Rafael Viñoly

Rafael Viñoly. Image courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects

Rafael Viñoly. Image courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects

Bright designs. Rafael Viñoly’s best works merges architecture and engineering.Viñoly’scareer started according to the American dream: born in Uruguay, he opened his architecture office in New York in 1983. Today he is a household name and ranks among the greatest living architects. Recently however, his star status has been a little burnt by glass exteriors unintentionally setting the surroundings on fire!

While architects usually appreciate all-glass facades and thus don’t mind their buildings to be glistening in the sun, in the case of architect Rafael Viñoly, two of his buildings are unintentionally taking this glare a step too far: The buildings, one in Las Vegas and one in London, experienced massive reflectivity due to their concave glass exteriors acting as mirrors for the bright sun. Light reflected off the “Vdara’s” building in Las Vegas melted nearby plastic cups and shopping bags while in London, the new 20 Fenchurch Street building reflects sunlight so much that it has melted parts of a car and scorched the carpet of a nearby barber shop.

The floor plans of this office tower grow wider on higher floors giving the building its distinctive, unusual shape, nicknamed ‘the walkie-talkie’. This anecdotal information highlights a key aspect of Viñoly’s architectural design: Convex and concave shapes can be found throughout his work. It is most notable in one of Viñoly’s best designs: The Tokyo International Forum in Japan, which was his first big hit and greatest success so far.

Viñoly’s career started according to the America dream: Rafael Viñoly was born in Uruguay, but opened his architecture office in New York in 1983. Six years later he won the competition to design the Tokyo International Forum: A giant conference and convention center in the heart of the Japanese capital with an elegantly curved glass hall as its centerpiece.

Recently, Viñoly’s office has expanded, opening branches in both London and Abu Dhabi. One of the keys to his success may be that Viñoly views architecture as a “major social intervention”, whose responsibility it is “to elevate the public realm”. While this may sound like empty architecture lingo, in Viñoly’s case it is actually true. The Tokyo Forum for example, succeeds in creating a beautiful public space that is popular and magnetic – unlike most other convention centers around the world. The attractiveness of the design stems from its amazing structure: Covered with giant fish-belly trusses made of steel and painted pure white, the forum is a prime example of what Viñoly calls “the synthesis of engineering with architectural form” making “architecture the most unique form of artistic endeavor”.

Each of his projects receive a unique interpretation rather than a standard reply in established architectural vocabulary. While his firm has mainly designed academic, research and cultural buildings along the East Coast of the United States, such as the  Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Brooklyn Children’s MuseumCarl Icahn Laboratory and Nasher Museum of Art.

But their work also includes the striking Jongno Tower in Seoul (South Korea), and more recently projects in the Netherlands, England and the Middle East. Only late in his career did Viñoly return to his native Latin America for some work – when he was asked to design the Fortabat Museum in Bueno Aires and the Carrasco International Airport in his hometown Montevideo.

For more on Viñoly’s back catalogue, check out our bookcase on the first Rafael Viñoly monograph.