World-Architects Daily News

      

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Greetings from Venezia

I'm in Venice this week covering the Venice Architecture Biennale for World-Architects, so head on over to the W-A Daily News to read my coverage of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Today's archidose #903

Here are a couple photos of Bosco Verticale (2014) in Milan, Italy, by Stefano Boeri Architetti. (Photographs: Burçin YILDIRIM)

Bosco Verticale / Stefano Boeri
Bosco Verticale / Stefano Boeri

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Tour Through YCBA

Last week the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA), designed by Louis I. Kahn and completed in 1977, reopened after being closed for three years as part of its three-phase, nearly decade-long conservation effort. Knight Architecture and Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects served, respectively, as architect and conservation architect on the project. My visit during the press tour last week was my first time experiencing the inside of building in person, so I can't say firsthand how much the conservation effort differs from before. But I can say the building is just incredible, a place of extremes: dramatic and calming, light-filled and rich with shadows, institutional and domestic. Below is a tour through the building that highlights YCBA's design elements more than the conservation efforts.

YCBA
[All photographs by John Hill]

The YCBA is located on the southwest corner of Chapel and High Streets on Yale's campus in New Haven, Connecticut. Located across the street from the Yale University Art Gallery with its Kahn extension, and close to Paul Rudolph's Art and Architecture Building, the YCBA is an urban building, holding the sidewalk edge and providing retail along both street frontages. Entrance to the museum is through the dark, open space cut into the corner.

YCBA

It is an extremely modest entry, but it is one that is all about movement and sensation: from public to private, from outdoors to indoors, from low to high, and from light to dark and light again. The entrance hall is visible through glass doors in one corner of the open space, as seen above. With a column directly in the middle, and with rows of lights above and concrete set into the brick paving below, this space readies visitors for the pervasive grid within.

YCBA

One step through the glass doors and we are immediately inside the Entrance Court, a four-story space lined with oak and capped by four large square skylights. The two-by-two grid of this space is the exact same size in plan as the outdoor entry space, but here the columns are set into the wood walls, not in the center, and the space is vertical rather than horizontal. It is an uplifting space, one I could have spent a long time in if not for the press remarks and tour by architect George Knight.

YCBA

All four walls of the entrance court have openings in the upper floors, openings that pique one's interest as to what exactly is located in those galleries. Two openings are set into the ground floor: the entrance doors that we just walked through, and an extension of the Entrance Court perpendicular to it. Walking forward in the photo above would bring us to the elevators, stairs, and the Lecture Hall. Upstairs are three floors of galleries, while downstairs are the restrooms.

YCBA

The cylindrical form of the main stair makes it the preferred route. Walking around it, as in the photo above, takes one to the Lecture Hall. But each floor of the YCBA works similarly, where the stair is an almost constant presence, a large-scale wayfinding device. I felt myself always cognizant of where I was in relation to the concrete cylinder.

YCBA

Yes, the cylinder is even a presence in the bathrooms, as seen in the photo above.

YCBA

Remarks for the press tour were on the second floor, in the Library Court, a triple-height space that is six square bays in plan (2 by 3), two more than the entrance court. Another difference between the courts is at the roof, since the skylights are filtered in the Library Court but not in the Entrance Court. The building is set up really well to move from the Entrance Court, up one flight of stairs and into the Library Court. There is something prescient to these spaces and the movement between them, as if Kahn, in the early 1970s, anticipated that museums should have social gathering spaces at their cores. One can imagine the fundraisers and other parties that take place in these two multi-height spaces.

YCBA

After remarks we moved up to the fourth floor, where the YCBA's permanent collection is on display around the two interior courts. Again, the stair is the preferred route. The circular space is topped by a skylight with small openings turned 90 degrees. It's hard not to stop here and take a photo.

YCBA

Once on the fourth floor, by stair or by elevator, one of the interior's many great views comes into focus. From here one sees through the gallery, two openings, the Entrance Court, two more openings and another gallery to the exterior window beyond. Being up on the fourth floor means the light coming into the Entrance Court is brightest, making this a dramatic vista that pulls one into the gallery spaces but also in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction around the court.

YCBA

The openings into the Entrance Court serve, again, as a means of wayfinding, but also as a source of natural light that supplements the skylights. The V-shaped concrete beams combine with the filtered skylights to create immensely pleasing gallery spaces, ones where the light is even and the artworks on display come to the fore.

YCBA

The grid overhead is unrelenting in its construction but far from it experientially. I never felt labored walking around, and each diagonal view across the galleries and the courts yielded new joys.

YCBA

I especially liked the diagonal views that happened here and there, as in the photo above, depending on the location of the "pogos," the temporary partitions set below the concrete beams.

YCBA

The views across the Library Court on the fourth floor, with the top of the concrete drum just above eye level, were especially captivating.

YCBA

Differences within the gallery spaces include the stainless steel enclosures (the same material as the exterior elevations) for the vertical service chases (photo above)...

YCBA

And the aptly named Long Gallery. Here, Knight moved the doors, which were previously in the middle of the space (visible on top of the fourth floor plan at bottom), toward the ends, accentuating the length of the gallery and heightening the experience of moving through it.

According to Knight most changes were slight, thanks in part to Yale's careful maintenance of the building in the nearly 40 years since it was completed. Existing systems were upgraded and new technological systems were put into place, but in each case the idea was to hide them as much as possible or integrate them with the building's details. (As Knight pointed out, Kahn wasn't shy about revealing systems, but he was careful with how he did it.)

In addition to (slightly) reconfiguring the Long Gallery, Knight reconfigured and created new office spaces and installed new seats in the Lecture Hall. Otherwise, the changes are so subtle as to be invisible. I might have noticed them if I'd visited the building before it was closed in 2015, but on my first visit I felt like I was experiencing this masterpiece just as it was meant to be from the beginning.


[Pre-conservation YCBA plans, sections, and elevations | Drawing via Archweb]

Monday, May 16, 2016

Today's archidose #902

Here are some photos of House in Amersfoort (2007) by RIK LAGERWAARD ARCHITECTEN BNA BV. (Photographs: Sebastian Deptula)

Green Copper House
Green Copper House
Green Copper House

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Visit to CBST

On April 3rd the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) made its move – literally, as a procession – from its old digs at 57 Bethune Street in the West Village to the ground floor of a Cass Gilbert landmark on West 30th Street near Herald Square. Designed by New York's Architecture Research Office (ARO), the synagogue occupies actually three floors: the ground floor, a mezzanine, and a basement. Although the synagogue's main spaces are tucked away from the street, it has a highly visible street presence thanks to large expanses of storefront glass. In other words CBST, the largest LGBTQS synagogue in the world, is out and proud, a clear change from the hidden, dark home it occupied for nearly 40 years.


[All photographs © Elizabeth Felicella/Esto]

ARO's design for CBST is fairly straightforward but subtly special in the right places. It's clear the budget for the 17,000-square-foot project was not high, but that did not preclude ARO from laying out the spaces to maximum effect, starting with the double-height lobby. This bright, white space gives members of the synagogue a place to socialize while clearly pointing to the main spaces: behind the wood doors straight ahead is the sanctuary; down the stairs to the left are the lower lobby, community kitchen, chapel/library, and rooms for study and teaching; to the right are the rabbinical offices, located both on the ground floor and the mezzanine.




Not surprisingly the Wine Family Sanctuary, as it's officially called, packs the most punch. Although most removed from the street, it is nevertheless a light-filled space thanks to a 46-foot-long skylight formed by tilting the back wall at a 10-degree angle. GFRC panels with variable vertical serrations accentuate the shadows that are cast down the wall, while also giving the impression that this wall is made of fabric rather than concrete. The ark and its sliding, twisted-wood walls are propped in front of the wall, off-center with a row of columns that bisect the space. This structural constraint is off-putting at first, but ARO handled it well by integrating the eternal light into the face of the column.




Downstairs are more columns to contend with, one of them smack in the middle of the stair that flairs out to define one side of the lower lobby. A straight stair descending next to the column would have been the route for nine out of ten architects, but thankfully ARO is in the minority, able to make a strong, memorable, and doubly useful place (seats as well as stair, as the photo indicates) out of numerous constraints and a limited palette.



The Kuriel Chapel, located off of the lower lobby, is like a miniature rendition of the sanctuary space upstairs, minus the dramatic natural lighting. The twisted wood form upstairs is introduced here, framing the ark and its sliding bronze doors.



During a press tour of the project a few days before its April 3rd dedication, I immersed myself in the architectural design while listening to comments focused on CBST's complicated history. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, a natural storyteller, spoke of its members succumbing to AIDS but also of the support they gave each other in those dark days. These and other stories are told in, appropriately, the restroom, which is all-gender – it features open sinks and separate rooms for toilets and required a variance from the city to built. Wallcoverings depict the trials, tribulations and successes of the congregation, fittingly in a space that captures the societal changes that have occurred since CBST was founded in 1973.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Book Review: Construction Matters

Construction Matters by Georg Windeck, co-edited by Lisa Larson-Walker, Sean Gaffney & Will Shapiro
powerHouse Books, 2016
Hardcover, 230 pages



Right after graduating from architecture school at Kansas State University in 1996 I moved to back to Chicago, getting a job in the firm DeStefano + Partners a few months later. Working for a firm whose partners were formerly employed by SOM, and working alongside many intern architects who had attended the Illinois Institute of Technology, I quickly learned the differences between my education and others. Whereas K-State was strong on conceptual design (basing studio projects on concepts rather than just function), history, drawing, and environment and behavior, the lineage of architects who trained at IIT following Mies van der Rohe excelled in technical considerations. "What material is your building made of?" was a little-heard question during jury reviews at K-State, but projects at IIT started with materials, mainly steel and concrete. In a sense these two ways of design are at either ends of a spectrum: form divorced from material and material determining form.

Given that since 2000 Georg Windeck has been teaching at Cooper Union – the school of John Hejduk, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, and Daniel Libeskind – I'd figure he must fall into the "conceptual" camp. But that label would be premature, as is evidenced by his studies at Technical University Berlin and Construction Matters, which studies the use of four materials (masonry, concrete, steel and wood) in eleven projects. It would be a stretch to say these materials exclusively dictate a building's final form – in effect removing the architect from the equation – Windeck goes as far to say in the introduction, "One particular building method often establishes the main principles according to which an architectural design is generated, determining its fundamental tectonic gesture." The projects that follow serve to elucidate this statement while "positioning architecture as a dialogue between artistic concepts and engineering methods."

Neither purely historical nor purely technical, Construction Matters functions like eleven small case studies for modern and contemporary buildings, explaining their concepts and methods through words, photographs, and drawings. Much of the book's values lies in the photographs, but not the glossy images we've come to expect upon a building's completion. No, this book is loaded with construction photographs, detailed photos of assemblies that have long been covered up, and detailed photos of generic techniques (welding joints, for instance). These types of photos are packed predominantly into the chapters on concrete and steel, which deal specifically with thin-shell concrete and steel framing. Not surprisingly, Mies is a strong presence in the steel chapter (Farnsworth House and the New National Gallery), but so is Toyo Ito, whose Sendai Mediatheque took the material in an exciting direction 15 years ago. A few years later he did the same for concrete, with the undulating roofscape of the Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall (Mutsuro Sasaki engineered both buildings). With their thorough explanations in words and images, these two Toyo Ito buildings are worth the cover price alone.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Today's archidose #901

Here are some of my photos of St. Ann's Warehouse (2015) in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The building was renovated by Marvel Architects and the Triangle Garden (most of the photos here) was designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO, Brooklyn -- architectural renovation by Marvel Architects, landscape design by MVVA
St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO, Brooklyn -- architectural renovation by Marvel Architects, landscape design by MVVA
St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO, Brooklyn -- architectural renovation by Marvel Architects, landscape design by MVVA
St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO, Brooklyn -- architectural renovation by Marvel Architects, landscape design by MVVA
St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO, Brooklyn -- architectural renovation by Marvel Architects, landscape design by MVVA
St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO, Brooklyn -- architectural renovation by Marvel Architects, landscape design by MVVA
St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO, Brooklyn -- architectural renovation by Marvel Architects, landscape design by MVVA

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Friday, May 06, 2016

Book Review: Two Books on Aldo van Eyck

Aldo van Eyck by Robert McCarter
Yale University Press, 2015
Hardcover, 264 pages

Aldo van Eyck: Seventeen Playgrounds by Anna van Lingen, Denisa Kollarova
Lecturis, 2016
Paperback, 96 pages



Searching my memory, I have a hard time figuring out exactly when I learned about Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck. He was not a staple of architectural history classes when I was in architecture school in the early 1990s, at least not up there with other postwar modern architects, such as Louis I. Kahn, and the postmodern architects that followed. Maybe I learned about him in a modern architecture seminar during my fifth year, but if so projects like the Municipal Orphanage in Amsterdam would have made a stronger impression on me.

This Van Eyck gap in my undergraduate education can be chalked up only partly to his portfolio, which had one masterpiece (the Orphanage) alongside lots of temporary playgrounds and numerous lesser known works. Mainly it had to do with Van Eyck being an "in-between" architect, one whose ideas and buildings did not fit neatly into the modern or postmodern camps that received the most attention from critics and historians. Robert McCarter, in his thorough historical monograph on Van Eyck, puts it this way: "Van Eyck was always standing in-between, always critical and, as a result, always a school of one, which left him open to attack from both sides."

Although I can't signal the first occurrence of Van Eyck in my learning as an architect, his words and images of his buildings slowly seeped into my psyche over the years. Last year, when I was hired by an architecture firm to contribute an essay for a potential future publication, their work immediately brought to mind Van Eyck, not because of any formal similarities, but because of shared views on belonging in the world. A quote by Van Eyck seemed fitting:
There are two fundamental kinds of spatial sensation that are compatible with man’s primordial nature. ... There is the spatial sensation that makes us envy birds in flight, there is also the kind that recalls the sheltered enclosure of our origin. Architecture will defeat its own end if it discards either the one or the other of these great human aspects.
These words get at two important aspects of Van Eyck's writings and buildings: he had a strong grasp on understanding human nature; and he was cognizant of the importance of (deep-)history. The first aligned him with modern architecture, while the latter brought him closer to postmodernism. Hence the confusion with writers tackling his work and hence the deficiency in books about him.

With this in mind, these two books, albeit different in approach and content, are refreshing jolts of Van Eyck. Both are highly recommended.

Robert McCarter, who released two other monographs last year (one on Herman Hertzberger, a disciple of Van Eyck, and one on Steven Holl) ambitiously tackles Van Eyck's life and work, moving from his early education in England all the way to his last building, the Court of Audit in The Hague, completed in 1997, two years before his death. A professor at Washington University in St. Louis, McCarter adroitly navigates the complexities and confusions of Van Eyck's career. The chapter names hint at his focus on ideas: "The Vernacular at the Heart," "The Aesthetics of Number," "The Shape of the In-Between," and so on. The author's descriptions of the buildings and playgrounds are fairly dry (thankfully there are lots of photos and drawings), but the book excels when he describes the intangibles: the ideas found in Van Eyck's writings, the conferences he attended, the travels he took, and the classes he taught.


[Denisa Kollarová, Anna van Lingen. Photo: © Mrs. Mokum/Suzie Hagens. Image source]

Anna van Lingen and Denisa Kollarova, on the other hand, focus on one aspect of Van Eyck's "in-between": the playgrounds he designed for underutilized spaces and spaces damaged during the war in Amsterdam. From 1947 until 1978, both as an employee of the Urban Development Department of the city's Department of Public Works and on his own, he designed hundreds of playgrounds, many of them as temporary interventions in spaces that would later receive development. The antithesis of the cheap, plastic, overly safe, cookie-cutter playgrounds that now prevail all over the world, Van Eyck's playground designs were highly site-specific, incorporating elements (sand pits, seating, climbing structures, etc.) that were open-ended rather than prescriptive or limiting – designs truly for children.

The authors, graduates of the Gerrit Reitveld Academie in Amsterdam, became infatuated with Van Eyck's designs and searched out any remaining playgrounds, most of which have been modified over the decades but still have traces of his original designs. Their small (pocket-sized), well-designed book documents and maps the seventeen playgrounds they discovered. But instead of being a straightforward guidebook, the text accompanying each playground describes a different aspect of Van Eyck's playground designs: "Non-Hierarchical Compositions," "The Climbing Mountain," and "Playgrounds Today," to name a few. The last points to the main idea of the book: protecting the few extant playgrounds by drawing attention to their designs, locations, and qualities.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Folk Art Museum Alive in Brazil?

Coming across the Espaço Cultural Porto Seguro by São Paulo Arquitetura on Architizer this morning...


...I couldn't help focus on the folded concrete section at right...


...seeing in it the facade of the demolished American Folk Art Museum by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects:


Yes, this is a shallow, image-based comparison. And I'm not asserting that the architects found inspiration in the Folk Art facade. Rather, I compare it to seeing the face of a recently departed friend on strangers I pass on the street. With its recent demolition, my mind finds traces elsewhere of the building that used to be -- what is now a hole waiting to be filled by MoMA:

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Today's archidose #900

Here are some photos of the Waterliniemuseum (2015) in Bunnik, Netherlands, by Studio Anne Holtrop with Rapp+Rapp, West 8 and Jonathan Penne Architecten. (Photographs: Klaas Vermaas)





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