The Projective Drawing

This morning I stopped by the Austrian Cultural Forum New York to check out The Projective Drawing, a new exhibition curated by Brett Littman with ten artists responding to Robin Evans’s classic 1995 book, The Projective Cast. Head on over to World-Architects to see some photos I took and learn a little bit about the show that’s on display until May 13.

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Today’s archidose #996

Here are a few photos of GLASS (2015) in Miami Beach, Florida, by Rene Gonzalez Architect. (Photos: Maciek Lulko)

Glass Condos
Glass Condos
Glass Condos

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Book Review: John Vinci: Life and Landmarks

John Vinci: Life and Landmarks by Robert Sharoff, William Zbaren
Northwestern University Press, 2017
Hardcover, 272 pages

Being a preservation architect means toiling in relative obscurity. After all, it’s the details of what is being preserved – the building, the creation of a particularly architect, the place where a famous event took place or a person lived – that are at the forefront of a preservation project, not the person in charge of its restoration. Gunny Harboe, for instance, is known by just about all architects in Chicago, but outside of the city his is hardly a common name, even though he’s been responsible for the restoration of buildings by Wright, Mies, and many others. Ditto John Vinci, who’s restored many notable buildings but was responsible for one in particular – the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room – that I first experienced as a teenager, on a field trip to the Art Institute. I learned that the space and building it came from were designed by Louis Sullivan; that the original was demolished in the 1970s; and that photographer and preservationist Richard Nickel died while salvaging some architectural artifacts from it (a floor collapsed and buried him in the basement for three weeks before his body was found). But did I know architect John Vinci was behind the removal of the original Trading Room and its reconstruction in the Art Institute addition? Nope, not until this amazing book on Vinci by Robert Sharoff and William Zbaren.

One thing that separates Vinci’s firm, Vinci Hamp Architects, from Harboe Architects and other firms specializing in preservation is that Vinci also tackles new construction – he is not just a preservation architect. With his new buildings I had more familiarity. His most high-profile commission in this vein is the Arts Club of Chicago, located one block east of Michigan Avenue in the Streeterville neighborhood. It was completed in 1997, the year I moved back to Chicago after architecture school; I took a job in the area and therefore walked by the building a few times a week. While I didn’t love the building immediately (I was fresh from an education steeped in Deconstructivism and therefore found it timid), it grew on me over time, as I saw exhibitions in the ground-floor galleries and got to eat lunch in the second-floor dining room a couple times. Connecting the two floors is a stair designed by Mies van der Rohe and salvaged from the Arts Club’s previous location. The stair sits in the heart of the building, paralleling the way preservation exists in Vinci’s heart. The stair echoes what he did decades earlier with Sullivan’s Trading Room and the Art Institute, but in a minimally modern manner that permeates the rest of the building.

Crossing Through Colors
[My 2006 photo of Daniel Buren’s “Crossing Through Colors” on display at the Arts Club of Chicago, with Mies’s stair in the background.]

Although the statement that preservation exists in Vinci’s heart may seem a bit sappy (I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day, too), it’s pretty accurate – not only because of the energy he has devoted to preservation, but because of the insight yielded by Robert Sharoff’s essay that starts this book. We learn about Vinci from his upbringing on Chicago’s South Side (he attended IIT because it was in his neighborhood) to the 2010 publication of The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, an unfinished book by Aaron Siskind and his friend Richard Nickel that he resurrected after a nearly 40-year hiatus and completed with the Richard Nickel Committee. Vinci, like many architects in Chicago, worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill after graduating from IIT. But as we learn in the essay, he spent more time boycotting the demolition of a Sullivan building than carrying out his entry-level tasks as SOM. (Not surprisingly, he lasted only six months at SOM.)

That Vinci’s portfolio spans the opposite poles of historic preservation and new construction makes him a unique architect – in Chicago or elsewhere. His understanding of history is deep – not just canonical and far from superficial – it infuses his original creations, and, Sharoff writes, “it is that which separates him from the orthodox modernists of his generation and lends his work its peculiar power and richness.” That richness is captured vividly in Life and Landmarks by photographer William Zbaren. He and Sharoff have co-authored numerous handsome coffee table books over the years, such as those on Mies and St. Louis, but here they have outdone themselves. The mix of biography and monograph – the former in Sharoff’s essay and the latter in about twenty projects presented in photos, drawings, and text – is far from atypical, but it’s done so well that learning about Vinci’s life and work is a treat. Credit for the book’s quality should be extended to the publisher, Northwestern University Press, and the designer, Studio Blue, who have packaged and laid out Sharoff’s words and Zbaren’s photos with an attention to detail that suitably parallels the work of Vinci himself.

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Today’s archidose #995

Here are a few photos of House Van Wassenhove (1974) in Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium, by Juliaan Lampens. (Photos: Lukas Schlatter)

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Book Review: Neighbourhood: Where Álvaro meets Aldo

Neighbourhood: Where Álvaro meets Aldo edited by Nuno Grande, Roberto Cremascoli
Hatje Cantz, 2017
Paperback, 208 pages

Of the many countries that participate in the Venice Architecture Biennale, Portugal is one of those that does not have a home in the Giardini. As such, it ventures out into the city for a venue – not necessarily a bad thing, since it spreads out the exhibition beyond the confines of the Giardini and Arsenale and further embeds the exhibition in the city. In 2016, Portugal’s contribution to the Biennale was located on Giudecca, the long island that, outside of Palladio’s Il Redentore, doesn’t see as many tourists as the rest of Venice. Curators Nuno Grande and Roberto Cremascoli did this for a good reason though: they wanted to draw attention to an unfinished work by Alvaro Siza, Portugal’s most famous modern architect.


[Exhibition at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale | Photo: John Hill]

Neighbourhood: Where Alvaro meets Aldo occupied a portion (photo above) of Siza’s competition-winning project for a residential development (the renovation of Campo di Marte) on Giudecca. Siza broke down the project into four parts and brought in three other architects (Carlo Aymonino, Rafael Moneo, and Aldo Rossi) to design other pieces. This happened in 1985, but only the designs of the two Italian architects were realized, making the meeting of Alvaro and Aldo, who died in 1997, a somewhat sad one. Well, not entirely, since the actions of Grande and Cremascoli led to the rejuvenation of Siza’s building and the partial completion of it before the exhibition opened in May 2016.


[Size visiting residents of his “Bonjour Tristesse” project in Berlin | Photo: Nicolò Galeazzi]

The exhibition and book of the same name go beyond the residential project in Venice to include projects in Berlin, the Hague, and Porto. All four cities are host to Siza projects, while all but Porto are home to Rossi residential buildings. Therefore the selection of cities/projects by Grande, who is from Portugal, and Cremascoli, who is from Italy, accentuates the relationship between the two architects who were born only two years apart. Unfortunately, but understandably given Rossi’s premature death 21 years ago, the book is focused almost entirely on Siza (the same might have been the case with the exhibition, but I don’t recall and my photos don’t capture enough to elucidate things). This situation is further understandable given the format the curators adopted: following Siza on post-occupany-type visits (photo above) to all four of the residential projects. That said, it would have been great if Siza also visited residents of the Rossi projects to further bridge the work of the two architects.


[My pamphlets from the Biennale exhibition]

The book is basically split up into five sections: “Where Alvaro meets Aldo” followed by the four projects/cities: Campo di Marte, Giudecca, Venice, 1983/2016; Schilderswijk, The Hague, 1984/2016; Schlesisches Tor, Kreuzberg, Berlin, 1980/2016; and Bouça, Porto, 1973/2016; followed by an essay by architect Vittorio Gregotti and a portfolio of photos and film stills on Siza’s visits. Those who visited the exhibition, like me, and picked up the pamphlets (photo above) will not find much new; most of the essays and some of the images in the book can be found there. But, of course, the book shares the exhibitions with a wider audience – and does it in a handsome package that elevates the importance of the trips Siza made at the behest of Grande and Cremascoli.

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Book Review: Built Unbuilt

Built Unbuilt by Julien De Smedt and Julien Lanoo
Frame Publishers, 2017
Paperback, 328 pages

Back in 2011, when I reviewed JDS Architects’ Agenda: Can We Sustain Our Ability to Crisis? alongside a few other monographs, I described the format of Agenda as a “diary.”& That book’s many projects by Julien De Smedt – both on his own and with Bjarke Ingels as PLOT – were structured via timeline: a year in the life of JDS that started with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The new monograph, Built Unbuilt, sets aside a chronological format in favor of two halves: built works and unbuilt projects. Nevertheless, parts of the book have a casualness that makes them read like a diary.


[Spread from “Built”]

The first half of the book, “Built,” is where the co-authorship comes across: Julien De Smedt is the architect, the head of the firm that designed the buildings, and Julien Lanoo is the photographer capturing them in context and in use. The photos come across as most important on these pages, since the words and drawings are minimal, the photos take up the most real estate (usually one to a page but sometimes, as with Casa Jura above, filling a two-page spread), and therefore the photos are the primary means for readers to understand JDS’s built works. There are about 30 buildings and pieces of furniture in the book, ranging from chairs and tables to housing and a ski jump.


[Spread from “Unbuilt”]


The second half of the book, “Unbuilt,” is where the monograph makes a turn toward a diary. The short descriptions, drawings, and photos of the first half give way to a first-person narrative by De Smedt called “50 Shades of Trace” (followed by the primarily visual “Introspections” that documents over 25 projects from 2001 to 2017). It is a highly enjoyable read that highlights what is missing in monographs today (and perhaps has always been missing): a point of view, honesty, a bit of modesty, stories, and reflection. Drawings and model views of the unbuilt PLOT and JDS projects accompany the chronological essay, helping to pull the reader along but also tracking the evolution of De Smedt’s evolving design and visual sense.

But most important in “Unbuilt” is the acknowledgment of the importance of unbuilt projects. Architectural history is full of them (Boullee’s Newton Cenotaph, the Tatlin Tower, almost anything by Lebbeus Woods), but the lessons learned on the part of the architects are usually secret. Here they are revealed for all they were worth, be it in dealing with clients, hitting deadlines, or retaining an optimistic perspective even when so much time has been devoted to designs that will never move beyond the foam cutter.

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Today’s archidose #994

Here are some photos of La città lineare per Santa Croce (1969) by Zziggurat (Alberto Breschi, Roberto Pecchioli) from Radical Utopias Beyond Architecture: Florence 1966–1976, which closed on January 21 at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. (Photos: Trevor Patt, who has lots of photos of the exhibition in his “Utopie Radicali” Flickr set.)

IMG_8310
IMG_8312
IMG_8314
IMG_8315
IMG_8318
IMG_8322

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Window to the Heart

Window to the Heart

On Thursday the tenth annual Times Square Valentine Heart Design was unveiled. I didn’t make it to the press event that morning, but I did head there yesterday afternoon. I’m glad I did, because the installation’s presence is more impressive after the sun goes down – appropriately so, given its location.

Window to the Heart

Window to the Heart is the creation of ArandaLasch + Marcelo Coelho with Formlabs, with Laufs Engineering Design as structural engineer. This year’s competition was curated by Design Trust for Public Space. Billed as “the world’s largest lens,” the 12-foot-diameter installation was designed by ArandaLasch with 3D-printing manufacturer Formlabs “to distort and capture the image of Times Square, optically bending light – and attention – to the heart-shaped window at its center.”

Window to the Heart

With this goal in mind, the resulting effect is hard to grasp during the day:
Window to the Heart

But is more understandable once the sun goes down:
Window to the Heart

Times Square Arts, which commissioned the piece, describes Times Square as “one of the world’s most Instagrammed places.” Going along with that, the annual Heart entices people (couples, mainly) already looking for a photo opportunity to step up to the installation and use it as a frame for their sweetheart shot. I could have taken shots like this all evening:
Window to the Heart

Though I preferred this view of the installation, where people had to awkwardly crouch in order to pose at the level of the heart cutout (intentional on the part of the designers?):
Window to the Heart

Although the installation looks like glass (as most lenses tend to be), Window to the Heart was 3D-printed at a high resolution by Formlabs using clear resin. In turn, it’s profile is close to nonexistent:
Window to the Heart

Window to the Heart is on display at Father Duffy Square in Times Square until February 28, 2018.

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Candela in Chicago

From January 19 to March 3, Félix Candela’s Concrete Shells: An Engineered Architecture for México and Chicago is on display in Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The show is curated by Alexander Eisenschmidt and is a collaboration between UIC and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

Unfortunately, I’m unable to catch this exhibition, but the photos here, courtesy of Gallery 400, give a sense of the show and make me wish I could see it in person.

Félix Candela (1910 – 1997) is hardly unknown to architects in the United States. (He is so famous for his concrete shell structures that a trio of them in Queens were considered his work for decades until some researchers determined they were designed by another architect.) Nevertheless, his life and work deserve more attention. (I had no idea he taught at UIC for most of the 1970s, for instance.)

Description via UIC:

Félix Candela’s Concrete Shells: An Engineered Architecture for México and Chicago roots Félix Candela (1910-1997) as one of the most prolific architects of the 20th century in his advanced geometric designs and lasting influence in contemporary architecture. It originated through the research of scholar Juan Ignacio del Cueto and is curated by the architectural theorist and designer Alexander Eisenschmidt. The exhibition spotlights Félix Candela’s Concrete Shells through photographs, architectural models, and plans, as well as his time as a professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 1971-1978.

Born in Spain, Candela exiled to Mexico at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, where he lived for thirty years and established his career as an architect. In the 1950s, ten years into his practice in Mexico, Candela debuted his experimental signature shell structures by designing a continuous curved surface of minimal thickness. His designs evolved as feats of architectural engineering, using hyperbolic paraboloid geometry to create numerous reinforced concrete shells. These curved and cantilevered forms were not only structural advancements but also brought new textural and atmospheric qualities to the social and communal spaces they shelter. Famous Candela structures include the Pavilion of Cosmic Rays at UNAM, Mexico City (1951); the Chapel Lomas de Cuernavaca, Cuernavaca (1958); Los Manantiales Restaurant, Xochimilco (1958); and the Palace of Sports for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

In Chicago’s built environment, parallels to Candela’s work can be seen in the experiments with concrete architecture of the 1960s, including Walter Netsch’s UIC Campus and Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City. Recently, formal influences of his innovations can be found in works by Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Ali (Azerbaijan, 2013), FOA’s Yokohama Terminal (Japan, 2002), and UNstudio’s Burnham Pavilion (Chicago, 2009).

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Book Review: Krueck + Sexton: From There to Here

Krueck Sexton: From There to Here by Krueck + Sexton Architects; introduction by John Morris Dixon
Images Publishing, 2017
Hardcover, 272 pages

I’m not exactly sure when I first became aware of the work of Chicago’s Krueck + Sexton (my best guess is seeing their competition entry for the American Library in Berlin in the early 1990s), but they were one of just a handful of firms I wanted to work for when I moved back to Chicago after architecture school in Kansas. Their built work at the time, mainly houses and interior residential projects in the city, exuded Miesian modernism – but with a twist. Although cognizant of, and trained in, Chicago’s modernist history (Ron Krueck and Mark Sexton both attended IIT), they were not constrained by it. The over 20 projects covering nearly 40 years of work in this monograph are testament to the formal experimentation born from those Miesian roots.

The sizable book organizes the built and unbuilt works in four chapters – Crisscrosses, Interchanges, Shortcircuits, and Combines – that correspond to formal shapes: rectangles, curves, facets, and combinations of these three. Without strictly doing so, the order of these chapters works roughly chronologically, from the firm’s breakout Steel and Glass House in Chicago (1981) to the South Florida Federal Building (2014). The first is all about rectangles (“the rectangle was sacred, so we decided to sever the [U-shaped plan] into three rectangles”), while the second combines faceted shapes and “sinuous warped planes.” In between are primarily built works, though unbuilt works – such as the should-have-been-built Chicago Children’s Museum in Grant Park – are included where form and surface are in synergy with the buildings.

Uniting the four chapters/formal techniques is one material: glass. This is hardly surprising, given the fact Krueck and Sexton are modern architects and glass is the most modern of materials. But in their hands, glass is never strictly a flat, transparent plane. It’s clear that they are aware of the material’s contradictions: clear and opaque, liquid and (then) solid, flat or bumpy, transparent or translucent. Consider a couple of their best projects: the Spertus Institute and Crown Fountain. For Spertus, the firm started with designs that mixed masonry and glass, in an effort to fit into its neighbors along the Michigan Avenue streetwall, but in the end they limited the facade to one material. The faceted glass skin calls attention to itself, reinforced by the frit pattern of small white dots that also cuts down on heat gain. Down Michigan Avenue a few blocks, their design for Jaume Plensa’s rectilinear Crown Fountain masterfully stacks glass bricks without any apparent frame. Concealed behind the consistent wrapper is a hidden armature that maintains the purity of the external forms. In both of these projects, glass is the main expression – but as far a departure from Miesian tradition as is possible.

Other projects, such as their numerous apartment interiors and showrooms, combine glass with stainless steel, polished stone, and other surfaces in ways that are modern yet unexpected – kaleidoscopic in some cases. These and other qualities are conveyed in From There to Here through large color photographs on matte pages. With the firm’s project texts put into narratives at the beginning of each chapter, the photos and accompanying drawings stand by themselves. They are the closest many readers will get to experiencing the projects firsthand. In this regard, the large size of the photos (pages are 10″ x 12.5″) are all the better for getting pulled into Krueck + Sexton’s geometrical creations.

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Richard Ingersoll at urbanNext

Although I’ve spent very little time at urbanNext – a project by Actar aimed at “expanding architecture to rethink cities” – recently I found myself engrossed with Ricardo Devesa’s four-part interview with Richard Ingersoll, which I discovered via Actar’s three-part Imminent Commons books. The interview took place during the “Architecture: Change of Climate” conference that took place at the Fundación Arquitectura y Sociedad in Pamplona, Spain, in 2016.

I’m not very familiar with the work of architectural historian Ingersoll, who teaches at Syracuse University in Florence and other programs in Italy. My only exposure to date was Sprawltown, a short book from 2006 that I remember enjoying very much. In my review of that book, I noted that Ingersoll “acknowledges that environmental factors, more than human, will push us to change our ways.” While all these years later, I would take out “more than human” from that statement, since the environmental problems we face are human-created, Ingersoll’s focus on the environment more than buildings was apparent then. In turn, Ingersoll’s focus on agriculture, vegetation, and natural buildings over much capital-A architecture permeates the four-part interview. I could see a book coming out of the ideas and research he elucidates over roughly 40 minutes.

Although there is no indication at urbanNext as to the order of the four videos, I’ve embedded them below into my best guess. Nevertheless, the videos – ranging from 6 to 12 minutes in length – can be watched in any order or individually. If you only have the time or patience for one, I’d recommend the last, “Architects of Global Warming.”

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Today’s archidose #993

Here are some photos of Broward County Library (1984) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by Robert Gatje. (Photos: Maciek Lulko)

Broward County Library
Broward County Library
Broward County Library
Broward County Library
Broward County Library
Broward County Library

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Exhibition Review: Never Built New York

As posted previously, earlier this year I visited Queens Museum to see Never Built New York, curated by Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin. This week I finally reviewed it.

Never Built New York

Head on over to World-Architects to read my review.

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Today’s archidose #992

Here are some photos of the Hayward and De Breyne Building at Keble College (1977) at the University of Oxford by Ahrends, Burton and Koralek. (Photos: Neil MacWilliams)

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06.07.17 | Curtain Wall.

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Book Briefs #33: Imminent Commons + 3

“Book Briefs” are an ongoing series of posts with two- or three-sentence first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews, but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than can find their way into reviews on this blog.

Imminent Commons: Urban Questions for the Near Future edited by Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Hyungmin Pai | Actar | 2017 | Amazon
Imminent Commons was the theme for the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017, directed by historian Hyungmin Pai and architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo. The multi-pronged exhibition focused on nine “essential commons as a viable path towards a sustainable and just urbanism”: four Ecology Commons (Air, Water, Fire, Earth) and five Technology Commons (Making, Moving, Communicating, Sensing, Recycling). Though the inaugural Seoul Biennale does not (yet) get near the attention or press that the ones in Venice and Chicago do, there’s no shortage of ambition by the two directors, witnessed both by the exhibition theme and the three books that accompany it.

Book 1, also the largest at 440 pages, is Urban Questions for the Near Future, the one with the red cover. The many contributions are structured via the nine essential commons, though I found myself drawn to the shorter quotes that populate the back of the book. These smaller “bites,” or “storylines” as the editors call them, are categorized into the same commons, and are included because they confront the same themes explored at greater length elsewhere in the book. Some of these storylines, such as Richard Ingersoll’s “How to Enjoy Climate Change,” jump beyond the page via QR codes.

Imminent Commons: The Expanded City edited by Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Jeffrey S. Anderson | Actar | 2017 | Amazon
Most similar to Urban Questions for the Near Future is Book 2: The Expanded City, the one with the blue cover. Just a tad shorter, at 424 pages, this book keeps the nine-commons structure of the first book but applies it to “providing arguments of continuity between urban and extra-urban areas.” Although the 2017 Seoul Biennale “focuses on issues and proposals, not on authors and works,” there’s plenty of overlap between the contributors in these two books; fitting, given how they came out of the Biennale’s main “Nine Commons” thematic exhibition.

Imminent Commons: Commoning Cities edited by Hyungmin Pai, Helen Hejung Choi | Actar | 2017 | Amazon
The third Imminent Commons book is also the slimmest, at only 152 pages. Reflecting the “Commoning Cities” exhibition at the Biennale, accordingly the book is structured as an alphabetical list of cities rather than via the nine commons. How cities will fare in a future of climate change is the idea behind the public initiatives, projects, and urban narratives presented here. With Alexandria, Egypt, for instance, Melina Nicolaides of Bibliotheca Alexandrina describes the challenges the city faces, such as seawater flooding during high-intensity storms. In her entry, solutions are still to be determined – one of many cases where more questions exist than answers.

Platform 10: Live Feed edited by Jon Lott, John May | Harvard GSD & Actar | 2017 | Amazon
I can just imagine the editorial meetings for Harvard GSD’s annual book documenting student work, lectures, exhibitions, and other important happenings during the school year: “We have tons of stuff to cram in, but whatever we do, we can’t repeat any of the previous Platforms.” Every year I’ve seen something different (Platform 8 from 2016, with its dictionary-like format, stands out from the others), including the latest – edited by Jon Lott from PARA-Project and John May of MILLIØNS, with design by Pentagram – where format is key. Instead of pagination, the book is page after page of numbered photos – from 727 to 001 – followed by chronological captions to each and every photo, but in reverse order of their visual presentation. As the book’s subtitle conveys, it’s like a digital feed of the school’s day-to-day activities jumped to the page. Remarkably, the editors started with exactly 117,518 photos culled from a crowd-sourced database and somehow managed to narrow those down to the final number.

Public Catalyst by Manuel Bailo Esteve | Actar | 2017 | Amazon
This book came out of the author’s PhD at Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura de Barcelona in 2012. Based on its contents, and the fact it’s really two books in one – Public Catalyst and Catalysts Drawn – Esteve’s interest in the city is wide-ranging, focused broadly on life and what can be done to catalyze it. The first book within a book is more academic, delving, for instance, into Werner Hegemann, Camillo Sitte, Edmund Bacon, and others that came before the author. Here we see the big picture, while the second “book” takes aim at the details, doing so through twenty beautifully illustrated case studies. Most of the examples are real (e.g. a shade structure designed by Enric Miralles and Carme Pinós), but the inclusion of a scene from Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle illustrates that inspiration can come from fiction as well as reality.

Suprarural: Architectural Atlas of Rural Protocols of the American Midwest and the Argentine Pampas edited by Ciro Najle, Lluís Ortega | Actar | 2017 | Amazon
In November 2017, the Guggenheim and OMA announced a 2019 exhibition curated by Rem Koolhaas, tentatively titled Countryside: Future of the World. Many reacted as if Koolhaas, known for investigating cities, was leaping into territory not explored by other architects. That, of course, is not the case. One example is Ciro Najle and Lluís Ortega’s Suprarural, which combines two American landscapes: the US Midwest and Argentine Pampas. Putting these two regions together may seem odd, but it was born from the duo’s studios and seminars taught at schools in Buenos Aires and Chicago. The goal, as stated in the preface, is “to develop techniques to straightforwardly urbanize with and through the rural.” The bulk of the book is research and analysis, followed by “visions of the suprarural cosmopolis.” The student visions vary widely in terms of form and purpose, but they tend to follow the existing agricultural grids and armatures that have already shaped the countries’ landscapes.

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Book Review: MONU #27

Reviewed by Claudia Consonni

When reading MONU’s issue #27 on Small Urbanism, the exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, curated by Emilio Ambasz in 1972 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, immediately came to my mind. The link between the two arose from the attention that both give to objects and small things, and their relationship to the bigger scale and the environment. This is why I want to talk about the new issue of MONU through a comparison that aims at showing the similarities between the magazine and the exhibition.


[Cover from the catalogue of Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, 1972]

First, a brief introduction of the exhibition is necessary to understand the importance of the objects in the case at hand, and consequently to appreciate the link with MONU. I found a statement by Ambasz particularly exhaustive in this regard: “When I started the exhibition I knew nothing about Italian design.” He admitted further, “I had read a few magazines and seen beautiful products, so I said we should have an exhibition. It was only when I got to Italy that it became evident to me that the designers were making objects, but thinking of environments.” To demonstrate this, Ambasz commissioned a series of prototype environments, installations that would reflect upon changing domestic living patterns within contemporary society, while also facilitating the exploratory use of new materials and multimedia technology.


[Scenes from Italy: The New Domestic Landscape at MoMA, 1972 | Photos: Cristiano Toraldo di Francia]

Hence, MoMA’s show shifted the center of the discussion from production and technique to symbols and social critique, as it was encapsulated in the keywords with which Ambasz chose to define contemporary design: “landscape,” “environment,” “media,” “counter-design,” and “politics.” What emerged from the exhibition was the power of the small objects that became a cultural tool for contesting, reforming and acting on the city.

Moreover, the exhibition’s catalogue included a quote from the famous children’s book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, which reminds us how important it is to take responsibilities for our actions and also that every small thing has a responsibility itself. In the first page, we read:

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have domesticated.”
“What does that mean — ‘domesticated’?”
“It is an act too often neglected. It means to establish bonds.”
“Please domesticate me,” said the fox.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied.
“But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one domesticates,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things already made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so we have no friends any more. If you want a friend, domesticate me…”
“What must I do, to domesticate you?” asked the little prince.
“…One must observe the proper rites…” “What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”

Contrary to convention, the objects in the Italy exhibition were displayed in the natural setting of MoMA’s sculpture garden, while the environments were shown within the institutional spaces of the museum’s galleries. This curatorial decision was an attempt to almost cancel any sense of hierarchy between exhibited objects and environments, and to focus rather on their interaction with visitors.


[Spiked platforms under overpasses, China | Photo courtesy of Daily Mail]

Also in MONU #27, some articles focused on the relationship between the small-scale objects and the environment. Indeed, “The Democracy of Objects” by the American philosopher Levi Bryants, talks about something similar. In an interview with Bernd Upmeyer, he says that “every object is a crowd!” As a result, we should not treat the smaller elements of an object as subordinated to the larger scale object. Instead, they are on equal footing. He also added that how we design things (even the smallest ones, like a toilet door, a bench, or an overpass for example) makes a real difference in our lives socially and politically, and we should be attentive in managing this kind of power because every small object has a significant function and we are responsible for it.

Such things regarding physical elements were central also in “A Matter of Zooming,” Bernd Upmeyer’s interview with Stephan Petermann from the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). The main focus of the interview is on OMA’s “Elements of Architecture” project at the 2014 Venice Biennale. In regards to Small Urbanism, I found the research on the door, the window, and the balcony extremely interesting — particularly the balcony. Petermann describes the balcony as the physical platform between the public and private realm, so it seems to be an incredibly powerful tool for urban politics. (These days we can also see Twitter as a balcony.)

Additionally, Petermann says that by focusing on these small elements it is possible to uncover the extremely complex interplay of technology, art, culture, economy and politics in great detail. Furthermore, the responsibility of these objects is to engage with a type of deeper understanding of the fundamentals of architecture and consequently of the fundamentals of urbanism. As Petermann declared, urbanism is not separate from elements because every element has an urbanistic consequence.


[The “Balcony” room from “Elements of Architecture” at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale | Photo: Giorgio de Vecchi]

Another relationship between MONU’s new issue and the MoMA exhibition can be found in the role played by small technologies. It is interesting to know that to accompany the installations at MoMA, each designer was asked to produce a film that would demonstrate their environment’s vulnerability. Together, the environments and films refined the potential for domestic spaces to fundamentally influence inhabitants’ thoughts and actions. Small technology tools can be very powerful and useful to, and responsible for, changing spaces and their understanding.

In the MONU article “All the small things,” Benedetta Marani tries to demonstrate the strength of the information and communication technologies within the city. Her essay shows how the web has become the new arena of discussion and has often been used as a channel for participatory processes for urban public spaces. These new discussion arenas have become responsible for small-scale interventions and have had the power to change the use of city spaces with a virtuous impact on the daily life in neighborhoods.

Furthermore, we can consider the MoMA exhibition as a small initial action itself, one that had a great echo in the following years and which still exerts an influence. Originally intended to travel to museums across the United States, the exhibition opened for a single summer in New York before being dismantled and returned to Italy. Yet, despite the brevity of its public presentation, the show became a benchmark for future architecture and design exhibitions. “It’s the great ‘myth’ of design curating,” explains Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, “the show that my generation never saw, but thanks to the catalogue, and the title we regularly refer to it.” The catalogue of Italy: the New Domestic Landscape had a great impact in the following years both in Italian and American academic circles because it was the first book which attempted to chart the cultural complexity of an emerging design culture.


[Febrik, Drawing work in the studio (Play space 2005,Burj El Barajneh refugee camp, Lebanon) | Photo: Febrik]

In MONU magazine’s new issue, I found a similar procedure related to “small initial actions” that can have a big impact on a larger scale. For example, in the article “Urbanism for Refugees,” Fabio Micocci shows how small tactical actions carried out in a refugee camp in Lebanon are helpful in establishing pilot projects that could devise new procedures for the future; reshaping and adapting urban design principles to the new context of the global movement of people. Micocci touches on a crucial issue: the “right to space,” or rather space as a process of re-appropriation. Re-appropriation in this case means actions of participation in a process that involves children and adults to ensure identification with and belonging to the space. On a larger scale, “Right to space” means “Right to the city” (Henri Lefebrve, 1968).

We can consider the right to the city as the right to change and reinvent the city according to our needs. Moreover, it is a collective rather than an individual right, since rebuilding the city inevitably depends on the exercise of a common power over the processes of urbanization. The freedom to build and rebuild cities and ourselves is one of the most precious human rights — yet it is also one of the most neglected. To claim the right to the city means to claim the power to give shape to the processes of urbanization, to the ways in which our cities are built and rebuilt, and to do it in a radical way — starting from the small things.

Claudia Consonni recently graduated from Politecnico di Milano. She also obtained a master in Architecture and Museography at Accademia Adrianea in Rome. During the past two years she has been collaborating as teaching assistant at the design studio held by Lorenzo Degli Esposti that is focused on urban planning and public spaces. Since 2017, she is a member of the research collective GruppoTorto.

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Today’s archidose #991

Here are a couple photos of the Agricultural Rehabilitation Center KRUS “Granit” (1981) in Szklarska Poręba, Poland, by Stefan Janusz Müller. (Photos: M. M. Czarnecki)

Granit
Granit

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Due Spring 2019

Last month I signed the contract for my next book with Prestel, tentatively titled NYC Walking Tours. Due to be released in spring 2019, the book collects eight architectural walking tours (plus two new ones) that I’ve been giving for the last six years for the 92Y and other institutions in and around New York City.

In some ways the new book will be like an update of my first book, Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture (W. W. Norton, 2011), whose 22 chapters were organized as suggested walking routes. NYC Walking Tours will feature numerous buildings and landscapes from that book but many more that have been completed since then. Due to its structure and length, it will not be as comprehensive as my first book, and it will be more explicit in the routes – where to go, and what to look at. And of course, it will be compact and easy to carry around.

This image (something I quickly mocked up and certainly NOT the cover for the book) is a case in point: my High Line tour involves getting off the elevated park to look at a few buildings up close, including Shigeru Ban’s Metal Shutter Houses, whose duplex units sit behind its namesake shutters and garage-door-like walls of glass. Other tours head to Billionaire’s Row, the Bowery, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Columbia University, and Roosevelt Island, among other parts of the city where a density of new architecture warrants a walk.

I’m not posting this news here to toot my own horn. Rather, if you see posts that are a bit NYC-heavy in the next few months as I finish the manuscript…well, now you know why.

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18 for 2018

Head on over to World-Architects to see which 18 projects I’m looking forward to in 2018.

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A305 at CCA

Followers of this blog probably know I like architecture documentaries, such as ACB’s informative half-hour features on modern and contemporary buildings. In 2016 I blogged about some overlap between those docs and my book 100 Years, 100 Buildings, but many of them were removed from YouTube after ACB’s account was terminated. (I found versions of those docs elsewhere, but many embeds in that post are still broken.)

A series of architecture documentaries that shouldn’t have that issue is A305, aka “History of Architecture and Design 1890–1939.” According to the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which is posting the series on their YouTube channel, “Between 1975 and 1982, The Open University broadcast a series of televised courses on the genealogy of the modern movement: A305, History of Architecture and Design 1890–1939. Through twenty-four programs aired on BBC 2, the course team aimed to offer students and viewers a critical understanding of the intentions and views of the world that fueled the modern movement, and to present some of the alternative traditions that flourished alongside it.”

As part of its exhibition, The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture (15 November to 1 April), the CCA is posting one episode per week. There are eight to date, all embedded below. As more are added to their channel, I’ll embed those below. The next one will be tomorrow, so if you like the episodes, check back here every Friday for another one.

A305/01: What Is Architecture? An Architect at Work:

A305/02: The Universal International Exhibition, Paris, 1900:

A305/11 (thematically combined with 02): The International Exhibition of Decorative Arts Paris 1925:

A305/03: Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Hill House:

A305/04: Industrial Architecture: AEG and Fagus Factories:

A305/05: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Robie House:

A305/06: R. M. Schindler: The Lovell Beach House:

A305/07: Erich Mendelsohn: The Einstein Tower:

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