Architects have never enjoyed a position of such supreme prominence as they did in the worldview of Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller. To him, architects alone were capable of understanding and navigating the complex interrelationships of society, technology, and environment as viewed through the comprehensive paradigm of systems theory. Architecture, in this model, was intended to exist in close contact with both mankind and nature, playing civilization’s most critical role in elevating the state of humanity and promoting its responsible stewardship of the environment. Emerging from the ethical positivity of postwar modernism, this melioristic perspective marks perhaps the zenith of optimism’s ascent in mid-twentieth century thought, and gave Fuller a uniquely moral blueprint for his revolutionary designs.
It was from this social and philosophical context
Arches have long been used to mark the greatest achievements of Roman civilization. Constantine, Titus, and Septimus Severus built them to commemorate their military victories. Engineers at Segovia and Nîmes incorporated them into their revolutionary aqueducts. And fifteen hundred years after the Fall of Rome, Rafael Moneo gave a modern touch to the ancient structure in Mérida's breathtaking National Museum of Roman Art, located on the site of the former Iberian outpost of Emerita Augusta. Soaring arcades of simple, semi-circular arches merge historicity and contemporary design, creating a striking yet sensitive point of entry to the remains of one of the Roman Empire's greatest cities.
Moneo's commission for the museum came in 1979 as part of
Robert Moses, the planner-politician-architect who infamously built overpasses too low for buses to bring New York’s urban poor to his beaches, is the subject of a new graphic novel by Pierre Christin and Olivier Balez titled Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York City. Admirable for its candid rawness, their profile of perhaps the most polarizing and important figure in American planning history is no lionizing eulogy. The impressive triumphs of Moses’ tenure are juxtaposed with unsparing accounts of his regrettable social policies and the often-shortsighted consequences of his public infrastructure. For each groundbreaking feat of structural engineering and political mobilization, there is another story told of his callous social engineering, the consequences of which reshaped the lives of New Yorkers as much as his architecture.
The chronicles of ‘Big Bob the Builder’ are told through an entertaining and well-illustrated sequence
Standing on the outskirts of Victoria, British Columbia, the timber-clad Strawberry Vale Elementary School is emblematic of Patkau Architects’ philosophy. Completed in 1995, the school's situation next to a prominent geological rift, coupled with its loving attention to surrounding indigenous flora, allows
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Completed in 1953, the U.S. Embassy in Havana was a defining project of midcentury American modernism
For the first time in over a half-century, the United States reopened its official diplomatic embassy in Havana earlier today, shining an international spotlight on Harrison and Abramovitz's modernist shoreline classic. Historically maligned by many Cubans as an embodiment of American arrogance and imperialism, the building has played a pronounced symbolic role in the escalation - and now the easement - of political animosities between the two countries.
The symbolic importance of this move - and of diplomatic architecture generally - was not lost on the pun-loving New York Times:
"...[T]he reopening of the embassy on the Malecón waterfront in Havana, previously used as an interests section, a limited diplomatic outpost, stands as the most concrete symbol yet of the thaw set in motion last year when President Obama ordered
Easy to overlook behind Kazuyo Sejima’s celebrated control of spatial and material effect is her emphasis on program and its role in the ratiocinated process of form-finding. In this 2002 lecture on her “Recent Work,” Sejima delves into the methodology that informs her work, beginning with two ongoing (and since-heralded) projects: the Theatre and Art Centre at Almere and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art at Kanazawa.
In both of these projects, Sejima ruminates on the intrigue of the microunit, the autonomously coherent spatial cogs that accumulate to participate in the purposeful machine. First within the irregularly-intervaled grid of the Theatre (as studios and staging areas), and second within the cytoplasmic circumscription of the Kanazawa Museum (as exhibitions), individual programmatic components with discreet performative roles seem to float, untethered to each other, in voluminous seas of circulatory space. By segregating elemental blocks within these projects, Sejima exaggerates their apparent
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“No single major piece of architecture in the twentieth century can be taken out of its political context and its relationship with power.” So argues theorist and historian Jean-Louis Cohen in this lecture delivered at the Berlage Institute in October, 2006, titled “The politics of memory: Monuments to legitimacy.” Focusing specifically on landscapes of war and reconstruction in twentieth century Europe and their intimate relationship with structures of power, Cohen approaches the tenet that “all design is political” by examining the place of buildings in the deeply politicized landscapes of collective memory.
The relationship between architecture and power is complex and reciprocal. Regimes and revolutionaries alike employ architecture as a mechanism for expressing and executing their respective desires of stability and subversion. Accordingly, public architecture and public space bear the imprint of the political ideations that yield them and assume an operative function in the service of ideology. Architecture, in its role as a repository of collective memory and through its ability to shape public space and mold public discourse, is likewise capable of affecting the operation and exertion of power. Relics of history—residual architecture—play into our cultural fetishizations of nostalgia and encourage the translocation of ideologies between past and present.
Continue reading "The Berlage Archive: Jean-Louis Cohen (2006)"
Before the impossibly “super-thin” tower became ubiquitous on the Midtown Manhattan skyline, Raimund Abraham’s Austrian Cultural Forum challenged the limits of what could be built on the slenderest of urban lots. Working with a footprint no bigger than a townhouse (indeed, one occupied the site before the present tower), Abraham erected a daring twenty-four story high-rise only twenty-five feet across. Instantly recognizable by its profile, a symmetrical, blade-like curtain wall cascading violently toward the sidewalk, ACFNY was heralded by Kenneth Frampton as “the most significant modern piece of architecture to be realized in Manhattan since the Seagram Building and the Guggenheim Museum of 1959.” 
Despite being one of the seminal works of modern Scandinavian architecture, Alvar Aalto’s Viipuri Library languished in relative obscurity for three-quarters of a century until its media breakthrough in late 2014. Its receipt of the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize for a recent renovation was covered by news outlets around the world, bringing the 1935 building previously unseen levels of attention and scrutiny.
This renaissance is nothing less than extraordinary. Abandoned for over a decade and allowed to fall into complete disrepair, the building was once so forgotten that many believed it had actually been demolished.  For decades, architects studied Aalto’s project only in drawings and prewar black-and-white photographs, not knowing whether the original was still standing, and if it was, how it was being used. Its transformation from modern icon to deserted relic to architectural classic is a tale of political intrigue, warfare, and the perseverance of a dedicated few who saved the building from ruin.
For those familiar with the more canonical work of Bernard Tschumi, the Limoges Concert Hall may seem a puzzlingly conventional departure from the radical, intensively theoretical projects that introduced the world to the Swiss architect. In one sense, the visual clarity of the design doesn’t provoke the same complex discourses on architectural violence and eroticism that guided his early-career pursuits, and it is certainly a more functional evolution of his polemic on non-programmatic space that was famously exhibited at Parc de la Villete. In another sense, the concept and form of Limoges aren’t anything novel, either, emerging almost in its entirety from a concert hall prototype Tschumi developed in the late 1990s for a similar venue at Rouen. But Limoges is important for other reasons: in addition to its thoughtful material and spatial choices, it is one of the more articulate illustrations of Tschumi’s explorations of movement and enclosure—“vectors and envelopes”—that inform much of his recent work.
The prolific body of work produced over the last half century by Moshe Safdie and his firm is somewhat anomalous in the pantheon of high-profile living architects. It is unique in both formal and philosophical terms, nostalgically guided by the ethical precepts of bygone modernist theory while working in architectural languages significantly evolved from midcentury standards. In the course of a comprehensive review of his projects, it is perhaps the very lack of an isomorphic personal signature that makes his celebrity so unique. The Safdie “look” is chameleonic, deliberately adapting to culture and context without suffering from the burden of personal branding, unified by theory and a geometric playfulness that transcends architectural language and affect.
Arches have long been used to mark the greatest achievements of Roman civilization. Constantine, Titus, and Septimus Severus built them to commemorate their military victories. Engineers at Segovia and Nîmes incorporated them into their revolutionary aqueducts. And fifteen hundred years after the Fall of Rome, Rafael Moneo gave a modern touch to the ancient structure in Mérida’s breathtaking National Museum of Roman Art, located on the site of the former Iberian outpost of Emerita Augusta. Soaring arcades of simple, semi-circular arches merge historicity and contemporary design, creating a striking yet sensitive point of entry to the remains of one of the Roman Empire’s greatest cities.
On the banks of the river Seine, just east of the Île de la Cite and downtown Paris, stand the four glittering towers of the National Library of France. Bent around the outskirts of a public esplanade, these towers are Dominique Perrault’s modern take on the age-old Parisian tradition of monumental public architecture. The project is both volume and void, enclosure and exposure, a juxtaposition of contrasting ideas that is as reverent of its place in a thousand-year-old legacy as it is deliberately self-critical.
The pivotal turning point in the late Frei Otto’s career – capped by last month’s Pritzker announcement – came nearly fifty years ago at the Expo ’67 World’s Fair in Montreal, Quebec. In collaboration with architect Rolf Gutbrod, Otto was responsible for the exhibition pavilion of the Federal Republic of Germany, a tensile canopy structure that brought his experiments in lightweight architecture to the international stage for the first time. Together with Fuller’sBiosphere and Safdie’sHabitat 67, the German Pavilion was part of the Expo’s late-modern demonstration of the potential of technology, pre-fabrication, and mass production to generate a new humanitarian direction for architecture. This remarkable collection at the Expo was both the zenith of modern meliorism and its tragic swan song; never since has the world seen such a singularly hopeful display of innovative architecture.
No architect played a greater role in shaping the twentieth century Manhattan skyline than Ralph Thomas Walker, winner of the 1957 AIA Centennial Gold Medal and a man once dubbed “Architect of the Century” by the New York Times.  But a late-career ethics scandal involving allegations of stolen contracts by a member of his firm precipitated his retreat from the architecture establishment and his descent into relative obscurity. Only recently has his prolific career been popularly reexamined, spurred by a new monograph and a high-profile exhibit of his work at the eponymous Walker Tower in New York in 2012.
It may be the single most important architectural detail of the last fifty years. Emerging bravely from the glassy sea of Madison Avenue skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan, the open pediment atop Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s 1984 AT&T Building (now the Sony Tower) singlehandedly turned the architectural world on its head. This playful deployment of historical quotation explicitly contradicted modernist imperatives and heralded the mainstream arrival of an approach to design defined instead by a search for architectural meaning. The AT&T Building wasn’t the first of its type, but it was certainly the most high-profile, proudly announcing that architecture was experiencing the maturation of a new evolutionary phase: Postmodernism had officially arrived to the world scene.
Continue reading "AD Classics: AT&T Building / Philip Johnson and John Burgee"
Few in the twentieth century straddled the demarcation between design and architecture as effortlessly – or as successfully – as Ray and Charles Eames. For the Eameses, the distinction was artificial and unhelpful; useful creative thought emerged from a process-based method of problem solving, design solutions addressed and resolved specific needs, and success could be effectively measured by an object’s ability to do its jobs. But while the Eameses were famously weary of design’s historical tendency toward “creative expression,” their work exhibited none of the abject sterility threatened by a devotion to extreme functionalism. They found that delight was itself utilitarian, and an object’s capacity to produce pleasure for its user allowed for the consideration of aesthetics as one metric of serviceability. From this belief in the unity of performance and perception emerged some of the century’s most iconic designs: Case Study House #8, the Molded Plywood Lounge Chairs, and the 670 & 671 Eames Lounge and Ottoman.The forthcoming An Eames Anthology, edited by Daniel Ostroff and published by Yale University Press, chronicles the careers of Ray and Charles Eames in their pursuits as designers, architects, teachers, artists, filmmakers, and writers. As Ostroff attests, with over 130,000 documents archived in the Library of Congress, the Eameses were nothing if not prolific; this volume, accordingly, is not comprehensive so much as representative, curated to reflect the breadth of interests and accomplishments of the pair.In preparation for a 1949 lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles on “Advice for Students,” Charles made the following notes on inspiration, methodology, and career strategy. They are excerpted here from An Eames Anthology:Continue reading "Charles Eames’ Advice for Students"
If the architectural volte face of the late 1960s heralded the genesis of postmodernism, deconstruction, and a golden age of theory, it came at an equally destructive cost. Escaping the totalizing regime of modernism demanded from architects more than the promise of new ideas; it required the falsification of modernist axioms and the wholesale annihilation of its spiritual eidos. In this critical moment of death and rebirth, some pieces of the modern project survived only by hiding under the cloak of the technological progress, while others—like modern city planning—persisted only because there was no way to turn back the clock.