This week has seen the launch of McLaren F1’s MP4-27 2012 race car, ahead of the new season commencement next month. I have been a lifelong F1 fan and have attended several Grand Prix’s around the world.image above: The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-27
Aside from the racing and the heavy influence of sponsorship and money, I think there is a very strong connection between Architecture and F1. Of all the teams on the grid, The McLaren team, established in 1966, stand out as promoting this link to the highest level. It seems clear to me that McLaren have the pursuit of leading design and technical excellence in their DNA. Whilst obviously the sport is about creating the fastest race package on the grid; car, team and drivers, McLaren take the ‘design’ ethos to another level in every aspect of their business operations, both within and outside of F1.
The McLaren technology centre, completed in 2003, is their global HQ in Woking, Surrey. It is a completely unique and very design led factory, design and research facility, designed by non-other than Foster + Partners. I think Foster’s language of design and architecture is a very obvious alignment to the ethos and brand of McLaren. The building is a truly stunning piece of architecture, with the very intelligent and considered integration of technology throughout. As well as the overall building form and façade design being somewhat unique, as with their F1 and road cars, the design focusses right into every little detail. The light fittings and venting systems are even bespoke designed for the building, again to complement the architecture and McLarens brand. Internally its surfaces and finishes are clean, understated and subtle, the focus is really on the effecient use and content of the building i.e. the cars and the operation/ activity. The building does not seek to compete with this.
image above: The McLaren Technology Centre, Woking, Surrey, UK
Looking beyond McLaren, the sports recent emergence in new racing circuits also integrates exemplary architecture and the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, completed in 2009, is arguably the finest current example. It was designed as an ‘Arabian version of Monaco’ apparently, but I don’t necessarily see this connection myself. The centre piece for the completely man-made island complex is the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel, designed by American firm Asymptote Architecture. It’s the first and only hotel in world to be built over an F1 track.
“The building was conceived as an architectural landmark, embodying key influences and local and global inspirations ranging from the aesthetics and forms associated with speed and spectacle, to the artistry and geometries that form the basis of ancient Islamic art and craft traditions. Of architectural and engineering significance is the main feature of the hotelʼs design: a 217-meter expanse of sweeping, curvilinear glass and steel covering known as the Grid Shell: it features an LED lighting system incorporating video feeds that are transmitted over the 5,389 pivoting diamond-shaped colour changing LED panes.” (source: Wikipedia.org)image above: Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel.
The recent blend of old and new circuits we now see in F1 adds another layer of attraction to the sport and its surroundings. So, maybe that’s why I like F1 so much – as well as the racing, there is a very real and strong connection to architecture and design.
Linking all this to Lewis and Hickey, beyond the obvious architectural association, I have a personal aspiration to see how we might make our architectural mark on the world of F1. I’m sure there must be an opportunity out there at some point in the future! Failing that we could always look at getting our branding on one of the cars (McLaren obviously), although the seeming continual erosion of architects ‘value’/ fees might hinder that endevour! That said, I think this story demonstrates that architecture remains exciting, diverse and wide-reaching and has a very significant and permanent importance…and with that value.
Thinking of the 2012 season, due to commence in Australia on March 18th, who’s going to win the championship? It’s really too early to say. My hope is that the sport continues to diversify to ensure we get to watch the very best racing and also continue to see more amazing and unique architecture in/ around the sport. Clearly I have an allegiance to McLaren, especially as Lewis and Jenson are part of the team now, so therefore I naturally want them to win the Constructors title and Championship this year. Having experienced Silverstone, Spa, Monza and Indianapolis (2001)…which race should I target next? (Monaco is already earmarked for my next ‘big’ Birthday)…one to ponder some more…