Search results for "James Wines"
When I first received Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s 2007 greeting announcing PlaNYC, I felt a great wave of exhilaration—probably the same one experienced by all architects, landscape architects, and planners who have fantasized about a nascent era of great design sponsored by visionary leadership in City Hall. Office interiors were spruced up, websites revised, and principals’ sartorial splendor amplified in anticipation of knocks at the door from beneficent developers and eco-conscious politicians who would beseech us to create the New York City of tomorrow.
As my fantasy faded to something resembling reality, I tried to grasp the magnitude of the gauntlet thrown down by the mayor. With selfish concern for my own studio’s chances of participation in this metropolitan dream, I also wondered whether there would ever be a significant opening up of the job market for small design firms—or would all the request for qualifications (RFQ) documents arrive with their onerous requirements for mega-building experience, multi-million-dollar liability protection, hundreds of consultants under one roof, and the thinly veiled implication that success depended on the invitee’s ability to invest in competitive bidding (with free design services tossed in to sweeten the deal)?
By the time Adrian’s call for designer involvement in an expanded parks program arrived, my enthusiasm for PlaNYC had been diminished by memories of futile efforts to break into New York’s public space job market. Since my firm, SITE, is an architectural practice that focuses on parks and plazas (but mostly works abroad, where there is less resistance to innovative solutions and green principles), I could see the handwriting on the wall: The future would be sponsored, controlled, designed, and built by the same cast of characters that has dominated the city’s architecture and planning markets for the past 30 years.
Clearly, the tasks outlined in PlaNYC—repairing infrastructure, constructing affordable housing, reducing traffic, improving mass transit, and saving energy—are top priorities. But by focusing on these imperatives, an investment in imaginative ideas for the social, psychological, and aesthetic resolution of parks, streets, and gardens should not be assigned to the back burners. (Just look at Detroit and Cleveland!) The usual tactic of favoring operational efficiency and restorative technology, at the expense of social interaction and access to nature, has demonstrated how such legislative abandonment can destroy the very “quality of life” that a massive investment in infrastructure is meant to preserve.
My fear that New York’s grand park plans may become another blueprint for business as usual was confirmed by news accounts early in the game. When the mayor’s original challenge was issued in December 2007, it proposed to open 90 percent of the city’s waterways for recreation by limiting water pollution and preserving our natural areas. But earlier that year, the Regional Plan Association was already complaining that the city had planned for more park expansions than it could afford. This suggests that public space may become PlaNYC’s first casualty, and I suspect that similar economic and political inertia will thwart the mayor’s water, transportation, energy, and air improvement agendas.
Still, in the hope that such initiatives may succeed, I want to emphasize a few issues that have enormous impact on the way our city’s parks and gardens have been shaped until now, and on how they will be designed in the future. It is no secret that most public spaces constructed in New York over the past two decades have been based on Modernist traditions. The ingredients invariably include a massive slab of concrete, donut fountains, “plop-art” sculptures, and a scattering of park benches. The reasons for this formulaic consistency can be found in the politics of architectural employment and the entrenchment of a Robert Moses–era planning legacy.
Clearly, we can do better. But for a flexible climate of creativity to succeed, city agencies must first provide a less labyrinthine and preferential RFQ process. It should certainly encourage smaller architecture and landscape offices to compete for city commissions by placing more value on the applicant’s track record of creativity. Since the criteria for what constitutes “creativity” can vary according to taste and time, the Parks Department might do well to sponsor a monthly series of public-space design symposia, where new talents would have a chance to showcase their visions and learn more about RFQ procedures.
City Hall and the Parks Department can improve the RFQ process, but they obviously can’t legislate better design. For this reason, I have a few items of cautionary advisement to offer. First, there should be enough memorable features in a park or plaza to encourage people to travel out of their way to see the space and, after leaving, tell their friends about it. Second, public space is successful to the degree that people look attractive to each other and are encouraged to interact in new ways. Designers should be sensitized to “prosthetic engagement,” where body movement and pedestrian interaction become as much a part of the raw material of design as paving, steel, and vegetation. Third, parks, plazas, and gardens should involve all of the senses in equal measure. And fourth, the design of public space today includes an awareness of “integrated systems.” This suggests a design philosophy based on understanding the parallels between the components of electronic communications and their symbiotic equivalents in nature.
If Mayor Bloomberg expects his plea for new ideas to reach high fertility, his passion for change must reflect a more psychologically engaging and aesthetically innovative brand of street and park life for New York City. There must also be support for a truly civic-minded “mandate for change.” Today, this means green and sustainable. By Manhattan standards, being green is a rather restrained and puritanical notion—the antithesis of Big Apple optimism. If the green movement ever expects to conquer New York, it must reverse its scold tactics and provide the same kind of inspiring catalyst for change that the industrial revolution offered our flamboyantly receptive island over a hundred years ago. This means shaping and selling a persuasive new “philosophy of the environment.” Come on Mayor Bloomberg, let’s go for it!
When owners of the Shake Shack restaurant chain reopened their flagship location in New York’s Madison Square Park this spring after a seven-month renovation, they posted a reassuring message to patrons on a company website: “The new and improved Shake Shack,” it read, “has the exact same look and feel guests around the world have known and loved for 10 years—now carefully rebuilt to last for many years to come.”
But to James Wines, lead designer of the original Madison Square Park Shake Shack, it is not the same at all. And Wines, who was not consulted about the renovation, is more than a little shaken up about the “new and improved” version. “The results are an aesthetic disaster,” he said. “The enlargement of the shack has totally destroyed all of the original proportions, and the roof design looks like the product of a high school vocational training class. Needless to say, I am really depressed that all artistic value of this internationally famous icon has been wiped out. So much for art."
COURTESY JAMES WINES/SITE
The new version does not have the same details as the one that has been universally appreciated, Wines contends. “There was something about that shape and that visual vocabulary,” he said. Now, “everything is sort of slightly off… I don’t know what to say except that, artistically, they just ruined it.“
Based in New York City, Wines is an internationally known artist, architectural designer, environmentalist, and educator who heads the studio known as SITE, which stands for Sculpture in the Environment. He has designed more than 150 art, architecture, landscape, interior, and exhibition projects in 11 countries and has been a pioneer in the “green architecture” movement. In 2013, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum gave Wines its Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Shake Shack near Madison Avenue and East 23rd Street—a collaboration with Pentagram graphic designer Paula Scher and structural engineering firm Weidlinger Associates—opened in 2004 and was one of Wines’ best known projects, a small building that became a powerful symbol of New York City. Its “approachable modernness,” as a Fast Company writer once put it, helped establish the design language for a multinational food giant. The latest AIA Guide to New York calls it “one of the best new buildings in recent memory.”
At 83, Wines said he knows how it feels to outlive a building he designed, having lost eight of the nine retail showrooms he created for the Best Products Company. He said projects such as the Shake Shack makeover represent a different and equally agonizing sort of loss for a designer—a case where “the building aesthetic… is totally wiped out by insensitive renovation, while the architect has to painfully witness this kind of aberration.”
Wines is not alone in watching a building that he designed undergo changes without his consent. In Cincinnati, Ohio, the main lobby of Zaha Hadid’s Contemporary Arts Center was renovated earlier this year without her involvement; the arts center hired FRCH Design Worldwide of Cincinnati instead. In France, Jean Nouvel boycotted the opening of the Philharmonie de Paris and went to court to ask that his name and image be disassociated from the building because 26 areas were “non-compliant” with his original design. “Robert Venturi once said, ‘You want to photograph your building 15 minutes after it’s finished,’ ” said Wines, “because after that, they’re going to start changing it. “
The Way It Was
Edwin Bragg, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Shake Shack, said in an email message that the kiosk was renovated after 10 years because “we wanted to ensure that our guests and visitors to the park enjoy the restaurant for years to come.” He said the company’s goal in terms of design was to make the building look as close as possible to the way it did before the renovations.
“The design of the Madison Square Park [Shake Shack] is iconic for us and our company, and has inspired the design and architecture of every other Shack since,” he wrote. “The integrity of the design was not compromised, and it’s essentially the same Shack that our guests [have] known and loved over the years.”
During a recent visit to the reopened Shake Shack, Wines spelled out the reasons he’s troubled by the new version. He noted that the design was relatively simple—a glass and metal structure with a pitched roof, distinctive graphics, and a generous canopy to shelter people placing and waiting for orders. That basic design, he said, was inspired by “a fusion of imagery drawn from Madison Square Park, pop culture of the American highway, and Daniel Burnham’s Flatiron Building” one block away. One particular source of ideas was roadside diners and burger joints from the 1950s and 60s. What makes the Shake Shack unexpected, he said, is that while it takes cues from the car culture, it is set in a park where cars are not allowed.
As part of his effort to give this urban building a roadway vibe, Wines said, he made it slightly unfinished-looking, “rough and tumble.” The exterior was clad with corrugated zinc panels, so it had an exposed metallic surface like the siding of 1950s diners and the cars parked in front of them. The windows were one continuous band of glass, so patrons could see through to the park beyond and the top of the building would appear to float above the windows. The roof peak was a sharp edge.
Wines also incorporated a number of architectural details that were intended to convey what the building is and help it fit into the urban park. He called for English ivy to be planted on the roof surfaces as a way of letting some of the park “bleed” into the building. He specified deep ridges in the corrugated metal sides in a nod to the ”rib-like” banding on Daniel Burnham’s Flatiron Building. Around the edge of the canopy, he and Scher mounted letters forming a frieze that also spells out the food choices inside, creating a “menu as the building.” He used I beams to hold up the letters, so there would be a play of light and shadow on the words and that, along with the distinctive Neutra font, would help them stand out.
It’s those carefully considered details, said Wines, that are missing from Shake Shack 2.0. After the remodeling, he said, the building is taller and deeper and the surface, to him, does not have the same “metallic” feel. Framing around the windows is more pronounced, and the bands of glass no longer run the length of each side, making it less of a see-through structure and negating the intended lightweight and floating effect. The peak of the roof has been chamfered. The I beams that framed the canopy have been replaced with flatter bars that provide less depth and shadow for the letters, reducing their visual impact.
Wines said each of the original details was important to the integrity of the design, and when they disappeared or were altered in the new version, that undermined the original design and affected the building’s character. As a result, he said, the remodeled building appears to be the product of “slick and orthodox commercial design,” as if it’s a “once-removed copy” or caricature of the original. “They say God is in the details,” he said. "These are subtle nuances, but all these little things add up. The details are not the same. It doesn't look the same. The ensemble effect is totally different. It's blanded out. It’s slick-ified. It’s dee-signed without any feeling or sensibility. They sucked the flavor out of it.”
Wines also thinks the building has lost much of what made it iconic before, with additions such as hanging pennants that partially obscure the frieze. “It’s very weird,” he said, “to take an icon and do everything you can to make it not an icon.”
Wines’ work with Shake Shack began in 2003, when he joined with Scher to create a permanent food stand in Madison Square Park. The business had started as a hot dog cart but obtained approval to build a 457-square-foot structure, at a reported cost of $750,000, with a portion of the proceeds going to maintain the park. Its operators even got permission to serve beer and wine.
From day one it was a hit. Lines formed early and extended throughout the day. People waited for their orders in the park, where they could mingle with other “guests.” Its success led to more Shake Shacks and a billion dollar stock offering. The company, part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, now has locations in Moscow, Istanbul, and Dubai, and others in the planning stages. The building in Madison Square Park received widespread attention too, including press coverage in foreign countries and a design award from the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It ranks as one of the “most Instagrammed” restaurants in New York City.
The heavy use eventually took a toll. The building had many more visitors than expected. Last year, Shake Shack representatives announced that they would be closing the location temporarily for renovations. On the company website, Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti explained that when the company renewed its lease for the city-owned site, it “committed to a complete renovation to restore the original Shack and prepare for the decade to come.” Plans included expanding the food preparation area, repairing weather damage, installing a new service window system and adding basement space. It reopened on May 20.
Bragg said in an email that the principal consulting designer for the renovated Shake Shack was Denise Lee, who worked on the original building with Wines at SITE and now is affiliated with Studio SSMC. “Denise Lee played a significant role in designing the original Madison Square Park Shack’s design, as a colleague of James Wines,” he wrote.
Bragg said the new building is approximately 18 inches higher than the original and a 4-foot extension was added to the back, but the roof’s pitch is the same and ivy and other plants will grow all over the roof as before. The building’s footprint increased from 457 square feet to 499 square feet, and much of the work took place underground, he noted. “We reused the original prefabricated structure and enhanced it,” he wrote. “A majority of the construction focused on the basement for both Shake Shack and Madison Square Park Conservancy facilities.”
Bragg said the windows are different because “a better system was put in place for durability and insulation.” He said the horizontal bars that hold up the ‘menu’ letters are different because “a new structural attachment was necessary” with “a slightly different profile.”
He said the outer wall surface is still “corrugated zinc paneling,” but “we took this opportunity to replace all of the old, rusting and corroded panels.” He said the profile of the corrugated paneling, including the depth of the ridges, is the same as before. He added that the “Shack Cam,” which provides photos from the roof, has been updated with “a higher quality picture” that allows people to see the line online at shakeshack.com.
Bragg said the design was closely coordinated with the city’s parks department, the Madison Square Park Conservancy, and the Public Design Commission, and Shake Shack is happy with the result. “We are thrilled with the Madison Square Park Shack renovation and being able to give it back to the people who come to the park,” he wrote. “It now provides a new and improved facility for our employees, which we hope will translate to a better experience for our guests, and most importantly allow the flagship Shake Shack to be a part of Madison Square Park and its community for years to come."
The Architectural Condition
Asked whether he said anything to Shake Shack or Union Square representatives to express his feelings about the remodeled building, Wines replied that he has not. “What am I going to say?”
Wines said he is not surprised that company officials are happy with the reconstructed building because it still draws long lines. “The byword is, ‘What difference does it make?’… Art gets lost in the shuffle.”
Wines noted that works of visual art generally tend to get more protection from insensitive changes than works of architecture, unless the architecture is protected by landmark designation and proposed changes are subject to a public review process. “Art is protected, but there’s nothing you can do with architecture,” he said. “Developers can do whatever they want. They own it.”
Wines does not deny that he is miffed that Shake Shack did not contact him about the renovation. “The bothersome aspect,” he said, “is that there is a total lack of respect in not being asked.”
But he said his complaints are about more than just a bruised ego and not getting a commission. He said they are motivated by wanting to protect and maintain a successful work of design. He said the original lead designer typically is in the best position to know the intent behind a project and make sure future changes do not weaken it. He said any design compromises could have been avoided if Shake Shack representatives had let him know what they were planning to do.
"It's like redoing a painting or a sculpture or any art piece," he said. "If it needs to be repaired, do you go to just anybody? If you can, you go back to the original artist... Why didn’t they just call me and say, ‘James, we’re going to change it and we want your input’? All they had to do was call me.”
Wines said that he probably would have worked on the renovation for free if he had been asked. “The principle argument of the whole thing is: To what degree is the integrity of the original creation respected?” he said. “I can guarantee you that if I had been contacted, it wouldn’t have cost any more and we would have figured out a way to make it work. I would have had very good suggestions for them.”
Ultimately, Wines said, he believes every designer who works on a successful project hopes the client will consult him or her about future changes. “It’s an important issue,” he said. “Why wouldn’t a client come back to the original designer and say, ‘I want to fix it and do it the right way’? Architects have instant respect for anybody who does that … I can’t think of an architect in the world who wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to save the day.”
The architecture scene in the New York region is unquestionably the most diverse, creative, and multi-dimensional the country. It has so many components and sub groupings as to be barely comprehensible to those who live here and unfathomable to visitors. The city is called home by the largest amount of big cooperate firms in the country as well as scores of small highly creative studios and workshops and serves as the regular haunt of academic and institutional scholars and curators who range from Princeton in the south to New Haven in the north. In fact, it’s safe to say that New York’s architecture milieu is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
One of its unique strengths for the past thirty years has been a small but influential community of creators who work alone in studios putting their ideas down on paper in powerful images of thought and architectural possibilities. The most important of these figures includes ex-Archigrammer Michael Webb and the late John Hejduk, Raimund Abraham, Lebbeus Woods, Lauretta Vinciarelli, and even the Italian Aldo Rossi who drew Manhattan’s dramatic forms obsessively and merged them into his unique architectural vision. These so-called “paper architects” came, like Hugh Ferris, from other places to live and work in New York and all contributed a unique influence to the rest of the field.
The exhibition A Line Around Around an Idea, which featured the hand drawings of James Wines, who is best known as the founding director of SITE studio, makes the case that he too belongs in this group of important New York-based paper architects. Wines, this exhibit pointed out, draws beautifully (with a Montblanc Classic Pen, Windsor Newton brushes, Canson paper, a dwindling supply of Osmiroid ink, and natural charcoal) and his renderings of built and unbuilt projects from the 1970s until the present day makes the case for how important “mind-to-hand” drawing can still be for those who possess the skill and concentration to utilize the form. The pictorial quality of SITE’s best work, like Peeling (Richmond, Virginia), Indeterminate Facade (Houston, Texas), Notch (Sacramento, California), and Tilt (Towson, Maryland), are unimaginable without Wines facile ability to render his thought process in pen and ink.
The exhibition was organized chronologically with a linear panel that discloses the built or unbuilt condition of the rendered building above. The show covers Wines’ long engagement both with landscape merging into architecture and with green environmental conditions or “vegetated” buildings. Finally, the exhibition made the case that Wines is not just a paper architect, but one involved in actual construction, with projects like his splendid Beijing New World Plaza Center. His mind and hand are as convincing in 2013 as they were in 1970.
Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
New York, New York
Through January 3, 2011
Timing is everything in the exhibition world. With the October 2 opening of MoMA’s Small Scale, Big Change show, the curators got it right. In the past, this hallowed institution has been chastised by the art world’s cutting edge for its too little/too late endorsement of emerging trends. As evidence, MoMA’s sometimes imperious cultural arbiters have tended to remain on safer ground by repeatedly staging epochal art and design surveys, primarily gleaned from the stellar permanent collections for which the museum is globally famous. This propensity for prudence has been a rather embarrassing confirmation of Gertrude Stein’s prophetic assessment of MoMA’s mission, when she turned down founding director Alfred Barr’s request for her art collection: “You can be a museum, or you can be modern, but you can’t be both.”
Stein’s critique was challenged during the museum’s heady years under American Art curator Dorothy Miller, who from the 1940s through the 1960s was acclaimed for her passionate progressivism and advocacy of seminal new talent. Since then, unfortunately, there has been a discernible aura of detachment from the untidy turbulence of the avant-garde. As a consequence, MoMA’s curatorial elite has often been content to mine the past for aesthetic content and avoid controversy by cautiously back-peddling its way through the contemporary art scene. This has resulted in the showcasing of a peculiar “if-you-please” brand of new work, which circuitously (but often too feebly) reflects the museum’s modernist foundations. The tendency has been particularly characteristic of architecture and design shows, which have continued to confirm a formalist bias and MoMA’s unwavering commitment to its modernist, Cubist, and Constructivist origins.
In terms of social/environmental principles and theoretical relevance, curators Andres Lepik and Margot Weller have pulled together a brilliant exhibition that contributively folds into the current flow of advanced architectural thinking. Any overview of student drafting tables and computer desktops in leading design schools over the past five years reveals a highly motivated generation, with a strong commitment to more socially, economically, and ecologically aware building agendas. In fact, for a vast and growing number of young designers, the preceding generation’s proclivity for sculptural bombast, exaltation of toxic materials, waste of fossil fuels, and break-the-bank budgets is pure anathema. At the same time—and citing an even more reviled chapter of recent history—this new generation rejects the fading postmodernist tradition, as embodied in those rather cloying pastiches of regional/ historical style. In particular, their targets of disdain include Disneyland main streets and travelogue Vegas casinos, as well as New Urbanism’s decorous offspring in Celebration and Seaside, Florida.
While the Small Scale, Big Change exhibition reveals its fair share of design clichés and modernist-derived formal strategies, the fundamental dedication to economy of means and social concern is commendable in the extreme. This being said, the most difficult task in designing for politically oppressed, racially segregated, and economically challenged communities is understanding the inhabitants’ day-to-day realities. For example, when disenfranchised people at the poverty level create their own habitat—especially that highly inventive garbage housing so often cited for praise by the design world—their gut-level vitality and enterprising invention is based on a radical state of urgency. It is a condition of basic survival and expediency that, in all probability, is rarely understood by those “socially responsible” architects who have been conditioned by the comfort zones of economic security and haute conception sensibilities. While expressing compassion and understanding, their imported solutions for destitute neighborhoods are too often conceived from a combination of Harvard/Yale aesthetic, alien social sensibility, and naïve idealism.
The best works in Small Scale, Big Change have confronted and worked successfully with these complex problems of contextual response. The METI/Anna Heringer Handmade School in Rudrapur, Bangladesh demonstrates a sensitive awareness of regional scale, materials, and construction processes. The architect knew and deeply understood the community’s standards and aspirations from her long-term residence. Also, by choosing a school environment, she enabled a building type that everyone could enthusiastically endorse from the outset as a necessary, unifying force in the township. Furthermore, by engaging local labor and materials, her final work achieves that rare integration of high aesthetic, appropriate technology, and communicative imagery. Masterfully conceived, the completed structure seems like it has always been there.
The main virtues of Diébédo Francis Kéré’s Primary School in the West African village of Gando are its careful attention to sustainable values and regionally available materials. Over nine years, the structure has proven to be not only a successful educational institution in terms of spatial organization and air circulation, but also extraordinarily durable in spite of consistent and punishing occupancy. At the same time, the highly formalized design resolution seems to have come more from the architect’s education in Berlin than from his inherent sensitivity to local ambience and the more imaginative ideas that might have been extracted from West Africa’s richly varied psychological and cultural sources.
Moving on through the exhibition, Hashim Sarkis’ Housing for Fishermen in Lebanon demonstrates a great deal of sympathy for inside/ outside living accommodations and response to climate and efficient planning issues. The final resolution, however, in terms of form and color, seems to have popped out of some academic institution’s regional design manual, as opposed to being a deeply researched and creatively orchestrated extension of Middle Eastern housing over the centuries. Michael Maltzan’s Inner City Arts complex in Los Angeles ended up a little too sanitized for the constituency it is intended to serve. Given the idiosyncratic character of this Skid Row community, it would seem that rather than pristine white walls, the surroundings should offer myriad surfaces for spontaneous wall paintings, stages for nascent rap groups, automobile enhancement shops, and meeting places full of neighborhood-related artifacts. It is always a mistake for critical writers to offer design input; but in this case, it does seem that a rough and tumble collage of local participation might have been the better choice.
Dave’s House by Rural Studio, consistent with the imaginative productions of this Alabama-based educational ensemble, is admirably simple, economical, and green. It also possesses a faintly perverse character, because it seems like the exact replica of a dumb habitat, elevated to art status by its subtle interventions. Reminiscent of numerable regional house styles ranging from New Orleans to the Southwest, this archetypal dwelling achieves a special brand of aesthetic nobility, which becomes simultaneously acceptable to any local user and applauded by a MoMA curator. The only regrettable legacy of Rural Studio’s founder, Sam Mockbee, is his widespread influence on architectural education across the U.S. What has emerged is a kind of “frugal ideal” kit of parts—now endlessly appropriated by any faculty member or student who aspires to socially conscious design. The frugality part is great, but the assimilation of Sam’s stylistic influence is fast becoming an academy in itself.
Courtesy Druot, Lacaton & Vassal
Some of the projects included in the exhibition are well-designed solutions for less-than-urgent situations. The compelling community need, culturally responsive habitat, and minimum cost exigencies that seem to have shaped the primary objective of the exhibit also tend to marginalize certain endeavors. In this context, some structures seem more passively contributive to the collective ambitions of the show. The works include Elemental’s Quinta Monroy Housing in Iquique, Chile, where the issues of density and low-cost dwelling space have been very successfully resolved within a previously depressed area of the city. Similarly, the Druot/ Lacaton/Vassal transformation of Tour Bois-le-Prêtre in Paris represents the reinvention of a dreary housing block into a masterfully orchestrated symphony of delicately wrought balconies and spatially enhanced apartment extensions.
The work of Estudio Teddy Cruz has long been admired in the design world for its social conscience and edgy imagination. The firm’s Casa Familiar housing in San Ysidro, California contains all of the deft formal means identified with Cruz. Still, the project seems to lack the insouciant wit, cultural absorption, and social advocacy characteristic of his best work. There is a satisfying choice of formal interaction among the collective “Living Rooms,” yet the ensemble effect is somehow too proper and politically correct to reinforce Cruz’s oft-stated anti-establishment mission.
One of the more frustrating contributions to the show is the Urban-Think Tank’s Metro Cable in Caracas. Here was the pinnacle opportunity to bring mass transport to a previously isolated, garbage-housed section of the city, capping off the whole endeavor with a truly site-specific architectural response. Regrettably, the architects chose to ignore the veritable mountain of imaginative collage construction directly underneath the metro station, and instead impose a high-tech, starship-like facility on top of this wealth of gritty source material. In some ways, a number of the projects in this show suffer from a similar lack of “pushing the envelope,” in terms of contextual inclusion.
Any nitpicking is not intended to diminish the vast importance of the show. The bottom line here is the fact that the MoMA team of Lepik and Weller has assembled a cohesive and beautifully mounted exhibition, while contributing significantly to the ultimate 21st-century discourse on human habitat. Smaller scale, economic imperatives, environmental initiatives, and the ability to transform frugality itself into art, are the new raw materials of progressive design. In the end, this soul-searching challenge is just as much about aesthetic innovation as it is about socially responsible action.
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2003Protest: Michael Sorkin on Ground Zero
Peter Eisenman: Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, the first book of architectural theory by an American architect, opened the way for a generation of young architects – Charles Moore, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Frank Gehry, and more – to challenge the platitudes of corporate practice in the 1960s and ’70s. In combining the best of European architectural history—Vignola, Soane, Moretti, etc.—with contemporary iconography, Venturi developed an idea of complexity that became the critical tool for stanching the tide of laissez-faire modernism and changing the face of American architecture. I for one will miss him and his dry sense of humor. Mark Foster Gage: I remember about 20 years ago when I was considering going to graduate school for architecture I met, of all people, Robert Venturi. We ended up having drinks and both got not-quite-but-close drunk. He said, "Don't ever become an architect... unless there's absolutely nothing else you can possibly do..." I was mortified! I thought oh my god, what am I doing if THIS guy who’s at the top of the pile is telling me it’s hard (I also remember thinking that is really was all I could possibly do—the alternative being falling back on my mostly medieval art history degree...). Only in retrospect did I realize that what he was conveying was truly sage advice. Architecture is neither an easy path nor a mere job--but more of an infatuation that involves a significant amount of struggle. He knew this, and it was evidenced in his own work, for instance when he, the ur-figure of postmodernism, was on the cover of Architect Magazine quoted as saying "I am not nor have ever been a postmodernist." You can see the struggle in his work between high modernist training and the whimsy of pop culture. To this day I think the strength of his work is the struggle to reconcile these two directions—rather than merely opening the floodgates of postmodernism through his writing and early work. There was discomfort in his work—hard effort. I don’t think the postmodernism of Venturi was easy and frivolous, I think it was complicated, rich, detailed and intelligent—qualities we should all be so lucky to imbue in our work as we struggle through our own careers for this difficult but beautiful infatuation of ours.View this post on Instagram
Dan Graham: Bob Venturi was one of the one or two best American architects and was a great writer on architecture, architectural history, and theory. His love of pop art infuriated my friend Richard Serra and that is why I wrote a defense of him in Artforum. He criticized Mies, but in the end, came to appreciate him and understand his importance. His background was as an Italian-American and Quaker, and he loved American and English vernacular architecture, billboards and shopping malls. Denise Scott Brown said he loved to watch English soap operas on PBS and he had a great sense of humor. I was lucky to meet him. Paul Goldberger: I am accustomed to thinking of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas as books from a long time ago, and indeed they are. But I don’t know if there could be any better way than to honor Robert Venturi than to open both of them again, and to be reminded that these are, in fact, timeless books: anchored in the 1960s and 1970s, yes, but transcending those years to speak to us now and for a long time to come. Complexity teaches you how to see architecture, and to understand how it is always about both/and, not either/or. Las Vegas, which he wrote with his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown as well as Steven Izenour, shows us how architecture is the making of sign and symbol as much as the making of space, and points the way toward the conflation of electronic media and architecture. Both books were prescient, and far more important than the air of nostalgia that surrounds them is the pleasant reminder of their continued meaning. Bob Venturi, writer of the “gentle manifesto,” was himself gentle, kind, soft-spoken, and absolutely driven. He was as ambitious as anyone in the architecture business, but his ambition was softened by a connoisseur’s love of form, a critic’s incisive perception, and a tourist’s enthusiasms about the world. His architecture was a series of exuberant, inventive, and incisive mannerist explorations, modern even as it appeared to turn modernism on its head. We first met when I was still an undergraduate, and thanks to an introduction from Vincent Scully, I had the chance to talk with him and Denise about their work, a conversation that led to a piece about them in The New York Times Magazine that marked the beginning of my life as an architecture critic, or at least a paid one. What I remember best about that interview, beyond how gracious both Bob and Denise were to a young writer with almost no credentials, was the fact that it took place in a sprawling mansion outside of Philadelphia that was owned by an old friend of theirs for whom Bob had designed a house that was never built. The reason the house, which would have been the most important of Bob’s career up to that point—this was 1971—never went ahead was telling: before construction started, the old house came up for sale, and Bob told his friend he didn’t see how any new house could be as appealing as that old one, and recommended he buy it instead of building the Venturi house. What other architect would willingly say such a thing to a client? Bob was incapable of dissembling. Most people who are as congenitally honest as he was see the world in simplistic, black-and-white terms; Bob always saw it as nuanced, richly complex, ironic, defined by “richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning.” It is that combination—utter directness tempered by an absence of dogma and ideology, a penchant for truthfulness together with a mind for nuance and subtlety—that marked Bob, and shaped both the extraordinary words and the great architecture that are his legacy.View this post on Instagram
Sean Griffiths: It goes without saying that he and Denise were huge influences on me personally and on FAT in general. They have also been incredibly supportive over the years. For us, they were simply the most important architects of the second half of the 20th century. They managed the incredible feats of producing highly influential buildings, creating a new architectural movement, and my god—those books—they changed everything,all the while remaining outsiders, never fully accepted by the establishment. For me Learning from Las Vegas is the most important book written on architecture and urbanism in the last 50 years. It completely changed the way we judge architecture, think about places and their meanings, represent space and analyze the relationship between people and environments. It was so much more than a book “about” Las Vegas. It was a totally new way to look at the built environment. Sam, Charles, and I will never forget our first visit to Philadelphia when Bob and Denise welcomed us into their home and took us on a tour of the Mother's house, the Louis Kahn house across the road (in which Bob delighted in pointing out which of the ideas in it were his—most of them according to him!), the Guild House, and their office. They then took us to dinner and we talked about our mutual love of the Sopranos opening titles and he and Denise professed a love for English sitcoms—“What’s the name of the one with the women priest?” he asked, referring to The Vicar of Dibley. We just thought it was hilarious that here we were with our architectural heroes and we were actually discussing The Vicar of Dibley of all things. Best of all, Bob and Denise attended the lecture we gave at UPenn and afterward saluted us with the immortal words, “Terrific…keep up the bad work!” I feel deeply honored to have known them both. Charles Holland: Robert Venturi was without a doubt my favorite architect. His work has been a huge and constant source of inspiration to me. Not just the buildings but the way he combined the, with research, teaching and writing of the highest order. He wrote not one but two enormously influential and undeniably important books, the second with his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown. Together they opened up architecture to so many things; to an appreciation of the everyday and to a way of learning from the things around us. Of all the buildings, my favourite is the Trubek House, one of a pair shingle-clad cottages realised on Nantucket Island in 1970. It has it all this house: the plays of scale, the complex spatiality, the tension between architecture and ordinary life, the two never fully resolved. Robert Venturi’s importance cannot be overstated and he leaves the world of architecture a much poorer place. RIP Bob. Sam Jacob: I don’t think I could express how important Bob Venturi (and Denise) were to FAT, and to me personally. I really came across their work in the bargain bookshops of the mid 90's, picking up that amazing book on the Mother House for nothing. Airbrushed out of the architectural history I'd been taught at school, their work seemed so amazingly fresh and relevant to an age of information and communication (remember the zeal and optimism of digital culture at that time!). So free of all that stale reactionary nonsense that had surrounded them (especially in the UK at the time of Prince Charles' National Gallery interventions) we could find our own resonances. Sampling, cutting and pasting, copying, distorting, playing with conventions, and understanding architecture as a form of information itself, I concocted a private dream that was part Venturi part Marshall McLuhan that helped forge a different path through millennial times and digital culture. Meeting them both in Philly at a small show at Penn we had was incredible, with Bob dropping aphorisms left, right, and center that still stay with me as he toured the show: “Not boring but in a good way,” “keep up the bad work.” I still don't know what he meant when he told me I wrote like Abraham Lincoln. He made us feel like co-conspirators, and we in turn felt like we could learn (and steal) so much from him that could restart the engine of a certain strand of architectural attitudes towards culture and design that had stalled. It's not overhyped or sentimental to stress his absolute centrality to the very idea of architecture in the late 20th and early 21st century. It's why after a long time ignored and shunned by the architectural mainstream, his and Denise’s work has become so important to a younger generation of architects. Ugly and ordinary forever!View this post on Instagram
Charles Jencks: Robert Venturi changed architecture (hard), for the better (even harder) but with some unfortunate consequences (the one-liner-anti-symbolism), and many of his small early buildings and a few of his large later works are epics. Their drawing and argument inspired two generations. His writing was most usually in the service of a polemic, and his version of complexity predictive of the way the sciences of the twenty-first century would turn out. I was saddened I couldn’t get Bob to write on the second stage of Postmodernism, but as a good leader of the movement he was gentle, ironic, generous to others, amusing to many, academic, and will always be remembered by me. Micheal Meredith and Hilary Sample: Robert Venturi transformed architecture (practice and teaching) for those of us after him (America and abroad). He made it better. Together with Denise Scott Brown, he pioneered design partnerships (now there are so many), engaged multiple scales and media (from books to furniture to buildings to urbanism), and brought architecture into dialog with its contemporary culture (both as an intellectual pursuit and a practical/technical one). He seemed to take equal pleasure in both history and the mundane, offering a witty counterpoint to the heroic artist-architect and to the essentialism of his time with an articulate ambiguity, complexity, and inclusivity (something that is more and more important nowadays). Robert Ivy: Robert Venturi, appreciated for high intelligence, erudition, and a benevolent viewpoint, brought humanism to architecture. His work shone with wit and fit—creating a colorful dialogue between past and present, between high seriousness and contemporary irony. Signification, pattern, relationship, and memory. Together with his partners, this improbable radical tinted the world with joy. Sylvia Lavin: Although I have known Bob for what seems like forever, both at a distance as an august luminary in the field and a bit closer, as a person with whom to talk about Rome and main street, it is only in the past few years that I have gotten to see him work in intimate detail. Spending time in his archive, I have been systematically struck by the astonishing intelligence that permeates everything but that is often most intense when hidden in office memos, hand-drawn key codes to material specifications and sketches made on legal pads evidently drawn in a library. His sharp acumen and wit has always been abundantly clear to everyone through the discipline-changing work we all know, but the creative timbre of his intellection is different in these less mediated expressions. Kind acknowledgments of the contributions made by secretarial staff, surprisingly precocious interest in digital technologies, and outbursts of frustrations with the ordinary obstacles confronted by architects, are evidence that in his daily life, he operated in accordance with the principle—often publicly stated but also often misunderstood as mere professional rhetoric—that architects are not heroes but people with interesting jobs to do. And in these documents, there is also evidence of perhaps the smartest thing he ever did – which was to marry Denise, to whom I offer my deepest condolences. Elena Manferdini: Very few texts captured a cultural paradigm shift as Robert Venturi and Scott Brown’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas. Their influence on generations of architects is as fresh as it was when those texts were first published. They destabilized the form-function determinism of modernist architects and opened our field to hybrid forms, super graphics, and pop-style culture. They liberated architecture from anachronistic dogmas with intellectual depth, innate sense of humor, unexpected juxtapositions and playful colors. They looked at architecture as a cultural inclusive expanded field. Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample: Robert Venturi transformed architecture (practice and teaching) for those of us after him (America and abroad). He made it better. Together with Denise Scott Brown, he pioneered design partnerships (now there are so many), engaged multiple scales and media (from books to furniture to buildings to urbanism), and brought architecture into dialog with its contemporary culture (both as an intellectual pursuit and a practical/technical one). He seemed to take equal pleasure in both history and the mundane, offering a witty counterpoint to the heroic artist-architect and to the essentialism of his time with an articulate ambiguity, complexity, and inclusivity (something that is more and more important nowadays).View this post on Instagram
Ivan Saleff: Ciao Bob, Bob has left the building. His spirit will roam the universe for eternity always nigh his beloved Denise and Jim. The maestro’s boundless work remains behind with us. It will thankfully perplex pundits, colleagues and students for centuries to come. Bob and Denise’s work has always been inclusive speaking to all ages, cultures, endeavors, and genders. Bob chose to write in common language however his work also provides the challenge of peeling back its deeper layers. Bob’s daily life and work formed one unified whole full of the complexities and contradictions of which he wrote. There was no other Venturi lurking. He was the real deal, authentic, loving and committed in everything he did. Bob was courageous in his efforts to combat pretentious trends which traded substance for drama and one-liner. His arsenal included wit, artistry, ambiguity, irony and academic prowess. He was well armed and ready to engage. I remember him telling me of how he struggled at the time when placing the fractured horizontal white band at the fifth floor of Guild House. It took me a while to fully understand that. It made me think. That is what Bob does. He makes us think. Ashley Schafer and Amanda Reeser: Picking up copy edits on the day of Robert Venturi’s passing, we were struck by the pertinence of the image on the last page of our last issue. It is a photograph of Bob and Denise taken from the back seat, framed by a windshield, ahead of which are signs, strip malls, decorated sheds. It captures so perfectly how they asked us to look at the world differently. Their embrace of Americana, of the city, of what is worthy of our attention, opened the discipline to a more diverse set of interests and narratives long before it was politically correct to do so. The inclusivity Bob championed in Complexity and Contradiction expanded ways of operating in the field, which deeply influenced us at PRAXIS (not to mention generations of architects). His and Denise’s intellectual generosity is a reminder of how we should all strive to practice. Martino Stierli: We have lost a giant, but also an incredibly warm, witty, and generous human being. I remember once cooking a simple pasta with tomato sauce for Bob and Denise in their beautiful Philadelphia home, when I had just started working on my PhD thesis on their Learning from Las Vegas. When Bob saw the sauce, he commented: “How exotic!” He really did see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Venturi, through his pointed observations, is rhetorical brilliance and his puns, forever changed how we think and talk about architecture. One of his most famous drawings illustrated his concept of the decorated shed with the words “I AM A MONUMENT.” That he is. Michael Sorkin: One of the first articles I published after finishing school was a screed attacking Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. Not altogether originally, I charged Bob Venturi with promoting an escapist, purely visual, aesthetic at time of social crisis. How wrong I was! That book and his work were really all about the political and its imbrication not simply in artistic invention but in expansive choice and respect for the choices of others. Bob was eternally and ever gently subversive and changed – liberated - the way we think about architecture. He realized what we were so piously fighting for: the authenticity of difference and the freedom of the imagination.View this post on Instagram
Léa-Catherine Szacka: “Main Street is Almost all Right” Robert Venturi (1925-2018), probably the best representative of American Postmodernism, was one of the twenty participants of the spectacular Strada Novissima at the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale. In fact, together with Denise Scott Brown and John Rauch, he probably stayed at the most important address on that street, behind a façade that took the form of a colorful pop cartoonish temple with, in the back, and visible from the street, a large reproduction of the 1964 Vanna Venturi house painted by Cinecittà technicians. Venturi’s presence in the exhibition was seen as not only desirable but as absolutely essential to the success of the show. So much so that chief curator Paolo Portoghesi made sure to include architectural historian Vincent Scully amongst the advisory board of the exhibition, as he knew, only Scully would be able to convince the father of postmodernism to come and play with the other kids on the block. Stanley Tigerman and Margaret McCurry: Bob Venturi led the way backward to a “gentler, simpler time.” His was a postmodernists’ wail that in the late 1960’s spoke a more complex language than that enunciated by canonical modernism. Always the gentleman, he seemed uncomfortable with the mantel of notoriety which nonetheless he wore with great dignity. Never the “starchitect” Bob was too retiring to be bothered by the machinations of fame. He never aimed to be the leader of the “loyal opposition” party either and while his words spoke volumes about complex values, his architectural production sometimes fell a bit short of the mark but not by much. Curiously, like Mies van der Rohe before him he lived to see the discipline of architecture diminished by the false gods of “Marketing and Branding,” but the ethos that has ennobled architecture throughout the ages has already touched the youngest generation who would aspire to that which has been missing in our epoch- “value.” James Wines: “Bob and Denise” In my mind, Bob and Denise are a single entity... a consolidation of infinite intellect and creativity that changed the very foundations of how we think about the built environment. Their unified presence has been totally embedded in both my conscious and subconscious views of architecture since the 1970s; so, it is impossible to believe that one half of this divine team is missing. Denise will surely go on to ever more amazing triumphs of art and theory, but the unity and expansiveness of their ideas will always endure in the design world as a supreme example of love and vision in one package. Mark Wigley: Robert Venturi was hugely influential and hugely misunderstood. He most famously called for complexity and contradiction in architecture but he was actually a new kind of minimalist, always looking to maximize the effect of the least--as revealed by the very compactness of the self-undermining mantra “Less is a Bore.” He was a truly laconic architect, efficiently belittling what others celebrate and celebrating what others belittle. More than anything, he savored the uncontainable ripples produced by slow-motion collisions between seemingly incompatible little things. Together with Denise Scott-Brown, he kept asking architects to think again, and smile a bit, even if the offer was rarely taken up.View this post on Instagram
Veni, Vedi, Faci
10 great architectural moments of Milan Design Week
In today’s gallery world, where stock exchange voracity appears interchangeable with art fair commodity peddling, the anti-commercial and introspective dialogues of the environmental movement during the late 1960s and 70s were like apostolic meditations by comparison. Even the merchandising excesses associated with Pop Art now seem like somber banking conventions, in contrast to the souk-like sales tactics of current international expos...to its historical credit, the Pop era contributed significantly to liberating the 1960s New York art scene from the fusty anti-figurative bias of third generation Abstract Expressionism. By contrast, current events like Miami Basel and the Armory Show appear dominated by hyperbolic celebrations of conceptual vacuity, a disproportionate enthusiasm for transitory talent and a steadfast avoidance of original aesthetic values. There is a ubiquitous re-packaging of influences from the past, defended with such vaguely apologetic labels as ‘Appropriation, Pseudorealism, Post-postmodernism, Metamodernism and Neomimimalism. Too much of the new work, endorsed as hot ticket progressivism is, in reality, a deferent version of ‘if-you-please’ avant-garde.4. "History" was stale and familiar, and largely irrelevant today In this Biennial, there were some interesting bits of lesser-known history and some amazing moments of drawing and architectural assemblage. But the curation was uneven, and swerved from heavy-handedness with no productive end to the usual suspects doing their usual things unrelated to the project at hand. In the "Vertical City" show, for example, the wall texts read like a presentation from a first-year design studio. Very little new information was introduced, and the show took a boring typology—the tall tower—and didn’t even update it. Instead, we got a very personalized response from each designer. There wasn’t much that was “new” or historical in this room. While the 2015 version of the Biennial was simply “all the cool stuff we could find,” it was indeed, cool stuff, at the edge of knowledge both within and outside of the discipline. Biennials don’t have to solve all the world’s problems or solve inequality, but they can at least relate to the outside world in a coherent way. In the end, disciplinary knowledge is at its best when it has productive friction with issues outside the profession. The historical canon is being questioned today more aggressively than ever. There is a real need to probe what kinds of histories we are telling and where. On one of the biggest platforms in the world like the CAB, it was unfortunate that this exhibition only reinforced a Western ideal of architectural history. Almost all of the “history” here was from the Western canon. Now would be the time to really upend some of the stale narratives that have dominated architectural history in the past. 5. Its relationship to art was all wrong The art references made in this Biennial are mostly from the 1960s, such as Ed Ruscha, from whom the title was borrowed, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Claus Oldenburg. While certainly interesting, these antiquated modern art references keep the exhibition from engaging with the contemporary, adding another layer of alienation. Contemporary art biennials have moved so far past these modern art references that it makes this Biennial look completely out of date. The Berlin Biennale 9 (BB9) in 2016, curated by the New York collective DIS, was full of ultra-contemporary works that addressed all kinds of issues today like cryptocurrency, surveillance, wellness, migration, emerging technologies, new social norms, and radical shifts in how we consume media, among a host of topics. It was criticized for not being overtly political enough, but it did access some of the pertinent ideas that are affecting how we live today. There is really no way to compare the sheer horror and excitement that came from BB9 to the dusty 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial. So given these five issues, what do we take away from the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial? If this show is any indication, there is a real case to be made for abandoning the language of architectural history entirely and inventing something else. Some of the most interesting times for architecture occurred when we tried to move beyond something prior, or as Bertolt Brecht said, “Erase the traces!” If there is a role for architectural history outside of the academy, it is not obvious what that might be, based on what this show demonstrated. How history was deployed was problematic for the discipline, as it was too narrow in its purview, and made an exciting time in architecture (the re-orientation of the discipline in the age of digital space and ubiquitous digital production) into another worn-out historical trope.