The Architecture Monograph Reinvented

Courtesy FXFOWLE

By FXFOWLE Architects
ORO Editions, $40

This surprising little book fulfills and enhances the architecture it presents. By breaking completely from the traditional monograph format and aesthetic, FXFOWLE has devised an ingenious publication that informs the reader at many levels. The monograph team that planned it did not wish to produce what they scorned as the traditional coffee table book. This consists of lavish photograph portfolios for which projects are described briefly if at all; and even site and floor plans may not appear in page layouts. Such books can be somewhat redeemed thanks to laudatory texts by respected pundits, and tend to be expensively printed and bound, if not heavy to carry. Given that architecture monographs have two essential purposes—the first to market a firm’s talents and skills and the second to document and preserve its history of achievement—more books should teach how architecture really happens. Unfortunately, most do not even try.

The FXFOWLE monograph consists of four slim paperbacks, each 7.5 inches by 9.5 inches, in a box set. Its full title will at first baffle. The name of each booklet is a single word poetically offered to suggest a particular architectural theme that governs the firm’s work. REVEAL is a collection of five projects that exemplify the relationships between architecture and landscape. These are the subject of a text by Kent Kleinman, dean of the Cornell College of Architecture, Art and Planning, who writes, “FXFOWLE is at the forefront of a movement that is systematically dissolving the boundary between the built and the natural, deliberately embracing a new scope for the designer and inventing formal strategies that produce environments as much as they shape individual buildings.” The nature and site design project to which Kleinman pays particular attention to is City Regenerative: Nordhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark. Designed in a 2008 competition for a 500 acre-site it will not be completely developed until 2055. Kleinman observes that FXFOWLE makes use of this project to “demonstrate their commitment to, and remarkable facility with, sustainable urbanism, correctly noting that urban form is a critical dimension of sustainable design.”


The four other projects presented in REVEAL are the Center for Global Conservation in the Bronx, New York (2009) that houses the departments for international programs, exhibition and graphic design, and information technology once scattered around the 256-acre zoo campus; the SAP Americas Headquarters Expansion in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania (2008) integrates building and landscape by way of linked building systems that respond to the surrounding woodlands and the remnants of an arboretum; the Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Crossing (2011) in Dubai is the winner of an invited international design competition for a bridge intended to alleviate traffic in the city of Dubai; the Qalaalti Hotel Spa (2014) in Azerbaijan relates to its immediate setting, the pleated rock of the Caucasus Mountains.

The theme of FILTER is context. Four completed projects display the influence of culture, local customs, and climate. The Renaissance Tower (2014) is a 42-story office building in Istanbul; Greater Noida Housing (2008) in India accommodates 1,700 units of housing on a 47-acre site; the Museum of the Built Environment (2014) in Riyadh puts the traditionally private culture of Saudi Arabia on display; Eleven Times Square (2010), a 40-story glass clad office tower, is surrounded by significant architectural structures. Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota provides the essay for this assembly. He writes: “The idea of these four buildings acting like filters has served them well. The analogy has allowed their architects to sort through the myriad information and influences that surround every project and arrive at a distillation in four compelling and revealing works of architecture.”


EVOLVE presents five projects that bond with history. The Bronx Zoo’s Lion House Reconstruction in New York City (2008) now functions for animals from Madagascar, the lions long since moved elsewhere; the Richardson Memorial Hall Sustainability Study (2011) for Tulane University in New Orleans, brought about the transformation of a five-story, 67,500 square feet, then 103-year-old masonry structure, to serve a contemporary use but remain intact as a building; the Multimedia Entertainment Company (2012) in New York consists of a modern insertion into an historic fabric; the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Renovation (2013) in New York retains the character of the original design; the Water Street Redevelopment Vision Plan (2010) proposes physical changes and public programs to extend activity in this downtown New York area.

Kenneth Schwartz, dean of architecture at Tulane, was appropriately chosen to write the introduction to EVOLVE. Richardson Memorial Hall was the original home of the Tulane School of Medicine but since 1971 has been the School of Architecture. Schwartz includes the restoration and transformation of his own workplace when he writes, “The conception of each project involves a careful balance between old and new, a balance that is mutually reinforcing rather than a simplistic dichotomy. Tying together new and old within each project integrates and blurs distinctions, imparting to each structure a memorable strength that will last for the next 100 years.”


EFFECT, the final booklet, provides an essay on the role of program by Kim Tanzer, dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture. The five projects presented which focus on this fundamental design process are Hunter’s Point Campus (2013) Queens, New York, shaped by its complex educational purpose as well as its scenic setting; the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Offices (2009) in New York for which the architects began the design for the interior of its new location by rethinking the grant-making process; concepts of daylight directed the design program of Golisano Institute for Sustainability (2013) in Rochester; the Columbia University School of Nursing (2016) in New York required a programming effort that favorably affected the buildings volume, mass, and height; FXFOWLE was able to program a complex building for the Clinical Science Center (2014) in Buffalo that met the requirements for clinical work and research in spite of its highly constrained site.

Tanzer writes, “A new approach to program suggests a new kind of architect. FXFOWLE’s efforts center less on controlling or manipulating behavior and more on suggesting actions. The firm’s attention to the organization and pliability of spatial relationships serves local context, community goals, and changing uses and users. An effective implementation of program is the smart approach. Architecture is at best a partner in a dance; the building only rarely plays the leading role.”

The texts of these four booklets are well supported by the clarity and beauty of the drawings. By hand or computer they reveal the various stages of the design process for each of the nineteen projects chosen, and are handsomely arranged in the page layouts. The power and strength of these drawings have much to teach.

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