Beauty Bites Back with Peter Cook's Crab

Beauty Bites Back with Peter Cook's Crab

Peter Cook's winning scheme for the Taiwan Tower Conceptual Design competition. (Courtesy Crab)
Peter Cook's scheme for the Taiwan Tower Conceptual Design competition. (Courtesy Crab)

Peter Cook–the real one from England, not the Hampton socialite architect impersonator–was in town last week and showed us some of the work from his firm Crab. Sir Peter was here to appear on a panel at Pratt Institute for the new book by Yael Reisner with Fleur Watson, Architecture and Beauty: Conversations with Architects About a Troubled Relationship. Cook and fellow beauticians including Will Alsop, Gaetano Pesce, Lebbeus Woods, KOL/MAC, and Hernan Diaz Alonso all took the subject head-on, and proved they think about aesthetics and form up front in the design process, though they seldom will admit to it. They did nothing to dispel Reisner’s thesis that even though, since the advent of modernism, only principles of rationalism are allowed to be used in explaining the building arts, architecture is still primarily a formal practice in the spirit of Einstein, who said that for him “visual imagery occurred first and words followed.”

The tower's form is based on the growth of algae.

The day after the symposium, I drove Cook to New Haven to see the two Stirling exhibitions currently on view at the Yale Center for British Art and the School of Architecture, and his review will appear in an upcoming issue of The Architect’s Newspaper. On the way up to New Haven, we talked about the work on his new university building in Vienna, and the unhappy state of his projects in Madrid (stopped during construction) and a theater in Verbania, Italy (stalled for political reasons), but he was pleased about his second-place scheme for the Taiwan Tower Conceptual Design international competition and its $65,000 prize. The tower, which is based on “the growing of algae in layers of droplets,” proves that after many years of producing legendary drawings and ideas with Archigram, and serving as chair of the Bartlett School in London, Cook’s Kunsthaus Graz (2000–2003) was no fluke, and that he can design powerful contemporary structures.