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Editor's Note

Here's to paid competitions!
This Editor's Note first appeared in the October/November print edition of the Architect's Newspaper.

Last week, as AN’s executive director, I participated in a juried competition for a renovation of the cafe at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. Dallas-based ceramic artist and collector Louise Rosenfield has donated a 3,000-piece functional ceramics collection to the museum, which will be integrated into the cafe’s food and beverage programming.

It was a unique design prompt, and it deserved a comparably special design to complement it. In a collaboration between the Everson Museum and the School of Architecture at Syracuse University, Dean Michael Speaks and Assistant Professor Kyle Miller organized the competition, which brought together four finalists and seven jurors to decide who would take on the cafe design. The jury consisted of Everson Museum director and CEO Elizabeth Dunbar and Everson Museum curator of ceramics Garth Johnson along with Sean Anderson (MoMA), Aric Chen (Design Miami), Jing Liu (SO—IL), Matt Shaw (The Architect’s Newspaper), and Oana Stănescu (Harvard GSD).

The four presenters were FreelandBuck (David Freeland and Brennan Buck, Los Angeles/New York), MILLIØNS (Zeina Koreitem and John May, Los Angeles), NATURALBUILD (Yanfei Shui and Yichi Su, Shanghai) and Norman Kelley (Thomas Kelley and Carrie Norman, Chicago/New Orleans).

The competition brought to light a host of serious issues and questions about architecture today.

First, the format is a throwback to a time when competitions were a way for architects to get high-profile commissions and build their practices through proposals and thought experiments. Some of the world’s greatest structures were realized through competitions, including London’s Palace of Westminster (1836), the Sydney Opera House (1956), and Paris’s Centre Pompidou (1971).

Competitions have also served as fertile grounds for the development of intellectual projects, as second-place proposals have become as important historically as the winners. OMA’s Parc de la Villete (1982) and Reiser + Umemoto’s Yokohama Port Terminal (1995) are both important markers in the firms’ legacies, while the Chicago Tribune Tower competition has echoed through time, first as an actual building competition (1922), then as the basis for Stanley Tigerman’s book Late Entries to the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition (1980), and then in Johnston Marklee’s Vertical City (2017) as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Despite their significance and success at delivering world-class projects, competitions have come under fire in recent years as exploitative, using architects as sources for ideas while not compensating them for their time and effort. However, a paid, invited competition is much different than an open call where labor goes uncompensated.

The competition model helps clients mitigate risk by giving them the opportunity to move beyond obvious choices and take a chance on a younger practice that might not immediately seem capable to the untrained eye. In the Everson competition, the jury directed the clients toward a more ambitious proposal that might have seemed less desirable to a client at first.

Competitions not only allow institutions to take risks on progressive architecture, but they also save them money. Rather than pay top dollar for large corporate firms or high-profile established designers who have already proven themselves over multiple projects, an institution can find a cheaper firm that would not be affordable in ten years. This kind of knowledge only comes from a panel of experts. It is a win-win for everyone involved, and, at the Syracuse competition, it was clear that both the jury and the museum were satisfied with the result.

These competitions might cost money up front, but the results they deliver for the client will offer savings in the long run by using a less-established—yet talented—team that is not charging corporate rates or top dollar design fees. And they are an important way to create opportunity for young designers and foster the contributions they make to architectural history. Here’s to more paid competitions!

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Decks (over) and Yards

After Hudson Yards, Sunnyside could be New York's next megadevelopment

Lawrence Halprin and William “Holly” Whyte both published books in the 1960s that highlighted the ad hoc and often bottom-up design decisions that make cities successful for their users and inhabitants. Facing the massive Nieman Marcus–emblazoned steel and glass street wall that greets visitors entering Hudson Yards from 10th Avenue, the lessons of Halprin and Whyte seem a quaint reminder of how city building has changed in the past 50 years. Hudson Yards, or as its developers like to call it, “New York’s next great neighborhood,” is not so much an accretive, incremental part of the city, but a pop-up assemblage of high-rise corporate boxes surrounding a shopping mall. There is little here that would interest Halprin or Whyte about how to design a city.

As America’s white middle class was abandoning the city for the suburbs, the authors wanted to rediscover and celebrate the joys of high-density living. Gentrification has gone from an obscure English academic theory to a popular derisive term to describe how our cities are being organized, planned, and developed. In New York City in 2019, even affordable housing has been handed over to large corporate entities, much as it was in the 19th century, when tenements proliferated and developers were allowed to do as they wished with their property holdings.

The urban critics writing about Hudson Yards yearn for a seamless Whyte-inspired urban fabric that gives as much as it takes from the city. Sadly, the Yards are described, variously, as “an urban failure,” a “$25 billion enclave,” “too clean, too flat, too art-directed,” and “a vast neoliberal Zion.” But how could it have been otherwise? It was conceived, planned, and designed by a corporation with little interest in anything but short-term profit, and it proceeded with little input from community boards, elected officials, or planners. The community boards had all been bludgeoned for years by proposals for sports stadiums on the site, and they gave the go-ahead to the first proposal that promised housing and a school, even if that meant luxury towers. Without serious input from community boards and city planners, this new quarter of the city was destined for failure. Developers only begrudgingly accepted the High Line—one of the most successful top-down planning projects of the past 25 years—into its 14 acres of “public” space when pushed hard by the department of city planning. The High Line, to its credit, makes provision for the sort of urban happenstance that we like about cities, and we can be thankful it wends its way through Hudson Yards and does not stop at its perimeter. The short High Line spur, with its still unfinished plinth for a rotating case of public sculptures, visible overhead to cars driving up 10th Avenue, is the sort of unexpected condition that makes the city richer. Unfortunately, the gigantic footprints of the Hudson Yards buildings and their corporate lobby design aesthetic makes it impossible for any bottom-up ad hoc events to take place.

A major problem for the Yards is that it sits on a 28-acre concrete pad and underground infrastructure complex that precludes any urban use that doesn’t generate billions of dollars in income. It’s the same problem faced in varying degrees by the World Trade Center site and Park Avenue, but these seem like triumphs of urban design compared to Hudson Yards.

Sadly, this blueprint for city building on concrete pads (and its economic and financing formula) may be the model for the next big development site in the city, Sunnyside Yard, as New York’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has already begun planning its future. It was identified as a potential development site in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2030 plan, and the 180-acre site in western Queens is not far from Manhattan and the growing centers of Long Island City, Astoria, and Queens Plaza. It potentially has 19 million square feet of retail, commercial, residential, and mixed-use spaces, and has been identified by the EDC as a place that could potentially house up to 24,000 homes, 19 schools, and 52 acres of public parks.

In February 2017, the city unveiled a feasibility study of the Sunnyside Yard area, which showed that decking was in fact possible, and that there were various scenarios in which a development of the site could move forward. But again, expensive decking will almost certainly preclude anything but corporate high-rise offices and luxury residential towers with commercial and open space, exactly like that at Hudson Yards.

Sunnyside Yard sits next to one of the most important residential developments in the United States, Sunnyside Gardens, designed by Henry Wright and Clarence Stein of the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA). If only the planners for Sunnyside Yard could look next door and have the expertise and nerve to propose something as revolutionary as the RPAA did in the 1920s. But let’s not hold our breath—we are more likely to get another version of Hudson Yards on this public land.

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Isozaki Wins

Why Arata Isozaki deserves the Pritzker

The Architect’s Newspaper is very happy that Arata Isozaki has won the 2019 Pritzker Prize, despite some grumbling to the contrary within online architectural circles.

The Pritzker is about lifetime achievement, so let’s start at the beginning. Isozaki began his career studying architecture after a childhood in which he witnessed profound destruction. “[During WWII] I was constantly confronted with the destruction and elimination of the physical objects that surrounded me. Japanese cities went up in flames. Forms that had been there an instant earlier vanished in the next.”

This darkness pervaded his work, especially the concept of impermanence and ruins. In his early career, he was involved with the Japanese theoretical group, the Metabolists, who were taking on the city as a large-scale biological process, producing some of the most visionary proposals of the post-war era. However, Isozaki believed that they were too naïve and positive, and that architecture needed to (paradoxically) build for death and destruction as well as life and progress. Isozaki became more aligned with what would come to be known as postmodernism in the Venturian or Jencksian sense when he broke from both hardcore modernists like the CIAM and the Metabolists. For Isozaki, the city was not a place of activism or functionalism, but rather a place of memory and poetic imagination.

He took the Metabolists’ love for viewing the built environment as a living organism and imbued their rational, hardcore functionalism with a more artistic, human-scale, colorful approach. His Oita Prefecture Library and the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art both took on the Brutalist concrete aesthetic, but treated the building as a body with connected parts, rather than an aggregation of cells or individual units as in Metabolism. In both the library and art museum, views are framed by cantilevered “eyes.”

In addition to his bodily references in buildings, Isozaki was an early protagonist of experiments in the relationship between architecture and performance art. His Demonstration Robot, part of the extravagant Metabolist Osaka ’70 expo, made an architectural-scale human that could host events on a stage while reconfiguring itself on an even larger stage. These performance architectures incorporated principles of the nascent performance art movement of the 1970s and foreshadowed projects like OMA’s Transformer or the work of Andres Jaque or Diller Scofidio + Renfro. However, soon after the expo, he fell physically ill and ended up in the hospital because he felt guilty for promoting a technologically positivist viewpoint of modernism.

Rising from his profound experience in the hospital, Isozaki formulated a theory of architecture that would guide what would be his most significant work. The crux: “Space equals darkness, time equals termination (escatology), and matter, or architecture and cities, equals ruin and ashes.” This represented his unique version of the postmodern linguistic turn, as he engaged with semiotics and form-giving through the lens of impermanence and ruin. He saw the void, negative space, and ruin as the rhetorical and cultural antithesis of architecture.

Isozaki had already been exploring these ideas in Electric Labyrinth for the 1968 Milan Triennale. He created an installation of large silk prints showing the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki alongside futurist visions of the Metabolists. This metaphorical evocation of these tragic events juxtaposed with the architectural positivism illustrated Isozaki’s cynicism about Metabolism, but also his reluctance to subscribe to any style in favor of his own underlying conceptual affinities, such as temporality, impermanence, irony, and collages of ideas and spaces.

This collage mentality was developed at the building scale in one of the most aggressive examples of historicism in the postmodern era and one of Isozaki’s most influential projects. According to Emmanuel Petit in Irony; or, The Self-critical Opacity of Post-modern Architecture, the Tsukuba Civic Centre “emerged as an assemblage of fragments diachronically cut from diverse historical contexts. The building’s composite anatomy of recognisable architectural fragments surfaces as a 'group portrait,' in Isozaki’s own words, comprising materials taken from such diverse sources as Michelangelo, Ledoux, Giulio Romano, Otto Wagner, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Charles Moore, Aldo Rossi, Hans Hollein, Peter Cook, Adalberto Libera, Philip Johnson, Leon Krier, Lawrence Halprin, and Ettore Sottsass." The project assembled these fragments into a sort of bodily composition meant to sit in contrast with the gridded rigidity of the rest of the town. The invented and somewhat arbitrary historical narrative paradoxically provided context for a town that had little real history.

Perhaps Isozaki’s most important project was his design for the Palladium nightclub in New York, which opened in 1985 and closed in 1997. The lavish Beaux Arts interior of the former theater was augmented with a white grid and an orgy of light, sound, projection, and music that created what he saw as a technological environment. Like the Osaka robot, the relationship of architecture and bodies was in constant feedback, while Isozaki’s critical ideas about the false utopias of modernism came through via his references to “ghost-figures” of the Edo period of Japanese history and the ruins of Hiroshima.

Later in his career, Isozaki was again able to adapt to the times, as his work became less critical and more elegant. Many architects enter what Jencks would call a “late-mellow” phase, and Isozaki’s was not unexciting. Beautiful, competent buildings such as the Shanghai Symphony, Palm Springs Desert Shelters, and the slightly wacky Qatar Convention Center.

But the Pritzker (and architecture in general) is not just about finished projects. It is about ideas, drawings, and writing. Isozaki also had an influence on drawing with “120 Invisible Cities,” a series of speculative projects made with a silkscreen technique. Precursors to Illustrator graphics and cartoonish renderings that pervade architecture’s avant-garde today, Isozaki’s flattened graphics were also used on the Los Angeles MOCA project. He also used the silkscreen method for his entry for the New Tokyo City Hall competition, which he lost to Kenzo Tange. Isozaki even made an early foray into the digital, producing some computer drawings for the City Hall project in 1986.

Let’s face it—the Pritzker Prize is a relic from another era. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t serve as a useful tool for highlighting the great minds of the discipline and profession of architecture. Isozaki might not be the most avant-garde, politically correct pick at first Google, but for those who are paying attention, it is a great capstone on a truly incredible career.

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Inclusive Recovery

Five years after Detroit’s bankruptcy, design fuels recovery
Could Detroit be pioneering a new type of gentrification? It is possible. The recovery—with its innovative experiments in revitalization—is set to become a laboratory of ideas that will redefine gentrification, learning from the urban renaissance of the last 20 years in other cities. The Detroit of the late aughts was a desolate place: The municipal government had all but crumbled in the wake of a depopulation that saw the city go from over 2 million residents to around 700,000. With the loss of people and jobs came the loss of density and infrastructure, which left Detroit the poster child for apocalyptic Rust Belt landscapes. During this period of the late 2000s to the early 2010s, steep real estate discounts allowed artists and entrepreneurs to buy houses and commercial buildings extremely cheap. This legendary scenario led The New York Times to publish an article titled "Last Stop on the L Train: Detroit,” in 2015.  And it certainly feels that way, with vibrant music, arts, food, and design scenes in the city that seem to be linked together by a small community of like-minded people working on a host of cultural projects together. However, much of the buzz about Detroit in the national media has died down. How is Detroit doing five years after becoming the largest city ever to go through a structured bankruptcy, and how is design helping to speculate on new future urbanisms? Today’s Detroit is a different place than five years ago. The days of $500 houses bought at auction and dark, empty landscapes are becoming a thing of the past. Developers and speculators have bought up much of the land around the city center, with Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Ventures owning almost 95 percent of the downtown area. This area could now pass for a street in downtown Chicago, with high-end boutiques and chains like Warby Parker and lululemon. In other neighborhoods, such as the more industrial Milwaukee Junction, near the Russell Industrial Center—an icon of gritty urban reuse—land and property have been claimed by those waiting to sell or develop it. Other neighborhoods like Corktown and Midtown have seen a resurgence in development, an increase in market-rate housing, and more traditional forms of urban revitalization. Infamously abandoned sites have been bought for eventual redevelopment or reuse. Most strikingly, a Ford-branded security Ford Escape is parked outside the Ford-emblazoned fence at Detroit Central Train Station, a ruin-porn poster child now slated for redevelopment as the auto giant’s “innovation” hub, focusing on autonomous vehicles. Now the challenge will be to deliver on some of the potential that has been so evident over the last decade. Detroit’s municipal government has long been seen as incapable of addressing the city’s problems, such as abandoned buildings, vacant lots, lack of infrastructure, and general disinvestment. Since declaring bankruptcy in 2013, the city has implemented a series of initiatives that have in many ways stabilized it. These include basic things like improving emergency services and transportation. Perhaps most important, new LED streetlights were installed, ending the days when residents carried flashlights in their cars. Perhaps the most dramatic change in Detroit’s governance has been in the city planning department. Architect and former Charlottesville mayor Maurice Cox has been tasked with overseeing the recovery. His first step? Hiring a diverse, interdisciplinary team of 36 planners, architects, urban designers, and landscape designers to rethink how a city can incentivize investment, rebuild infrastructure, redensify targeted neighborhoods, and provide services to new residents while preventing displacement of existing residents and cultures that have endured the city’s darker times. Cox calls it “inclusive recovery.” This comprises measures that harness one of the unique things about Detroit—a high level of community engagement. As a majority African-American city, it is an especially promising place to pioneer these ideas. At a recent event at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), the artist Tyree Guyton sat down for a talk at the closing for a show about his Heidelberg Project, a self-started community art project he has developed since 1986. Rather than a typical artist’s talk, the event was more like a community town hall, where residents of the nearby neighborhood spoke in detail about how they see the neighborhood changing, and how the evolution could be better. This kind of community-led development will be key to making sure that Detroit can innovate without displacing people or local cultures. The most important priority of the plan is to recover while preserving both local neighborhood culture and affordable housing. Cox’s initiatives include framework plans for targeted neighborhoods that have strong residential numbers and some active housing stock. The planning department identified weak spots surrounded by higher-density areas that could be tied together with coordinated investment, resulting in—thus far—six quarter-mile-by-quarter-mile areas where recovery could be easiest. The proposed Joe Louis Greenway will be a 31.5-mile bike-pedestrian loop that passes mostly through neighborhoods with a median income under $27,500 a year and a 70 percent rate of car access. The greenway will incorporate existing routes, such as the Dequindre Cut, a below-grade rail-line-turned-pedestrian-promenade that is being used as a gentrification vehicle to spur development of a mix of affordable housing embedded in market-rate developments. Development group The Platform will be developing a housing complex at the north end of the cut. This could lead to displacement, but because the city owns so much land along the path, it will experiment with ways to provide affordable housing and transportation without driving people out. Local housing research includes a joint venture between the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the City of Detroit. In studios led by Lars Gräbner and Christina Hansen, students generate ideas about what housing might look like in Detroit, some of which are displayed in exhibitions such as 2017’s A City For All: Future Housing Models for the City of Detroit. These studios also helped produce a series of design guidelines. For example, one line reads: “Impress the value of design on all projects and all audiences—emphasizing equity, design excellence, and inclusion.” As design thinking ramps up, so too will design excellence. Detroit has a long legacy of designers and architects who have called Michigan home, such as Eliel and Eero Saarinen and Albert Kahn. But in recent years, there have been fewer high-quality projects. This is changing, however, with firms such as Lorcan O’Herlihy, SCAPE, Walter Hood, Adjaye Associates, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, and others signing up to design housing, parks, and urban farms. O’Herlihy, for instance, is working on a housing study for Brush Park, the first of Cox’s targeted neighborhoods just outside downtown, designing a 24-building, 410-unit densification plan. And design is baked into the new planning department goals and regulations. What could be design’s biggest impact is the preservation of existing cultures, which includes the existing building culture, one of the goals for “inclusive recovery.” To prevent the loss of the visual character of the neighborhoods, incentives such as a double density allowance are offered for projects that preserve the existing shell of a building. Layering history in this way will inevitably lead to interesting new adaptive reuses. These building refills are a good metaphor for the new type of gentrification being pioneered here: They redensify the abandoned fabric with useful infill, but do not take away the texture that makes Detroit unique. As part of VolumeOne, Gräbner and Hansen’s private practice, the pair is working on a redevelopment of the historic Stone Soap Building, an historic 1907 factory. The structural concrete frame and brick infill will be preserved, and a minimal, floating addition will be clad in a galvanized metal panel system. The strong visual contrast between old and new will articulate a strategy of respect for the existing structure while implying continuity through the use of industrial materials. Imagining new uses for vacant land will also play a big part in making the future of Detroit, and nature is integral to the next image of the city. There are about 24 square miles of vacant land that are very costly to maintain. In collaboration with developers and designers, the city is programming many experiments in urban agriculture and self-reliant landscapes. The ad-hoc, community-initiated urban farming pioneered by projects such as Oakland Avenue Urban Farm has become a staple of Detroit urbanism and is becoming part of larger, city-led projects as well. Walter Hood Studio’s Rosa Parks Neighborhood Master Plan does not propose any new buildings but rather infills vacant lots with tree nursery gardens that will provide jobs and act as productive landscapes. In the Fitzgerald neighborhood, local developers Fitz Forward have set out to improve 100 vacant houses and 200 vacant lots. The strategy included some 28 community meetings and 50 neighborhood meetings that resulted in creating a park—a connective tissue—for the neighborhood, as well as flowering meadows in vacant lots. Cox sees it as a success in testing the idea of using design to create a place and restore beauty and community. Detroit is not without its issues, of course, but the future looks bright for the city. Its unique problems, such as the over-the-top reliance on the car built into the city’s planning, and its sprawling, vacant lots, could become assets when coupled with its strengths: relatively cheap land, strong communities, diverse leadership, and many cultural artifacts that have survived the dark times. Five years after bankruptcy, it is an exciting time in Detroit, and there is reason to believe it will provoke a new kind of urban revitalization: one in harmony with nature and existing cultures, informed by the urban progress made over the last few decades.
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Good Riddance

Editorial: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s tenure was a national disgrace
President Donald Trump announced last week that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke would be resigning at the end of 2018. And while even ardent supporters are finding it increasingly difficult to praise any move by the current administration, the end of Secretary Zinke’s corruption-riddled tenure at the helm of the Department of Interior is, perhaps, cause for brief, though bittersweet, celebration. America—and the world—is better off with Zinke out of office. Why? For one, over the two short years Zinke has been at the helm of the Department of Interior, he has continually treated his office like a personal piggy bank by making ridiculous purchases and indulging in a penchant for unnecessary private jet travel, all at taxpayer expense. Worse by a mile, however, is the fact that Zinke has also been hell-bent on using his position to perpetuate environmental destruction. Tasked with overseeing and maintaining roughly one-quarter of America’s land area, Zinke has instead transformed the Bureau of Land Management into a bargain bin thrift store open exclusively for the country’s grifting oil and mineral moguls. Under Trump’s direction, Zinke has scrapped Obama-era regulations and opened up for exploitation formerly off-limits public lands at break-neck speed. As a result, business is booming for the world’s extraction industries in America, indigenous rights have been superseded, deadly carbon emissions are on a precipitous rise, and environmental safeguards for clean air, water, and soil have been trampled. Under Zinke, America is having a going-out-of-business sale with public lands across the country on the auction block. A few examples: In Utah, the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments were drastically shrunk and partially sold-off; in Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve, the largest pristine landscape in the country, are being opened for oil exploration; and off the nation’s coasts, roughly 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf was also approved for resource extraction. All along, the plan has been to reduce environmental regulation and protections so that public lands can be mined, probed, and drilled for private profit. With global climate change reaching a new cataclysmic phase as the cost of renewable energy continues to fall, one must question why these approaches were taken at all. But as America joins Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others in a new “axis of climate evil,” the scheme becomes quite clear. To paraphrase and update a recent report from The Atlantic, cruelty—and private profit—drive many of the administration’s policy decisions. At the Department of Interior, Zinke has presided over a radical shift that has transformed the federal government into an instrument of business, stripping it of its historic role as a steward of public landscapes and, by direct extension, of the public itself. This administration’s profit-driven and deleterious impacts on our national parks and monuments have been particularly vile and will likely take generations to repair. Given ever-increasing estimates of the potential destruction that could be wrought by climate change, however, it’s unlikely whether repair will even be possible if the administration’s “America First” energy policy comes to fruition. This approach has not been without controversy, of course: Reports cite Zinke’s escalating ethics crises as a main driver for his resignation. So, although Zinke famously arrived for his first day in office on horseback, he leaves Washington running with his tail between his legs as an ascendant Democratic majority in the United States House of Representatives threatens to set its sights on one of the administration’s most blatantly corrupt individuals. The outcome proves what while it takes a supreme level of nihilistic cowardice to steal from the future only to then run from the repercussions, Trump’s administration is filled with individuals willing to do the same. Zinke’s disgraceful tenure, like those of ex-EPA head Scott Pruitt, ex-attorney general Jeff Sessions, and the current grammatically-challenged Department of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, proves that this particular basket of deplorables was all picked from the same rotten tree. To put it simply: If you care at all, even slightly, about the need to preserve and venerate the country’s iconic landscapes, about the public’s right to access public lands, or about the freedom to breathe clean air and drink untainted water, then Zinke’s tenure should fill you with dread and disgust. Under Zinke, the Department of Interior became a middleman between gluttonous extraction industries and the federal government’s land bank, plain and simple. Pristine landscapes have been sold off, soiled, and laid waste, indigenous rights have been superseded, and America’s vast territorial legacy has turned into a get-rich-quick scheme by an administration that sees personal profit as a professional virtue. It’s sad. There’s no silver lining, either, because Zinke’s replacement will likely pick up where the now-disgraced Montana politician is leaving off.
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Bauhaus Rocks

Controversy rocks the Bauhaus Dessau
Bauhaus Day 1: I arrived in Weimer the Thuringian birthplace of the Bauhaus in Germany to celebrate the design schools 100th birthplace in 1919. My plane landed in Frankfort in time to receive a message from Dutchman Bart Lootsema asking if had heard about the Bauhaus controversy just now breaking in German newspapers? No, I hadn’t heard but was headlines on every Germany journal and on everyone lips on the German government sponsored trip.
A punk band known for is political views was scheduled to perform at the Bauhaus in Dessau but was the event was canceled by transition politicians, in some ways echoes the Bauhaus historical legacy and now a protest is circulating worldwide to protest the cancellation—what a way to start an international press event! The blog outlet ArtNet now reports that “more than 100 prominent curators, artists, and other art-world figures have signed an open letter condemning the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s decision to cancel an anti-right-wing punk group’s performance on the grounds that the institution was 'apolitical.'” The protest signers claim the “foundation has done serious damage to democracy and cultural life “ and “that the decision to cancel the show was made following demands by the center-right CDU and nationalist AFD party, as well as extreme right groups.” All of these events are happening just as the German government is promoting the Bauhaus anniversary also recalls political events that roiled the Bauhaus during much of its existence first in Weimer and then Dessau.
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$1.7 billion Gadget

London dispatch: Bloomberg HQ should not have won this year's RIBA Stirling Prize
This week, Foster + Partners’ Bloomberg European headquarters in London picked up the 2018 RIBA Stirling Prize, an award ostensibly given to the best building in the U.K., marking the third time Norman Foster's firm has won the award. But was it actually the best piece of architecture on the shortlist of six projects? No. Let me start off by saying that the Bloomberg headquarters is by no means a bad building. The judging panel, chaired by Sir David Adjaye, was right to say the project “pushed the boundaries of research and innovation in architecture." They added in a statement: “Bloomberg has opened up new spaces to sit and breathe in the City,” and went on to laud “the visceral impact of the roof-top view across to St Paul’s from the concourse space,” the office’s helix ramp and its “dynamic new workspaces.” However, all of these listed items of praise are merely examples of pricey green gadgetry and fancy add-ons. While good in their own right, they have not come together well enough to form an exemplary piece of architecture worthy of winning the RIBA Stirling Prize. Inside, amid the myriad of seating, the scheme feels like a glitzy airport at times with stock markets being displayed on screens emulating departure boards. Views out are also hard to come by, besides one panorama of St Paul’s and a vista of the city reserved for Bloomberg's higher-ups as they dine.  The Bloomberg HQ may have also carved a new thoroughfare through this part of London, but it’s hardly space to breathe. The public feels somewhat ushered through the massive slabs of sandstone by undulating bronze fins that dominate the facade, being employed further up to aid air circulation and shun views out in the process. The only spaces where you don’t have to be a paying patron at an establishment to sit are two benches at the site’s southern corner, both of which have seating dividers to prevent rough sleepers. Poor people it seems shouldn’t be allowed to rest when in the presence of a $1.7 billion building. And that’s the project’s biggest issue: money. “Some people say the reason it took almost a decade to build this is because we had a billionaire who wanted to be an architect working with an architect who wanted to be a billionaire,” said former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at his building’s unveiling. Norman Foster is the U.K.’s wealthiest architect. This year, partners at his firm shared $30.4 million between them, a 43 percent increase on last year despite a downturn in profits and turnover with the company having to lose staff in the process. As critic Oliver Wainwright noted in a tweet, Foster's 'non-resident in the UK for tax purposes' status prevented him from even picking up the award in person. What does all this say about architects and the profession? That to design a good building you must find a client with apparently limitless pockets? That as an architect it is more important to be obscenely wealthy over everything else? Bloomberg’s London HQ is a far cry from last year’s winner, dRMM’s Hastings Pier, which exemplified civic architecture at its best. That delightful scheme made extensive use of timber salvaged from a fire that burned down the previous pier. It was truly a community project. dRMM held close consultations with the public and the charity funding it, and the pier was built for the public of Hastings (and those visiting, of course).   There were far better examples of architecture on this year’s Stirling Prize shortlist too. Take Waugh Thistleton Architects’ Bushey Cemetery for example. Using walls of rammed earth sourced from the site it rests on, the project demonstrates genuine material innovation and manages to convey a sense of weight and be delicate at the same time. Bloomberg, meanwhile, shipped in 600 tons of bronze from Japan and granite from India, and despite the similar earthy tones, feels dauntingly heavy. An example of working wonders when on a budget was also shortlisted: Storey's Field Centre and Eddington Nursery in Cambridge by MUMA. Like Hastings Pier, this was a celebration of civic architecture, with a community center and kindergarten surrounding a landscaped courtyard. “By building at a lower height than approved at planning…Bloomberg shows a high level of generosity towards the City,” the judges commented. In light of this, Jamie Fobert Architects’ Tate St Ives was arguably more adept at concealing space. Buried underground, yet still allowing bucket loads of light in, the museum has somehow doubled in size. It’s a remarkable piece of architectural contortion that keeps locals and the museum happy. Another shortlisted project, Níall McLaughlin Architects’ Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre for the University of Oxford, like the two aforementioned projects, articulated light in spectacular fashion. The project provided a lecture theater, a student learning space, seminar rooms, and a dance studio of immense quality and leads by example the quality of spaces students deserve. London studio Henley Halebrown’s Chadwick Hall student accommodation for the University of Roehampton, the final project on the list, did the same. A win for the project could have sent a message about what the standard of student housing in the U.K. should be. The majority of current student housing stock is dire. With space standards for student housing thrown out of the window due to it being temporary accommodation, the area has become a safe bet for investors looking to cram as many units in for a guaranteed profit. A message, in fact, was sent, coming in explicit form from RIBA President Ben Derbyshire. “This building is a profound expression of confidence in British architecture—and perfectly illustrates why the U.K. is the profession’s global capital,” he said in a statement. “This role and reputation must be maintained, despite the political uncertainty of Brexit.” This, however, feels like a lazy excuse to award a project the Stirling Prize. Defaulting to listing “Brexit” as a reason should not be in the criteria. Neither should sustainability, a high standard of which should be a baseline for all shortlisted projects. Let BREEAM (the U.K. equivalent of LEED) deal with recognizing that. The RIBA Stirling Prize doesn’t have to send any message, though. It just has to recognize the best building, and this it has not done.
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Post-pre-digital

The Venice Architecture Biennale turns away from the digital
The most cogent critique of Freespace, the current Venice Architecture Biennale, is that it fails to recognize the degree to which contemporary urban space is a result of digital technology and computation. The curators, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, are practicing architects who wanted their Biennale to return to the basic principles of spatial design and what they consider “the generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture's agenda.” There is nothing wrong with this sentiment, but it meant they chose to focus on individual projects and not their means of production. The pair focused on craft; social, political, and technological “demand”; and featured figures and groups like Amateur Architecture Studio (Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu), Cino Zucchi, the Dutch architecture historian collective Crimson, Dorte Mandrup, Sigurd Lewerentz, and the British group Assemble. The results add up to a thoughtful and unique perspective on today’s architecture, but there is little doubt that it bypasses the “digital.” This direction infuriated those who believe that only a focus on digital production is an authentic summary of today’s architecture. For these critics, the results are old-fashioned and no longer offer a relevant analysis or typology, but a “purely phenomenological formal, material, or tectonic understanding of architecture,” in the words of Alessandro Bava. This digital versus demand formulation of architecture is not just a generational divide but represents a profound difference between an architecture grounded in an expression of the digital and one that primarily seeks to respond to site, program, function, and reception. In The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence, Mario Carpo describes the importance of the first digital turn of “mass customization” as one of the most important architecture inventions of all time because it “changed—or at least subverted, upended, and disrupted—almost every aspect of the world.” He sees an unintended benefit of mass customization, the possibility to change the notion of detail and form that has remained constant since Leon Battista Alberti toward the possibility of an “infinite number of variations” for the designing architect. He believes that modern classicism “continues to stifle technological innovation in building,” (even the golden age of modernism was a “retardataire phenomenon”) and this new technology offers a way forward to a new relationship, or, as Christopher Alexander would say, a new “pattern” of parts to the whole. In the 1990s, as Carpo wrote, the “first turn” saw “the best architects adopting and embracing digital change sooner than any other trade” and established the basis for the second wave, in which the avant-garde uses “Big Data and computation to engage somehow the messy discreteness of nature.” But this first wave, as we know, created a new architectural style of “smooth and curving spliny lines and surfaces” that, despite the potential possibility of first-wave, open-source collaboration and a return to medieval-style authorship, led to something else totally predictable. A new style, parametricism, took over and continues to this day, “with ever-increasing degrees of technical mastery and prowess. Ideas and forms that twenty years ago were championed by a handful of digital forms engender architectural masterpieces at a gigantic, almost planetary scale.” This planetary architecture, perhaps because of the high cost of design and construction of the complex forms it can produce, has become, counterintuitively to the claims of many theorists, a truly corporate style of design for the 1 percent and corporations. It should then come as no surprise that many of today’s younger architects are looking for a different kind of architecture and that many of the brightest are returning to the postmodernism of the 1980s. In this way, the current generation are like the designers of the first Venice Architecture Biennale’s Strada Novissima, who nearly 40 years ago looked for an alternate model to the modernism that they believed was destroying the historic layered fabric of our urban settlements. Though this style is still fraught with the problems (primary authorship, individuality, and history as a precedent) that brought it to an end in the 1990s, its reemergence is an authentic and important shot across the bow to technologists like Carpo, who are apoplectic at its return. It is an important attempt to find a way out for the profession, which all too often focuses on neoliberal, avant-garde experiments to the exclusion of real-world problems that daily become more urgent for everyone.
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Cosmic Wonder

Apple Park and Louvre Abu Dhabi have created their own operating systems inside designer circles
In the early 1980s, a new time travel-themed attraction was unveiled at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Like an oversized golf ball pelted straight from outer space to Orlando, Spaceship Earth is a fantastical fabrication. Its monolithic geodesic dome conceals two structures propped up by six steel legs, each driven some 160 feet into soft Floridian swampland below. Designed with the help of Ray Bradbury, Spaceship Earth continues to shuttle eager space tourists through an accelerated history of the world, where animatronic Neanderthals cozy up with ancient Greek charioteers and American astrophysicists under a swirling net of stars. In fifteen short minutes, the ride’s conveyor belt ascends through an abridged history of humanity that urges, after its namesake Buckminster Fuller, for a team effort to save our planet "Spaceship Earth." It culminates in a future utopia that today’s passengers can customize via interactive screens and troubleshoot the world’s woes together in a group exercise. Fast forwarding through a quarter-century of globalization and hyper-capitalist development, the $1.4 billion Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi and Apple’s $5 billion Silicon Valley campus by Foster + Partners have crafted a freakishly similar world of suspended disbelief and alter-reality. While they substitute the comparatively cheap thrill of Spaceship Earth’s 11,300 alucobond tiles with eight layers of steel and aluminum and some four miles of curved glass respectively, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Apple Park are essentially designer circles. In their use of this sacred geometry, both projects become a sort of cosmic architecture, according to Craig Hodgetts, Principle of Hodgetts + Fung Architecture and Design. “Nouvel’s sky-dome and the Apple headquarters rely on geometrically pure forms as a way to consolidate and insure a singularly unified experience,” suggests Hodgetts. “An absolute form, uncompromised, uninflected, unadorned, and too large to comprehend will lend a God-like authority to nearly any enterprise, and these structures assert the primacy of their makers rather than the profane delights of simple existence.” Each “absolute form” depends on its God-like authority to extricate itself from its problematic social and political contexts–whether that’s occupying 175 acres of a California suburb currently suffering from one of the country’s worst housing shortages while refusing to engage with its urban planning efforts, or lodged inside a petrodollar-fueled arms race for global domination among oil-rich nations in the Gulf via Western cultural capital. Concealed beneath the all-consuming designs of Louvre’s bedazzled ceilings and Apple’s infinite rings of glass are both projects’ hidden, delirious desire to remove all context and weave their own origin stories–whether of mankind or Mackind. Such grandiose narratives necessitate some serious cultural capital. Take, for instance, the UAE’s $900 million “loan” of the Louvre’s brand and expertise for the next 30 years, an agreement signed into place in 2007 which also authorized the borrowing of hundreds of French artworks from the collections of the Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, and Château de Versailles. Shrouded in mystery, this wholesale purchase included the expertise of a French curatorial committee which has reportedly advised the Emiratis to acquire almost 250 works thus far in assembling its own cultural history of the world, a collection that includes the record-breaking $450 million Da Vinci painting, Salvator Mundi, sold to an anonymous bidder at Christie’s last November.   Meanwhile, back in February 2017, Apple rebranded its sober “Campus 2” to “Apple Park"–emphasizing the OLIN-designed gardenscape, home to some 9,000 drought-resistant trees alongside other indigenous and imported flora (including its own apple orchard) that fills over half the site. With its hermetic green haven, Apple’s new campus indulges in a Land Before Time fantasy of Silicon Valley’s pre-tech ecology, intending to mimic California’s natural greenery before it was settled. It is a private garden of paradise viewable by Apple employees from all angles in Godlike omniscience. “It’s not about maximizing the productivity of the office space, it’s about creating a symbolic center for this global company,” said Louise Mozingo, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at U.C. Berkeley. “They are creating an icon.” Even without the figures–the only data most journalists have to work with until Apple lets down its impenetrable forcefield to visitors–it would be hard to make a case for the efficiency or efficacy of Ring’s 2.8-million square footprint. Built to house only 12,000 employees on its 175 acres, with nearly 11,000 commuting from outside Cupertino, the Park is a techno-utopian timewarp of California’s modernist-era abundance. The campus also steers clear of Cupertino’s current public transit and housing shortages (the Bay Area added a reported 640,000 jobs between 2010 and 2015 while 75.8% of houses sold in 2017 for over $800,000). Instead, Apple taps into both collegiate spirit and corporate modernism, fabricating its design from a mix of Stanford’s quadrangles and the factory-like floor plans of the corporate campuses of the 50s and 60s favored by Foster. Apple justifies its inefficient use of 100 acres (offering more parking space than office space) with an origin story that waxes poetic on Steve Jobs’ first summer job at the now-razed Hewlett Packard Campus, which stood on this site in 1976, fresh from a summer picking apples on a commune in Oregon. Apple’s manifest destiny-like design narrative highlights the Park’s out-of-touch attitude towards its own conquest of valuable land in Cupertino, which could otherwise be used for affordable housing. Catering only to its inner circle of Apple acolytes, its “Spaceship” colloquialism feels particularly appropriate. If these buildings are the result of resuscitated megastructure ideologies that superimpose their own fabricated mythology over contemporary geopolitics and ethics, what do their higher lifeforms look like? Childless, apparently, according to Apple Park. Despite a 100,000 square foot allowance for its fitness center, and 2-mile outdoor running track perfectly camouflaged from the roaring I-280 nearby, the workspace of the future miraculously lacks a daycare center for its 12,000 employees. The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ideal visitor doesn’t need superhuman smarts or a perfect body: he just needs to love the aesthetics of luxurious shopping malls. Beneath its latticed dome of 7,800 stars, in rooms of exotic marble and leather floors, visitors filter through seemingly endless and unordered rows of captionless artworks. Together, they form a utopian reimagining of human civilization that “turns a blind eye to a long history of human equality and exploitation,” suggests Javier Pes of artnet. But even without fingerprints to trace, the stated mission and ethos of the world’s “first universal museum,” praised by French and Emirati governments alike, has as many holes as its star-studded ceiling. Intended as an “antidote to the poison of hatred and barbarism” of culture wars in the Middle East, according to Louvre President Jean-Luc Martin, its starry-eyed humanitarianism clashes with the mass human rights violations committed against the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s migrant workforce, according to Al Jazeera, quoting French Director Benedicte Jeannerson of Human Rights Watch. These world-structures manifest through the fantasy of a new world order that’s somehow eclipsed all conditions of crisis, operating on their own cultural capital of Instagrammability, as with the Louvre Abu Dhabi, or exclusivity, as with Apple Park, which still remains a highly coveted fortress-cum-tourist mecca over a year after its official press launch. The closest most of us will get to stepping inside the Jobs Mausoleum is a monthly subscription to new Youtube drone footage. But just as Apple Park’s designer landscaping and sprawling carpark can’t curb worldwide species extinction and rampant property inflation, the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s petrodollar-primed, marble-encrusted villages of culture can’t white-out the political turmoil surrounding the Gulf and the systemic abuse of its displaced workers. If today’s conditions of global crisis can be considered a type of manmade gravity, then these structures aspire to grow so large that they might break free from this condition or create their own operating systems altogether. While looking to the stars for inspiration is all but human, we must eventually lower our gaze to the real implications of these projects and bring the God complex framing their hermetic existence back down to Earth.
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Freespace For Real

The triumph of the one-liner in Venice
Traditionally, the one-liner is derided in architecture as something crude, unsophisticated, and anti-intellectual. It gets abuse from all angles, from conceptually-minded curators, traditional architecture critics, and even virtuosic architects who prefer “multiple readings” of objects, or “difficult wholes.” It seems the one-liner is the most isolated and hated syntactic metaphor in the architect’s tool bag; the last frontier of architectural bad taste. Even Patrik Schumacher complained on Facebook about the National Pavilions. “"Pavilions were...given over to one-liner installations, which could be absorbed by stepping in and out for 30 seconds." However, one-liners finally got their due at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale, where simpler, conceptual installations took home the Golden Lion of National Participation as well as the special mention in the same category. The Swiss Pavilion, "Svizzera 240: House Tour" was a delightful funhouse where the everyday elements—doors, windows, handles, and kitchen appliances—of a typical new apartment were exaggerated to be too small and too big, creating a disorienting space that explored the banality of contemporary residential construction and the distortions of scale that are caused by photography in the real estate industry. It was a one-liner that executed one concept well enough to provoke not only happy visitors, but also allowed personal reflection on whatever the topic at hand. The actual pavilion avoided over-complication (which plagued many of the national pavilions), and provided a “freespace” for contemplation and reflection. Because after all, even the simplest pavilion cannot be fully understood in every single aspect, and the most complicated book-on-the-wall exhibition can’t fully explain anything anyway, even if you took the biennale's full six months to read it all. The winning pavilions avoided many of the problems faced by some of the other national participants. First, there is an increasing trend of pavilions getting overrun by curators who want to foreground curatorial practice pyrotechnics over smart delivery of content, obscuring the point of the exhibition. The one-liner doesn’t do this. Secondly, some pavilions looked to appropriate the headlines and buzzwords of the day, delivering incoherent and scattered exhibitions that paradoxically make arguments against the possibility of freespace today. And thirdly, the one-liners actually provide respite from the book-on-the-wall urbanism exhibitions, which ended up falling flat. One-liners, like deadpan humor, often do not have punchlines, and leave an open-ended silence at the end of the joke, as is the case for the special mention–winning British Pavilion, "Island," where Caruso St. John emptied the pavilion out and constructed a large plinth over the top. It is unclear what the point was, but the effects were spectacular, lifting the user over the Giardini, causing a certain estrangement from the Biennale itself, and forging a connection with the city beyond. Of course, one-liners always hint at more. They are short and seem simple, but with a little thought, can reveal the layers beneath, like a good Rodney Dangerfield or Norm Macdonald joke. Both the Swiss and British installations rearranged bodies in particular ways, which gave them not only multiple interpretations, but highly individualized experiences that could be taken with layers of meaning. One-liners are funnier than zero-liners. And one-liners can avoid many of the pitfalls of 15-liners, which end up being zero-liners anyway. The Belgian pavilion, "Eurotopie," also stood out as a one-liner: a simple concentric series of blue circles created a forum of sorts in the building; as did the Nordic, which simply featured inflatable sculptures. Instead of over-complicating things with over-curation, the one-liners produced this “freespace,” allowing the visitor to become part of the exhibition, but without sacrificing intellectual rigor or content.
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An Ear for Architecture

Architects can still learn from Tom Wolfe
You probably know that author Tom Wolfe died last week at the age of 88. Wolfe was illustrious for his acerbic, lyrical, ever-insightful commentary, and for pioneering the so-called “New Journalism.” He penned numerous best-selling books, from the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Right Stuff to Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full. But you may be unaware that Wolfe, also famed for his flamboyant personality and attire, was an unrepentant hater of Modernist architecture, with its pared down, detached, ever-functional ethos. His most notorious rant on the subject was From Bauhaus to Our House, published in 1981, inciting immediate backlash in the architecture establishment. In just the first few pages, the essay took mighty, sweeping swings at a movement that he dismissed as boring, unsophisticated and oh-so utilitarian. A few pithy examples of his boiling prose are below:
Every child goes to school in a building that looks like a duplicating-machine replacement parts wholesale distribution warehouse.” Every new $900,000 summer house in the north woods of Michigan or on the shore of Long Island has so many pipe railings, ramps, hob-tread metal spiral stairways, sheets of industrial plate glass, banks of tungsten-halogen lamps, and white cylindrical shapes, it looks like an insecticide refinery. I once saw the owners of such a place driven to the edge of sensory deprivation by the whiteness & lightness & leanness & cleanness & bareness & sparseness of it all.”
“Every great law firm in New York moves without a sputter of protest into a glass-box office building with concrete slab floors and seven-foot-ten-inch-high concrete slab ceilings and plasterboard walls and pygmy corridors.”
Architecture’s defenders immediately swung back. While critic Paul Goldberger agreed that the glut of “puritanical” glass and steel skyscrapers and “wild” and often kitschy structures replacing the city’s historic fabric needed a rethink, he did not care for Wolfe’s bombastic, indiscriminate criticisms and prescriptions. Wrote Goldberger in the New York Times Book Review: “The problem, I think - and here we get to the essence of what is wrong with this book–is that Tom Wolfe has no eye... He does not see, to take but one of so many examples, that Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building is a lush and extraordinarily beautiful object. He understands Seagram only as part of Mies van der Rohe's theorizing, which means he understands it only as a prototype for a universal architectural style, and not as a unique and even profound work of art.” In other words, Wolfe, obsessed with Modernism’s doctrines, lumps Seagram with the rest of the Modernist pile, and misses so many of its finer points. Goldberger, while acknowledging architecture’s need to be comprehensible to most, hated Wolfe's black and white view of buildings. “The obligation architecture does have, as a practical art, to embrace certain conventions, to be readable in some fashion by anyone who uses it, in no way means that it must be understood in every way, on every level, by all who come in contact with it. There is such a thing as levels of meaning, but Mr. Wolfe seems not to accept this.” Virtually all of Goldberger’s contemporaries published similarly scathing rejections, and Wolfe’s reputation in the architecture community remains poor at best, particularly after Wolfe’s more recent crusade against Brad Cloepfil’s pared-down restructuring of Edward Durell Stone’s gaudy, cheerily anti-International Style 2 Columbus Circle, AKA, the “Lollipop Building.” Goldberger is right that Wolfe had a better ear than eye, calling it "acute and finely tuned."  Yes, Wolfe accurately predicted the (at least temporary) demise of the Modernist movement, which by the time he published the book had reigned almost unchallenged for decades and was in many ways, as he put it, “exhausted.” But through the benefit of hindsight it appears that not only was Wolfe’s argument lacking a great deal of architectural nuance and history, but it also failed to anticipate Modernism’s resurgence. The movement needed reinvention—through greater sensitivity to site and occupant, through a reignited embrace of imagination and technology, for example— not a wholesale tear down. It needed to soften its dogma and recommit to its abstract artistry and formal skill. Wolfe was wrong to mock Modernism as purely utilitarian, and to let its worst abuses speak for the entire genre. And it was unfair for him to blindly abhor any style that eschewed ornament. His attack on Louis Kahn’s Yale Art Gallery as resembling an “underground parking garage,” and yet another form of “worker housing” is just one of Wolfe’s many lyrical but crude misrepresentations of the movement’s deep art and soul. Still, Wolfe’s ear should not be underestimated, especially his still-timely attacks of the profession’s often unrepentant elitism. What Wolfe got right—and it’s a criticism that still rings true today—is his skewering of what can be an insular, snotty, tone-deaf culture, from the almost religious zealotry of the early days of Modernism to now. He ceaselessly mocked the “theoryspeak of contemporary architecture,” which still renders the profession opaque to most outsiders. Equally repulsed by most of postmodernism, Wolfe especially disdained archibabble from the likes of Meier, Gwathmey, Eisenman and Graves. He singled out Graves’ talk of “the multiple meanings inherent in codes of abstraction” and “a level of participation that involves the reciprocal act of ourselves with the figure of the building.” In other words, he nailed the circular, incomprehensible beginnings of an academic speak (and echo chamber mentality) that still haunts the field today. Many of his contemporaries agreed. Reyner Banham, writing about Bauhaus to Our House in the London Review of Books, noted of Modernist architecture: “Not only is it a closed sub-culture, it is also by now a very well-entrenched academic establishment. “ Hence, he adds, the unwillingness to let it evolve. And James McCown, writing in Architecture Boston, noted a few years later that Wolfe’s writing “singles out architects as having more than a whiff of cultural superiority about them. If you doubt that, sit in on a critique at the Harvard Graduate School of Design or MIT’s School of Architecture+ Planning.” Agree or disagree with Wolfe’s architectural taste, it’s important to recognize how his keen cultural antenna—his amazing ear— can still contribute to the current debates about our profession. Wolfe’s cultural commentary, more than anything, was his greatest gift. Wouldn’t it be great if it could help us clean up shop in a culture that badly needs it?
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Critically Retrograde

Does Christopher Hawthorne have what it takes to plan for L.A.'s future?
Does it make a sense to put an architecture critic in charge of urban design? The question came to mind this March when the Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne announced he was leaving his post to become the new chief design officer for the City of Los Angeles. The position, Hawthorne explained, would be geared toward elevating “the quality of public architecture and urban design across the city—and the level of civic conversation about those subjects” overall. Currently, the city has billions of dollars allocated for a wide range of transformative civic projects, including new and improved parks ($130 million), transit expansion ($120 billion), Vision Zero reforms ($90 million), and new supportive housing ($1.2 billion). This windfall comes as the restoration of the L.A. River takes shape, the city densifies, and officials update the city plan for the first time in decades in the face of raging housing affordability and homelessness crises. Hawthorne’s new role in the coming drama centers squarely on the question of what function design should play in these transformations and how a critic can contribute constructively toward making positive changes for the average resident. Will the design he oversees look past mere aesthetics and delve into the structural issues of synergistic function, equity, and longevity? Or will Hawthorne’s tenure serve to further institutionalize the exclusionary tastes of the city’s homeowners? At a time when Los Angeles is undergoing such massive change, there is no question whether elevating the public’s engagement with civic architecture is a worthwhile pursuit. And though it is not without precedent to elevate a critic to city hall, it does stand to question, however, why Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, having a world-class roster of designers to choose from in his own backyard, did not select an architect for the role. Would a designer be better equipped for the job? I think so. For one, though critics can distill insightful, opinionated commentary from today’s cultural moments, their skillset diverges—and actually falls short—of the specific, forward-thinking ethos that is necessary to envision successful public space at the scale of a city. A designer’s work, on the other hand, combines interdisciplinary education, rigorous professional experience, and a knowledge of process and necessary prerequisites like zoning and fire code to envision open-ended plans for inhabitation and use. That is, designers use their skills and understanding as tools to look toward a future that is possible but has not yet come to pass. The process can be scaled and when done adeptly, beauty is a natural byproduct of these efforts. Secondly, L.A. is living through a time that demands leaders who have a long-range and open-ended vision for the city. But there is reason to worry, because contemporary Los Angeles—and broader America, for that matter—is driven by cultural regression. Backward-facing NIMBYism, a refusal to value vulnerable lives, and an understandable reluctance on the part of marginalized communities to accept new investments for fear of displacement reign supreme. Reflecting this regression, a dangerous “both sides”-ism has been adopted by incumbents, as evidenced by Garcetti’s unwillingness to push for multifamily housing in single-family zones and by the nearly $8 billion in transit funding going toward highway-widening across the region. A designer would be well-equipped to deliver progress in the face of ignorant nostalgia. I would hope Hawthorne understands that designs suited for the retrograde tastes of today are incompatible with future L.A. needs. It stands to question whether Hawthorne’s boss—a second-term mayor with his eye on the presidency—is prepared to make the politically courageous and culturally iconoclastic reforms necessary to not only get the job done, but to get the job done well. Distressingly, in his final column and in interviews since, Hawthorne has already adopted some of the mayor’s conciliatory language toward these groups by cautioning against “banal and oversize new apartment blocks,” and proposing to fight for an “economy” first and foremost. Instead of coming out swinging, it appears the former critic has already acquiesced to the exclusionary mediocrity that already defines so much of the city’s built fabric. Does Hawthorne have what it takes to stand up to his politically timid boss?