliffe at Google. Large translucent canopies will cover each site, controlling the climate inside while letting in light and air. With trees, landscaping, cafes, and bike paths weaving through these structures, the aim is to blur the distinction between the buildings and nature.




Heatherwick has form when it comes to embracing nature and rejecting straight lines. His Bombay Sapphire Distillery reimagines glasshouses as an exercise in sinuous, fluid geometry. These domes also bear testament to recent advances in glass technology. The glass houses maintain a warm climate for the building’s exotic plants, used in the gin’s distillation process, reflected in the surrounding water of the River Test.


On a far greater scale, Safdie Architects’ Terminal 1, Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore, due for completion at the end of 2018, will feature a distinctive dome-shaped facade made of glass and steel. Yet despite its purpose as an operational, retail and hotel hub, the project has the feel of a giant exotic glasshouse, full of vegetation and an extraordinary central waterfall falling from the glass roof. The project is the perfect antithesis to classic airport design, so often devoid of character and nature.


There’s a clear synergy between this project and architectural practice NBBJ’s design for the world’s biggest online retailer, Amazon. The new corporate office space in Seattle will feature three connected domes that look like soap bubbles, set in a landscaped garden and designed to diametrically oppose traditional office designs, instead surrounding workers with greenery.
Finally, structures that embrace impermanence also have their part to play. A Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Selgascano, featured an amorphous double skinned polygonal structure made up of panels of translucent multi coloured fluorine based polymer woven and wrapped around the frame. “We sought a way to allow the public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials,” explain the architects.


Similarly, part bubble, part sensory installation, The Horticultural Spa, was created by Loop.pH studio and commissioned for London’s Nine Elms district. The inflatable plastic dome’s shadowy quality and a centre pumped full of scented vapour gave a unique take, moving effortlessly from clear to opaque.