All posts in Review

Placeholder Alt Text

Be Less Bored

Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore is a delightful distraction during troubled times
If there ever was a time to slip away from reality for a moment to feast your eyes on buildings that are exaggerated, extravagant, eccentric, exuberantly colored, overly embellished, unabashedly hodgepodge-y, and incorporate cartoon dwarves as supporting columns, now is the time. Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore, released late last month by Phaidon Press, is the perfect architectural tome for hunkering down with for an extended spell at home. Compiled and written by London-based curator and architectural historian Owen Hopkins, this is a photo-driven architectural survey that’s hefty in size, exhaustive in scope, and, most important, a lot of fun. Featuring over 200 globe-spanning projects of all types and sizes, Postmodern Architecture—a more rambunctious companion piece to previous Phaidon surveys of modernism and brutalism—includes multiple works by the usual suspects: Michael Graves, Philip Johnson, Denise Scott Brown, Stanley Tigerman, Aldo Rossi, and, of course, Robert Venturi, the so-called father of postmodernism himself who coined the Mies-ribbing, anti-minimalist adage that the book borrows as its subtitle. “It’s a celebration and a global survey,” Hopkins told AN of the book. “When creating a book like this there’s always the sense that you are establishing and promoting the canon. But at the same time, there’s an opportunity to broaden the canon, by including both the familiar projects and some unexpected stuff as well.” To achieve this, Hopkins includes lesser-known practitioners of postmodern architecture; obscure and overlooked buildings; and in some cases, nonconformist structures that met the wrecking ball long ago. Also featured are works by architects who dabbled in postmodernism during the movement’s mid-1970s through late-1980s heyday but who are generally known for being more restrained in their approach. What’s more, Hopkins also included numerous examples of more contemporary postmodern architecture, as well as a sizable assortment of buildings that are playful, iconoclastic, and distinctly Dutch. Hopkins noted to AN that when curating Postmodern Architecture, he was “instinctively drawn to the classic buildings of that moment” like Arquitectonica’s Atlantis Condominium, a 1982 Miami luxury apartment tower that’s “so very redolent of that era.” A personal fan of the radically altered big-box showrooms designed by SITE for now-defunct American retailer Best Products, Hopkins was also “really interested and very eager to point out” the lesser-known work of the late, great postmodernist architect Charles Moore. “Everyone knows the Piazza d’Italia, said Hopkins referring to Moore’s cheeky, column-heavy public plaza completed in downtown New Orleans in 1978. “But there’s much more to his work, and there’s a real kind of intellectual depth to it.” Hopkins pointed out Moore’s own home in Austin, Texas, as being “just this most extraordinary composition of ideas and forms and objects.” In addition to big photos of bold buildings, Postmodern Architecture is also peppered with quotes from a range of architects, critics, and cultural figures—Andy Warhol, David Byrne, Charles Jencks, Noam Chomsky, Jane Jacobs, and Venturi to name just a few—who are either associated with postmodernism or “whose work has provided some kinds of inspiration or backdrop to the movement,” as the book’s preface explains. “These quotations provide both context or counterpoint. Some are rather more condemnatory than complimentary. Yet this is wholly fitting for a movement that revels in provocation and very often defines itself against a moribund status quo.” “Postmodernism has been tainted with the brush of being a very kind of commercial architecture, and in many ways it is,” Hopkins told AN when asked why reactions—particularly contemporary reactions—to postmodern architecture are frequently disparaging. “And therefore it has been seen, partly at the time but particularly retrospectively, as kind of the embodiment of the worst aspects of 1980s individualism—so there’s that kind of more ideologically motivated prejudice against this moment.” “Also, aesthetically, postmodern buildings, for the most part, are designed to stand out,” Hopkins continued. “They are often very bold in the forms that they employ and their colors, and in their decorative languages. And buildings that stand out do polarize opinion. At the same time, there’s lots of contextual, kind of polite postmodern architecture—but maybe not that much of it is in the book.” “Maybe there’s a groundswell of architects who don’t like postmodernism,” Hopkins added. “But I think with the public, it’s always been popular.” Below are eight projects featured in Postmodern Architecture—some quite iconic and others more under-the-radar—that run the gamut from private homes to public spaces to municipal office buildings and beyond. These are strictly North American projects, but there’s obviously a lot more where they came from.

Blue House, New Buffalo, Michigan; Margaret McCurry (1993)

Best Products Showroom, Miami; James Wine/SITE (1979)

Franklin Court, Philadelphia; Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (1976)

James R. Thompson Center, Chicago; Helmut Jahn (1985)

Academic Center at Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, Georgia; John Portman Associates (2003)

Casa Wolf, Ridgeway Colorado; Sottsass Associati (1989)

Team Disney Building, Burbank, California; Michael Graves (1986)

The Charles Moore House, Austin, Texas; Charles Moore

Placeholder Alt Text

Not Again!?

Landmark Willi Smith exhibition (almost) opens at Cooper Hewitt
In what might be one of the darkest ironies of the COVID-19 saga in New York City, the Cooper Hewitt has been forced to close the Willi Smith: Street Couture retrospective before it opens, the first museum exhibition of the influential American designer Willi Smith (1948–1987), whose career was cut short when he was killed by the AIDS crisis in 1987. Smith, who in 1976 founded WilliWear with partner Laurie Mallet, is often credited as a pioneer—if not the creator of—streetwear, which today is nearly ubiquitous, uniting economic and social classes with a blend of high fashion and everyday-inspired clothing. Through collaborations with artists, designers and performers, such as Juan Downey, Dan Friedman, Keith Haring, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Les Levine, Dianne McIntyre, and Nam June Paik, Smith captured the creativity and spirit of the cities where culture was being formed. It is this marrying of the avant-garde and the world-at-large that brought together Smith with James Wines and Alison Sky of the art and architecture collaborative Sculpture in the Environment (SITE) built a series of showrooms that served as the backdrop for the gesamtkunstwerk of WilliWear. After seeing a window display at the Rizzoli bookstore designed by SITE, Willi enlisted the group to design a series of showrooms from 1982 to 1987, using found objects from around the streets of Manhattan. As members of the Environmental Art movement, SITE specialized in bringing art into places where you would least expect it, and retail stores were one of their specialties, most famously the BEST department stores. The exhibition, curated by Alexandra Cunningham was designed by Wines along with Sam Chermayeff Architects, who built a modified version of the original stores. The communication designers poly-mode have also contributed a very clear and fresh graphic solution to the display. The show was originally scheduled to be on until Sunday, October 25 2020, but the situation remains fluid. Note: Effective March 14, the Cooper Hewitt is temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Placeholder Alt Text

Sliding Doors

Michael Wang explores the multiverse in The World Around
In 1964, Julio Cortázar published his famous short story Axolotl, the tale of a man living in Paris fascinated by an aquatic creature that he observes in the aquarium of the Jardin des Plantes. The axolotl, a slow-moving amphibian that spends its entire life in a larval stage, and seems almost like a plant or a mineral, looks like it came from the prehistoric ages. The story’s protagonist starts to understand the different spaces and temporalities embedded in the axolotl: Both the man and the axolotl seem to share the same universe, but, in fact, their bodies encompass different notions of their surroundings, tearing them apart. They don’t share the same universe because the way they can relate to their environments and their temporalities are unreconcilable. Yet they coexist. They are part of a multiverse. In 2017, the artist and architect Michael Wang gave the axolotl a main role for his project Extinct in the Wild at Fondazione Prada in Milan. Wang showed the mutual dependency of these multiverses shared by different species and the ideologies behind them. The axolotl is now an endangered species that has vanished from its natural habitat and lives almost exclusively under artificial conditions in zoos and aquariums, in scientific facilities for research, and in homes as exotic pets. Humans are responsible for their disappearance in the wild, but they also owe their continued existence to human care. This relationship attests to the complex understanding of how the Anthropocene has affected a multispecies shared environment and the need to comprehend its challenges. It is not enough to build an immediate response to the climate crisis that comes from human beings or to come back to an “original” state of harmony, but a structural change that surpasses an anthropocentric view—with human beings and their standard of living as the center. It is necessary to build a notion of the world that takes into account the agency of other species. The conception of a multiverse and the mutual dependency of species has been the center of Wang’s work for the last few years, presented at The World Around in January of this year. In Extinct in New York (organized by Swiss Institute, where the installation permanently resides, and on view at LMCC’s Arts Center at Governor Island in 2019) he introduced a series of plants that had been eradicated from New York City’s landscape. This ecological catastrophe was the result of centuries of hunting, harvesting, and building craziness. As Wang pointed out:When the Croton Aqueduct opened in 1842, the outflux of wastewater suffocated the seaweeds of New York Harbor. The air changed. Coal smoke poisoned the lichens that had hung from hemlocks; a century later these trees too nearly vanished, plagued by an insect introduced with ornamental plants. Forests of steel rose in their stead, as human habitation stretched skyward.” But Wang doesn’t understand the ecosystem in a dialectic way, based on the binarism of human/non-human confrontations; rather he highlights the new environments created by this relationship. Subways that maintain optimal temperatures for rats; pigeons that found in the skyscrapers a shelter not far from their ancestors’ nests on Mediterranean cliffs; heated living rooms that welcome new flora, etc. The territory, and their inhabitants, are both techno-social recompositions. This project is not about restoration, nor about the idea of a harmonic past. Wang rather conceives it as a life-support system that doesn’t try to reinstate the previous ecosystem where species like Zostera marina (native of the marine meadows in New York Bay) or the Helonias bullata (last collected in Jamaica Bay in 1883) have disappeared from their original habitat. This was also the basis for another project, The Drowned World, that Wang presented at Manifesta Palermo in 2018 (also shown at The World Around). In it, an artificial forest assembled from plants closely related to those of the Carboniferous period grows from the industrial ruins of a gasworks. These plants once formed swamplands that stretched across the globe. Over millennia, their buried remains hardened into the very coal used at the gasworks. As this coal was heated and burned, carbon captured from the air 300 million years ago was again released, and an ancient atmosphere was in part restored. In Wang’s projects, all the violence, the displacements, the uneven balance of powers, and the colonization of the territory are confronted. The world is designed by one species and for one species. But human beings are not self-contained. Their bodies are also part of other species, from the varied microorganisms that inhabit them to the ever-changing habitats they share with other non-human agents. The challenge now is to understand the mutual dependency between species in a multiverse.
Placeholder Alt Text

A Life Well Lived

The Canadian Centre for Architecture gets reflective in The Museum is Not Enough
What can an institution like the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) do, for architecture and for the world at large? The Museum is Not Enough offers a not unexpected answer. While the CCA certainly does what museums do—collecting architectural archives, producing exhibitions, running a research center—the scope of its ambition mirrors the vastness of contemporary dilemmas. Museums are institutions with social agency, but their power is dwarfed by the issues they are tempted to tackle. The CCA’s location in Montreal highlights this ambivalence: it is central by disciplinary measures but geographically and politically peripheral. This situation has inculcated a strong avant-garde spirit at the CCA. To pick a few examples of current topics, the CCA has made a film on homelessness (What It Takes to Make a Home), exhibitions on happiness and the medicalization of architecture (Our Happy Life and Imperfect Health), and an illustrated book on fossil fuel (Goodbye, Oil) that is part of a sweeping “counter-history of the modern Canadian environment.” Seemingly no big issue is left untouched, and every discursive genre is conscripted for the fight. The Museum is Not Enough muses through the many roles of contemporary architectural institutions in a series of nine open-ended manifestos. Its timing is calculated, arriving just as the CCA's director of the past 15 years, Mirko Zardini, has stepped down and Giovanna Borasi has been promoted to take his place. The book was a group effort (Borasi and Zardini are joined by Albert Ferré, Francesco Garutti, Jayne Kelley as editors), though it is written in the first person. It feels like listening in on an ongoing internal conversation among a close-knit team: “I try to act as a frame for making sense of, anticipating, and projecting on the world. I do this by focusing on architecture.” The quick but thoughtful writing draws out the complexities and contradictions of its subject matter. To say it is not complacent about the role of the CCA would be an understatement. The dialogue often tips into a hyper-self-awareness that recalls David Foster Wallace: “I'm not sure to what degree we should protect (fetishize?) the experience of being in the archives, of uncovering something seemingly tangential or trivial that unlocks a new idea... Maybe we've become a little too obsessed with this. I know I'm also responsible.” Emerging from this self-questioning are gems of clarity. A series of interviews stand out in this regard. Kalle Lasn, the founder and editor-in-chief of Adbusters, says easily that “architects are living in their own bubble” and distills simple advice: "follow the money, always, and maintain a healthy allergy to cant... It's about who benefits, where, how, and why.” A lively conversation between Kieran Long and Mark Wigley also catches the eye for its comparison of archives to graveyards—“that's where the action is.” The book coheres as a multi-genre, multidisciplinary provocation for architects to be both more critical and more open to discovering vitality in unexpected places. This attitude was imparted on the CCA by its founder, Phyllis Lambert—“we try to make people think”—and it is echoed on the last page of book in a quote from Gordon Matta-Clark: “Here is what we have to offer you... confusion guided by a clear sense of purpose.” The purpose here does not focus on buildings or representations. Sometimes it is presented with a dash of mysticism: the chapter on exhibitions starts by noting that "architecture is a way of reading and redefining the present, the society in which we're living and working.” For all its questioning, however, The Museum is Not Enough offers a reassuring sense that architecture is a field that takes in all things. Pictures of architecture abound, but they don't dominate. The freeform but careful graphic design (by Studio Jonathan Hares) works primarily through juxtaposition, generating connections between disparate words and things: Archival photographs, floorplans, scribbled questionnaires, screenshots of the CCA's website, book covers, furtive snapshots taken through security doors. What emerges is a sense of the hidden order of the material world and the agency of design over everything from scrap of paper to vast landscapes. There is an inescapable sense that a vague institutional or disciplinary “center” is somehow at work to organize these operations. Architecture is in charge. The book's concluding chapter helpfully asks “what else might be enough?” The answer is somehow both specific and vaguely allegorical: to “really think differently” we need to “inhabit another persona” or “become a strange animal.” Before planning we may need to forget. A series of events at the CCA called Come and Forget led audiences on “fruitful acts of mass amnesia.” This invitation to clear the slate is followed by a conceptual art piece in the form of a series of fictive grant applications for possible institutions, modeled after a proposal by Gordon Matta-Clark. This is all certainly food for thought. One senses affinity with the loose movement in art known as Relational Aesthetics. Maybe the gallery is not a place for hanging paintings but rather for conversation and enjoying a meal? The chief curator has, after all, been hosting a series of events called Curatorial Loaf, which do just that. What may be enough, then, is something very much in the spirit of Montreal: encouraging lives to be well-lived. The Museum is Not Enough will appeal to architects and curators for its ability to transport readers into the backstage conversations at an institution not afraid to interrogate itself and its major subject. It is clear by the end that architects very often work like curators even if they like to imagine themselves producing iconic works of art. They set the stage for things to happen. And they face the same challenge as curators: museums have a history as rarified citadels of cultural value, separate from the messy life of society around them. The Museum is Not Enough shows that it doesn't have to be this way. Intelligence and beauty emerge also from the mundane.
Placeholder Alt Text

Invisible No More

Invisible City reveals Philly’s avant-garde side
In the novel Invisible Cities, written by Italo Calvino, we learn of fantastical cities of monumental silver domes, elevated cities of catwalks, and cities made of cities, where residents reinvent themselves with every move. All these cities are, in fact, Venice. In the exhibition Invisible City, cocurated by Sid Sachs, director of exhibitions at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and Jennie Hirsh, assistant curator, professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at MICA, we learn of fanciful cities of roads lined with giant pretzels, cities where twisting towers rise above verdant parkways, and where anthropomorphic puzzle pieces search for connection. All these cities are, in fact, Philadelphia—visions of Philadelphia, anyway, as dreamt up and occasionally realized by avant-garde artists and architects at midcentury. Invisible City: Philadelphia and the Vernacular Avant-garde celebrates the City of Brotherly Love’s unique contributions to art and culture from 1956 to 1976, a time when “Philadelphia was fundamental to urban planning, popular music, post-minimalist sculptural installations, and postmodern architecture.” Featuring significant works from the era, the interdisciplinary exhibition spans four venues and an expansive website, with related talks, tours, and capital-H Happenings happening across the city throughout March. Although the architecture gallery at the Philadelphia Art Alliance will be of particular interest to AN readers, visitors would be remiss to skip past the other venues because Invisible City is best experienced as a whole. The show is an ambitious, sprawling, impressionistic portrait of a creative city at midcentury. It's beautiful and inspiring, but, like an impressionist portrait, hard to understand what you're seeing when you get too close. At the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, sculptures made from stacked brick, planks of wood, and repurposed lawn ornaments fill the space like a minimalist construction site. The artists on display were clearly influenced by their exposure to Marcel Duchamp’s work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In another venue, plastic paintings by James Harvard, which look like they were produced in an autobody shop, hang just a few feet away from collages of hypothetical highway roadsigns by Venturi and Rauch with Murphy Levy Wurman—including the aforementioned giant pretzels. It feels like there’s an affinity between these works: the Duchampian interest in the found objects: the Venturian embrace of the ordinary, and the shared interest in witty appropriation, but the show doesn’t make any explicit connection between disciplines or ideas. Things aren’t much clearer at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, where the architecture gallery is bookended by grand visions created for the Bicentennial by Venturi & Rauch and Mitchell/Giurgola. Between these monumental proposals are models, drawings, collages, and ephemera representing works that are more modest in scale, but not in concept: an original basswood model of Anne Tyng's 1971 Four-Poster Home; a model of Tyng and Louis Kahn's unbuilt geometric City Tower; hand-corrected pages from Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. It’s an impressive display of some of the best work ever produced by Philadelphia architects. Much of it is familiar. And if it’s not, you’ve got some work to do, because other than name, date, and medium, the exhibit provides no information for most of the work on display. Were these architects all talking to each other? Were they looking at local artists who were looking at Duchamp? Maybe! The highlight of the show, for me, was discovering some lesser-known talents, like David Slovic and the firm Friday. However, I had to conduct my own research to learn about Friday’s complex, contradictory, and delightfully democratic designs. For any context at all that, you have to go online. Thankfully, Invisible City's virtual venue, invisiblecity.uarts.edu, features an extensive chronology and interviews with many of the artists and cultural figures from the era. Whereas the minimal labels and works-behind-glass are cold and distant, the interviews are warm and often personal. Denise Scott Brown shares the story about their fight to preserve South Street, a historic black community that was going to be destroyed for a ring road. Richard Saul Wurman, creator of TED Talks, shares stories about his time as a designer in the offices of Louis Kahn, looking back on his professional experiences with a genuine sense of awe: “Lou changed my life. He taught me you could tell the truth. There were huge penalties...but it was worth it.” I enjoyed my trip through the Invisible City, despite leaving with more questions than answers: Why is Philadelphia a city where Pop Art and postmodernism germinated but never blossomed? Why is it a city that was home to architects who transformed the discipline, but whose contributions in their own town are surprisingly invisible? “It's the ultimate question about our city,” says Slovic in his interview. “Why isn't [Philadelphia] leading the way instead of following?” Why is it an invisible city? Invisible City: Philadelphia and the Vernacular Avant-garde runs until April 4, 2020. 
Placeholder Alt Text

This Time It’s Personal

Russia and America cross-pollinate at the Canadian Centre for Architecture
My in-laws are Russian. In fact, they are Muscovites. And they have a very convincing way of narrating their still-fresh memories of life in the Soviet Union. I have not been to Russia since their daughter and I traveled along the canals that connect Moscow to St. Petersburg fifteen years ago. We do not discuss politics much when we visit her family in New Jersey. I have learned that there are differences of perspective, but that those don’t really matter. We have not discussed Russian interference in the U.S. elections. Still, I am quite sure that we would all agree, at some level, that such things are essentially trivial too. Eating a Russian dinner in New Jersey doesn’t feel strange, and despite the fact that this family is in the U.S. because of geopolitics, the very idea of personalizing those politics does seem odd. Upon further reflection, however, there might be no other way to connect memory to history. Only after traveling to the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montreal to view the exhibition of Building a New New World, Americanizm in Russian Architecture, did I realize that personal view of geopolitics also has a history. The exhibition collects an enormous array of architectural objects and documents that trace the ideas, materials, people, trends that moved between Russia and America over the course of more than a century. Indeed, nations have relationships, almost like people do. And the Russian relationship to America, or more precisely Russians’ views of Americanism (America, as they saw it) is Jean-Louis Cohen’s curatorial theme for the exhibition. Cohen is personally involved in these geopolitics as well, but more on that later. In the forthcoming exhibition catalog, Cohen refers to the work of Reinhart Koselleck, a mid-20th century German practitioner of conceptual history, or Begriffsgeschichte. This historical method hinged on the changing definitions of cultural terms over time, which he called “the semantics of historical time.” The language that binds expression to understanding, according to this theory, is the thread that historians use to enter a period distant from them in both space and time. This is Koselleck’s concept of a “space of experience” that Cohen has drawn into the galleries at the CCA, to understand the contradictory nature of Americanism in Russian architectural culture. This concept, therefore, offers an empathetic entry into an alien world of Russian modernism: We must first accept the various Russian conceptions about America to enter their changing space of experience—in other words, to personalize geopolitics. Of course, generalizations about America were not and are not unique to Russians; they were produced alongside the American Revolution, probably even earlier. Cohen begins the catalog’s introduction and the exhibition’s wall text with the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, who explicitly set “Anglo-Americans” and Russians into an incipient geopolitical rivalry, one based in their declared difference from traditional European values. Tocqueville’s theorization of American character for Europeans has, since, become the basis for most claims of national character. Indeed, Cohen is quite clear that Russian Americanism was always mediated by non-Russian interpreters. He and Hubert Damisch wrote on Américanisme et modernité (1993), and a Russian translation of Hugo Münsterberg’s book, Die Amerikaner (1904), appears in one of the beautiful cases designed by MG&Co. [interstial] The cases are crucial to building Cohen’s space of experience: they require close reading and immersive engagement. MG&Co’s beautifully designed curtains serve as transitions between the galleries, each focused on a theme. They also enclose six digital projections—one on each side of three thresholds—chosen to reflect on the contents of each gallery. The gallery walls and the curtains are color-coded, as are the cases that carry the essence of the show: models, drawings, and an overwhelming assembly of books and journals. The general impression is of density. In each one of the cases are numerous objects that reflect on one another, offering a guide from one object to the next. This composition feels like inhabiting a three-dimensional book; galleries are the chapters and the cases are subchapters within. The surprise for this reader came after turning around from the cases, as I faced the walls where the narrative of the chapter played out again, but now at a higher speed. The experience is hugely rich: There are places to stop and read, places to move and scan, and places where connections can be made as one watches a film, such as that of Colonel Hugh L. Cooper, an American engineer, dedicating a Russian hydraulic damn on the Dnieper River. In addition to all this content, Studio Folder (“an agency for visual research,” according to their website) has composed a set of maps that illustrate the connections between Russia and America. Lines describe the “routes of architects, intellectuals, artists and politicians who traveled across the two continents, between 1813 and 1991.” The endpoints of each line are sometimes surprising (Des Moines, Fort Wayne, San Antonio: Baku, Yalta, Novosibirsk) and sometimes not (New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C.: Leningrad, Moscow, Kyiv). The maps make evident the fact that Americanism was more than a generalization, more than political rhetoric, more than a literary fantasy. In fact, as Cohen has made clear in his selection of themes and objects, the very history of industrial infrastructure, from the late nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century, was shaped by its transposition across the globe. The gallery named “Modernization of Czarist Russia” focuses on the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition and 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, sites that represent industrial exchange between the two countries as well as others. But this gallery also reveals the Maxim Gorky’s anguish in his book In America (1906), where he described the Americanism of New York City as “getting into a stomach of stone and iron, a stomach that has swallowed several million people and is consuming and digesting them.” The negativity abates in the third gallery, as the Gilbreths’ Motion Study is traced through the work of Alexey Gestev’s Central Institute of Labor, Ford’s tractors being built in the Putilov plant in Leningrad, and Albert Kahn’s company training over 4,000 Russian architects, draftsmen, and engineers from 1930 to 1931. The exhibition traces a dialectic between Russians attracted to American modernity and those who found it repellant. Often times, these oppositions are enacted simultaneously. The gallery focused on the avant-garde shows this opposition: Adaptations of Hollywood (Buster Keaton and Charley Chaplin) in Russian movie-making are set against the disparaging words of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, who found New Yorkers as beset by a “dormant and flaccid rural mindset.” Or, there are those examples of Russians who sidelined American influence altogether—the Nikolay Ladovsky’s Vkhutemas pedagogy or and El Lissitzky’s horizontal skyscrapers. Geopolitical borrowing moves its target when it is politically strategic. Some Russians chose other influences despite the continued interest in American factories and the culture industry. Among the most impressive objects in the exhibition is the model of Boris Iofan’s Palace of the Soviets (1934). The image commonly associated with this winning entry for the international design competition depicts the building from below. A military parade marches in the foreground and fighter planes fly behind Lenin’s figure, who stands atop the neoclassical birthday cake of a building with a book (Das Kapital?) in his left hand, while his outstretched right hand points upward. It was the first time seeing Iofan’s design from above in his wooden model. Despite the monumentalizing efforts in drawing, Stalin’s architects could not overcome a model’s capacity to domesticate political bravado at a toy-like scale. In the sixth gallery, model airplanes are hung from above as though they have escaped from Iofan’s drawing. Some documents below them display the Soviet capacity to build flying warcraft that equaled or exceeded their American counterparts (even if based in their industrial espionage). One object stands out on the wall, drawn from Cohen’s father’s collection of Soviet memorabilia. As a French reporter, he kept a brochure distributed in a 1947 airplane shows. That object opens a clear “space of experience,” an empathetic encounter with Russian Americanism mediated by the Cohen family history. It is touching to think of all those events that historians trace through their narratives that may also be passed along in bedtime stories. In this respect, geopolitics is as historical as it is personal. The CCA, this winter, offered a unique platform to explore the richness produced by the mixture of memory and history, as well as the rigor and beauty of historical documents that display the critical role of architecture in constructing geopolitics. In a recent book by Keith Gessen, which has nothing to do with architecture, the protagonist makes connections among his life, his family’s travails, and the academic study of Soviet history. He sees the Russian tendency to borrow other nations’ advances as an addiction that finally leads to Gessen’s own suffering. I leave you with these musings as they so beautifully summarize the clarity afforded by interweaving human memory into a historical narrative.
“Suddenly everything I have been looking at—not just over these past months in Moscow, but over the few years in academia, and over the past fifteen years of studying Russia—became clear to me. Russia has always been late to the achievements and realizations of Western civilization. Its lateness was its charm and its curse—it was as if Russia were a drug addict who received every concoction only after it was perfectly crystallized, maximally potent. Nowhere were Western ideas, Western beliefs, taken more seriously; nowhere were they so passionately implemented. Thus the Bolshevik Revolution, which overthrew the old regime; thus the human rights movement, plus blue jeans, which overthrew the Bolshevik one; and thus finally this new form of capitalism created here, which had enriched and then expelled my brother, and which had impoverished my grandmother and killed Uncle Lev. You didn’t have to go and read a thousand books to see it; you just had to stay where you were and look around.”
Building a New New World, Americanizm in Russian Architecture runs through April 5.
Placeholder Alt Text

overlooked no more

Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect is a fantastical retrospective of expert draftsmanship
Although he never reached the fame of neoclassical contemporaries such as Claude Nicolas Ledoux and Étienne-Louis Boullée, French architect and artist Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1826) remains a draughtsman of immense vision, from a turbulent era that witnessed the collapse of the Ancien Régime and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Luckily, in the months leading up to his death, the artist bequeathed his vast collection of 800 drawings to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which launched the first retrospective Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect at the beginning of 2019. The show’s latest iteration at The Morgan Libary & Museum is the first in New York City and is a succinct and, truth be told, sublime survey. The exhibition includes sixty of Leqeue’s drawings and is curated by the Morgan’s Eugene and Clare Thaw Curator of Drawings and Prints, Jennifer Tonkovich. Lequeu was born in 1759 to a long line of master carpenters in Rouen, the provincial capital of Normandy. His early career began with accomplished studies at the Rouen School of Drawing followed by a string of urban planning and architectural commissions, and a migration to the imperial capital of Paris in the waning days of the Bourbon dynasty. Initial professional success and a multiyear pilgrimage to the customary landmarks in Italy ultimately fizzled, and Lequeu settled into the relative monotony of governmental bureaucracy. Perhaps as a creative outlet to deflect from hampered ambitions—not dissimilar from the architectural fantasist A.G. Rizzoli—Lequeu produced hundreds of pen and wash drawings ranging from self-portraits to invented landscapes populated by renderings of imagined buildings and monuments, many found in his quasi-handbook Civil Architecture. “One of the big takeaways, for me, has been despite the official recognition, and in the absence of any sort of validation, he continued to draw, to envision new worlds, and incorporate novel elements,” said Jennifer Tonkovich. “He never gave up his idiosyncratic vision.” The Morgan, with its flamboyant marble flooring and intricate classical detailing, is a fitting curatorial space for the show. The exhibition room is split between an outer and inner ring: The former introduces the subject with a series of self-portraits—mouth agape and jowls creviced—and largely follows the trajectory of his drawings of architectural manuals to spectacular renderings produced at night within the confines of a claustrophobic Parisian apartment. The quality of penmanship is impressive unto itself, but drawings such as Design for a Living Room at the hôtel de Montholon and the Apotheosis of Trajan highlight the profound depth of ancient architectural knowledge at Lequeu’s fingertips, with an acute syncretism of Greco-Roman, Persian, and Indo-Chinese influences. While the architectural drawings are demonstrations of vivid imagination, all remain rooted in the clear and calculated logic of profile, section, and plan. Not only are Corinthian orders and cenotaphs deconstructed into their composite parts—base, shaft, capital, and entablature—but the tectonics behind their engineering are legibly, and fantastically, expressed. Although the human body and erotic themes extend across Lequeu’s oeuvre, the center of the exhibition focuses on his works of more explicit playful sexual depictions. With the same level of detail applied to his architectural renderings, thighs and crotches are splayed and labeled, nuns lift their habits to reveal corseted breasts, and buttocks stand athwart. The timing of the exhibition is prescient in the current political moment—classicism is cast as a revanchist tool by reactionaries to reestablish Eurocentric cultural norms and artistic conformity. The retrospective’s response is an art historical broadside against that perception: “Lequeu is trying out ideas, exploring non-western forms, testing the limits of structures, experimenting with unorthodox decoration,” continued Tonkovich. “He is not bound by rules or convention, and the result is designs that are clever, mysterious, beautiful, and mystifying.” Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect  The Morgan Library & Museum 225 Madison Avenue Through May 10, 2020
Placeholder Alt Text

Crystalline Architecture

Gio Ponti gets a loving retrospective at the MAXXI
Gio Ponti (1891-1979), the architect of the renowned Pirelli tower in Milan, is now the subject of a major retrospective at the MAXXI museum in Rome. While the Louvre’s MAD in Paris dedicated a major show to Ponti back in 2018— Tutto Ponti, Archi-Designer, it overwhelmingly celebrated his design production. This exhibition at the MAXXI, Gio Ponti. Loving Architecture, is primarily dedicated to Ponti’s multivalent architecture, and his projects have been given the kind of ample space and resources necessary to grasp the broad scope of Ponti’s very particular creative vision. Curated by Maristella Casciato and Fulvio Irace, and set in the upper gallery 5, it is the first major architecture exhibition to occupy this prominent gallery since Zaha Hadid’s own show there in 2017. For heightened effect, along with images of models shot by Thomas Demand, the exhibition includes photos of Ponti’s built works by eight contemporary photographers, providing original visual commentaries on how we see these works today. The exhibition features an incredible display of models, architectural documents, original photographs, consolidating Gio Ponti’s well-garnered role as a poetically driven architectural modernist. You get this sense from the way Ponti peels back architecture’s opaque materiality, revealing through subtle manipulations of form and content a certain lightness and playfulness that over the course of his career becomes increasingly elegant and refined. Ponti saw his architecture as a search for a special understanding of the ‘crystalline.’ The exhibition’s co-curator Fulvio Irace suggested that Ponti’s search for the crystalline form is not about modeling volume, but rather about “…its negation by way of the autonomy of the walls and of the roof.” One need only look at the interchangeable facade panels employed in the models of the Bijenkorf Department Store for Eindhoven (1964-1968), on display at MAXXI, to see just how inventively Ponti pulled this off. Ponti built extensively across Italy, and well beyond, in Stockholm, Caracas, Denver, Islamabad, Hong Kong. He collaborated professionally with Bernard Rudofsky in Capri back in the late thirties, and with Luigi Nervi after the war. Ponti launched magazines like Domus, wrote and published extensively, and he knit together a significant international network of patrons, manufacturers, and artists. Yet what remains somewhat intriguing, if not puzzling about Gio Ponti, is how he remains an outlier among the great architects of his day, if you consider the likes of Ernesto Rogers, Carlo Scarpa, Giovanni Michelucci, or Giancarlo De Carlo. When I posed this question to the Milanese-based architecture historian Luca Molinari, he came back with this observation:
“Giò Ponti was not loved by the Italian progressive and modernist vanguard because he had pursued a third, moderate, bourgeois and decorative way for his modern architecture. In addition to this, his ambiguous closeness to Fascism had not been forgiven by characters such as Bruno Zevi and Ernesto Rogers and therefore his position was very isolated at the level of the Academy and cultural elite.”
There is little question, today, however, that Gio Ponti’s body of work deserves another reevaluation, especially if we are also willing to recognize that such criticism also holds true for many star architectural practices that are considered at the top of their game today. Gio Ponti. Loving Architecture will be on display through April 13.
Placeholder Alt Text

Material Ecology

Neri Oxman grows tools for the future at new MoMA retrospective
A pioneer in materials, objects, and construction, Neri Oxman is showing work from her 20-year career as an architect, designer, and inventor at the Neri Oxman: Material Ecology exhibition currently on view until May 25 at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Curated by Paola Antonelli with help from curatorial assistant Anna Burckhardt, Oxman’s work on display explores the intersection of the science of materials, digital fabrication, and organic design in pieces both extruded from and infused with the wisdom of nature. This is Oxman’s seventh exhibition at MoMA, and Material Ecology is a magnifying glass for the vibrant microstructures that give shape to the world. “My team and I stand in the crossroads, challenging some of the processes that designers face at the intersection of biology and technology, nature and culture,” Oxman said during a media preview of the show on February 20. “There will come a moment where we will find material singularity [a state in which we cannot differentiate between what is man-made and what is grown]—was this made, was this built, or was it grown? And does it matter?” As a professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab and founder and director of The Mediated Matter Group, Oxman observes naturally occurring structures, such as birch tree bark and crustacean shells, and routines, such as silkworm behavior, and presses them forward toward innovative building materials. “We envision these different objects that are processes and materials as tools for the future,” Antonelli said. “As tools for architects, designers, artists to make in a different way together with nature.” The exhibition includes demonstrations of what these processes could ultimately lead to one day, with tables arranged to resemble Oxman’s lab, videos displaying the projects’ progressions, and the artifacts themselves. The works are categorized into “Infusions” and “Extrusions”: Infusions Totems is a series of 3D-printed photopolymer resin infused in melanin. The three 5 7/8” x 5 7/8” x 19 5/16” blocks are set within black columns, suggesting a future as a compressive building material. They stand in front of a rendering of an illuminated structure in Cape Town, South Africa, that employs Totems as walls. A collection of contemporary interpretations of ritualistic death masks made from photopolymer, Vespers are infused with natural minerals and bacteria. The 15 futuristic masks range from the size of a human head to nearly twice that and were created with spatial mapping algorithms. Some seem to be almost coral-like metallic kaleidoscopes, while others resemble opals with frozen whisps of color. Imaginary Beings are multicolored photopolymer interpretations of body armor inspired by Luis Borges’s Libro de los seres imaginarios (Book of Imaginary Beings, 1967), which described 120 mythical animals from folklore. The creations range from protective helmets to breastplates resembling crystalline dragonfly wings. Extrusions Glass, pseudo-cylindrical printed structures, were created with The Mediated Matter Group’s 2015 invention G3DP, or Glass 3D Printer. The exhibition includes smaller samples, roughly 8 inches in diameter as shown below, and larger columns of printed glass, reaching almost 10 feet high. As the focal point of the exhibition, Silk Pavilion II is a suspended structure of water-soluble mesh stretched across an aluminum framework covered in silk spun by 17,532 silkworms. The twisted gossamer cylinder stretches almost 20 feet, nearly doubling the size of the Silk Pavilion I dome constructed at the MIT Media Lab in 2013. Through 3-inch-square studies (exhibited beneath the pavilion), Oxman and her team were able to pinpoint the geometrical situations in which silkworms spin flat sheets as opposed to three-dimensional cocoons, enabling the researchers to design a structure that could be spun by the silkworms themselves, rather than a machine that uses the silk. This discovery allowed for a fabrication process that works in harmony with nature rather than in dominance over it. Aguahoja I is a collection of objects printed from biopolymers, including wood-pulp cellulose, apple pectin, calcium carbonate, acetic acid, vegetable glycerin, and chitosan. The installation stretches across the wall of the gallery and consists of a library of fabricated pieces designed to be compatible with nature. The water-based objects are designed to decay over time, serving as a temporary alternative to plastics.
Oxman and her research team at the Mediated Matter Group operate through what they call the Krebs Cycle of Creativity, which is “a framework that considers the domains for art, science, engineering, and design as synergetic forms of thinking and making in which the input from one becomes the output of another,” as defined in the exhibition’s catalog, designed by Irma Boom. “The input for science is information. Science converts information into knowledge. Engineering then takes knowledge and translates it to utility. Design then takes utility and places it in a cultural context,” Oxman explained. “Then art takes all things designed around us in the built environment and questions the perception of the world.” Funded by Allianz, MoMA’s partner for design and innovation, Material Ecology embodies Oxman’s Krebs Cycle with artifacts that are more grown than made, through a process called templating. The researchers and designers at the Mediated Matter Group used environmental, geometrical, chemical, and genetic influences to manipulate materials. “They are singular materials that differentiate their properties locally to accommodate for environmental and structural strengths,” Oxman said. “They are not made of parts. They are wholes that are bigger than the sum of their parts.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Duck and Cover

Does the Hollywood Hard Rock Hotel rock, or is it a one-hit wonder?
Speeding down the asphalt behemoth of the Florida Turnpike, it’s impossible to miss the latest addition to the swampy peninsula’s flat horizon. Six shafts of fluorescent light climb thousands of feet into the sky, slicing through the Everglades’ winter fog and reducing local air traffic to the appearance of toy planes. Following the light beams to their source, I encounter what can only be an accident-inducing sight: A 450-foot tall, glass-fronted building that’s shaped like an electric guitar—unmistakeably a Hard Rock Hotel. A project seven years in the making, the new Guitar Hotel (which is, needless to say, the world’s first guitar-shaped building) is the frontrunner of a $1.5 billion extension of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. The supersized instrument, designed by Klai Juba Wald Architecture, contains 638 guest suites, bringing the total room count of the resort (including the old hotel) to over 1,200. These rooms range from a 700-square-foot standard to a two-floor, 4,000-square-foot “Beyoncé penthouse” designed by Wilson Associates of Dallas. Featuring over three football fields of casino space, a 6,500-seat theatre-style concert venue, a half-dozen pools, a mall, a day-and-nightclub, and dozens of restaurants and bars, the hotel is gearing up to become a global attraction. It already was when I visited. I pulled down Seminole Way just before sunset on a regular Tuesday evening. This palm tree flanked road snakes around the old hotel and casino and then spits me out at the swanky base of the gargantuan guitar, which is flanked by lush lit tropical landscaping, water features, and bow-tied valet boys circling Lamborghinis. A broad spectrum of guests including families with hyperactive kids, solo gamblers, road-tripping bros, and honeymooners all made a beeline for the 18-acre recreational archipelago in front of the Guitar Hotel; I followed suit.  Dashing through the glitzy smoke-filled casino, I reach the poolside exit just as a bone-shaking rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” erupts from both sides of the hotel. The building’s glossy façade becomes a psychedelic screen of choreographed color bursts. Miles of LEDs running horizontally along its 35 stories twinkle into ever-busier patterns as the guitar’s ‘strings’—six great shafts of light cutting 20,000 feet into the sky—pulsate maniacally to the beat. My jaw drops when I learn that this epic light show occurs twice nightly.  Becoming an international destination is a lofty goal for a building situated in the guts of southern Florida’s highway system: A cacophonous collage of roaring freeways, alligator wrestling megaplexes, smoke shops, used car dealers, RV parks, and sleepy suburbs dotted with manmade water features. But the glowing guitar’s strategic situation on the 497-acre Florida Seminole reservation is as tactical as it gets, both in its flashy design and the political sway of tribe’s global gambling empire.  Despite their nonchalant appearance, the Florida Seminoles, a group of around 4,000 (another 18,000 live in Oklahoma, having been forcibly uprooted by white settlers in the 18th century), possesses an indomitable business acumen. They hold an impressive claim to Florida’s booming gambling economy, managing six separate casinos across the sunshine state alone. Before the original Hollywood Hard Rock Hotel and Casino was erected here in 2004, the Seminoles introduced the country’s first tribe-owned gambling facility—a high stakes bingo hall—in 1979. “The Seminole Tribe of Florida has played the most important role in the origins and development of Indian gaming in the United States of any single tribe,” suggested Matthew L.M. Fletcher, professor of Law & Director of the Indigenous Law & Policy Center at Michigan State University Initially, erecting casinos on tribe land enabled Native Americans to bypass state gambling legislation across the United States, but disputes between tribes and politicians eventually snowballed into a supreme court case in 1987. This case resulted in the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which allowed Native American tribes to continue their gambling business as usual, so long as they gave a cut of their profits to the state. For the Seminoles, this equates to a hefty $350 million pay-off per year. But Florida’s increased dependency on this bonus revenue has enabled the tribe to sweeten their end of the deal, gaining exclusive rights to many of the highest-grossing casino games, including Blackjack, as outlined in the 2010 Seminole Compact At the far end of the hotel’s sprawling outdoor complex, the faint upbeat jingle of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” wafts over a water sports pool easily clearing three football fields in length. Canoes, kayaks, and paddle-boards bobble in the phosphorescent blue water. A walking path populated with Floridian flora snakes around the active pool, leading to a state-of-the-art muscle toning outdoor gym that’s pumping the same soundtrack from the machines’ built-in speakers. The hotel sound system is impossible to escape; duck underwater and the feel good™ tunes are only amplified.  Unfurling around the active pool like a chain of seasteads is what the hotel calls the ‘Bora Bora experience’: A cluster of sixteen luxury villas with swim-up entrances, private plunge pools, and butler services that are available for hotel guests to rent for the day. Swim-up ground floor suites appear again in the new Oasis tower, a seven-story, 168-room low-rise building that slinks across the southwestern end of the complex and peeks over The Spine, an undulating covered walkway flanked by waterfalls that extends from the base of the guitar. Adjacent ‘Seminole style’ poolside chickees with TVs and fridges are another stay-within-a-stay opportunity. For those craving a beach (this is Florida, after all) there are two themed areas, complete with Floridian sand, tropical lagoon waterfalls, and plenty of palm trees. The interiors are equally glitzy: Caught between an ultra-polished cruise ship and an unspeakably upscale airport, the opulent materials, including leather, marble, wood paneling, and hand-blown glass accents around every corner collectively put Vegas to shame. The Beyoncé penthouse is the crowning jewel of this hedonistic playground. Scattered around the elegant chamber, which, in addition to featuring floor-to-ceiling marble bathrooms, boasts its own private balcony pool, and a miniature Taschen library and various texts on feminist theory—which, rather unsurprisingly, appear untouched. A secret VIP gaming room featuring blackjack and slot machines is available exclusively for celebrities, athletes, and other select guests on floor 34.  While the building’s curvaceous guitar shape is an undeniably iconic feat of engineering, there are also more subtle design elements to be commended. Nine floors of generous balconies have been cut into both sides of the guitar and staggered and set back from public view, ensuring that nobody sneaks a peak on your open-air morning shower. An inventive rigging system has been installed for facilitating the cleaning and repair of the windows and lights via telescopic tools kept on top of the building to allow for minimal visual interference for guests (although it’s no small business keeping the glass facade spotless).  The most extravagant feature here is The Oculus, a warm, glowing neon beacon located in the hotel lobby. Designed collaboratively between Rockwell Group and Mark Fuller of WET Design Group (the masterminds behind the audacious Dubai Fountain), the Oculus shares some of the same traits and runs its own multisensory mini light shows from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Fourteen concentric panels of laminated glass create a waterfall effect from both in and outside the fountain, with eight holographic projections of various rock ‘n’ roll demigods going on at any one time. A tube of water tumbles down from the dark wood-lined dome, appearing like an alien abduction scene as it’s illuminated by LEDs from above and below. It’s the perfect place to space out after losing one too many rounds of Texas hold ’em. A cocktail bar with its own live music program is located just above The Oculus and offers trippy views down below.  Scattered throughout the building is a rotating selection of celebrity accessories from the Hard Rock’s epic 81,000 piece-strong memorabilia archive. On show during my visit was Neil Diamond’s classic thunderbird car and some choice outfits of Britney Spears and Björk, among others; the rest is kept in a vault in Fort Lauderdale. A built-in marble-floored mall that stretches 26,000 square feet offers boutique stores, caviar outlets, cigar lounges, and even an indoor miniature golf course. Around the Hard Rock complex are nineteen restaurants and 20 bars. On the other end of the mall, a heavenly escalator will whisk you away to DAER, a 44,000-square-foot nightclub and “day club” (remarkably, South Florida’s first), where the whos-who of EDM and dance let loose around a Steve Lieberman-designed LED centerpiece.  Buried in the bowels of the building is the new Hard Rock Live: a 7,000-capacity theater designed by Canadian entertainment gurus Scéno Plus and broken in with a set by Maroon 5. Sixty-five-hundred spacious seats offer unobstructed views across the acoustically pure clamshell-shaped theatre. Golden VIP couches offer nonstop cocktail service for the fortunate, but there’s not a dud seat in the house, with the back row less than 50 yards away from the stage. A dozen shows, performances, and concerts are planned for February alone (Rod Stewart fans, listen up. Then, of course, there is the gambling. The new Guitar Hotel adds 150,000 square feet of gaming space with 7,000 seats at 195 tables, effectively doubling the original size of the casino. Popular games like blackjack, mini-baccarat, and Spanish 21 are on the menu, alongside over new 3,000 slot machines and a high limit slot room. There is even a designated non-smoking section—but tucked behind drab black curtains, it’s a bit of a hard sell.  Apart from the name and the sawgrass-scented bath accessories in the suites, there’s hardly a trace of Seminole about this place. But, ask any member of the tribe and they’ll tell you they prefer it that way. The Vegas-inspired razzmatazz is all part of the Hard Rock franchise’s cultish draw, and it equals more cash in their pockets.  “The Seminoles don’t interfere with the Hard Rock brand,” explained Gary Bitner, president and founder of Bitner Group, the PR firm behind the new hotel. “It’s been that way since Jim Allen took the helm and the Seminoles began generating the bulk of the franchise profits.”  A businessman originally from New Jersey, Allen can largely be credited for the Florida Seminoles’ monopoly over Floridian gambling. He’s helmed the tribe’s gambling operations as the chief executive officer of Seminole Gaming since 2001, following stints at Atlantis Bahamas and The Trump Organization. It’s under his reign that the Seminoles acquired the Hard Rock brand back in 2007 for $906 million, beating out 72 competitors including titans of the hospitality industry, and extending the tribe’s casino empire up the East Coast and into the American heartland. Looking at Allen’s track record of designing casinos out in paradise, it becomes easy to see how the building harnesses paradisiacal escapism and exudes rock’n’roll charisma all at once, to mass appeal.  That its rooms have been almost fully booked since the building’s star-studded opening in October, which drew the likes of Johnny Depp and Khloe Kardashian, alongside an amped-up light show and event schedule planned for the year ahead, suggests the Guitar Hotel has no intentions of slowing its tempo. Its 2020 “Big Game” commercial, which featured Jennifer Lopez, DJ Khaled, Pitbull, and other high-profile celebrities on a wild race across the hotel’s lagoon-filled landscape for JLo’s “Bling Cup”—launching pineapple grenades, paddleboarding in stilettos, and even crashing a Stevie Van Zandt concert to retrieve the rhinestoned god-tier Starbucks thermos—is the latest testament to the brand’s ability to enlist pop culture and conjure the spectacular with a virtually limitless budget. While it’s fair play to criticize the very existence of a guitar-shaped luxury hotel as our relationship with the Earth grows more precarious, or find fault with the detrimental social impact of gambling, which preys on minorities and unemployed, you can walk away from a weekend at the Guitar Hotel knowing the livelihood of the Seminoles grows stronger for it. In addition to a $1,000 check paid out monthly in their name along with free college tuition, every tribe member currently receives dividends of their gambling empire paid out to around $128,000 a year. In other words, every Seminole member reaches adulthood with over $2 million in reserves. Rarely do ethnic minorities make it so big in the US — a country that built its wealth on the forced displacement, persecution and eradication of indigenous groups. At the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel, the right guys are on the winning end of your bad poker face.
Placeholder Alt Text

Technically Behind the Scenes

Los Angeles’s TECH+ Expo brought together innovations in project delivery
On February 6, The TECH+ Expo transformed the second floor of Los Angeles’s Line Hotel into a showcase of the latest innovations in architectural technology. But rather than exhibiting 3D printers, robot arms, and brick-laying drones, the conference highlighted products designed to streamline design research, project delivery, and the architect-to-client relationship. Chief creative officer of BQE Software, Steven Burns, FAIA, provided a demonstration of CORE, the company’s latest app designed to consolidate the billing, accounting, and reporting necessary to keep an architecture firm afloat. While CORE can distill a firm’s complex financial information in its easy-to-read web format, the company added artificial intelligence (AI) to enable its users to have human-like conversations with the app to simplify its interface even further. Using a fictional company as an example, Burns presented a 5-minute interaction with the app that elucidated everything from then-current financial progress to unpaid bills and variously categorized expense items. In her keynote lecture, Dr. Upali Nanda, director of research for global architecture firm HKS Inc., demonstrated how her firm has pioneered methods of design research that positively contributes to the mental health of its buildings’ occupants. Her presentation began with a valuable quote from Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota: “Architects have been slow to champion the return on investment that their work can bring, but even a little data can convince clients that spending more can mean saving more.” Dr. Nanda then went on to explain how the data collected at HKS—focused on occupancy outcomes—has improved the performance of its projects while convincing clients to invest in operationally effective and energy-saving technology. “Design is a hypothesis,” Dr. Nanda concluded, “but what happens during occupancy is the outcome.” Several TECH+ participants shared their insights and techniques for improving construction efficiency. Chester Weir, design lead of global construction company Katerra, outlined how his company combined end-to-end integration with technological innovation to produce forward-thinking solutions to global construction issues. The company’s Materials & Supply Chain services, for instance, have aggregated demand across markets to supply building materials for itself and other market sectors. Rudy Armendariz, senior VDC/BIM Manager at Balfour Beatty, elaborated on the challenges his company faced in determining how to construct a people mover at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) without disrupting the airport’s automobile traffic. LAX Integrated Express Solutions (LINXS) developed a system for efficiently working on the project within the 5-hour period the construction team is allotted each night. The next TECH+ Expo will be held in New York City on July 16.
Placeholder Alt Text

The Ignored Realm

Rem Koolhaas sets a global non-urban agenda with Countryside at the Guggenheim
In both pre-Christianity Rome and China, the countryside was a place of retreat where those seeking respite from the bustle and grime of the city would go for rest, relaxation, and creative inspiration. The Chinese founders of Taoism called this freedom and wondering Xiaoyao, while Roman philosophers referred to time away as Otium: and idealized existences—from off-the-grid hippy utopias to the peaceful bliss of Arcadia—have continued to crystallize in the natural landscapes of the rural. Contemporary ideas around wellness, mindfulness, ayahuasca startup retreats, and glamping at Burning Man fill the same role in our society as a full-circle return to pre-industrial, pre-capitalist, nature-centric lifestyles that are paradoxically a product of our neoliberal consumerist culture and sold as an antidote to it. This lineage, from the beginning of western civilization and ancient eastern philosophy to 21st-century marketing culture, is just part of Rem Koolhaas’s ten-year transcultural, transhistorical research and analysis of non-urban territories, or what he calls the “ignored realm.” On view at New York’s Guggenheim Museum through August 14, Countryside: The Future is a project of Koolhaas, AMO director Samir Bantal, and Troy Conrad Therrien of the Guggenheim. The show fills the museum’s entire main rotunda. It is meant to upend traditional notions of the countryside by investigating the places where the influence, as well as the oddities, normally associated with the urban can be found outside the city. If, at one time in the not-so-distant past, the countryside was an idyllic place where each human had a role, Koolhaas posits that the “romantic” landscape of creek beds, hillsides, and family farms is now unrecognizable as a stable, human-centered place, but rather a hyper-efficient, inorganic, non-place where Cartesian technological systems define life. The show reverses course on much of what we have come to accept as the baseline for thinking about development. Take that famous statistic: by 2050, 70- to-80 percent of humanity would live in cities. “Are we really heading for this absurd outcome, where the vast majority of humanity lives on only 2% of the earth’s surface, and the remaining 98%, inhabited by only one-fifth of humanity, exists to serve cities?” Of course, Rem is not the first person to do research on the rural. But he has the resources (5 partner schools and AMO), the storytelling ability, and the platform (an entire museum in NYC) to reorient the conversation, as he has on other topics such as cities, Dubai, and toilets. The exhibition starts outside the museum, with a tractor next to a small, high-tech indoor tomato farm under pink lights that illuminate passing pedestrians. In the lobby, a requisite hanging sculpture in the rotunda is made from a bale of hay, an imaging satellite akin those used by Google Maps, and an underwater robot that kills fish threatening coral reefs. Land, sea, and even space are all implicated in this broad survey of the rural, as this sculpture sets the tone for the rest of the show, which launches into an outpouring of information. It is reminiscent of OMA/AMO publications Content, Volume, or the Elements exhibition and books, as visitors are greeted by a wall text of 1,000 questions posed by Koolhaas. Nearby is a table showcasing publications that provided context: The Red Book and the Great Wall, The Future of the Great Plains, Golf Courses of the World, and a German publication about Muammar al-Gaddafi. At the core of the show, the Guggenheim’s iconic ramp houses a set of themed vignettes. ‘Political Redesign’ is a catalog of ‘heroic’ 20th-century geopolitical operations, ranging from the founding of several United States federal agencies during the Dust Bowl, to German Architect Herman Sörgel’s plan to unite Europe and Africa by lowering the level of the Mediterranean Sea and building a bridge over the resulting span. Stalin’s Plan for the Transformation of Nature and the evolution of the Jeffersonian grid from squares to circles are also highlights. Countryside then moves away from these governmental models into more polyvalent experiments with nature, technology, politics, planning, and preservation. Many of these we might normally associate with the urban, such as the anarchist community in Tarnac, France that was raided by police in 2008 but is now home to an informal university hidden in the forest. There are also glimpses of rural China, most beautifully Taobao Live, Alibaba’s live streaming channel that allows sellers in the countryside to broadcast their produce and foodstuffs to audiences in the cities. Arcosanti, afro-futurism, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative are among the other kaleidoscopic ways that the narrative extends beyond industrial farming into a host of other social and political spheres. Working through contemporary preservation methods, proposals, and scenarios, including a curious example from Siberia where valuable mammoth tusks are becoming exposed in the ground by climate change and creating new economies for local, amateur “archaeologists,” the exhibitions closes on ‘cartesian euphoria,’ a kind of paranoiac-critical reading of the technologies and systems that are rearranging nature and politics in the countryside, complete with a full-scale installation of a PhenoMate, a cutting-edge farming tool that uses machine learning to identify which plants in a nursery bed photosynthesizing the most, and selectively breeds stronger strains without genetic modification. The show operates politically in a context where the countryside, and those who live in it are a marginalized group, at least culturally. Urban elites deride rural areas as many things, most out-of-touchedly as “fly-over states.” After a decade or more or the architectural world focusing on cities and urban areas as the main spaces of inquiry, Rem’s turn to the countryside —most likely born from a desire to look where most others are not— and his ability to show the public that the so-called hinterlands are a place where not only are some of the most important agricultural, industrial, and social mechanisms of society operating, but it is also where many of the interesting intersections of experimental politics, economics, engineering, and social relationships are taking place. To ignore the rural because we don’t agree with the politics of those who live there, or think that their culture is not sophisticated is not only missing out on experiencing a countryside beyond a luxury faux-rustic retreat, but it is also disregarding the fact that the countryside and the city are and always will be inextricably linked, as elucidated by a brilliant provocation that cities have become stuck in “frivolity,” while supported by complex, managed landscapes in the countryside. For example, urbanites underneath London’s ArcelorMittal Orbit leisurely eat ice cream brought in from factory farms in the outskirts. It is also a show with a decidedly top-down lens on the countryside. Some will not like the relative lack of representation of small-scale communities in the show, but the acknowledgment of systems and technology is an important way of seeing these territories. Had the curators included more grassroots narratives, it likely would have watered down the larger, geopolitical stories being told, and the show is better off for staying focused on larger-scale issues rather than getting into the folk aspects of the countryside, which would be more predictable and less compelling. Countryside is definitely a magazine- or book-on-the-wall type of exhibition, but not in a bad way. The texts are snappily written in typical Koolhaasian style, and there are not too many complex maps or charts, making the exhibition feel more like a journalistic analysis of what is interesting about the countryside, not necessarily a theoretical treatise or prescriptive path forward. It could be read as a transformation of the museum into a publication, a curatorial strategy that upturns not only our ideas about the Guggenheim but about how to leverage a hyper-didactic exhibition into an aesthetic experience.  The show is literally distorted by the Guggenheim’s double-curved surfaces, spiraling ramp, and constantly shifting vantage points, with a string of text spiraling around the underside of the ramps like a dizzying thesis statement, always to be revisited. If there is a sticking point, it is that the aesthetic of the exhibition will be familiar to many, as it harkens back to previous OMA/AMO publications. Koolhaas has long collaborated with Dutch graphic designer Irma Boom, who created a custom Countryside typeface for the show, which resembles both handwriting and her Neutral typeface used throughout. In an exhibition that is really a publication, typefaces matter, and the familiar layouts and fonts make the exhibition seem more like the work of a signature architect or firm, not a global coalition. No, but seriously, folks, go see the show! Taschen has published an accompanying publication, available for 24.95 online or at the gift shop.