The 10 best concrete buildings

From the awe-inspiring Pantheon to a Chilean cliff-top villa, the Observer’s architecture critic presents some of the world’s best concrete structures

Interior of the Pantheon, Rome.
Interior of the Pantheon, Rome… ‘like an internalised sun’. Photograph: Alamy

1 | Pantheon, Rome

possibly by Apollodorus of Damascus, c126 AD

The ancient Romans didn’t have reinforced concrete (that is, strengthened with steel) but they had concrete, and used it to such heart-stopping effect on the Pantheon that no one has really been able to match it since. The true moment of genius is the way in which, after a certain amount of harrumphing with Corinthian columns and marble decoration at its lower levels, the design resolves itself into the pure circular oculus at its top, unglazed, which causes a beam of light to rake around the interior like an internalised sun.

Unité d’Habitation by Le Corbusier in Marseille.
Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, Marseille… both ‘ark and Ararat’. Photograph: Alamy

2 | Unité d’Habitation, Marseille

Le Corbusier, 1952

Concrete has the ability to be primitive and technological, massive and levitating, to combine the properties of steel with those of mud. Le Corbusier knew how to run the gamut of its expressive range better than anyone. He used it as the medium for translating his fascinations both with aeroplanes and other modern machines and with ancient landscapes and temples. His Unité d’Habitation, a massive apartment building in Marseille, is both a liner floated to its site from the nearby Mediterranean and a chunk of the surrounding mountains, rectangularised, ark and Ararat at once.

Los Manantiales restaurant, Mexico City.
Los Manantiales restaurant in Mexico City. Photograph:

3 | Los Manantiales restaurant, Mexico City

Félix Candela, 1958

Many architects and engineers have exploited the ability of reinforced concrete to produce structures of exceptional apparent lightness which, despite being made of a form of masonry, hardly seem to touch the ground. Quite a few have used arches and vaults in the form of parabolas, which direct the structural forces inside the material with particular efficiency, which makes the structure lighter still. Félix Candela was one of the earliest and best to pursue these ideas. The anti-gravity effects of the Los Manantiales restaurant were particularly magical.

Bank of London and South America, Buenos Aires
Bank of London and South America, Buenos Aires… ‘creates both enclosure and openness’.

4 | Bank of London and South America, Buenos Aires

Clorindo Testa, 1966

The Italian-Argentinian architect Clorindo Testa wasn’t particularly interested in getting concrete to look light, at least from the outside, instead heaving it out of the ground into an extraordinary structure that has something of a dinosaur’s skeleton. Yet it still manages to achieve a civilised rapport with the neo-classical facades around it. It also forms a perforated carapace that filters sunlight to the interior and creates both enclosure and openness. It unexpectedly ends up having some of the qualities of a Japanese screen, if with considerable added tonnage.

The church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, Paris.
The church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, Paris. Photograph: FP Collection/Alamy Stock Photo

5 | Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, Paris

Anatole de Baudot, 1904 (interior)

A slightly gauche attempt to realise the principles of gothic architecture in reinforced concrete but at the same time endearing and heroic. The church was sufficiently ahead of its time that building codes hadn’t caught up, which meant construction had to be delayed while a demolition order was removed. De Baudot didn’t quite work out that you can achieve gothic lightness of construction without gothic details such as pointed arches and vaults. Auguste Perret would later do this with the radiant Notre Dame du Raincy, but Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre makes the list by virtue of being a pioneer.

SESC Pompéia, São Paulo, Brazil.
SESC Pompéia, São Paulo, Brazil… ‘a citadel of liberty’. Photograph: Alamy

6 | SESC Pompéia, São Paulo

Lina Bo Bardi, 1986 (sports towers)

A swimming pool, indoor football pitches and other sports courts are stacked up in the fattest of this group of three towers; changing rooms are in another, linked by dynamic bridges, which transforms the normally humdrum movement from cubicle to playing zone into urban theatre. The third, cylindrical, tower stores water. Knowing that a change of political wind could blow away socially minded projects like this, Bo Bardi made it fortress-like: a citadel of liberty, it was called. The window openings, which seem punched out by a caveman, are amazing.

Portuguese National Pavilion, Lisbon
Portuguese National Pavilion, Lisbon… makes ‘design look effortless’. Photograph: Alamy

7 | Portuguese National Pavilion, Expo 98, Lisbon

Álvaro Siza 1998

Álvaro Siza is one of the less declamatory and more subtle contemporary architects, which makes this moment of theatre all the more striking. He takes a sheet of concrete and drops it like a pocket handkerchief between two rectangular blocks. The special properties of reinforced concrete, in particular its abilities to hang as well as vault, and achieve high strengths with minimal thickness, are used to the full. A classic of making design look effortless, when the engineering and construction that goes into it is anything but.

Eberswalde technical school library, Germany.
Eberswalde technical school library, Germany. Photograph: Ulf Boettcher/Getty Images/LOOK

8 | Eberswalde technical school library, Germany

Herzog and de Meuron, 1999

By the 1990s it might have been thought that the list of Things to Do With Concrete had been exhausted. Herzog and de Meuron, however, came up with something new, which was to print an eclectic set of images, selected by the artist Thomas Ruff, on to the material. The same images were also printed on horizontal bands of glass, set flush with the concrete, which by day gives the library’s simple oblong shape an apparently homogeneous surface. By night the transparent parts light up and the solid parts don’t, which creates an opposite impression.

St John’s Abbey Church
‘Mineral origami’: Marcel Breuer’s midwest church. Photograph: Corbis

9 | St John’s Abbey Church, Collegeville, Minnesota

Marcel Breuer, 1961

A rare error in the smooth-running 10 best machine allows a late entry, a church by the Bauhaus alumnus Marcel Breuer deep in the midwest that makes many tonnes of concrete into mineral origami. I am indebted to a reader, Rolf Erikson, for pointing this project out. Fans of Louis Kahn clamouring for his inclusion won’t be pleased, though. Kahn was indeed magnificent and it was a tough call to leave him out. But the Breuer is more concrete-y.

Poli House, Coliumo, Chile
Poli House, Coliumo, Chile… ‘cubic purity’. Photograph: Cristóbal Palma /

10 | Poli House (interior), Coliumo, Chile

Pezo von Ellrichshausen, 2005

Apologies to Tadao Ando, Denys Lasdun, Robert Maillart, Oscar Niemeyer, Zaha Hadid, Rachel Whiteread, Pier Luigi Nervi, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Sverre Fehn, all of them magicians with concrete who deserve a place in a top 10. But the last slot goes to a house on a promontory where difficulties of access limited niceties in construction. The result is a structure whose cubic purity is offset by roughness in its substance, and where the traces of the timber moulds of its concrete give it the feeling of an unusually exalted wooden shack.


Article By Rowan More posted on January 12h on

Los Angeles hottest zip codes

If you were a seller, the Southern California housing market was a good one last year.

The economy improved. Sales jumped after a lethargic 2014. And prices climbed even higher, making an already expensive region even more so. By the end of November, the median home price for the six-county market was $438,000, up 6.8% from the same month a year earlier, according to the data from CoreLogic.

Still, the real estate frenzy cooled through late summer and fall. To what extent the slowdown could be blamed on the typical seasonality of home sales or to the price hikes that have made housing increasingly unaffordable is unclear. A better picture of the market’s health should emerge during the busy spring buying season.

Economists generally expect further improvement in the market, though they predict that the price increases will slow as fewer families are able to buy into it — a trend that started in 2013.

“Affordability is dulling demand,” said Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Assn. of Realtors, which projects the state’s median home price to increase 3.2% this year, about half the pace of the 6.2% gain in 2015.

For now, many of Los Angeles County’s hottest burbs fall into two categories: Westside areas in the midst of a tech-industry boom and communities near downtown coveted for their older homes and short drive to an increasingly vibrant city center.

Even with the demand, some of these neighborhoods are seeing sales fall amid a lack of inventory, but Appleton-Young said they are likely to see further price growth. And despite affordability constraints, she’s bullish on Southern California’s housing market for the year.

“The signs are good,” she said, citing predictions for job and wage growth that should support the overall economy.

To gauge L.A. County’s hottest neighborhoods, The Times ranked them by the change in the median price per square foot for a single-family home. The median is the point at which half the homes are sold for more and half for less. The per-square-foot metric was chosen to best account for changes in the sizes of homes selling, such as older smaller houses that are desirable but have relatively lower price tags.

Sales and median prices reflect transactions involving existing single-family houses. The comparison is for the 11 months ended November 2015 with the same period a year earlier. All neighborhoods had at least 30 sales. (Source: CoreLogic)


Santa Monica | 90402 (Photo: Christina House / For The Times)North of Montana

Median price per square foot: $1,420, +37.5%

Median price: $3,237,500, -1.7%

Sales: 100, unchanged

The ritzy neighborhood north of Montana Avenue saw the largest gain last year. At $1,420 a foot, that’s the equivalent of $2.84 million for a 2,000-square-foot house. Known for larger homes than other city neighborhoods, the area has long attracted those looking for a spacious spread near the beach.

More recently, the neighborhood has grown even more exclusive amid a surge of international buyers and executives from the growing Silicon Beach tech hub, said Tregg Rustad, a real estate agent with Rodeo Realty.

“It’s not just Asia, it’s South America, Russia — the stability of the housing market compared to some [of foreigners’ other investment options] is very strong,” he said.

Also fueling the appreciation are developers picking up smaller, older homes at a premium so they can tear them down and build modern mansions. The surge in these smaller tear-downs helps explain why median per-square-foot price soared while the overall median for existing single-family homes dipped, Rustad said.

Agent Tracey Hennessey said she sees values continuing to skyrocket.“We are seeing more and more money coming into Santa Monica like never before,” she said.


Hermosa Beach | 90254 (Photo: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)Median price per square foot: $967, +28.6%

Median price: $1,693,500, + 30.9%

Sales: 123, +7%

Strong demand, tight inventory, good schools and a view of the Pacific made Hermosa Beach a real estate standout in 2015. The small South Bay town also has something else going for it: It’s not Manhattan Beach.

Wealthy families priced out of increasingly ritzy Manhattan Beach — with its median price of $2.1 million — are looking to the next town over. But that’s pushing up values in a city that’s had more of a reputation as a younger party town, agents said.

Tech workers employed in Venice and Playa Vista are also buying in Hermosa, searching for schools with better reputations than those in the L.A. Unified School District, said Nick Peters, president of Engel & Volkers LA – South Bay

“A lot of people are moving here from Silicon Beach,” he said.


Lincoln Heights | Montecito Heights | Elysian Valley | 90031 (Photo: price per square foot: $419, +28.3%

Median price: $458,500, +14.6%

Sales: 78, -18.8%

The neighborhoods north of downtown L.A. have seen values soar for decades — Silver Lake, then Echo Park, followed by Highland Park. As one neighborhood grows increasingly expensive, people priced out look the next block over, sparking debate over the gentrification of the working-class communities.

Now the same appears to be happening in 90031, which includes Lincoln Heights and parts of Elysian Valley and the more expensive Montecito Heights. Demand in Elysian Valley, a small neighborhood sandwiched between the L.A. River and the 5 Freeway, has been robust, in large part due to investors looking to capitalize on plans to revitalize the waterway.

“Investors realize this area is on the up-and-coming. Investors working in the Eagle Rock, Highland Park area are now shifting focus to this area as well,” said agent Mark Diffie, who added that the influx has unnerved some longtime residents.

In the larger area of Lincoln Heights and Montecito Heights, between the 10 and 110 freeways, prices are rising as well.

Jennifer Wenzlaff, an agent with Redfin, said would-be Lincoln Heights buyers are a mix of investors, singles and families. In her experience, many are renters in Silver Lake, Culver City and Echo Park, where they can’t afford to settle down. “My clients that love Highland Park – and unfortunately are priced out – are starting to look around,” she said.


City Terrace | East L.A. | 90063 (Photo: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)Median price per square foot: $307, +23.2%

Median price: $320,000, +18.5%

Sales: 144, +0.7%

Forces similar to those in Lincoln Heights also are at play in City Terrace. The hillside community in unincorporated East Los Angeles has seen an influx of demand that’s pushed prices up, said Camilo Valentin, a co-owner of Red House Realty Inc.

Buyers have been a mix of those from outside the neighborhood looking for a relatively affordable Spanish Colonial near downtown, and former locals who went off to college or left for a job and are returning to put down roots of their own. Investors also are a heavy presence.

“You still get a bang for your buck — $325,000 with views of downtown L.A. You can actually see the Hollywood sign from City Terrace,” Valentin said.

Other East L.A. areas in 90063 have also seen increased demand lately, but not to the extent of City Terrace, Valentin said. He expects prices to climb higher there and for longtime owners to cash in, repeating a process that has played out in nearby Highland Park and other close-by neighborhoods.


Marina del Rey | 90292 (Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)Median price per square foot: $737, +23.1%

Median price: $2,157,500, +6.5%

Sales: 38, unchanged

Another beachfront Westside neighborhood, another tech story. The flourishing online businesses that have created a wealth of jobs in nearby Santa Monica, Venice and Playa Vista have added an influx of buyers to an up-and-coming area, real estate agent Tami Pardee said.

While the marina had been relatively sleepy compared to next-door Venice, that’s changing, she said. New restaurants and stores are opening; the county is planning a massive renovation of its maritime, entertainment and hospitality attractions; and housing developers have projects in the works.

“People are finally opening their eyes to it, it’s cleaner, it’s friendlier,” Pardee said.


Manhattan Beach | 90266 (Photo: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)Median price per square foot: $1,021, +21.4%

Median price: $2,100,000, +10.1%

Sales: 288, -18.9%

Manhattan Beach long ago ditched its reputation as a sleepy beach town. Professional athletes, tech executives, Hollywood types and other high-income earners are drawn to this city by its beach lifestyle, good schools and gourmet restaurants.

But buyers on the hunt for a home find all that competition means there are few for sale and at top prices.

The median price for an existing single-family home hit $2.1 million last year, up 10.1%. The median price per square foot grew about twice as fast to $1,021.

Developers are also playing a role in driving up prices, buying a dwindling supply of cottages and throwing McMansions up at a rapid pace.

Real estate agent David Keller said he sees the dynamic holding steady, given the extremely low inventory in the city and lack of room for new development.

“I don’t think anything will change dramatically anytime soon — unless there’s some sort of economic catastrophe,” he said.


Compton | 90220 (Photo: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)Median price per square foot: $257, +20.9%

Median price: $285,000, +9.8%

Sales: 279, +16.3%


Compton | 90222 (Photo: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)Median price per square foot: $264, + 20.6%

Median price: $274,000, +14.2%

Sales: 182, -11.2%

Compton was an epicenter of the housing bust as buyers who financed their homes with subprime loans went belly up. But prices have been rebounding for years, as has the city’s reputation. Crime has plummeted and after once shunning the city, large retailers have moved in.

Families from the South Bay and Long Beach areas are increasingly looking to Compton for a cheaper home, real estate agent Lulu Robles said. Families are doubling up — parents and a grown child with their spouse isn’t uncommon — to afford the mortgage. Low interest rates and down-payment programs also are giving more families the ability to buy, she said.

All of the demand has helped two neighborhoods — 90220 near north Carson and the adjacent 90222 near Willowbrook — see some of the strongest price growth.

Investors also have scooped up many homes to renovate, lifting values for those properties and the surrounding neighborhood, Robles said.

“It’s helping the area come up in pricing,” she said.


Playa del Rey | 90293 (Photo: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)Median price per square foot: $636, +20.1%

Median price: $1,517,500, +26.5%

Sales: 40, -21.6%

Real estate in this relatively low-key beach-side neighborhood at the end of Culver Boulevard is red hot. The culprits? Strong job growth and a dearth of homes for sale.

In particular, demand is heavy from workers in the growing technology and advertising hubs of nearby Playa Vista, agents say. In some cases, prices — at least on a nominal basis — have risen past those seen during last decade’s housing bubble, agent Jane St. John said.

For example, she said she recently listed a home for a client at $2.8 million. In 2006 — amid the housing bubble — it changed hands for $2.6 million.

“If you look at the number of advertising agencies along Jefferson Boulevard, many of those were not there three or four years ago,” she said. “That corporate expansion in our area is definitely driving things up.”


Toluca Lake | Studio City | 91602 (Photo: Erik Grammer / EGP Imaging)Median price per square foot: $570, +19.6%

Median price: $1,022,500, +3.2%

Sales: 111, +3.7%

The San Fernando Valley has not experienced the pace of price increases of some other areas. But it’s not a surprise that Toluca Lake and Studio City are standouts.

The area has long been attractive to Hollywood executives and wealthy families looking to be near elite private schools. More recently, Studio City has become a hot spot for young urban professionals amid an explosion of bars and restaurants.

And with all the talk of the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates, real estate agent Matt Epstein said many buyers decided that it was time to make their move. He said developers also are shelling out for older homes to renovate or tear down to build towering replacements.

“Developers are willing to pay a premium,” he said.

The flood of activity here — like the market as a whole — has slowed its pace in recent months, but Epstein doesn’t foresee a bubble about to pop.

“I don’t see prices going down, but leveling out,” he said.


Article by Andrew Khouri posted on January 16th on

Interview with the Palisadian Post

Q&A: Marco Rufo

By JACQUELINE PRIMO | Assistant Managing Editor

As an award-winning real estate professional with 20 years of experience, Italian native Marco Rufo has represented clients all over the world. But it’s his work in Pacific Palisades as a Broker Associate and Luxury Properties Specialist with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices that keeps the Sunset Mesaresident passionate about his career today.

For Rufo, who began in the commercial arena and transitioned to residential real estate, the excitement of closing deals on multi-million-dollar residences in the Palisades is rivaled only by one thing: the joy he gets from his family. The self-professed family man recently chatted with the Palisadian-Postabout his upbringing, his career path and what he and his loved ones like to do when he isn’t helping clients buy or sell their dream homes.


Marco Rufo, a Broker Associate and Luxury Properties Specialist with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, has represented clients all over the world.Photo courtesy of Marco Rufo

Jacqueline Primo: Tell me about your upbringing, as well as where you went to college and what you studied.

Marco Rufo: My family immigrated to this country from Italy when I was about 7 years old. I was born in a small town called San Donato, which is about 60 miles southeast of Rome.

At home as a child my language was Italian, and after coming to the United States, I grew up in West Newton, a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.

Growing up I worked for my father’s construction company, building and designing homes throughout Boston. I went to school in Newton until I was 17 years old, at which time I moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA. I studied business and minored in theater, living in Westwood while I was attending school.

Primo: How did you get your start in real estate and how did your career progress from there? How did you come to work with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices?

Rufo: I started my real estate career in commercial real estate in Beverly Hills, where I lived from 1992-2008. I worked for myself and was involved in selling/buying over $400 million in transactions.

I specifically represented a Japanese conglomerate, and I became their exclusive real estate broker. We bought hotels (in Hawaii and Beverly Hills), resorts (in Canada, Palm Springs and San Diego) and many office buildings, the largest being the AT&T building in downtown LA for $96 million.

My commercial real estate days ended in the late ’90s, at which time I transitioned into residential real estate. I was part owner of a Century 21 office in LA and managed about 120 real estate agents. I sold my share to my partners in 2003. Then in 2004, I became one of the managers at Sotheby’s International Realty in Santa Monica and worked there for about three years.

I then moved to Pacific Palisades and was the Managing Broker for Miramar Coastal Properties for about three years and finally around the end of 2010 I started working for Prudential California Realty in Pacific Palisades, which is now Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

Primo: What brought you to LA, and to Pacific Palisades specifically?

Rufo: When I lived in Beverly Hills I had purchased a piece of land in Malibu and built a 4,000 square-foot brand new traditional home, which I sold in 2013. During that process I landed in Pacific Palisades and purchased another piece of property, tore it down and built the 3,300 square-foot home in Sunset Mesa, where I currently live.

Primo: What does it mean to be a Luxury Properties Specialist?

Rufo: Luxury Properties Specialist is a designation to Brokers/Agents who sell property over a price-point of $3 million. My average sale is actually $4.5 million.

Primo: Tell me about how you approach new clients who are aiming to buy or sell a home.

Rufo: Approaching new clients is a process; it starts with a series of questions.

If you represent a buyer: 1) What do your finances look like? 2) Are you married or single? 3) What’s your timeframe? 4) How does your credit look? 5) What type of home/condo are you looking for and in what area?

If you represent a seller: 1) Why do you want to sell? 2) Where will you go? 3) How long have you lived here? 4) What’s your mortgage, if you have one? 5) How does your family feel about selling?

These questions are just the beginning. There are so many more.

Primo: What are some of the awards and accreditations you have earned throughout your 20 years of industry experience?

Rufo: I currently hold the following positions: 1) Director three years running at the Beverly Hills Greater Los Angeles Board of Realtors, and I have just been re-elected for another three years.

2) President of the Professional Standards Committee for the Beverly Hills Greater Los Angeles Board of Realtors, which is in charge of all arbitrations and mediations for the Board of Realtors.

3) President of the Grievance Committee for the Beverly Hills Greater Los Angeles Board of Realtors, which reviews and decides on all potential cases presented to the Board for hearing or dismissal.

4) I hold National Association of Realtors designations: e-PRO, GRI, ABR, CRS and SRES.

Primo: What do you and your family like to do for fun?

Rufo: My family is a big part of my life. I met my wife Paula in 2001 and we were married in 2003. We have two beautiful girls: Alexa, 10, and Olivia, 7. Both girls go to Corpus Christi School, which is right across the street from my office and that was very important to me.

I spend a lot of time with my girls. We love water sports in the summer, soccer, tennis and skiing in the winter. We just returned from Vail, Colorado and the skiing was amazing.

I live for my girls! I am very involved in their schooling and homework, and I make sure that every night we are together and there is a routine. I find my family is the joy of my life.


Article in the January 14th 2015