In a small Indiana town, a rich architectural legacy is celebrated with an annual exploration of architecture, art, design, and community. In its second exhibition run (it’s first in 2017) Exhibit Columbus features 18 site-responsive installations that use Columbus, Indiana’s heritage as inspiration and context while highlighting the role that community plays in growing a vibrant city. This year’s exhibition explores “good design” and “community,” a reference to the 1986 exhibition Good Design and the Community: Columbus, Indiana at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The early exhibit championed town business leader and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller’s hometown pride by emphasizing the community’s process and involvement in building renowned architecture. As his community-based, activist approach resurges to mold this year’s theme, Exhibit Columbus becomes an architectural showcase aimed at doing good for the people. Bryony Roberts Studio’s Soft Civic is a complimentary showstopper to arguably the most civic site of the exhibition, Columbus’ City Hall, designed by Edward Charles Bassett of SOM (1981). The two cantilevered steel beams masked in brick veneer, generous lawn, and lengthy walkway toward a broad staircase frames the collection of colorful woven and steel structures. The installation articulates the many different vantage points afforded in civic life—play, performance, or protest; on the lawn, the steps, or at the front door. The solid brick planar facade that meets a clear glazed half-circle atrium fundamentally shapes the installation. These elements reveal layers of circles that slice (at an angle) and frame (vertically or horizontally) a new reading of the municipal building. The installation will offer programming opportunities for the community, including but not limited to a democracy day and youth summit with musical performances. An interview with Bryony Roberts in collaboration with Brooklyn-based textile workshop Powerhouse Arts describes the laborious process of weaving the large structures. (Courtesy Spirit of Space) Understorey, a project by Hans Tursak (MIT School of Architecture + Planning) and Viola Ago (the Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture), is an open-air vivarium, a place of life, built from a combination of off-the-shelf agricultural products and custom, digitally fabricated structural elements. Understorey is an ecological education center (like many of this year’s installations) that highlights a cross-section of southern Indiana’s geological specimens taken from quarries, forests, and urban sites. The pavilion is an architectural expression devoid of aesthetic neglect commonly seen in environmentally conscious design. Corn is no surprise in Indiana. The leading crop covers one-quarter of the state and is traditionally processed as animal feed and ethanol. Though Boston and Kigali, Rwanda-based MASS Design Group surprised Hoosiers with an already familiar scene in Corn / Meal. What. From the street view, the installation looks like a standard, well-maintained miniature cornfield. Upon entry, maze-like corridors made of corn lead to a tangled serpentine picnic table within a dedicated open clearing. When read as an absurdist, formalist sculpture referencing local tropes such as corn and the always-communal picnic table, it’s actually one of the more successful installations. An interview with Caitlin Taylor, MASS Design Group’s Design Director, as she describes the depth of research for Corn / Meal and the need for education around food production. (Courtesy Spirit of Space) PienZa Sostenible, led by architect Carlos Zedillo Velasco and his brother Rodrigo Zedillo Velasco, present Las Abejas, a series of homes for bees. The project brings internationally-recognized Mexican architects, like Tatiana Bilbao Estudio and Rozana Montiel Arquitectos, to share their countries’ expertise as regional leaders of apiculture products worldwide. Located in a humble Dan Kiley landscape in front of Eero Saarinen’s Irwin Conference Center (1954) visitors are encouraged to consider the importance of bees everywhere in order to sustain our food and environment. Two remaining installations from the inaugural exhibition aren’t leftovers but more so savor-the-flavor of a less-didactic exhibition concerning architecture. Oyler Wu Collaborative’s all-white, tectonic pavilion, The Exchange, still notably stands in the plaza of the Irwin Conference Center, just moments away from PienZa Sostenible's bee homes. Nestled in a more intimate setting outside the William O. Hogue House, Formafantasma’s Window to Columbus originally pledged to display stories of materials that were used to define Washington Street and Columbus. Though, for the Good Design and the Community opening weekend, the significant structure displayed this year’s marketing material. It reminds us that Exhibit Columbus’s impact goes beyond any one installation as the program leaves a lasting impact on the downtown, and more importantly, how people live and play downtown.
All posts in Review
Pezo Von Ellrichshausen brings Chilean design to Cooper Union
On September 10, the Architectural League of New York kicked off its fall 2019 lecture series with a talk by Pezo Von Ellrichshausen moderated by Michael Meredith. Speaking to a large audience in The Cooper Union’s Great Hall, the young Chilean firm presented a body of work ranging from art performance pieces, to an island villa looking toward the Andes, to a cultural center on the cliffs over the Pacific Ocean. The work, in short, is gorgeous, and Mauricio Pezo and Sofia Von Ellrichshausen spoke about it in a way that checked off every box for a formalist architectural project: considering the promenade, the corner, weight, material, color, seriality, etcetera—the stuff of architecture. In response to a question by Meredith about the notion of progress, Pezo evoked the paintings of Mark Rothko. The evocation is apt; in fact, the paintings the office produces as part of their design process resonate with Rothko’s murky blocks of color. Like a Rothko painting, their architecture is transcendental—in a way, utopian. They are modern, but not in the sense of a modernist social agenda, like painters from the mid-20th century: the crisp silence of Edward Hopper, the figural alliteration of Paul Klee, the obsessive geometry of Frank Stella. The architects described their work as an exploration of format rather than form and showed diagrams similar to Sol LeWitt’s 122 Incomplete Open Cubes (1974), exploring every possible permutation of a formal operation. Engulfed in images of this transcendental, modern, utopian work, one could easily forget the last 50 or so years of architecture as it has struggled to adapt to changing construction techniques, global/neoliberal economies, digital workflows, and new social and environmental responsibilities. An audience member questioned the architects about the role of context in shaping what was presented as largely autonomous work. Pezo said that built architecture is by definition contextual, but when he went on to bemoan the difficulty of addressing building codes for a project they are working on in the US, the audience chuckled—a tacit recognition by the crowd that the stunning work presented exists in the unique economic, construction, and environmental bubble in which the architects operate. It is a context of long staircases without landings, inaccessible doorways buried in acute corners, affordable skilled craftsmanship, and available commissions for small one-bedroom chalets. Meredith furthered the question of context, asking what the firm would do in an urban setting. Von Ellrichshausen responded that they don’t know, but they “will do it wonderfully.” Another audience member stepped up to the microphone not to ask a question but to congratulate the young firm on achieving the “perfect balance of Aldo Rossi and Alvar Aalto.” One could certainly discuss the work in relation to Rossi and Aalto or draw parallels between their explorations of the piano nobile and Le Corbusier or of columns and Giuseppe Terragni. But to do so, only, overlooks what their work eschews. In New York, in a progressive school of architecture, on a warm September night following the Earth’s hottest summer ever recorded, the omission of any acknowledgment of the environmental, urban, social, and economic realities of architecture in the 21st century was glaring. Is treating architecture solely as an artistic, formal pursuit useful or even an option for anyone sitting in that auditorium? How much longer can the architecture community afford to do so? An audience member in the row in front of me noted in her phone “look up pve echo pavilion Milan.” Certainly, as with all of the project the architects showed, the pavilion at the 2019 Milan Design Week, a mirrored cube distorting the courtyard of a baroque palazzo, is worthy of our attention; it’s beautiful in both concept and execution. Pezo Von Ellrichshausen should, indeed, be admired, but not emulated. Patrick Templeton is a Brooklyn-based architectural designer and managing editor of Log.
Hare & Hare tracks how cemeteries became thoughtful landscapes
Hare & Hare, Landscape Architects and City Planners Carol Grove and Cydney Millstein University of Georgia Press in association with Library of American Landscape History List price: $39.95; 264 pages Cemeteries are like cities. They need streets that efficiently accommodate traffic flow, harmonious neighborhoods of related structures, visual landmarks and vistas, and a sense of place that will attract not only its permanent residents but also visitors. Sidney J. Hare (1860–1938) was one of America’s most influential designers of such landscapes. “On a national level, Sid’s foremost contribution was his participation in the ideological and physical shaping of a new type of cemetery, one fit for the twentieth century,” write Carol Grove and Cydney Millstein in their book, Hare & Hare Landscape Architects and City Planners. What had once been spooky, gloomy, often remotely sited plots of land well outside the city limits for the dead, suddenly became, through the work of Hare and his son, S. Herbert Hare (1888–1960), in-town locales that were very much alive. The father-son team of landscape architects, based in Kansas City, designed fifty-four cemeteries throughout the country and one in Costa Rica—among them, Forest Hill in Kansas City, where they would both eventually be buried. In Monongahela, Pennsylvania, and Grandview in Salem, Ohio, which would forever change the way the dead and the living interact. The team fashioned cities of the dead that incorporated macadam-paved roads that honored the natural topographies, introduced engaging architectural elements, along with lakes and plant features, and chose foliage for the ways they would change throughout the seasons. A kind of design mantra evolved for them: More nature and less marble and stone. The elder Hare “understood more than aesthetics,” the authors recount in this first-ever dual biography of the designers, for he was “grounded [too] in the technical aspects of dealing with nature.” Quoting Hare directly, the authors write that he considered the best cemetery to be a “botanical garden, bird sanctuary, and arboretum.” The book proves that some of the best-recognized and most prized city planning designs are often ones whose makers go uncredited. “It was not until the formation of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in 1899 and Harvard and MIT’s offering courses geared toward future practitioners the next year that landscape architecture began to coalesce as a profession,” write Grove, a professor of art history and archaeology at the University of Missouri, and Millstein, founder and principal of the Architectural and Historical Research in Kansas City. This record of the Hares' lives and works reinforces the notion that the discipline of landscape architecture is “the fourth fine art after architecture, painting, and sculpture.” The moment the elder Hare enlisted his son to join the firm he established in Kansas City’s Gumbel Building in 1910, the two embarked on making some of the most resonant landscapes in America. One of the great American places is Kansas City’s Country Club District, for which Hare & Hare would plan some 2500 acres over a forty-year period. They would incorporate extant pasture land and wood into some of the residential neighborhoods, including Mission Hills, defined by narrow, sinuous roadways, interior parks or “parklets”, as they called them, and carefully chose flowering shrubs and sculptural trees. So obsessed was the father-son team during their work on the complex, which they began in 1913 with the developer, J.C. Nichols, that no element was too small to be accounted for—weathervanes, bridges, the fonts on the signage, the placement of public artworks, the locales for campfire sites and bridle paths. Grove and Millstein expertly detail the process for this city planning project, recounting that the Hares made more than two hundred finished drawings, apart from those they executed for some of their many individual residential commissions within the district. “Transformed by Hare & Hare’s plan—praised as beautiful, thoughtful, and original—Mission Hills was perhaps the finest neighborhood executed for Nichols,” conclude the authors. No landscape, no matter how seemingly topographically challenged, couldn’t be tamed and transformed by Hare & Hare. For their many works in Houston, for instance, the elder Hare’s vision for the new residential neighborhood of Forest Hill embraced as one of its defining scenic attributes what many would have considered its biggest natural obstacle—a swampy, sinuous bayou. Making that watery source one of its focal points was a revolutionary idea in its day. He and his son decided to depart from the strict street grid of nearby downtown Houston and instead fashion a series of roadways that radiated in arcs, outward like a giant fan. Meanwhile, their work in planning the city’s exclusive residential neighborhood known as River Oaks—some 2000 acres of land—endures. As the authors point out, “Fifty years after its inception, the architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable condemned 1970s Houston, but noted River Oaks’ exceptional planning.” Other notable projects of theirs documented by the authors include Houston’s Hermann Park, on which the Hares worked for more than twenty-five years, the expansive grounds of Tulsa’s Villa Philbrook (now open to the public as the Philbrook Museum of Art), the city of Longview, Washington, the Lake of the Ozarks, and parks in Fort Worth, Dallas, Joplin, Missouri, and elsewhere. Ultimately, upon the younger Hare’s death in 1960, the firm could list some four thousand projects in more than thirty states, Canada, and Costa Rica. As Robin Karson, executive director of the Library of American Landscape History (LALH) points out in her preface, the book “covers so much formerly uncharted territory in the history of American landscape design.” Indeed, LALH’s ongoing mission is to keep laying the often ignored historical groundwork for the discipline of landscape architecture. Even though the book immerses readers at times in the thick brambles of city bureaucracies and office politics through which the designers had to hack their way, the personalities of the two men emerge, so much so that the book functions, too, as a revealing biography of them. We feel them in action. Of Herbert, the authors state, “…he recognized that good design was achieved both over the drafting board and in the field, not by one or the other.” “Sid and Herbert believed that good landscape architecture was both a science and an art,” the authors state. “Although they emphasized the practical, functional role of their profession, they firmly believed that if a city for a garden ‘is not to be a work of art, then it would be best not to build it.’” We are grateful the Hares designed it and built it. And readers should be grateful this book was published to keep their accomplishments acknowledged and flourishing.
Shattering The Glass Ceiling
New Glass Now paints a full picture of contemporary practice at the Corning Museum of Glass
Capturing the zeitgeist of contemporary glass practice, the New Glass Now exhibition at the Corning Museum of Glass brings together work from 100 emerging and established talents across 32 nationalities. Exhibited pieces, ranging from large scale installations to delicate miniatures, were democratically selected based on an open call submissions process by a curatorial committee comprised of leading culture-makers and experts Aric Chen (Design Miami Curatorial Director), Susanne Jøker Johnsen (artist and head of exhibitions at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation, Denmark), and Beth Lipman (American artist). Susie J. Silbert (Corning Museum of Glass Curator of Modern and Contemporary Glass) headed up the jury and exhibition curation. Addressing relevant themes such as gender inequity and environmental degradation, the highly-curated exhibition reveals what glass can achieve through various expressive and conceptual interpretations, as well as new translations of age-old techniques like flameworking, glassblowing, and casting. Exhibition sections :in situ, :(infra)structures, :body politics, :embodied knowledge, :011001111 01101100 01110011, and :phenomena incorporate works that transcend disciplinary conventions. On view are sculptures, functional objects, photographs, videos, technological speculations, scientific experiments, architectural maquettes, and full-scale mockups. Through various strategic stagings, Silbert sought to establish sharp dialogues between different, seemingly unrelated, works. Fredrik Nielsen's "macho" I was here installation sits in the direct vicinity of Deborah Czeresko's emphatically feminist Meat Chandelier sculpture, a piece very similar to the final work she created during the Corning Museum of Glass-supported Netflix competition series Blown Away. Pieces such as Liquid Sunshine / I am a Pluviophile by Japanese artist Rui Sasaki reveals how glass can be implemented in expressing conceptual meaning, while Smokey Comet Installation I by Toots Zynsky challenges the perception of what the medium can physically achieve. The Bahá'í Temple of South America project by Jeff Goodman, and Crystal Houses (Chanel Flagship Store) by MVRDV showcase glass's potential in an architectural application. Reservoir by C. Matthew Szösz and Promise by Nadège Desgenétez demonstrate how far the material properties of glass can be pushed. Other notable artists, designers, and outright creatives represented in this comprehensive survey include Miya Ando, Atelier NL, Ans Bakker, the Bouroullec Brothers, Monica Bonvicini, Mathew Day Perez, Martino Gamper, Katherine Gray, Jochen Holz, Helen Le, Erwin Wurm, Dustin Yellin, Dafna Kaffeman, Bohyun Yoon, and Mark Zirpel. The main show is joined by New Glass Now | Context, an annex exhibit that explores the changing nature of glass-specific curation through the history of two past iterations of the New Glass exhibition series, in 1959 and 1979. Historic documentation, period-specific works, and related ephemera are displayed in the Corning Museum of Glass's Rakow Research Library and collectively reveal some clear differences in terms of method and focus but also socio-political and cultural influences.
Sounding resonantly across the dimly lit atrium that houses the Queens Museum’s 1964 Panorama of the City of New York, the voice of Guadalupe Maravilla (born Irvin Morazán in San Salvador) shifted seamlessly between Spanish and English as he recounted a formative childhood experience: In 1984, he migrated from El Salvador to Texas to escape the violence of the Salvadorian Civil War. At ten years old, Maravilla had traveled without an adult save for the coyote who had been hired to escort them across the border. The performance was a crowning moment for an equally powerful exhibition, Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas, on view through August 18. Clad in a billowing polyester costume that cartoonishly mimicked a person being carried by a lime-green alien, Maravilla recited the monologue while accompanied by three other players, two of them dressed metallic silver bodysuits and faux taxidermied bear heads, and the third in a white balaclava and a cape adorned with sculpted rabbit heads. Such regalia is typical of Maravilla’s performances, which combine Mayan cosmologies with the artist’s personal history. For this performance—intended to “cleanse political phobias and blockages of New Yorkers”—the actors alternately sat, moved about, and chanted among the panorama’s rivers and bay, thereby enacting the title of the piece, Walk on Water. Bringing together over thirty Latin American and Latinx artists, Mundos Alternos focuses on works that engage the many allegorical lenses afforded by science fiction to examine the multitude of possibilities for the ongoing struggle of Latinx immigrant populations. The works on view encompass a sprawling array of mediums—from video, to sculpture, to installation—and take on an equally wide range of approaches to addressing the shared, thematic subjects of colonization, alienation, and diaspora. Curators Robb Hernández, Joanna Szupinska-Myers, and Tyler Stallings originally organized the exhibition for UCR ARTS at the University of California, Riverside, as part of the larger Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA presentation that opened in September 2017 and ran through January 2018. According to the Queens Museum’s website, they hope to extend the run of Mundos Alternos either within or outside of the U.S. in order to continue a “conversation about speculative aesthetics at a time when immigrant futures are facing a crossroads.” Among the many highlights of the presentation are a reading room where visitors can peruse classic and contemporary works of science fiction published in English and Spanish. Inside a small theater, Alex Rivera’s film Sleep Dealer (2008) is screened on a loop, which astutely revises the heroic protagonist tropes of Blade Runner and The Matrix to apply to the plight of migrant workers. Indeed, the exhibition is aptly divided into an array of physically and conceptually linked realms—or “constellations,” as the curators refer to them—where viewers are free to enter, peer into, or ignore a diverse array of interior spaces. The museum’s central, sky-lit foyer is dedicated to a kinetic sculpture by Chico MacMurtrie and Amorphic Robot Works (ARW) titled Organic Arches (Time Traveler) (2014/2017). Here, sixteen tendrils constructed from electric valves sheathed in diaphanous white fabric hang just above the floor. When “closed,” each cylinder is coiled into loops and the structure constitutes a static, impenetrable scaffold until it is activated at predetermined times, when a computer system slowly expands the contracted limbs of each tube. Extending into the archway of its title, the “opened” sculpture briefly allows visitors to pass through its ribcage-like tunnel before curling back into stasis. By far the most immersive work in the exhibition is Rigo 23’s multi-room installation, where manifestos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation are scrawled among emblems of the movement, which take the form of snails, butterflies, balaclava-clad activists, and ears of corn. Queremos un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos, states one of the paintings hung in the final vitrine of the installation: “We want a world in which many worlds fit.” Maravilla’s July 21st Walk on Water performance came at an especially pertinent moment in the realm of New York cultural institutions; four days earlier, an Artforum Slant garnered widespread attention for calling on artists participating in the 2019 Whitney Biennial to withdraw their contributions to the exhibition as a form of protest against the museum’s refusal to remove billionaire Warren B. Kanders from their board of trustees. Kanders is the owner of Safariland Group, a distributor of law enforcement equipment including the brand of tear gas that has been used on Central American refugees attempting to cross the U.S.–Mexico border. By the time Maravilla entered the panorama in his human-alien costume, eight artists had demanded the removal of their work from the biennial, and tens of others had publicly advocated for Mr. Kanders’s resignation. While Kanders eventually resigned from his position and the eight protesting artists will remain in the biennial, the renewed discussion regarding the stewardship of public art collections by progenitors of state violence has galvanized many facets of an art world known for its implicit insularity. With its terminus yet to be determined, Mundos Alternos thus constitutes a prescient landscape of possible dystopias that remain unrealized yet highly possible, should the populations in positions of power succumb to the forces of greed or inertia. The spectators lining the panorama for Maravilla’s soliloquy were faced with the traumas inflicted by such dystopic scenarios. Maravilla’s performance, the calm narration of his own transience and pain, reminds us that the retention of our humanity is a choice we must actively pursue, and that the struggle for survival increasingly required of globally marginalized demographics will be fought not only at far off borders but within the private and public spaces of our own cities.
The Venice Variations traces the city’s deep urban fabric
The Venice Variations: Tracing the Architectural Imagination Sophia Psarra UCL Press List price: $45.00 Sophia Psarra’s The Venice Variations fulfills a dreamy mission of aggrandizing the titular city’s history and beauty while recognizing its fragility and potential demise because of climate change and overcrowding from tourists and their marine vehicles. The beautifully designed book sets up the over-thousand-year-old city as paradigmatic but atypical. Social and physical analyses add to a discussion of its awesome historical architectural development and two contemporary works that the city inspired, Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities (1972) and Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital (1964). These projects exhibit an intensity of imagination commensurate with Venice’s idiosyncratic character. Psarra’s book points to the city’s republican governance, worldwide trading patterns, and physiognomy, especially its islands, as evidence of its fundamentally deindustrial nature, positioning its regeneration as an example worth following. Of course, Venice’s architectural importance has always been obvious: Books on Vitruvius were printed there, and Palladio’s thinking and buildings take central stage in its heritage of interwoven islands and structures. The irregularity of the city’s urban fabric introduces variability within an organic whole. Psarra deals very carefully with the history of Piazza San Marco and its central position in civic and religious interpretations of the city. Its architects, Sansovino, Longhena, and Palladio, orchestrated their contributions to this special communal space to create specific views for the public to experience. The piazza accommodated many Venetian citizens and their commercial interests, as well as cultural rites—the author titles this chapter “Statecraft,” but the square welcomed stagecraft, too. Religious processions led by clergy and the Doge marked many occasions. Illustrations of the piazza and its surroundings by the author abound; these educational aids are present to a fault. Italo Calvino makes his Invisible Cities mysteriously visible in print, a feat of vivid invention. This is a novel where plot is overtaken by expansive, thought-provoking fabrications. The merchant Marco Polo describes 55 cities as fantastical constructions to Kublai Khan, who rejoices in his empire. Our two protagonists, Khan and Polo, differ greatly: The former seeks order in his possessions, while Polo “seeks not-yet-seen adventures.” Invisible Cities attracted postmodern architects with its playfulness. The book juxtaposes images of lightness and coherence with images of entropy—disorder and ruin are the fascinations of our two protagonists. Although Polo refuses to discuss Venice, he provokes thoughts of it intermittently, and the city haunts the book. There is a play of numbers showing Calvino’s attachment to the Oulipo group of mathematicians, and he includes Polo’s descriptions and his and Khan’s dialogues and the number of combinatorial rules. Psarra shows some brilliance in this interpretation of mathematical patterns that few, including this author, fully comprehend. Though not an expert in mathematics, Psarra certainly seems to manage these complex concepts in the book. While architecture demands knowledge of mathematics, I wonder if there are architects who might appreciate the math of Invisible Cities as conveyed in The Venice Variations. As the last project Psarra visits, Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital leaves a heavy imprint on the mind. Unlike the architect’s typically isolated buildings, Venice Hospital is meant to fit in with existing neighboring structures. Le Corbusier’s imagery is pertinent for understanding that of contemporary Venice. If Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore lies at the front of the city, the hospital would have marked its back door. The completed project would have been as radical as the first modern designs of the avant-garde—especially in its entrance from beneath, which recalls the Villa Savoye and the later National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. Psarra also explores the hospital’s affinity with mat buildings as described by Alison Smithson. In fact, Venice Hospital’s place in the realm of architectural history lies in the province of Team Ten, with a neat precedent in Shadrach Woods’s Berlin Free University. The project engaged Le Corbusier’s attention for over nine years; after the master’s sudden death, Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente continued the work. Psarra tells the tale well: how the horizontal layout of the design sets up pivoting squares and nurse stations on the first floor and how the aggregation of cells flows horizontally to merge with the city. As in other signature buildings, Le Corbusier develops a system of squares and golden-section rectangles, which gives geometric logic to the spaces.
In Real Life
The Tate Modern's Olafur Eliasson retrospective is a bonanza of flashy environmental art
I know it rains a lot in London, but you have to wonder if Olafur Eliasson is playing a joke—the Danish-Icelandic artist has installed a "Rain Window" (Regenfenster, 1999) inside the Tate Modern just as summer begins. Eliasson has previous experience when it comes to playing with the weather in England. In 2003, The Weather Project illuminated the Tate's Turbine Hall with a miniature "sun" to create a sunset-like haze in the former power station and attracted some two million visitors. Sixteen years on, Eliasson is back. Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, the Tate Modern's latest retrospective of the artist, pulls together 38 works dating back to 1990 through to today. While none are as exhilarating as the 2003 show, however, Eliasson is still able to able to tantalize the senses. Fitting that many of Eliasson's works into one exhibition was no mean feat, and not all of them can be found inside. Waterfall, from 2019, is the most impressive, and as its name suggests, water cascades down from a 36-foot-tall scaffold structure. It seems like an informal emphatic start. It's odd then, that In Real Life actually begins inside passed ticketed doors with a glass box of geometric models. The work, Model Room, collates some 450 models, the result of Eliasson's collaboration with Icelandic artist, mathematician, and architect Einar Thorsteinn. They're not bad by any stretch, but this isn't the stellar stuff one expects. Thankfully more, much more, in fact, lies around the corner. Audiences are encouraged to touch—but not grab—a giant wall of Scandinavian moss stretching 65 feet. The work dates back to 1994 and presumably, new moss has been installed. Here we find the aforementioned Regenfenster too, though, if you didn't know it was a work dating back to 1999, it could easily be mistaken for a leaking pipe (Now that you're in the know, keep an ear out for people questioning: "Is it really raining outside?"). In the same room is The Seeing Space, a circular viewing portal nestled into a wall which lets viewers approach and peer into a room of what seems to be nothingness. Walk around though, and it's revealed that The Seeing Space is a ruse, another Eliasson joke, for one's face is focused in on and unflatteringly framed on the other side. As a result, you have to immediately go back and ask someone to film you, to see just how embarrassing it was. It's not going to be good. This is what Eliasson is best at, creating stuff that's fun, and there's more of that to come, as squeals of delight from around the corner forewarn us of. The sound, you find out, is of children running through shimmering heavy mist that has had a spectrum of color projected onto it. The work is called Beauty, with good reason, and is for anyone daring enough to let go of their apprehensions and enjoy themselves at the cost of getting mildly damp. More interactive art follows. Your Blind Passenger, the exhibition's pièce de résistance (if fellow visitors' Instagrams are to tell us anything), is a 130-foot-long journey through dense fog. It's certainly visceral—you can only see five feet ahead—and along the corridor, the fog's color gently changes from white to yellow and finally blue. While other exhibits are best enjoyed with a partner, it's best to experience the passage alone to get the full feeling of discombobulation. In Eliasson's native tongue the work is called Din Blinde Passager, the Danish term for a stowaway, for who captivity in the artist's work is pretty sweet, literally so; the fog vapour is sugar-based. Your Blind Passenger is from 2010, the same year Eliasson produced Your Uncertain Shadow (Color). More fun for the young and young at heart is on display here: dance in front of an array of colored lights to see your silhouette, duplicated and overlapped in pastel hues. Unlike Your Blind Passenger, this piece seems to scream the more the merrier. Aside from that, the rest of the works follow the tone set by Model Room. Mirrors have been cleverly used in a few, such as Your Planetary Window—another portal in a wall, which you can see yourself in. Big Bang Fountain is also noteworthy; the 2014 work is set in a black room and harder to navigate than Your Blind Passenger, and uses flashes of light to illuminate bursts from a small water fountain. Don't bother trying to take a picture on your phone, and don't dare use a flash. In Real Life doesn't dazzle with every turn, but for the moments of genuine playfulness and engagement, the show is well worth it. Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life runs through January 5, 2020.
What Can Art Do?
Forensic Architecture sets a high bar at the Whitney Biennial
“While my company and the museum have distinct missions, both are important contributors to our society,” said Whitney Museum of American Art vice chairman Warren B. Kanders. This statement, salvaged from a letter leaked by ARTnews in December, sets the tone as the opening visual for Forensic Architecture’s installation at the Whitney Biennial—a 15-minute video delivering the collective's most recent foray into artificial intelligence, titled Triple Chaser. The London-based architecture and science research group chose to respond to the Kanders tear gas and munitions scandal not with a withdrawal from the biennial, but with the creation of a work of art-as-social justice tool, a submission that infiltrates the subject of derision’s own institution. Their video, created in collaboration with director Laura Poitras and Praxis Films, is narrated by David Byrne cooly explaining how FA approached the training of a computer program to track and recognize images of “Triple Chaser” tear gas canisters and subsequently reduce the amount of human labor needed to do so. The program is trained to recognize the canisters, so named for the way they break into three distinct pieces after being fired, and not become used to identifying just the degraded landscapes they usually occur in. Forensic Architecture’s website, as well as the video, comments that “Whereas the export of military equipment from the US is a matter of public record, the sale and export of tear gas is not.” The analyzed images act as proof of their use, and therefore sale, to over 14 countries including US border states -- and these canisters are just one of the many munitions manufactured by Defense Technology, a subsidiary of the Safariland Group -- Kanders is the founder, chairman, and chief executive. Byrne’s narration clearly and objectively describes the group’s methods in creating a piece of artificial intelligence, accompanied by visuals and music that are at once pragmatic as well as sensually arresting. Viewers are prompted before one section of the video with a seizure warning, as a series of bold geometric backgrounds used to train the program appear, the compositions flashing at rapid speed on screen, a kaleidoscope of color and stimulation. The tear gas cans are highlighted and boxed in bright pinks, yellows and blues that act as sharp contrasts against the dusty, barren landscapes of the war zones they are scattered in. Whole sections of the video are also set to the symphonic music of Richard Strauss, Kander’s personal choice for the Aspen Music Festival section named for him after a multi-million dollar donation. The haunting strings and dramatic woodwind crescendos are fitting for the eerie images they amplify. This video is an overtly collaborative work, and FA reached out to other artists and activists working in zones of political unrest, where the canisters are common, to fill out their image banks. The video shows one video submission of a rusted canister from an artists colony in Israel, one that Byrne introduces as “one of the most heavily gassed artist's colonies in the world.” In FA’s data-driven way, their video encompasses why a cultural institution like the Whitney cannot have, in the opinion of many, a man like Kanders on a board that should be protecting, not attacking, artists and their voices. Forensic Architecture as a firm, a lab, a collective, is inherently interdisciplinary, regularly overstepping traditional boundaries between professions and genres. Their “artwork” is serving a similar focus as well. Is this video just as much “art” as the Arroyo paintings in the same gallery? Politics have always been a subject of art, artists and creative output, but the contemporary climate seems to be showing artists as not only creating political works, but exposing politics and its maneuvering as art inherent in its existence -- politics create culture, and other elements of culture are responding to what politicians and votes are “creating.” But is “Triple Chaser” a work of art, or a work of journalism, or of anthropological research? A reorganization and alt-method of displaying data, the inclusion of Forensic Architecture at the Whitney Biennial sets a possible precedent for contemporary art, one that may be hyper-specific to current events, relevant due to an Internet-age concept of timeliness.
The Devil’s Playground
Mexico City’s new Diablos Rojos Stadium mixes tradition with technology
While it is well known that Latin America has long produced some of Major League Baseball’s best players, the sport is rarely associated with those players’ home countries. So, when Mexico City’s Diablos Rojos professional baseball team was looking to build a new stadium, the goal was no less than to construct an icon for as wide a range of fans as possible. To do this, team owner, businessman, and philanthropist, Alfredo Harp Helú, tapped Chicago-based FGP Atelier—headed by Mexico-born Francisco Gonzalez Pulido—to design something that was at once striking as well as culturally and contextually appropriate. Local architect Alonso de Garay of Taller ADG collaborated on the design and stadium experts Populous advised on the project. While FGP and Taller ADG share credit for Diablos Rojos Stadium, FGP is credited with the design of the iconic roof structure that defines the project. Now near completion, and fully functional for its first baseball season, the stadium sits in an auspicious location in the heart of Mexico City. Located within Magdalena Mixhuca Sports City, home of the 1968 Summer Olympics, the stadium adds to an already busy civic space. Along with seemingly endless soccer fields, the campus also includes the staggering Félix Candela-designed Palacio de Los Deportes arena and a Formula One racetrack, both of which can be viewed from the stadium. Appropriately, when looking out from the stands and over the field, the now inactive Volcán Xaltepec sits on the horizon, adding to the Diablos’s fiery branding. The project’s big move comes in the form of soaring polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) roof system that dramatically cantilevers over 11,500 seats and a large public forecourt. The effect of the floating roof took on a literal meaning when it was lifted into place as a single piece by one of the world’s largest cranes. Taking the shape reminiscent of a devil’s tail or pitchfork, the roof acts as a unifying element for a series of smaller structures, which hold the stadium’s interior spaces. Along with the large entry sequence, a number of terraces are also tucked up closer to the roof, providing views of the field as well as the surroundings. Despite this grand roof, the experience moving through the stadium is more akin to walking down intimate streets and public plazas than into a large building. The majority of the public spaces are defined by a series of six truncated pyramids, which allude to Mexico’s indigenous architecture as well as the area’s volcanic geography. Along with a fairly direct reference to the region’s Aztec and Mayan pyramids, the spaces they produce bare similar geometries to the courts of the ballgame Tlachtli, which was played throughout pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Each pyramid is clad in a double skin of precast black volcanic concrete louvers and glass, which glow at night but remain cool and shaded in the bright Mexican sun. Concessions, toilets, circulation, and other amenities are housed in these pyramids, while the space between acts as civic-scaled walkways for the crowds. The tops of the pyramids provide additional gathering spaces connected by flying walkways. The overall effect is of passing through a lithic village before the space opens up to the broad, unobstructed stands and field. Along with the form, the planning and technology of the project were designed to benefit as much of the area’s public as possible. While the stadium has luxury boxes like any other major league sports venue, numerous more-affordable seating options were built into the design, including 8,500 outfield seats. The area immediately surrounding the stadium can function both as circulation as well as supporting local markets and youth baseball, an amenity for the economically struggling adjacent neighborhood. To address a regional water scarcity issue, a collection and remediation system is integrated into the stadium's roof and plumbing system. Currently, the stadium is water net neutral, with all drinking and operating water being drawn and treated from the stadium’s cistern. Additionally, the massive amounts of scaffolding used to hold the roof in place during construction is currently being looked at as a resource for building temporary structures, such as open-air markets across the city. Yet, the project hasn't only been smooth sailing. Numerous delays, both avoidable and unavoidable, have meant that the roof membrane is not yet fully installed on the underside of the structure, leading to a few wet spectators and some wind issues. Early plans for a biodigester, to be used on site for power, was thwarted by local garbage politics. And a decision—strongly objected to by the architects—to put a fence around the entire project has taken heavy criticism from local press considering that the stadium is on public land. From the beginning of the project, the stadium’s place in the famed sports city has put it under the microscope of the media and kept the pressure on from local politicians. Local political intrigue aside, the Diablos Rojos Stadium provides a new iconic home for professional baseball in Mexico while questioning typical athletic venue design. Challenging the enclosed opaque bowl, the village of forms and materials are culturally and contextually appropriate without being overly derivative. As cities around the world strive to build arenas to showcase either their economic or global prowess, Mexico City now has a stadium that is for and about its place and its people.
Entry into Virgil Abloh’s mid-career retrospective, "Figures of Speech,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago begins with a calculated provocation: tourist or purist? According to the catalog foreword written by the exhibition’s curator, Michael Darling, the dichotomy signifies the artist’s split personality— connoisseur and aspirant—and serves as a welcome mat for all audiences to participate in a cultural flashpoint where style destabilizes class (note: the exhibition is aptly dedicated to the youth of Chicago). From this outset, the exhibition tone aims for egalitarianism. To arrive at this seemingly accessible provocation, however, requires the observer to first pass through a retinal barrage. The exhibition’s lobby includes a floor-to-ceiling collage of images as far ranging as the epileptic singer Ian Curtis to the 9/11 WTC bombings—recalling OMA/AMO’s 2004 book-zine monograph, Content—and serves as fast entry into the artist’s ever-expanding cult of cultural clashes. It comes as no surprise that Samir Bantal, director of AMO, is credited as the exhibition’s designer. In addition to an equally satisfying collage pitting images of Le Corbusier over ARCHITECTURE and Abloh over “ARCHITECT,” one is subsumed into the allure of a retail pop-up store, titled “Church and State,” offering limited Off-WhiteTM clothing, gradient furniture, and exhibition catalogs immersed within a life-size wallpaper photo-essay by the German photographer Juergen Teller. And don’t worry if you can’t afford the catalog, there’s also a free copy machine on site. Yet, for the public to even arrive at this exquisite amalgamation of gallery-cum-shop-cum-academy-cum…, means also visiting an outbreak of satellite ventures c/o Abloh across the city that include the NikeLab Chicago Re-Creation Center, where old sneakers can be donated and ground into a reusable architectural finish, or a temporary Louis Vuitton residency in an orange painted building within which stands a David-sized mannequin of the rapper Juice Wrld. So, to reset: the exhibition does not actually start in the lobby of the Museum of Contemporary Art, but rather, on the streets of Chicago. Even the museum’s Mies van der Rohe Way facade has been rebranded with “CITY HALL” and a black flag that breathes “QUESTION EVERYTHING” in white Helvetica lettering. Fifteen years later, Abloh and Bantal appear to have manifested Content’s flat ambition into something truly three-dimensional. Read the full story on our interiors and design site, aninteriormag.com.
There is no shortage of drama in architecture. In a constellation of anticipation and suspense, developing design projects—particularly large works planned for the public realm—are keenly followed and critiqued, both eruditely by architecture's opining class of professional critics and casually by the hoi polloi. Buildings then emerge unashamedly in full public view, like weary exhibitionists whose once dare-devilish exploits have long since become a dull routine. And occasionally, even the destruction of architecture signals a kind of performance. While the recent tragedy at Notre Dame was not quite what Hugo had in mind, that conflagration's rapid dissemination through print and digital media underscores the 19th-century novelist's insistence on architecture as an endangered—yet formidable—protagonist. This histrionic capacity of architecture unsurprisingly extends to—or perhaps emanates from—the academy. In a fashion of education quite unlike most others, students of architecture are constantly engaged in a highly choreographed presentation of their work, resulting in a highly public (and sometimes traumatizing) cycle of humiliation and praise. The dramatics that unfold in the architectural academy are well known to playwright Oren Safdie, who, before embarking on a writing career that has spanned nearly three decades, earned a master’s degree at Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. And while pursuing these studies may have initially been an endeavor to maintain ties with the family business (the playwright's father is Moshe Safdie), Oren's experiences in architecture school clearly impacted his writing. Indeed, one of Safdie's earliest plays, Private Jokes, Public Places, detailed a young architecture student's final presentation which, thanks to the presence of some big and obnoxious egos on the jury, spiraled horrendously out of control (staging the play has become a kind of annual tradition at architecture schools around the world). Some years later, in The Bilbao Effect, Safdie's satirical pen revisited architecture, this time with a decidedly more macabre stroke. In Bilbao, we see the fallout that occurs when the play's starchitect-protagonist, Erhardt Shlaminger, is blamed by a Staten Island resident for the death of his wife, who—unable to reconcile herself with the formal qualities of a new Schlaminger tower in her bailiwick—is driven to suicide. Safdie's latest project, Color Blind, returns once again to architecture and its potential for drama and (perhaps unwanted) spectacle, but this time in the context of race. The play, which was debuted in a read-through at the University at Buffalo, is a fictionalized account of the jury deliberations surrounding the selection of an architect for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C., Designed by David Adjaye, the NMAAHC was completed in 2016. Color Blind, on the other hand, is very much a work in progress. Nevertheless, the early drafts are further evidence of Safdie's acute awareness of the tensions and contradictions that underlie architectural culture and production, and the ability of these to yield highly theatrical—and sometimes excruciatingly uncomfortable—moments. The play invites its audience into the usually sealed-off space where critical decisions about architecture are made. There, we are introduced to six fictional jurors who will decide the shape of the first institution dedicated to African-American history on Washington's National Mall. This motley crew is composed of a diverse set of players whose exchanges hover between guarded diplomacy, heartfelt confessions, and downright acrimony. The imagined jury includes the future museum director and his assistant, both of whom are black. The former is the staid elder statesman, the latter, a fiery and plainspoken woman who speaks her mind. Also present is the museum's Korean-American treasurer, who is meek and wise. Rounding out the committee is a highly neurotic community organizer (Jewish), as well as a pedantic architecture critic, and a folksy but established starchitect (both of whom are white). The racial and ethnic backgrounds of the characters are worth noting because they foreground the competing experiences and prejudices that contextualize each juror's vision for the museum. In this sense, Color Blind is aligned with Private Jokes, Public Spaces, and The Bilbao Effect; all three recognize architecture as not just a silent protagonist, but as a dramatic vehicle for exposing broader contradictions and conflicts embedded in architecture—some, occasionally, not too deep below the surface. Color Blind relies heavily on popular stereotypes about race and ethnicity—and the conflicts these imply—to drive its plot forward. As such, scattered throughout the jury's deliberations over the six finalist museum proposals are somewhat formulaic monologues: an emotional harangue on the experience of being a single mother on welfare (black assistant to the director); a frenzied, confessional tirade riddled with liberal guilt (Jewish community organizer); and a demure complaint—in broken English—about the perils of over-achievement (Korean-American treasurer). These cliches render Color Blind's dramatic trajectory for the most part predictable, and Safdie's later drafts would certainly be helped by the addition of nuance and moments of surprise. Still, the play's overall agenda deserves our attention. In a profession that maintains a track record on inclusivity that is shameful—about 2 percent of registered architects in the U.S. are black—and in a nation where xenophobic and racist hostility in both discourse and action appear at alarming levels, the play's vision is both timely and telling. With Color Blind, Safdie's desire to lift the veil that renders the process of architectural production bewildering to outsiders, and his portrait of the conflicts that lie just beneath the veil's surface could, in the end, do more than give credence to the dramatic possibilities latent in architecture. When finished, the new play has the potential to instigate a critical dialogue about uncomfortable issues that extend far beyond architecture but are undeniably relevant to the field. Mustafa Faruki was the 2018-2019 Peter Reyner Banham Fellow at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning. He is the founder of theLab-lab for architecture. Color Blind was presented by undergraduate students at the school in a live reading. The event was followed by an informal discussion with Safdie and was held in connection with The Whiteness of American Architecture, a day-long symposium examining the racial discourses underlying "American Architecture" movements from independence up to the first decades of the 20th century. Color Blind has been selected as a finalist in the Kernodle Playwriting Competition at the University of Arkansas and will be presented again in a staged reading by the Architecture Foundation in London this fall.
Artist Josh Kline brings climate change home in a new Manhattan show
In case you’ve missed it, the world is ending. There’s war, displacement, drought, famine, rising seas, sinking cities, faster winds, and a frightening U.N. report suggests irrevocable, possibly humanity-ending results if we can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent of 2010 levels by 2050. Artist Josh Kline wants to give us a vision of this un-future. In Climate Change: Part One, Kline has transformed Chinatown gallery 47 Canal in Manhattan into a dystopian funhouse, one that reflects and refracts our world—and its possible undoing—back at us for unnerving effect. Through the first door, which features the stars of a mangled American flag peaking through plastered-on sand, you’ll encounter an irregularly shaped green table mounted with a lit vitrine. Against the nearest wall are a series of large, whirring industrial freezers. The tarp floors make a slight, sticky sound underfoot. This table is one of three bearing names that read like euphemisms for the current state of catastrophe capitalism: Transnational Finance, Technological Innovation. In this one, Representative Government, models of various seats of power—the White House, the Reichstag, rendered in Potomac River mud and placed against a satellite photo of Washington, D.C.—slowly drown under the water of melting miniature icebergs. The freezers sustain the chunks of ice just enough that the submergence is painfully slow, taking place over the month-and-a-half of the show's run. As we know, cooling a small space puts out a great deal of heat elsewhere, rendering the gallery quite warm. Other vitrines hold different building typologies, like skyscrapers rising together from an imaginary Manhattan made from all the world's tallest buildings. The Burj Khalifa and the Chrysler Building aren’t in the same city, and there's no iceberg floating and melting in New York's Upper Bay, but you get the idea. The real-life ice may be far away, but water, and the planet, is a continuity. An ice shelf north of Greenland crashing into the sea has implications that reach far further than the Arctic Circle. Through the doors there are other, unenclosed tables, with pink soy wax in the shape of insurance buildings and suburban homes melting down tubes that collect and direct the colored sludge into buckets below. Waste is not hidden, as everything is a system. The doors, each named after a degrees Celsius, with a second parenthetical appellation, are themselves artworks, but also serve their usual purpose. Some rooms, arranged together like a cartoon hallway from a Scooby Doo villain's mansion, can only be entered through a singular door, some an array of doors. They present a false sense of choice, and all lead to the same room, each degree of difference still resulting in the same ruins. The checklist is very clear about origins, at least for some of the more “natural” materials: beach sand from New York City, Shenzhen, and California; desert sand from Texas and the Sahara; steel powder from China. The flags, too, have origin stories, however misleading they might be. We might imagine that the nylon flags desecrated and pasted onto the doors with paint and sand and kelp may represent Germany, the U.S., China, and so on, but they are likely to all be from somewhere else, maybe the same factory, possibly located in none of these countries. To the tentacles of global commerce, borders are long gone. For the refugees of climate disaster and resource wars, the same can’t yet be said. The doors, with their disfigured flags, are meant to represent the dissolution of borders and nations that Kline predicts climate change and its cascading ramifications will bring about. They also represent our willful participation in the house of horrors-style drowning disasters shown in each of the different rooms as we open and close them. Even when faced with three doors, the sense of choice is false: each opens to the same room. Whether our actions raise global average atmospheric temperatures by 2º C (Dutch, Belgian, French, and German flags, all compressed with Sahara Desert sand—a Colonial Chain Reaction) or 3º C (a mashup of the Union Jack and Japanese flags along with kelp and chlorella) or 5º C (American and Russian flags, Potomac River mud), we’ll still find ourselves in too deep, so to speak. Particularly resonant are the banal and domestic scenes. Situated in hermetically sealed versions of the fume hoods from your college chemistry class painted in subdued, aesthetically-pleasing shades of urethane paints with lighting to match, are scenes with dollhouse miniatures, submerged underwater (or really, cyanoacrylate glue and epoxy). They depict sorrily-stocked grocery stores, bland offices, and suburban home interiors, but their titles are not so bland: Erosion, Inundation, and Submersion. Disintegration isn't loss, it’s transformation. Even as rising water washes away the mud of the miniature buildings, that same dirt just is transported elsewhere, but formless. Matter is conserved, even if our environment is not. What once was just becomes something else, and with us gone, who will be there to name it or know the difference anyway? Things happen on scales too large for us to know, or to know to even ask questions about. Kline shows us this, plainly, perhaps even at first propagandistically. In this show alone, the interlocking problems of political power, globalization, financialization, housing, architecture, technology, and climate change are all put on display. But there’s no real call to arms here, just a documentation of the future present. But it does make one have to ask: If this is Climate Change: Part One, what happens in part two? Climate Change: Part One 47 Canal 291 Grand Street, 2nd Floor, New York Through June 9, 2019