My recent posts at World-Architects


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Where's Nouvel?

Today a rendering of Zaha Hadid Architects' design for the redesign of Kushner Companies' 666 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan has been making its rounds in many of the usual places. The 1,400-foot-tall tower, if built, would site prominently on Fifth Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets, about a half-block from the Museum of Modern Art.

Which made me wonder: Where is Jean Nouvel's 53W53 in the rendering? Now under construction, the 1,050-foot-tall skyscraper will tower over Cesar Pelli's Museum Tower, which is visible to the right of ZHA's tower. So in the interest in seeing how these two supertalls designed by celebrity architects would interact, I Photoshopped a side elevation of Nouvel's tower into ZHA's rendering:

Now, anybody know the mystery of the magic park that appears in front of ZHA's tower?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Today's archidose #953

Here are some of my photos of the New York City AIDS Memorial (2016) at St. Vincent’s Triangle in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, by Studio AI Architects. (Photographs: José Carlos Melo Dias)

NYC Aids Memorial
NYC Aids Memorial
NYC Aids Memorial
NYC Aids Memorial
NYC Aids Memorial

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Monday, March 20, 2017

25 Reasons to Keep the NEA

Last week Donald Trump released a proposed budget that would nix the National Endowment for the Arts and other government sources for arts programs. A few weeks before that, with hints that he would be including such cuts, I put together a piece at World-Architects, "25 Reasons to Keep the NEA," in which I waded through about 15 years of architecture-related programs funded by the NEA and found 25 highlights. There are a number of New York-based institutions, such as the Storefront for Art and Architecture (pictured), but also many examples in other parts of the country.

Past Futures, Present, Futures

Although architecture would not take as big a hit as other arts, many great exhibitions, publications, and programs would not exist without the NEA, whose annual budget is $148 million – or 41 presidential weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago (he's already gone their five times since his inauguration).

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book of the Moment: A Forward-Minded Retrospective

On Thursday evening I attended a book launch for Cedric Price Works 1952-2003: A Forward-Minded Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. The event, which took place in MoMA's library, celebrated the release of the huge, two-volume, 1,400-page monograph written and edited by Samantha Hardingham and published by AA Publications and the CCA.

Actually calling the book a monograph is far from ideal, since the British architect built very little and the book collects a hefty amount of Price's writings alongside his increasingly influential projects. The descriptors "manifesto" or "biography" might be more accurate; whatever the case, even though the book is large, it seemed that those speaking on Thursday were in agreement that it would be but the first of a number of overdue publications on Price. In this case, size may equate with importance, but it is does not equal definiteveness.

One copy of the book was on display in the library; with only a few minutes to peruse over one thousand pages, only the most rudimentary of impressions could be obtained. Paired with the postcards available for people attending the launch (my take-home postcard is below), one thing that came across strongly was Price's humanity  – be it in a portrait of the architect in, of all things (considering how little he built), a hardhat, or notes on his office door, one of them reading, "He is not guilty – merely ahead of his time" – something sorely missing in architectural monographs.

With projects that placed a higher emphasis on systems, experience, ephemerality, and other less-tangible characteristics of architecture over form-making, Price was indeed ahead of his time. The book appears ready to provide a good dose of inspiration for today's young architects who are looking to make some positive change via architecture – in its various guises, not just buildings.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Big Bend

Gotta love the absurdity of oiio's The Big Bend, a none-too-serious proposal for "the longest building in the world" that happens to look like a synthesis of Rafael Viñoly's 432 Park Avenue and a croquet wicket.

[Image: oiio]

I'm reminded of Greg Lynn's Stranded Sears Tower, not in terms of form, but in the way each project takes the skyscraper typology (and a specific example of one) and stretches and pulls it into something else.

[Image: Greg Lynn / Art Institute of Chicago]

(The Big Bend spotted at Dezeen.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review: Atlas of Another America

Atlas of Another America: An Architectural Fiction by Keith Krumwiede
Park Books, 2016
Hardcover, 272 pages

[All images courtesy of Park Books]

Opening this sizable, almost atlas-sized book from Switzerland's Park Books I didn't know what to expect. Actually I wasn't expecting a whole lot, given the subtitle, "an architectural fiction"; while I appreciate the idea of adding narrative to architecture, most of what I've encountered in the realm of "architectural fiction" has left me wanting. Yet I was pleasantly surprised with Keith Krumwiede's creation, which is more a graphical narrative than an architect's attempt to force a fictional story into an architectural wrapper.

His subject, broadly, is the United States and, more specifically, home ownership and the house plans developed by large-scale home builders. These subjects are analyzed and critiqued through a fictional place, Freedomland, whose structure follows from the "grand agrarian democratic tradition of Mr. Thomas Jefferson," but also takes "into consideration the current economic and political order." Like a traditional atlas, the Atlas of Another America moves from the large scale to the small scale, from the country cut up into six-square-mile townships to the house plans grouped onto the smallest (330-foot-square) of the nested squares. A highly rational process – what Krumwiede calls "Checkerboard Logic" – underlies the shift from big to small, but the results are unexpected.

Within each town are 36 sections that are further broken down into four estates each. The estates are based upon specific home plans by home builders whose names should be familiar to most Americans: Ryland Homes, Toll Brothers, and David Weekley Homes, to name just a few. Krumwiede calls these "[A]Typical Plan[s]," but what is surprising, and what makes up the bulk of the book, are the way he takes what are normally standalone buildings in suburban landscapes and groups them together to create recognizable shapes – places. Some are straightforward, like the perimeter block with central green space above, but a lot of them are more complex, taking fairly uninspired plans and turning them into generators of urban form and community spaces. That the home builders' plans and exterior forms harken to a time before two World Wars and the advent of the automobile is humorously critiqued in the occasional historical painting merged with a grouping of homes, as seen above.

The book, which is beautifully produced in everything from its layout to the types of paper and binding, does include some text after the presentation of the 144 estates: an appendix with a clever reworking of Rem Koolhaas's essay "Typical Plans," a critique of David Weekley's "SuperModel Homes," an analysis of prevailing house plan typologies by various home builders, 40 "notes on Freedomland" culled from a wide range of sources, and an afterword by Albert Pope. These lend the graphical fiction preceding it some scholarly backbone, but like the 144 estates these texts are equally unexpected. Together the plans and writings on "Another America" make up one of the most refreshing, enjoyable and thought-provoking books I've come across in a long time.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Today's archidose #952

Here are some photos of the Municipal Museum Abade Pedrosa and International Contemporary Sculpture Museum (2012) in San Tirso, Portugal, by Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura. (Photographs: José Carlos Melo Dias)

Santo Tirso, Museu Municipal Abade Pedrosa. Álvaro Siza, Eduardo Souto de Moura
Santo Tirso, Museu Municipal Abade Pedrosa. Álvaro Siza, Eduardo Souto de Moura
Santo Tirso, Museu Abade Pedrosa. Álvaro Siza
Santo Tirso, Museu Abade Pedrosa. Álvaro Siza
Santo Tirso, Museu Abade Pedrosa. Álvaro Siza
Santo Tirso, Museu Abade Pedrosa. Álvaro Siza
Santo Tirso, Museu Abade Pedrosa. Álvaro Siza
Santo Tirso, Museu Abade Pedrosa. Álvaro Siza

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Book Review: 3 Small Books with Big Ideas

Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary by Ronald Rael
University of California Press, 2017
Flexicover, 200 pages

Networks of New York: An Illustrated Field Guide to Urban Internet Infrastructure by Ingrid Burrington
Melville House, 2016
Flexicover, 112 pages

What's So Great About the Eiffel Tower? 70 Questions That Will Change the Way You Think About Architecture by Jonathan Glancey
Laurence King, 2017
Flexicover, 176 pages

Recently I received a few books on a diversity of subjects that share one trait: they are small. Of course, small page size does not mean the ideas inside aren't grand. Even though their topics don't overlap in any obvious manner, I decided to review them together.

[Border Wall as Infrastructure, Rael San Fratello Architects]

The output of architect and educator Ronald Rael is varied, with three primary though apparently unrelated areas of research: earth architecture, the US-Mexico border wall, and 3d printing. Yet as he writes in the introduction to this book focused on the second subject, "buildings using mud and concrete ... we saw as conceptually parallel to the contrasts of poverty and wealth [in] Mexico and the United States." Extending the parallels further to 3d printing, which gives anybody with access to the technology the ability to create industrial objects and even building elements, there is an apparent interest in informal architectural production and the social aspects of design in all three areas. With this in mind, it's not surprising that Borderwall as Architecture is more a critique of the US-Mexico wall than realistic proposals for it.

With the book being released early next month, the timing is fortuitous, for obvious reasons. One could even argue the timing is opportunistic, but Rael – alone, with his students at University of California, Berkeley, and with his partner Virginia San Fratello – has been tackling the subject since at least 2008, when he led a "Borderwall as Architecture" studio at UC Berkeley. The following year Rael San Fratello was a finalist in the WPA 2.0 competition with "Border Wall as Infrastructure." That entry, which depicted a row of solar panels alongside the fences and a library bridging the wall à la Haskell Free Library and Opera House, is included in Borderwall as Architecture among numerous other scenarios, some of them real (Friendship Park, tire dragging) but most of them imagined (cactus wall, teeter-totter wall).

Rael's projects, which take the form of drawings like the cover, renderings like above, and even snow globes, are found in the chapter "Recuerdos/Souvenirs: A Nuevo Grand Tour," which makes up most of the book. Other chapters include texts by Rael but also a foreword by Teddy Cruz and essays by Marcello Di Cintio, Norma Iglesias-Prieto, and Michael Dear. The last, "Why Walls Won't Work," is particularly apt now, given the Trump administration's recent RFP, which is getting a fair amount of protest but is still likely to draw a number of responses from architects who don't have ethical quibbles with such a commission. One form of protest is inaction (not submitting and convincing other architects not to submit), but Rael shows that alternative proposals depicted through architecture (drawings, models, renderings) are also a legitimate form of protest.

[Ingrid Burrington's self-published Networks of New York]

Although I've never read Andrew Blum's Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, I'd wager that if it came with a companion guidebook, it would look a lot like Ingrid Burrington's Networks of New York. What started as a website and then a self-published book was turned into a handsome, durable, pocket-sized book last year by Melville House. In it the author/illustrator Ingrid Burrington takes readers on a vertical journey through internet infrastructure, from below-grade services to ground-level buildings to above-ground elements hidden in plain sight. The idea is to turn something apparently invisible – the movement of bits and bytes through the air – into something physical...which it already is, but we just don't pay enough attention to realize such.

Focusing on New York means that much of the physical infrastructure is beneath our feet, in old buildings that were used originally for telephone lines, and attached to light poles and other pieces of existing urban infrastructure. The first becomes known in the colored markings spray painted on sidewalks and streets and in the labels on manhole covers; the second are discussed in the context of Lower Manhattan, which has some notable examples of building-size network infrastructure; and examples in the third do their best to blend in with their surroundings but all-too-often make their uses evident.

As an architect, I found the "Ground Level" chapter most fascinating, since that one includes the buildings – carrier hotels and data centers – that house the "architecture for the Internet." The largest such facility is located at 111 Eighth Avenue, just one block from the High Line. I knew beforehand that the block-long building was built by the Port Authority and was bought  this century by Google for their NYC HQ, but I learned here that Google's physical footprint extends across the street to the Chelsea Market, where the NYPD's Intelligence Division is located, and, further still, to 85 Tenth Avenue, where the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is located. The existence of these law enforcement agencies in these locations is not spray painted on the sidewalks or mounted on light posts, but thankfully Burrington's book digs deeper to discover these adjacencies and other instances of how networks impact the city.

[Spread from Glancey's book courtesy of Laurence King.]

When I received What's So Great About the Eiffel Tower?, the latest book by Jonathan Glancey, the former architecture critic at The Guardian, I was very intrigued, particularly by the book's subtitle, "70 questions that will change the way you think about architecture." Opening the small book to the table of contents, though, I was disappointed to find, not 70 questions like the title, but 70 either/or questions, such as "Deconstructivism: Architecture meets philosophy or fashion?" and "Postmodernism: Modernism redeemed or duped?" Although technically questions, it seemed like the 70 either/ors – about architects, buildings, movements, ideas, and other things – were not real questions like the title, making the latter misleading.

Diving into some of the questions, I didn't discover Glancey landing on one side or the other; instead he gives mainly "yes" answers, where both parts are true to some degree. "Brutalism: Grim or lovable concrete?" "Yes." "Thermal Baths, Vals: Building into landscape, or landscape into building?" "Yes again." One exception I noticed is "Säynätsalo Town Hall, Finland: Convincing new vernacular, or precursor of vernacular kitsch?" Here, he clearly questions the almost universal appreciation of the project, finding the roots of later "dismal, bricky" buildings in Alvar Aalto's brick masses about a raised courtyard. Even then, he finishes by countering that assertion: "Aalto showed how a modern vernacular architecture could be shaped in the most convincing manner."

In another instance, I covered up the subject and question to see if Glancey's text was clearly answering a question and making a critical reappraisal of the subject. I did not sense it, but I did get a short but thorough description, contextualization, and critique of a project (Dunmore Pineapple, Scotland). That times seventy and it's a good book, with a wide range of topics in terms of chronology, geography, and theme. The questions are a gimmick that unfortunately don't add much to the content; if anything, they create a situation where more is needed than what was delivered.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Today's archidose #951

Here are some photos of the extension of the Historical Museum Frankfurt (opening fall 2017) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, by LRO Lederer Ragnarsdóttir Oei. (Photographs: Frank Dinger)

Historical Museum Frankfurt
Historical Museum Frankfurt
Historical Museum Frankfurt
Historical Museum Frankfurt
Historical Museum Frankfurt
Historical Museum Frankfurt

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Thursday, March 09, 2017

Happy 100th, Hell Gate Bridge

The Queens neighborhood of Astoria may have some ugly architecture, but it's got one of the best bridges in all five boroughs. The Hell Gate Bridge, designed by Gustav Lindenthal, was dedicated 100 years ago today. It may not be as famous as the Brooklyn Bridge, or even the nearby Triborough Bridge (now RFK Triborough Bridge), but it's something for the neighborhood to be proud of. And if it looks a lot like the Sydney Harbour Bridge that's not a coincidence; Hell Gate inspired that later, larger span.

[Astoria Bridge during 4th of July fireworks]

Unlike most NYC bridges though, Hell Gate can only be crossed by train; it was built to connect Penn Station to Boston and other New England cities. This historical tidbit isn't so well known, nor is the way the bridge extends into Astoria for a ways, via some impressive concrete vaults. Unfortunately, the crossings are not always lit up like 29th Street below; I took this photo when an Uma Thurman film was being shot in the neighborhood.

[Filming "The Accidental Husband" in Astoria]

If the above doesn't entice you to visit next time you're in the area, maybe this will: the impressive supports in the middle of Astoria Park.