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Instead of charting an artist or architect’s career as a sequence of projects, what if you mapped it according to the people with whom they conversed, commiserated, and collaborated? That is the productive experiment contained within the book Frederick Kiesler: Face to Face with the Avant-Garde, about the Austro-American architect. Its 21 essays “on network and impact” are like 21 faces of a prism that reveals Kiesler not simply as a creative and critical dynamo, but, as Peter Bogner, one of the book’s editors, writes in the introduction, “as a dedicated networker who played a pivotal role in the transfer of ideas between the European avant-garde and the New World.” Remembered in architecture circles today for designing several spectacular exhibitions and especially for his unbuilt, cocoon-like Endless House project (1947–61), Kiesler was anything but a recluse. It’s jarring, at first, to see a serious artist-architect characterized as “a dedicated networker,” as if Kiesler were a brand ambassador for LinkedIn. But the truth is he spent a lot of time schmoozing, and his sociability helped fuel his career. Standing just five feet tall, Kiesler charismatically commanded a room, his intelligence lightened by “a twinkle in his voice and a critically penetrating wit,” as Caroll Janis remembers. To read about Kiesler by way of his compatriots and contemporaries is a little bit like attending his 1965 funeral in Manhattan, which featured a lineup of spirited readings and performances. At one point the artist Robert Rauschenberg rolled a car tire through the rows of mourners, painted it near the altar, and laid it to rest by Kiesler’s casket. Though few if any architects attended the funeral, Kiesler was “rediscovered” by 1970s architects who embraced environmental art, and resurrected once more in the new millennium by spatial innovators wielding digital modeling tools. Hani Rashid, the ex-president of the Frederick Kiesler Foundation, writes in his foreword that Kiesler, with his fluid and interactive forms, “recognized the prophetic glimmers of a neurally networked planet and society.” The Endless House remains not just a paragon of sculptural plasticity, but also a daring, if all but unrealizable, vision of a total environment in flux. “As an architect, Kiesler does not often get his due,” the late Bill Menking wrote in 2016. “But Kiesler never gave up his desire to build,” and his creative vision remains “more relevant than ever in today’s world of architecture practice.” Previous books on Kiesler, such as Stephen J. Phillips’s Elastic Architecture of 2017 and a 1989 Whitney Museum exhibition catalog, provide a relatively monographic analysis of Kiesler’s multidisciplinary practice. In contrast, Face to Face uses network research, a technique developed in the social sciences, to shed light on Kiesler’s formative relationships and social circles in relation to certain key “nodes,” i.e. projects and events. The volume’s many essays describe Kiesler’s sometimes warm, sometimes fraught relationships with figures such as Theo van Doesburg, Hans Richter, Sigfried Giedion, Marcel Duchamp, and Piero Dorazio, and with collectives like the Bauhaus and the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen. Architect and environmental artist James Wines, founder of SITE, writes that his friendship with Kiesler set him on a new creative path. “Transfixed by this diminutive and iconoclastic genius,” Wines writes, “I basically abandoned my entire sculpture career and ventured into experimental architecture.” Kiesler disdained the label “avant-garde,” Wines adds, as “even more degradingly conservative than being called ‘historical.’” Frederick Kiesler was born in 1890 in a provincial capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire that is now part of Ukraine. After studying and working in Vienna, he first broke through as a designer in Berlin, in 1923, with his electro-mechanical stage set for Karel Capek’s dystopian robot play R.U.R. After the second performance, as Kiesler was preparing to exit the theater, he was grabbed and carried off by Theo van Doesburg and his De Stijl “gang,” whose members included El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Hans Richter, and Kurt Schwitters. They met Mies van der Rohe at a club, where they spent the night discussing revolutionary ideas for architecture and theater. Kiesler then circulated between Vienna, Berlin, and Paris until 1926, when he first traveled to New York to set up a theater exhibition. Kiesler’s heady networking required support and sacrifices along the way. Stefi, his first wife, “gave up her life as an artist and began working at the New York Public Library in August 1927,” as Gerd Zillner writes. Kiesler befriended establishment architects like Harvey Wiley Corbett and Wallace K. Harrison—valuable connections—but corporate practice did not suit him. His attempts to practice architecture in New York were thwarted by the collapse of commissions for a theater in Brooklyn Heights (1926), a museum building for the Société Anonyme (1927), and a theater in Woodstock, New York (1931). In 1931 he was introduced to Hilla Rebay as a potential architect for the planned Museum for Non-Objective Art, the future Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, but that project, too, fell through for Kiesler. Amid the Depression, Kiesler found work designing theatrical stage sets, luxury shop windows, a cinema, a modern furniture showroom, and a model house. He also landed faculty positions at Columbia University and the Juilliard School and published articles on his theories of “design correlation” and “correalism” in which, simply put, everything responds to everything else. Though the Kieslers hosted countless parties and distinguished guests including Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian, and Mies at their penthouse apartment on Seventh Avenue and 14th Street, where they lived from 1933, Kiesler always protected his creative and intellectual space. For example, Almut Grunewald’s essay recounts how the art historian Carola Giedion-Welcker, the wife of Sigfried Giedion, was impressed by Kiesler’s design for the 1947 Surrealist exhibition in Paris, and suggested recruiting Kiesler to CIAM. “Kiesler explained to me that what he does is a rebellion against hygienic architecture. That he is not a surrealist,” Carola wrote to Sigfried. “Might he not be useful for CIAM?” But, though Kiesler and Giedion shared an interest in the synthesis of the arts, and enjoyed at least sociable outing to the beach together, as shown in a photo, they ultimately held each other at arm’s length. Kiesler never joined CIAM, which came to represent precisely the “hygienic architecture” against which Kiesler rebelled with his poetic search for “the endless.” The Endless House, for which MoMA commissioned a full-scale model that was never realized, is at once Kiesler’s most recognizable and most misunderstood project. To this day it brings new designers and thinkers into the orbit of this ever-beguiling artist-architect—thus expanding his posthumous network—but the visual power of Kiesler’s drawings and models all too often overshadows his desire to put people in touch, literally, with architecture and the environment. Face to Face with the Avant-Garde takes an important cue from Kiesler’s theory of continual interaction and movement. Indeed, the book offers something like a “correalistic” approach to the figure of Kiesler himself—endlessly recomposed of opportune encounters, transformative conversations, and transatlantic debates.
William “Bill” Menking, architectural historian and educator who was co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Architect’s Newspaper, passed away today at his Tribeca, Manhattan, loft after a long battle with cancer. He was 72 and is survived by his wife Diana Darling and their daughter Halle. Menking was an invaluable part of the architecture community of New York as well as nationally and internationally. Best known for founding The Architect’s Newspaper with Diana Darling in 2003, he was also a prolific curator and writer. Menking was on the Board of Directors at the Storefront for Art and Architecture and The Architecture Lobby, as well as a tenured professor and trustee at Pratt Institute. He was the curator of the 2008 U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture and organized many exhibitions, including The Vienna Model: Housing for the Twenty-First Century City and Superstudio: Life Without Objects, the latter of which became an important book on the Italian collective. He was also the author of Four Conversations on the Architecture of Discourse (2012) and Architecture on Display: On The History of the Venice Biennale of Architecture (2010); both were co-edited with Aaron Levy and published by Architectural Association in London. For Bill, the discourse and production of architecture were as much about people as they were ideas. In fact, the two were interchangeable in many ways. Likewise, art was his life and he made life into an art. It is sad that someone who enjoyed life as much as Bill would ever have theirs cut short, but we can take solace in the fact that Bill did more living in his 72 years than most of us would do in three times that long. His friends were his colleagues, who he loved to connect and gather, whether for a gallery talk or for a round of beers. “I am sorry for those who didn't experience his amazing  Archigram show at the Thread Waxing Space [in New York], just one of many mega projects in his determination to share his boundless enthusiasms with us,” said Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History at Columbia University. “The same generosity spread into the weekends when he staged Texas-style BBQs in his garage in Greenport, on his beloved North Fork.” This zest for life and love for travel took him around the world, most of all to Italy; he literally attended every Venice Architecture Biennale since it started in 1980. He was something of a one-man tourism bureau for the places he visited, always excited to give the best recommendations for architecture, museums, sightseeing, or restaurants. He would rarely lead you astray; usually one wound up far off the beaten path. “Bill was such a luminous and restless intellect, drunk with the delight of connecting the loose ends of architecture, urbanism, and art,” said architect Marion Weiss. “His enthusiasm for radical architecture, urban exceptions, and great food was infectious." Bill had a knack for being in the center of the action. Perhaps because it was in his DNA—he descended from some of the earliest British settlers in America, as well as the Okies who continued this trailblazing tradition. Bill was born at the Ramey Air Force Base in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico in 1947 and raised in Stockton, a small town in California’s Central Valley, where he worked as an air-traffic controller for crop dusters and once played football against O.J. Simpson. He attended UC Berkeley to study architecture and urban studies from 1967–1972, and I can only imagine the things he saw there (something about Governor Reagan bombing him and his friends or something). Clearly, this immersion in American counterculture helped shape his excellent taste and avant-garde predilections, from radical architecture to social activism, to local clothing shops and DIY oyster shacks. During school, he headed to Florence, Italy, where he met key players of the radical architecture movement such as Archizoom Associati, Superstudio, and Grupo UFO. His interactions with this community of radical thinkers, designers, and architects would form the foundation of some of his most important research and curatorial practice, including multiple shows on Superstudio as well as a seminal book (written with Peter Lang) published in 2003. It laid the groundwork for his future work on Archigram, the British cousins of the radical Italian architecture movement. In 1974 and 1975 he worked as an organizer for the United Farm Workers, helping establish labor unions in rural towns in central and southern California, before landing in downtown New York City at a time of heightened cultural production. Hanging among this vibrant art scene, he met Dan Graham, with whom Bill drove around New Jersey documenting suburbia. In typical Bill fashion, he got a job as a server at Studio 54, where he witnessed iconic moments like when Bianca Jagger rode a white horse through the club. He moved into his famous Tribeca loft space on Lispenard Street, which he built out into a classic downtown dream loft that he was always excited to offer up as a venue for fundraisers, or for meetings and holiday dinners with AN staff. He had one of the better-stocked liquor collections, almost entirely gifts from foreign visitors who would stay with him when visiting New York. With an acumen for learning and navigating the urban environment, Bill began working in the early ’80s to work as a location scout for film and TV in New York. This led him to sunny and decrepit Miami, where he took up an art director post on Miami Vice; his contributions to the show helped rehabilitate many of Miami’s now-celebrated modern and Art Deco buildings. In the ’90s, Menking moved to London to attend the Bartlett School of Architecture, where he was subsequently hired as a tutor. During his time there, he became close with Peter Cook and other members of Archigram, and wrote for architectural publications including The Architects’ Journal and Building Design, both then thriving in England. The experience inspired Bill to import this model to the United States, and The Architect’s Newspaper was born in 2003 in his loft. “We had no idea what we were doing, and it made it better!” he often told me. “In an age where information is fundamental to our lives, The Architect’s Newspaper filled a gaping void, with straightforward reporting on what’s happening in the profession day to day that we weren't getting from the two remaining monthly professional journals, and certainly not from newspapers,” recalled Robert A.M. Stern, architect and regular reader of AN. “It also brought to our shores an American version of the lively discourse we’d been reading from the U.K.” “AN is just what it says it is, a newspaper. Strange that no one used this concept before Menking,” said Phyllis Lambert, founder of the Canadian Centre for Architecture and avid AN reader. “Like the New York Times and the Guardian, it is my source for deeply informed, judicious information about what is happening in the field.” We will continue to celebrate the life of Bill Menking, who will be remembered as someone who was always in the right place at the right time, agitating and connecting, breathing life into whatever was around him. Bill’s memory will live on not only through the continued influence of The Architect’s Newspaper, Pratt, and Storefront, but also through all the lives he touched with his mentorship and guidance. Everyone who came through the paper took some part of Bill’s thinking with them. For me, his influence is palpable: How to avoid the status quo or the cliché. How to work in and around institutions. How to do more with less, and not be too precious. How to keep the social mission radical. Many of my fellow travelers came through Bill, including my Rockaways fishing buddy Walter Meyer and my Sunday pasta buddy James Wines, both, like Menking, equally lovers of life and intellectual discussion. I can’t count the number of people whose work I studied in architecture school that I ended up meeting through Bill in social situations, nor, I suspect, can others. “Bill was someone who gave you everything without asking anything in return. He was a connector of people, ideas and souls,” said Eva Franch I Gilabert, former director of Storefront for Art and Architecture and now director of the Architectural Association. “If I just made a map of all the people he connected me to, I would be able to make a portrait of a generation of idealist, honest, generous, radical and eternally young.” One time, Bill and I were hanging out with his buddy Alastair Gordon outside the tent at Design Miami, when Hans-Ulrich Obrist came up to us. Taking a moment to pause, Hans said it best in his signature accent, with a big, shining smile: “Bill Menking is a legend.” In the coming days The Architect’s Newspaper will be launching a memorial landing page where we will be posting tributes to William Menking.
Michael Sorkin, inimitable scribe of the built environment and leading design mind, passed away in New York at age 71 last Thursday after contracting COVID-19. Survived by his wife Joan Copjec, Sorkin leaves behind an invaluable body of work, as the following tributes—from friends, colleagues, peers—readily acknowledge. This is the second of a two-part series; the first can be read here. Jie Gu, director, lead urban designer, Michael Sorkin Studio “Jie, can you wiggle these buildings and make them sexy?” “Jie, can you let me have some fun?” “Jie, I had a dream last night. I think we need to try something new.” “Jie, I will be in on Saturday, leave me something not boring.” Michael, I miss the dynamic “creatures” you directed me to model. Michael, I miss the tremendous beauty of your red-colored sketches. Michael, I miss your utopian dreams for sustainable cities. Michael, I wish I could have spent more time with you. “Jie, if I go, you must use our legacy to keep going in the direction that seems best.” These were his last words to me, and they will resonate with me forever. Makoto Okazaki, former partner, Michael Sorkin Studio Like Matsuo Bashō, the most famous haiku poet of Edo-period Japan, Michael was inspired by his many journeys. The last email I received from him—on February 5th, 2020—was about a hospital in Wuhan built in just ten days to treat those infected with COVID-19. It was located within the area where we had, in 2010, designed a masterplan, what we called Houguan Lake Ecological City. In the same email, Michael expressed his disappointment over having to cancel a trip to China due to the spread of coronavirus. He was often on business trips, which took him all over the world. On one occasion, he joked to me that a secret of his happy marriage was traveling alone a lot. I took this as advice! Wherever he was, Michael would send his inspirations and sketches back to the studio in New York City. We would develop them into a design proposal—not without some miscommunication—then toss it over to him. Back and forth, until we landed on something both strange and fantastic. We were thrilled by the whole process. Michael, you’ve now left on another journey. We all miss you. Deen Sharp and Vyjayanthi Rao, co-directors, Terreform Center for Advanced Urban Research Michael fizzed with ideas, his energy always captivating and inspiring. You could walk into his office to talk about a book project that we at Terreform had underway and walk out with instructions to contact a dozen different people about three more. Somehow amid this frenzy of activity, Michael always managed to maintain a laser-like focus on the Terreform mission of producing research to achieve more just, beautiful, and equitable cities. Somehow in this flood of ideas and instructions, proposals and counterproposals, Michael would always get the project done and the book (it always ended in a book!) printed. Terreform was founded in 2005 as a place for connecting research, design, and critique on urgent urban questions and using that research in the public’s interest. UR (Urban Research), founded in 2015 as Terreform’s publishing imprint, was the vehicle to make ideas accessible and truly public. With Michael at the helm, both platforms produced an inordinate number of proposals, books, reports, articles, symposiums, and launches. All were self-initiated, and Michael, initiator that he was, has left all of us at Terreform with plenty more to do. Most urgent is completing his—and Terreform’s—flagship project, New York City (Steady) State. The project’s central proposition is that the city can take responsibility for its ecological footprint. With New York City as his laboratory, Michael led several designers and social scientists in formulating designs and policies that could catalyze metabolic changes to critical infrastructural systems. The aim was to achieve a “steady state” of self-sufficiency within the city’s political boundaries. Ever the contrarian, Michael turned to steady state economics—a radical approach in a world addicted to growth and wilfully blind to its toxic consequences—to fashion an equally radical political vision of cities as central units for ensuring social and ecological justice. NYC (Steady) State was conceived as a series of books focusing on food and waste systems, energy, and mobility as the four key systems drastically in need of redesigning. Just last month, Michael was making final edits to Homegrown, the first book in the series and one focusing on New York City’s food production, consumption cycles, and distribution systems. His devotion to the project was so fierce that even after being hospitalized he sent emails urging us to complete and publish the volume. Beyond New York, projects were incubating in and about practically every corner of the world, all guided by students, friends, and admirers of Michael's. Their ideas were seeded or sharpened in their encounters with Michael at Terreform's 180 Varick Street office, where practically every workday ended with a visitor dropping by to say hello, being introduced to the crew, and sharing ideas over drinks. Terreform’s research projects have taken us to many places and brokered many friendships. For instance, Terreform has a lively group of friends in Chicago hard at work on South Side Stories, a collective project that shines a light on activist groups in the South Side and their struggle to reposition the Obama Presidential Center from a magnet of gentrification to catalyst for equitable, evenly dispersed urban development. Set in another conflict zone, the Terreform/UR book Open Gaza will add to Michael’s already substantial contribution to the Palestinian struggle for social and spatial justice when it is published next month. Our research projects, along with UR’s many internationally focused book projects, are primarily vehicles for showing how critique and design can speak the same language. For Michael, Terreform’s unique mission lay in developing an interdisciplinary dialogue that could be embraced by theorists, practitioners, and activists alike, and enable them to share new ways of looking at and imagining the world. Even as it hewed close to the standards of the university, Terreform sought to democratize these forms of knowledge beyond it by creating an accessible platform to address urgent issues in a timely and nimble fashion. We know we can never fill the huge absence that Michael leaves us. We are nevertheless determined to carry on Michael’s enormous legacy, to complete the large number of projects that are already underway, and to continue the work of urban research for greater social justice, beauty, and equality in our cities. Click here to learn how you can support Terreform. UR books are available for purchase here. James Wines, artist and architect The tragic loss of Michael Sorkin, as both a dear friend and premier voice for urban design on the international architecture scene, is still impossible for me to accept. At 87, I thought I would have been long gone before this, and so never anticipated experiencing the shock and despair I am feeling right now. Michael’s work in design criticism, theory, history, and planning—particularly his efforts to shape the future of cityscapes—was inclusive and visionary; indeed, he was an indelible fixture in global thinking on these topics. He was one of those rare disciplinary figures whose voice was synonymous with the profession, so that it is impossible to think about the condition of architecture and urbanism today without Michael’s ideas as pivotal points of reference and beacons of wisdom. His absence is inconceivable. While the endless fruits of his creativity will remain in museum and university archives to nourish future generations, an enormous part of the communicative value of Michael’s work was his participation in public dialogues. In this sense, he was like a great musical performer who made wonderful recordings; but the full measure of his talents was best experienced in concert format. Michael played both the revolutionary thinker and the consummate public speaker, a performance unmatched in architecture. As friends, professional colleagues, and career-long skeptics concerning all manifestations of design orthodoxy, Michael and I had a bottomless reservoir of art and design issues to debate during our thirty-plus years of dialogue. In terms of primary emphasis, we were both committed to solutions for the public domain and how to best encourage interaction among people within cityscapes. I often used to comment, when introducing our appearances on symposia, that Michael took care of the larger issues in urban design while I followed up with solutions for the small stuff under people’s feet. As our discussions unfolded, this was invariably the scenario that played out: Michael would cover the master plans, civic strategies, economics, and infrastructure, and then I would insert ideas for the pedestrian amenities of walkways, seating, plazas, gardens, and play spaces. Whereas I could hold my own in the presentation of visual material, Michael’s verbal eloquence always stole the show. I can recall so many lectures and conferences where I would find myself so enthralled with Michael’s delivery that my own faculties failed when it came my turn to speak. He was the ultimate impossible-act-to-follow on any podium. Michael and I had that kind of nurturing friendship where we could meet in an explosion of discourse on some hot topic, or just sit quietly at dinner and experience the reinforcing comfort of saying nothing. Of all Michael’s many talents, the pinnacle was his acerbic wit, with which he skewered the pomposities of our profession and politics of the day. Not only was his trenchant humor invariably on target, it was always articulated in such a way that inspired the opposition to re-think an issue. It is especially ironic that Michael Sorkin—a major advocate of integrative cities and people interaction—passed away during a time of global pandemic, when millions of urban dwellers have retreated into protective isolation. For this reason, I want to end this tribute with a quote on his work from my 2000 book Green Architecture:
Michael Sorkin might appropriately be called a visionary with a heart. He has understood that, with the universal buzz about people living in cyberspace and communicating primarily through global wavelengths, this is already a reality and just another convenient set of tools that will soon be assimilated into the realm of routine. In this respect, computers are just like every other exotic technology that has nourished science fiction hyperbole and ended up as nostalgic curios in antique auctions. In designing for the future city, Sorkin has acknowledged that people are weary of looking at digital screens all day and sit-coms all night; so why on earth would they want their neighborhood to be another extension of virtual reality? The fact is that people need and value human interaction more than ever because of computer technology. In the Sorkin city, they walk, talk, sit on stoops, tend their gardens, and breathe cleaner air. Preserving this desirable reality is the basic goal of sustainability and the primary urban design challenge of the future.Moshe Safdie, principal, Safdie Architects For several decades, Michael Sorkin has been a unique voice in architecture. In a period of competing schools of thoughts, transitioning from one “-ism” to another, his critical voice was clear and constant, unwavering, with a focus on the impact of architecture on peoples’ lives and well-being; on the principles that must sustain urban life. He spoke about morals, values and ethics as others reviewed architecture as an ongoing fashion parade. Michael’s commitment to the idea that architecture must be in the service of those for whom we build, led him to strip the discourse of architecture from jargon and private lingo; expressing ideas clearly and articulately to the general public. As a critic at The Village Voice, he reached many outside the profession. He became propagandist for architecture, both within the profession and to the public at large, expanding horizons of the impact of our built environment has on our planet. Michael was a great and passionate teacher. I vividly remember his attendance at design reviews at the GSD, where sometimes faculty comments verge on the esoteric. Michael responded with surgical precision, getting to the essence of a design, and doing so in plain-talk. In his practice, both in Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform, he was a prolific provocateur, embracing scales from small neighborhood parks to entire cities. The studio produced numerous proposals. Alas, not enough were realized, but the impact on the current generation is profound. It is not often that we find, in one person, an architect, urban designer, educator, theorist, critic and writer. I will miss his voice, cut-off suddenly and untimely, at a time when it is most needed. I hope that the coming generation will embrace the professional ethic his life represents. Deborah Berke, partner, Deborah Berke Partners, and dean of the Yale School of Architecture Michael Sorkin was a great critic, inspired teacher, and a brilliant thinker. And happily for me, he was my friend. We would have a drink together once or twice a year and talk about New York. From old New York to the New York we loved to the New York we missed to the New York we hoped for in the future. Michael was a searing and insightful critic, all the way back to his days at The Village Voice, as well as in his many books and in his more recent criticism for The Nation. He was also an insightful teacher—he taught at Yale twice, first in 1990 as the William B. and Charlotte Shepherd Davenport visiting professor, then in 1991 as the William Henry Bishop visiting professor. He brought these same teaching skills to his strong leadership as the director of the master of urban planning program at the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College (CCNY). He was also one of the most learned and well-read people I’ve ever met. His interests were diverse and his memory was expansive. Michael argued for the greater good in every aspect of the built environment—from the smallest detail of a building to the largest gesture of a regional plan. He will be missed. His convictions, his voice, and his heart are irreplaceable. Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University I can still rerun lines in my head verbatim from some of Michael’s Village Voice pieces—especially the ones I just couldn’t stop rereading while howling with laughter. His send-up of the Charlottesville Tapes was a true classic, a teddy bear to reach for in the most desperate moments of trying to survive postmodernism. Michael was an arsonist to be sure, yet he also wanted to rebuild something of value and commitment in the place of pretension and posturing. He held out hope for all engaged in architecture to his last moments—as the bright moral light on the horizon that he was—that architecture could still be an instrument for building community. When Reinhold Martin and I looked to launch our experimental Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream project in 2011, amid the ongoing foreclosure crisis, we turned to Michael, inviting him to participate in the opening panel discussion. He offered cogent analyses of our all-too vague brief as well as suggested lines of attack for making architecture that mattered. Along the way he also offered the audience gathered at MoMA PS1 and online a very moving description of his own upbringing in Hollin Hills, Northern Virginia. Hollin Hills was a place where Americans cultivated living together, Michael said, in language that starkly contrasts with the language of intolerance that has since invaded American life, virus-like. Ironically, I think he feared this virus more than the one that took him from us. Michael left us right when we needed him most. With his lucid intelligence, sense of purpose, and biting satirical way of writing, he could cut away the flack even as he focused us on the essential. Nothing he wrote is dated, even if much of it was provoked by immediate events. To reread his pieces is to be in conversation with one of the most truly original and free-thinking minds of architecture. I can’t imagine how anyone will fill the gap, but the texts will continue to delight us and offer refreshing insights. (Think how he knew, for instance, to appreciate Breuer’s Whitney at the moment when fashionable opinion was dead-set against it.) There are many ways to spend our evenings apart at the moment. I, for one, have found a superb tonic for these dark times: pour a glass of bourbon in Michael’s memory and prop open your favorite collection of his writings. We will miss you for years and years to come, Michael. Vanessa Keith, principal, StudioTEKA Design When I came to New York City as a young architect 20 years ago, I was in search of a mentor. Coming from a fine arts background, I wanted someone who I felt was a truly great mind, who I could learn from, and who would take me under their wing. So when I met Michael while I was working on a project for the Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY, I felt an immediate affinity. He reminded me in some ways of my academic parents and their radical lefty friends who dreamed of a better world while working on their PhD dissertations. From there, I started teaching studio at CCNY in 2002, and being invited to Michael’s UD juries was definitely a high point. He was so innovative, and he always had the backs of everyday people who don’t always get to have their voices heard. He made us think critically and differently, and he didn’t shut down ideas just because they were coming from someone younger or less “educated.” In 2007, Michael; Achva Stein, then head of CCNY’s landscape architecture program; David Leven, of LevenBetts and CCNY; and Ana Maria Duran, a good friend from grad school at Penn who was teaching at PUCE (Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador) in Quito, were doing a joint architecture, landscape, and urban design studio focused on a site in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Ana Maria invited me to lead a student charrette at the Quito Architecture Biennale, which I accepted. Once there, I received another invitation, this one to travel with the studio groups to Lago Agrio, taking Achva’s place. Again, I accepted, getting the yellow fever vaccine and some anti-malaria pills. Shivering and teeth chattering from a reaction to the injection, I jumped on the bus heading down the mountains. What a treat! We took trips up the river with local guides in canoes, avoided the areas marked “piranha,” and at a safer junction jumped into the muddy river water fully dressed in all our gear. The entire group stayed in the rainforest at a research station, saw butterflies in metamorphosis against the backdrop of oil installations, and had a jolly old time. Michael joked about making a calendar featuring scrappy Ecuadorian street dogs, the very antithesis of the Westminster Dog Show. He always rooted for the underdog, valuing the ingenuity and skills of local people and treating them with the utmost respect. Michael helped so many people, and he was so generous with his time. He was always up for coming to Studioteka and playing the role of critic for whatever we were working on in our annual summer research project. That’s how my book, 2100: A Dystopian Utopia — The City After Climate Change for Terreform’s UR imprint, came to be. Several years of in-office juries, occasionally zinging (but usually hilarious and on-point) critiques, and edits followed, and the book came out in 2017. Since then, Michael and the team at Terreform have offered incredible guidance, support and enthusiasm, helping us to get the word out, and cheering me on through each book event, lecture, publication, and milestone. More recently, we had our 2100 VR day at StudioTEKA and gave Michael, along with UR managing director Cecilia Fagel, their very first experience in virtual reality! They were dubious at first, but they were quickly among the converted. At one point in the VR tour, they were put on a plank changing a lightbulb hundreds of feet above the city, and in the end, they asked everyone to jump down. Michael demurred, Cecilia said yes, and we had to catch her! Michael was a brilliant mind, a champion of the dispossessed, and someone who fought valiantly for a just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable future. He believed in cities, in the power of collective action, and that doing better was always possible. Now we must strive to carry on without him, and push hard for the better world he laid out for us in his work. M. Christine Boyer, William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of architecture and urbanism, Princeton University School of Architecture It is too soon to bid farewell to my friend and colleague Michael Sorkin, whom I knew since we were students together at MIT. The last time we saw each other, in late January, we simply hugged each other goodbye: he was due to fly to China, I to Athens. It is indeed a silent spring now that he is gone! Yet his legacy lives on. He leaves a profound and lasting impact on public awareness, on architectural practice, on political commitment! His call to action remains. Michael Sorkin was the conscience of architecture, a visionary change-maker, dedicated educator, engaged author, and imaginative designer. He never backed down from opposing points of view. Rather, he called us all to live better in the world, to mend the city of inequity and injustice. He helped us build solid relationships through his edited books, a forum he built for voices to rise up together in solidarity. He was truly the root from which sprung our dedication to a socially responsible architecture. Michael’s pen brilliantly and humorously elevated the level of architectural and urban criticism into a new art. He was always writing for a better city yet to come. His concern was how to build a city of freedom, diversity, authenticity, participation, intimacy. Let his words speak!
“For me, writing has been the extension of architecture by other means both polemically and as fuel for my money pit of a studio. I write because I am an architect.” —Some Assembly Required (2001) “Architecture cries out for a reinfusion of some sense of responsibility to human program as a generative basis for both its ideology and its formal and technological practice, but gets it less and less.” —Some Assembly Required (2001) “[T]he new city is little more than a swarm of urban bits jettisoning a physical view of the whole; sacrificing the idea of the city as the site of community and human connection.”—Variations on a Theme Park (1991)He pleaded for a return to a more authentic urbanity, “a city based on physical proximity and free movement and a sense that the city is our best expression of a desire for collectivity.” The goal was, and is, “to reclaim the city is the struggle of democracy itself.” And it is a struggle over contending voices!
“[T]he City is both a place where all sorts of arrangements are possible, and the apparatus for harmonizing autonomy and propinquity./ Freedom, pleasure, convenience, beauty, commerce, and production are the reasons for the City.” —Local Code: The Constitution of a City at 42° N Latitude (1993)Michael’s critical writings on the politics of architecture live on, be they about the utopian schemes for the World Trade Center or the reconstruction of New Orleans, or the engagement of Palestinian and Israeli voices in the future of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He wrote about the battle for freedom, global and local responsibility, the environment, even as he addressed the milieu of architecture, making appeals for inclusion, for connectivity, for sharing, and more. In this silent spring of isolation that robs us of his voice, his pen, his friendship and humor, listen to the small murmurs arising, the tributes that come in from far and near. Witness his influence great and small. From the soil he has nourished with his commitment and action will spring forth—amid ongoing contestation—a better city. Listen to his call! This dear Michael, our Michael, is your enduring legacy. Sharon Zukin, professor emerita of sociology, Brooklyn College and City University Graduate Center Michael Sorkin was an architect’s writer and a writer’s architect. He had a brilliant wit, a ready command of politics, history, and principles of design, and a passionate commitment to social justice. He wrote in plain English and published prolifically. He scorned hypocrisy, shunned opportunists, and acted to build a better world. Although he had peeves—venal real estate developers, corrupt politicians, celebrity architects, that tin-plated hustler Donald Trump—Michael wasn’t peevish. He could not tolerate intolerance. He was impatient with himself, but he was also a generous teacher, colleague, and friend. During all the years that I knew him (I want to write have known him), I never understood how he could travel so far, write so much, or launch so many projects with so many people and always bring them to completion. Yet his genius ranged most freely, and his rage was most keenly charged, when he wrote about ego and power in the city that he loved: New York. I admired Michael as a writer before I knew him as either an architect or a friend. I had been a devoted reader of his architectural criticism in The Village Voice during the 1980s. At the time, New York was in transition, moving from widespread deprivation to Reaganite glamour, yuppie glitz, and localized gentrification, even as fiscal austerity penalized the Rust Belt of the outer boroughs and quarantined communities of color. Michael cut through the hype to the complicit collusion of the real estate industry and government agencies; I learned a lot from reading him. Although he and I walked the same streets—and lived in the same neighborhood, Greenwich Village—his streets were more layered than mine because he knew more, had a better eye, and directed his critiques with pinpoint clarity. Who could ever catch up with him? The elegant essays that make up the book Twenty Minutes in Manhattan—shaped by the walk from his home to his office—are my favorites in Michael’s considerable oeuvre. He starts with the stairs in the Old Law tenement where he and Joan, his wife and life-partner, lived for many years. He recounts the difficulties he has had climbing those stairs, especially on crutches after surgery, and then segues into a brief but exact description of their construction. This leads him to reflect on other, grander stairs. The long, straight flights of stairs in late-nineteenth-century industrial buildings that formed a “tectonic loft vocabulary” within the cultural syntax of New York. The elegant double staircases in the Château de Blois. The capacious stairs in the MIT dorm designed by Alvar Aalto, made wide so students would stop to talk to each other. Long before Prada stores and tech and other “creative” offices sprouted them, Michael had already taken the measure of a staircase’s possibilities. “Architecture,” Michael drops into his conversation with the reader, “is produced at the intersection of art and property.” He exhumes the grid plan from its origins in the fifth century BC and relates it to the well-known scheme for laying out potential profit-bearing plots of land throughout Manhattan. Adopted in 1811, the grid not only set New York’s major money machine in motion but also set the course for its buildings, their heights and morphologies, and, yes, the stairs inside them. Which naturally makes him consider the pitch of the treads at the pyramids in Chichen Itza, only to return, once more, to his New York brownstone. This is—was—typical of Michael in writing as in casual conversation: erudition wrapped in humor that didn’t allow pomposity. Like Jane Jacobs, whom he greatly admired, and in whose honor he founded a lecture series at the Spitzer School of Architecture, he was a citizen of both the Village and the world. Like Jacobs, too, he saw the world in the city—but he also saw the city in the world. Michael traveled constantly, giving lectures, pitching projects, taking his students on field trips to South Africa one year and to Cuba another. During his career, he wrote about many different cities. Wherever a community of architects, activists, and urban designers protested a plan, or struggled to turn back an egregious intrusion of monumentalism into a skyline or streetscape, Michael was there. You could count on him to fire broadsides, mobilize the troops, and persuade strangers to join him. A few years ago, he persuaded me and others to write a short essay for a collective book he was putting together with people in Helsinki. This group strongly opposed the city government’s plan to contract with the Guggenheim Museum, then still in its expansionist phase, to build an expensive branch on a stretch of waterfront better left for public use. With these collaborators, Michael organized an anti-competition for design ideas and made us scholars into a jury. This mobilization, echoed by the popular opposition within Helsinki, helped to sink the Guggenheim plan. (Or, at least, it forced the city council to reveal its lack of funds.) The last time I saw Michael, one month before he died, he asked me to come by his office. We talked about a Hungarian artist’s book project on luxury apartments for which we were both writing essays, dished some dirt about various cultural figures on the South Side of Chicago, and looked at the old photographs of Michael’s family on his shelves. We laughed about the double portrait of Joan and himself in front of the Taj Mahal that he had painted in Vietnam; Joan, considering it trashy, would not allow it in their home. Michael asked if I could recommend someone who could write about race and class in the neighborhoods near the University of Chicago for a book he was planning for his publishing house UR, and then asked if I would write something for yet another book he was planning, on smart cities. Although he was not in the best of health, a frailty that the virus would exploit, he still pushed forward. He was only prevented from taking another trip—to Africa—by the emerging blockade of travel restrictions. My last email from Michael came one week later. He heard me talking about my new book on the radio and immediately sent me fan mail. This, too, was Michael: he acted on friendship. Almost twenty years ago, he and I edited a book of essays by New York urbanists where we tried to put together our abundant sorrows and critical thoughts about the World Trade Center. The words Michael wrote about the fallen Twin Towers surely apply to him. He was, in all respects, “the Everest of our urban Himalayas.”
Be Less Bored
Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore is a delightful distraction during troubled times
If there ever was a time to slip away from reality for a moment to feast your eyes on buildings that are exaggerated, extravagant, eccentric, exuberantly colored, overly embellished, unabashedly hodgepodge-y, and incorporate cartoon dwarves as supporting columns, now is the time. Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore, released late last month by Phaidon Press, is the perfect architectural tome for hunkering down with for an extended spell at home. Compiled and written by London-based curator and architectural historian Owen Hopkins, this is a photo-driven architectural survey that’s hefty in size, exhaustive in scope, and, most important, a lot of fun. Featuring over 200 globe-spanning projects of all types and sizes, Postmodern Architecture—a more rambunctious companion piece to previous Phaidon surveys of modernism and brutalism—includes multiple works by the usual suspects: Michael Graves, Philip Johnson, Denise Scott Brown, Stanley Tigerman, Aldo Rossi, and, of course, Robert Venturi, the so-called father of postmodernism himself who coined the Mies-ribbing, anti-minimalist adage that the book borrows as its subtitle. “It’s a celebration and a global survey,” Hopkins told AN of the book. “When creating a book like this there’s always the sense that you are establishing and promoting the canon. But at the same time, there’s an opportunity to broaden the canon, by including both the familiar projects and some unexpected stuff as well.” To achieve this, Hopkins includes lesser-known practitioners of postmodern architecture; obscure and overlooked buildings; and in some cases, nonconformist structures that met the wrecking ball long ago. Also featured are works by architects who dabbled in postmodernism during the movement’s mid-1970s through late-1980s heyday but who are generally known for being more restrained in their approach. What’s more, Hopkins also included numerous examples of more contemporary postmodern architecture, as well as a sizable assortment of buildings that are playful, iconoclastic, and distinctly Dutch. Hopkins noted to AN that when curating Postmodern Architecture, he was “instinctively drawn to the classic buildings of that moment” like Arquitectonica’s Atlantis Condominium, a 1982 Miami luxury apartment tower that’s “so very redolent of that era.” A personal fan of the radically altered big-box showrooms designed by SITE for now-defunct American retailer Best Products, Hopkins was also “really interested and very eager to point out” the lesser-known work of the late, great postmodernist architect Charles Moore. “Everyone knows the Piazza d’Italia, said Hopkins referring to Moore’s cheeky, column-heavy public plaza completed in downtown New Orleans in 1978. “But there’s much more to his work, and there’s a real kind of intellectual depth to it.” Hopkins pointed out Moore’s own home in Austin, Texas, as being “just this most extraordinary composition of ideas and forms and objects.” In addition to big photos of bold buildings, Postmodern Architecture is also peppered with quotes from a range of architects, critics, and cultural figures—Andy Warhol, David Byrne, Charles Jencks, Noam Chomsky, Jane Jacobs, and Venturi to name just a few—who are either associated with postmodernism or “whose work has provided some kinds of inspiration or backdrop to the movement,” as the book’s preface explains. “These quotations provide both context or counterpoint. Some are rather more condemnatory than complimentary. Yet this is wholly fitting for a movement that revels in provocation and very often defines itself against a moribund status quo.” “Postmodernism has been tainted with the brush of being a very kind of commercial architecture, and in many ways it is,” Hopkins told AN when asked why reactions—particularly contemporary reactions—to postmodern architecture are frequently disparaging. “And therefore it has been seen, partly at the time but particularly retrospectively, as kind of the embodiment of the worst aspects of 1980s individualism—so there’s that kind of more ideologically motivated prejudice against this moment.” “Also, aesthetically, postmodern buildings, for the most part, are designed to stand out,” Hopkins continued. “They are often very bold in the forms that they employ and their colors, and in their decorative languages. And buildings that stand out do polarize opinion. At the same time, there’s lots of contextual, kind of polite postmodern architecture—but maybe not that much of it is in the book.” “Maybe there’s a groundswell of architects who don’t like postmodernism,” Hopkins added. “But I think with the public, it’s always been popular.” Below are eight projects featured in Postmodern Architecture—some quite iconic and others more under-the-radar—that run the gamut from private homes to public spaces to municipal office buildings and beyond. These are strictly North American projects, but there’s obviously a lot more where they came from.
Blue House, New Buffalo, Michigan; Margaret McCurry (1993)
Best Products Showroom, Miami; James Wine/SITE (1979)
Franklin Court, Philadelphia; Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (1976)
James R. Thompson Center, Chicago; Helmut Jahn (1985)
Academic Center at Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, Georgia; John Portman Associates (2003)
Casa Wolf, Ridgeway Colorado; Sottsass Associati (1989)
Team Disney Building, Burbank, California; Michael Graves (1986)
The Charles Moore House, Austin, Texas; Charles Moore
In what might be one of the darkest ironies of the COVID-19 saga in New York City, the Cooper Hewitt has been forced to close the Willi Smith: Street Couture retrospective before it opens, the first museum exhibition of the influential American designer Willi Smith (1948–1987), whose career was cut short when he was killed by the AIDS crisis in 1987. Smith, who in 1976 founded WilliWear with partner Laurie Mallet, is often credited as a pioneer—if not the creator of—streetwear, which today is nearly ubiquitous, uniting economic and social classes with a blend of high fashion and everyday-inspired clothing. Through collaborations with artists, designers and performers, such as Juan Downey, Dan Friedman, Keith Haring, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Les Levine, Dianne McIntyre, and Nam June Paik, Smith captured the creativity and spirit of the cities where culture was being formed. It is this marrying of the avant-garde and the world-at-large that brought together Smith with James Wines and Alison Sky of the art and architecture collaborative Sculpture in the Environment (SITE) built a series of showrooms that served as the backdrop for the gesamtkunstwerk of WilliWear. After seeing a window display at the Rizzoli bookstore designed by SITE, Willi enlisted the group to design a series of showrooms from 1982 to 1987, using found objects from around the streets of Manhattan. As members of the Environmental Art movement, SITE specialized in bringing art into places where you would least expect it, and retail stores were one of their specialties, most famously the BEST department stores. The exhibition, curated by Alexandra Cunningham was designed by Wines along with Sam Chermayeff Architects, who built a modified version of the original stores. The communication designers poly-mode have also contributed a very clear and fresh graphic solution to the display. The show was originally scheduled to be on until Sunday, October 25 2020, but the situation remains fluid. Note: Effective March 14, the Cooper Hewitt is temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Some Assembly Required
T+E+A+M builds practice through assembly
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course at Syracuse University School of Architecture taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller, now an AN interview series. On September 3, 2019, Peter Maffei and Sanat Dangol, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Meredith Miller and Thom Moran, one half of the Ann Arbor-based practice T+E+A+M. The following interview was edited by Kyle Miller and AN. Peter Maffei and Sanat Dangol: We're really interested in how the four of you came together. What is it like for four architects who previously practiced individually to form a collaborative practice? Thom Moran: The answer to how we started working together is pretty prosaic, and also a bit humorous. We started a reading group to learn more about the architect Emilio Ambasz, whose work resonated with each of us, but in different ways. It was during the time of this reading group that the opportunity arose to apply to represent the United States at the 2016 Venice Biennale. We decided to turn our reading group conversations into the basis for our application. Our application was successful, and we exhibited Detroit Reassembly Plant in Venice in 2016, but it still wasn't clear to us whether or not we were going to continue as a practice. Given that we enjoyed working together and acknowledged that we did something together that we never would have done independently, we decided to keep collaborating. Meredith Miller: The Detroit Reassembly Plant threaded so many themes together that we had developed individually. It was very exciting for us to see how the work came together. But regarding the mechanics of how we operate as a four Principal office, there are things about it that are hugely inefficient in terms of time management. We all like to be involved, especially in the conceptual phase of a project. It’s what we enjoy the most and we’re at our best when we're sitting around a table, sketching and talking. With four of us, there's a lot of input. For the sake of efficiency, as a project moves forward, we divide tasks and responsibilities, but most of the work cycles through all four of us. How has your architectural education influenced your work? Meredith: The four of us have different educational and professional backgrounds. Adam, Thom and I studied architecture at the undergraduate level, and Ellie went to NYU and earned a liberal arts degree. For the graduate degrees, Ellie and Adam both studied at UCLA, Thom went to Yale, and I went to Princeton. We benefit from a diverse set of sources of inspiration relative to these different educational backgrounds. Thom: For me, it's also more personal and I think of my education as having started a very long time ago. I grew up in the building trades and was on job sites with my father and uncle since I was five or six years old. These experiences still inform how I think about design. I approach buildings from a material proposition first. All four of us are interested in materiality, but for me it comes from the logics of construction. What is the responsibility of the architect and how do you think that has changed throughout your career? Thom: Responsibility? That's a good one. There are a couple of different ways you could frame responsibility and there are many ways in which this has changed in the last 20 years. There’s the issue of sustainability, but I don't think there's much disagreement that it’s an important part of what we do, and should always be considered. More recently, there’s the responsibility to be inclusive and consider how architecture intersects with social justice. But I have a more romantic view about the architect’s role in society, as a visionary or as a critic or as someone who offers a different worldview compared to dominant ideologies. We have an opportunity and responsibility to offer a critique of the world through buildings we design. Meredith: I agree and would also add that critique is much more collaborative today. There's an awareness and a willingness to work across different fields, acknowledging that executing a building design isn't the work of a singular author. There are so many people involved, and the responsibilities associated with building are distributed across an ecology of different disciplines. A successful architect can assert a vision while acknowledging the different roles and contributions of many other individuals. Thom: Right, and I’ll put a fine point on that. An architect can positively impact the world through design. You know, there are all kinds of ways an architect can be ethical, but if it doesn't show up in the building, we’re not doing our part. There are lots of different hats you can put on. You can go out be an activist, but we have a responsibility to make our beliefs and provocations manifest in the buildings that we design, in addition to the ways we conduct ourselves as professionals and as citizens. Where does your aesthetic sensibility come from? What are your sources of inspiration? Meredith: It’s a process of discovery. We begin by sorting out shared intuitions and values for a project. Our different approaches often lead us to certain aesthetics that surprise us. Thom: And in some projects, we begin with a particular provocation that directs this process of discovery. For example, in Living Picture, we were really interested in the instantiation of a rendering in physical space. It's a really complicated thing to unpack. We all make renderings to represent buildings. But just making a building that looks like the rendering you made isn't going to deliver the experience of inhabiting a rendering. We were interested in building something that makes legible rendering techniques and rendering as a design tool. Throughout the development of this project, we expanded our understanding of rendering and texture mapping. To that point, the aesthetic result of our work is often dependent upon a critical inquiry into the tools and technologies we use to design and construct buildings. Meredith: Exactly. There's often traces of digital processes in the products. There's a way in which the outcomes that are material or spatial evidence the particular tools we use and the way we use them. We’re compelled by the ability for these specific interests to inform the aesthetic result and the experience of the environments we create. Thom: We also really love early [Frank] Gehry, but we don't want to just do early Gehry. We’re trying to figure out what is early Gehry in another context, using different technologies and responding to different economic forces. We’re interested in architectural authorship that has an affinity for the inexpensive—the cheap, but it’s an authorship that belongs to 2019, and it looks different and it feels different than a Gehry project from the late ’70s or the ’80s. The images you’ve created through these various tools are really compelling, especially to us students and especially on social media. Who do you identify as your audience? Who is your work for? Meredith: To begin, we think of students as a portion of our audience, but also architecture schools and architecture culture, in general. It’s one audience that we're definitely in dialogue with and aware of. But there are other audiences that are important to us as well. Currently, a lot of our work ends in representation, in images. That's not the end game for us. The end game for us is building, where the audience is more varied. Our hope is that our research into digital design procedures and material effects adds up to something that can be experienced by broader audiences and becomes part of architectural backgrounds that augment day to day activities. Thom: We’re really interested in the reality of our digital lives showing up in physical space. We are committed to not just participating in the role of digital media in contemporary culture, but translating that into a spatial experience in a consequential way. So, one might feel a vibration between one’s digital extension into media and one’s physical instantiation in space. We remain committed to the reality of buildings. We will not be satisfied with a fantastically popular Instagram page that circulates digital images everywhere. That would be fun, but we're more committed to what we can achieve through building. And we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the fact that potential clients have not been averse to our admittedly challenging aesthetic predilections yet. We’ve started to believe that if we get something built that is experimental aesthetically, it will be easier to get potential clients on board because they'll see not only what we can achieve, but also the added value of our approach. Meredith: Also, it’s not only important that our work is economically and environmentally conscious, but that we use each opportunity to experiment with off the shelf materials, conventional assembly systems, and familiar construction techniques. Even when operating in these territories, there's a lot of design authorship that's available to us while also being mindful of cost. Again, we want to demonstrate this added value to potential clients through built work. We are pursuing sophisticated material and aesthetic results without compromising affordability. How do you select your source images? We see a lot of rocks and trees. Why rocks and why trees? What other types of images do you start with? Meredith: Something we discuss a lot is how images we create interact with the context in which they are placed. For example, in Living Picture we digitally modeled the historic theater that no longer exists. We also created renderings from that digital model in the context, and those renderings eventually became printed on vinyl in the final, full-scale construction. Living Picture was made of digital trees in dialogue with physical trees. There was a logic there regarding image selection. For us, it was a new kind of contextualism. There are similar ideas being developed in the Northwood ADU project, where the site of the existing house backs up to a wooded park. There is a scheme being developed which includes wrapping the exterior of the building with imagery that would visually merge the house with its context. For the inhabitants, there would be a blending of the real trees and the digital trees, of real sky and the digital sky. On the interior, we are selecting images that would expand the sense of space. It's a very small apartment—750 square feet—and we are working on visually expanding the space through introducing an artificial horizon through imagery. There are ideas about ground and sky acting as interior elements. We’re working on blurring physical boundaries of space. Overall, it's not just about the content of images, but also the qualities that they can lend to the space. It all contributes to our larger interest in being playful and experimental with image production, material manipulation, and a combination of the two. Thom: It’s a great question. And It's something we struggle with. We’re drawn to the fact that there's simply a lot more content in a project when you saturate it with imagery. So, you probably wouldn't be asking us, how do we figure out where to put the bedroom? Those answers are almost evident, and far more objective than image selection. In general, we’re primarily interested in what effects get produced as a result of our decisions, whether it’s a rock or a tree or something else. How does the location of each project affect the design strategy? Thom: It’s different for every project. For Detroit Reassembly Plant, we started with the initial observation that the Packard Plant wasn't really a building anymore. It was a pile of materials. And it was an image that was circulating in the media. It no longer functioned as a building. This describes two ways we look at almost every context. Whether we’re engaging a vacant mall or an abandoned big box or a factory that's falling apart, we often question the material reality of the object and locate the images the object produces that circulate. Meredith: Your question also makes me think of the fact that Michigan is one context for our practice. It’s not just the location for projects we've done, but the location for us—where we work and live, and also the location of the kinds of projects we hope to get to work on in the future. We’re really interested in working locally. We’re actively trying to get work in the area and especially in Detroit where there's an incredible building boom right now. Some of it great and some of it not so great for the city. That’s something that we want to participate in and help shape. What's been the most rewarding moment in your professional careers thus far? Thom: This is a silly one, but I have to say it tickles me. At the 2016 Venice Biennale, MOS made lenticular drawings. Michael [Meredith] was proud of making a drawing that made people move around in order to understand it. We were just sitting there, laughing as people rocked back and forth. With Living Picture, we made a project where people had to traipse around in order to get things to visually align. We were watching people strain their necks and meander around our installation to figure out what we had done. We actually did what we set out to do with the project which was to build a rendering in which people could walk around. Meredith: I had a text exchange with James Wines recently.
Open March 2020
Cooper Hewitt taps James Wines for Willi Smith streetwear show
Manhattan's Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum is hosting an exhibit on Willi Smith, the first solo show for the late fashion designer who was best known for his distinctive 1980s streetwear looks. Willi Smith: Street Couture, borrows its title from Smith's best-known collection, where he brought music and multimedia art together to enhance the presentation of the garments he debuted in 1983. That collection, part of the WilliWear line he started with Laurie Mallet in 1976, was sold through a showroom designed by artist and architect James Wines. Wines founded SITE, the firm that famously kitted out the BEST Products stores with form-breaking facades that defied the typical big-box typology.This time around, Wines is designed the exhibition, along with the Ingelwood, California–based poly-mode, a communication design studio. The exhibition will feature photos of the store, along with dozens of other outfits, patterns, and artwork by Smith and peer-collaborators: dancer-choreographer Dianne McIntyre, video artist Juan Downey, and Keith Haring, known for his bold line murals. This is the first time in 30 years that much of Smith's oeuvre has been shown to the public. “Willi Smith cared about ‘style over status,’” said Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, curator of contemporary design and Hintz Secretarial Scholar at Cooper Hewitt, in a prepared statement. “Clothing was simply a tool for him to disseminate ideas about personal freedoms beyond class, beyond gender, beyond race, while still having fun. He shows us that true collaboration, and the inclusivity it requires, is not a marketing gimmick or token gesture, but a way of thinking, of making and of life.” Along with Cunningham Cameron, curatorial assistants Darnell-Jamal Lisby and Julie Pastor organized the exhibition. Smith, who was born in Philadelphia but worked in New York City, died of complications from AIDS in 1987. He was 39. Programming for Street Couture, which opens in March of next year, will include a talk series around race and fashion organized with another Smithsonian institution, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. Willi Smith: Street Couture opens March 13, 2020, and will run through October 25. More details on the exhibition can be found on the Cooper Hewitt website.
The Garment District store, above and at the top, was the opposite of a polished Manhattan showroom—it resembles the utility room in a big building styled in monochrome grey. The pipes, chain link fencing, hydrants, construction and demolition waste, and manhole covers doubled as clothing racks and lent the space a grittiness which matched Smith's oversized, softly exuberant collection meant for everyday people. The showroom office, meanwhile, took a cue from SITE's deconstructed buildings via a glass-topped work surface supported by white bricks, broken and scattered at the far corner. Piles of bricks on a dolly added a decorative touch.
Crítica de Choque
"Pan Americas" conference looks at architectural relationships across a hemisphere
Earlier this month a dozen or so Latin American architects gathered at The City College of New York (CCNY) Spitzer School of Architecture for a “Pan Americas” conference. A few colleagues from New York joined them, including CCNY professor Michael Sorkin, who gave an impassioned speech about the poorly compensated resource extractions imposed on Central and South America by “el norte,” from oil to sugar, and about how Latin American architecture is “a polymorphous tradition that continues with enormous vitality.” There were two thematic pulls in the conference: the realities of the region’s economic and political conditions, and the vital and witty Latin American architecture that manages to emerge out of them anyway. One of the first slides of the conference showed Le Corbusier’s Modulor. It was barely recognizable as it had acquired a domestic environment, and was now found reclining on sofas, in poses other than the familiar one with the outstretched arm. The presenter, Mónica Bertolino, an architect and professor in Córdoba, Argentina, was making the point that when modern architecture arrived in Latin America it had to be tempered with local materials. But this is not to say that the architecture is any less modern, albeit less known. Hans Ibelings and Mauricio Quiros rightly pointed out the lack of coverage of Latin American work in books about modern architecture. They hope to address this with their upcoming publication about Central American architecture, but they also argued that what they call a peripheral condition (relative to Europe and the United States) could be a source of creative strength and encouraged Latin American architects to revel in it. The landscape architect Maria Villalobos, who gave the most impassioned lecture of the conference, is doing just that. She studied at Versailles and Harvard before returning to Venezuela to design the Botanical Garden of Maracaibo and it was this designer, one so deeply knowledgeable on French gardens, who resisted the cliched formal garden approach and came up with something inspired by the diverse Venezuelan habitats. Two other young designers presented outstanding work, Dana Víquez Azofeifa, from Costa Rica, and Inés Guzmán from Guatemala. Víquez Azofeifa uses the native biodiversity of Costa Rica to ameliorate the urban problems of its capital city San José. She grew up in Costa Rica, went north to study and work, and then returned home to start the firm PPAR with her partner Jose Vargas Hidalgo. “El norte” may have in the past robbed its southern neighbors of their raw resources, but now these designers traveling north are bringing home professional experience and intellectual insights. Guzmán was perhaps more aware of the complexity of her geographical allegiance and called herself “a Guatemalan citizen of the world.” She presented several projects by her firm Taller KEN, which she founded in 2013 with Gregory Melitonov. Her stint abroad included working on Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum, but it was James Wines of SITE (in the audience and also a presenter), whom she credited as her inspiration. Then, when she showed Madero Café in Guatemala City, one couldn’t help but think of SITE’s Ghost Parking Lot project from the 1970s. In that project Wines buried cars under asphalt in a shopping center in Hamden, Connecticut, while Taller KEN impaled them on a forty-five-foot-high red cube. James Wines’s own presentation was a plea for more work like this. He showed images of t-shirts with various calls for social justice written on them—is this what activism looks like today, he asked the audience? He would like to see that activism make its way into built design work, and Taller KEN’s Madero Café is an example of this. The big red box calls attention to itself among undifferentiated stretches of trafficky roads and low-rise commercial strips. Then, inside, the only daylight comes from the top, completely isolating the cafe patrons from the surrounding context. Taller KEN critically responded to the wanton deforestation of Guatemala’s rainforest by putting a piece of it, albeit symbolically, inside the box, like the precious thing that it is. If there’s one insight from this conference that is applicable to the discipline of architecture in general it is that socio-cultural concerns in architecture are not only compatible with exciting design, but can even be the motivators. The last discussion of the conference revolved around the imaging of architecture. What are the possible effects of social media on what gets designed? The best answer came from Fredy Massad, Argentinian by birth but living and working in Barcelona and writing on architecture for the Spanish newspaper ABC. His most recent book of architecture criticism is Crítica de Choque (Shock Criticism), which places recent developments in architecture in the context of major political events—the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the financial collapse of 2008, etc. Massad is critical of the lack of discourse in an image-driven culture of architecture promotion. He rebukes the uncritical production of images of architecture in a book entirely devoid of images, and we readers find respite in this sea of words. With this book, we feel like characters in a Wim Wenders film who, overwhelmed by the bombardment of images, turn to words for redemption. Massad’s lecture did include some images, and notable among them was the portrait of Chilean architect and Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena. Massad argues, and others at the conference agreed, that Aravena aestheticized low-income housing in a way that was not beneficial to those the architecture was meant to serve. Massad has termed what Aravena does a kind of “Adamismo,” as in making himself the “Adam,” the person at the beginning of all things socio-political, and in the process erasing all the efforts that came before him. The future of Latin American architecture depends on its multifariousness, not in the singularity of a star. Perhaps the best moment of the conference was when Álvaro Rojas, co-organizer of the event with Guillermo Honles, started his presentation by playing a song, Ojalá que llueva café (I hope it rains coffee) by the popular Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra. The students around me looked up from their phones and laptops and broke into roaring laughter. Is this the “shock” that Massad argues is needed in architecture today? For about four minutes an auditorium full of people accustomed to always be doing something did absolutely nothing except listen to a song. Perhaps this is the point of this and any conference, to take time out from the daily grind and just listen.
15 Years of The Architect's Newspaper
A brief history of architecture in the 21st century
To celebrate our 15th anniversary, we looked back through the archives for our favorite moments since we started. We found stories that aged well (and some that didn’t), as well as a wide range of interviews, editorials, and other articles that we feel contributed to the broader conversation. We also took a closer look at the most memorable tributes to those we lost, and heard from editors past and present about their time here. Check out this history of architecture in the 21st century through the headlines of The Architect's Newspaper:
2003Protest: Michael Sorkin on Ground Zero
Saarinen’s TWA terminal proposed to be Kunsthalle
Philip Johnson retires
Who benefits at WTC?
After Koolhaas and before Piano, Richard Gluckman proposes Whitney addition
Emerging Voices, Class of 2004
Storefront makes an offer to Anselm Franke
Rem Koolhaas and Hani Rashid in conversation
Cataloging new skyscrapers in California
MoMA hires Andres Lepik to architecture department
Gwendolyn Wright interviews Shaun Donovan
Rethinking New York’s coastal infrastructure
Governors Island landscape team chosen
Contractor still working after deadly accident at Trump SoHo
Jean Nouvel wins Pritzker Prize
MoMA neighbors speak out against Nouvel/Hines Tower at LPC
Q&A: Allan Wexler
“Mike’s Angels” Q&A: Janette Sadik-Khan, Amanda Burden, Adrian Benepe
Q&A: Joe Mizzi
SHoP launches a business
Oslo Opera House opens
Scaffolding competition seeks solutions
Q&A: John Portman
Q&A: William Stout
Pictorial: Ken Smith’s tree stumps
Former Trump hotel by Graves is painted white by new owner
Making waves at MAS
Open: Wes Anderson's Bar Luce at Prada Foundation
The history of Richard Neutra’s Avion Village community
50 Years of Watergate
Assemble wins the 2015 Turner Prize
Reverse Commute: Chinese architects in the U.S. and Europe
Crit: AIA Convention (“No more weird architecture in Philadelphia”)
Crit: Spring Street Salt Shed (“In praise of the urban object”)
How institutionalized racism and housing policy segregated our cities
Chinatown residents protest de Blasio rezoning
Roche-Dinkeloo’s Ambassador Grille receives landmark designation
Q&A: Jorge Otero-Pailos: Why the Met Breuer matters
Comment: Ronald Rael on the realities of the U.S.-Mexico border
Detroit Zoo penguin habitat opens
Chicago battles to keep Lucas Museum of Narrative Art from moving
Martino Stierli on the redesign of MoMA’s A+D galleries
WTC Oculus opens
Letter: Phyllis Lambert pleads for Four Seasons preservation
Q&A: Mabel Wilson
#NotmyAIA: Protests erupt over AIA's support of Trump
Snøhetta’s addition to SFMoMA opens
DS+R’s Vagelos Education Center opens
Baltimore’s Brutalist McKeldin Fountain pulverized
Actor Terry Crews is now a promising young designer
Architects design prototypes for Hyperloops
Never Built New York brings unrealized architecture to life
Seasteaders to bring a libertarian floating community to the South Pacific
Crit: Five fundamental problems with the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial
Jimmy Buffett–themed retirement communities in South Carolina and Florida
Will Jacksonville be a post-climate-change megacity?
Q&A: Henry Urbach on curating architecture, the Glass House, and what’s next
The architecture of addiction
Q&A: Pablo Escobar’s son is a good architect now
AGENCY's Border Dispatches: Reporting from the U.S.-Mexico Boundary
Learning from Baltimore’s approach to Confederate monuments
The 50th anniversary of the Milwaukee housing marchesThank you to USModernist Library, an online archive of architectural publications, for their help in putting this web feature together.
San Fran's Millennium Tower is sinking
Amid protests, AT&T building landmarked
Trump brings back asbestos and AN becomes a meme
Eva Franch i Gilabert selected as new director of Architectural Association
Richard Meier’s #MeToo reckoning
Robert Venturi passed away at age 93 on Wednesday, and there has been an overwhelming response from the architecture community. From dedicated disciples to former intellectual foes, many architects and critics have taken a moment to recognize how deep and impactful Venturi’s legacy really is. We collected some of those tributes here. Deborah Berke: With the passing of Robert Venturi, Architecture has lost one of its greats. But to say Bob belonged to Architecture with a capital “A” is to limit the scope of his contribution. Bob was an artist, an adventurer, an agitator. Architecture, design, planning, and writing were his media, but his goal—brilliantly achieved—was to change culture. Alongside his equally gifted collaborator, Denise Scott Brown, he opened the profession to new possibilities and rewrote the canon of architectural history. He also developed a visual language—infused with wit, color, pattern, and erudition—that reverberates far beyond his buildings. Barbara Bestor: Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction (written in 1966 the year I was born!) was a revelation for me as a youngster. Though I was immersed in neo-modernist design school, I was drawn to the crazy formal and informal conversations he described between architects from ancient Rome to Victorian England... It taught me that architectural discourse is in fact buildings IN DISCOURSE with other buildings! Also with cities and with people and with art! This is still big news in our current “post-human” design moment! Plus who doesn’t love seeing the decorated sheds of Las Vegas as lovingly explicated by Venturi and his partner Denise Scott-Brown? Personally I relish checking out the lovely little “bird houses” of Block Island (1979 Coxe-Hayden) every summer, and they have had a direct impact in freeing me to reinterpret vernacular forms in my own work. Jean-Louis Cohen: In an age of despair in respect to the practice of architecture, as vulgarized modernization had upstaged poetic modernism, Robert Venturi’s 1966 book came as a revelation. It allowed for a reconciliation between Le Corbusier, Aalto, Bernini and Balthazar Neumann, recruiting apparently incompatible buildings to cast a fascinating menagerie of shapes and patterns. If anything, his writings and his early projects stimulated for my generation the appetite for culture and the ability to play with single objects and the city at large. Bob reminded us that, before generating form, architecture is a discipline of observation, alert to the everyday landscape, as well as towards its own linguistic fetishisms and obsessions. Neil M. Denari: The sphere of influence that Robert Venturi constructed over the course of his estimable career is much larger than we think, because the Postmodern label did not, in the end, constrain the ways in which architects with many ideologies have approached and utilized his theories. I feel like Complexity and Contradiction is the architectural equivalent of Gödel’s Theory of Incompleteness- a set of ideas (maybe even laws) that outlines how complexity is not simply the antidote to boredom, but more importantly, that it is a persistent contemporary condition. His shadow is long, his ideas are transcendent, and I, for one, will always owe a debt to his immense contributions to the field.
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
With the opening of OMA’s Torre for Fondazione Prada, tours of midcentury Villa Borsani, and (a few days late to the Design Week party and thus not included here) the completion of Zaha Hadid Architects’ Generali Tower, Milan Design Week 2018 was exceptionally steeped in architecture. There was the usual abundance of collaborations with architects, such as Alejandro Aravena for Artemide, John Pawson for Swarovski, and David Rockwell’s The Diner with Cosentino and Design Within Reach, but it was the host of architectural installations and interventions that took it over the top. Here are ten memorable architectural moments of Milan Design Week 2018. Garage Traversi The rationalist 1938 Garage Traversi in Milan’s Montenapoleone District received a facade makeover by Studio Job for Milan Design Week. The Pop Art mural comes in advance of the building’s renovation into a “luxury hub” by British private equity fund Hayrish. The reinforced concrete building, originally designed by architect Giacomo de Min, sits on an odd lot, leading to it being built like a fan and resulting in its popularity. The iconic building has been unused for 15 years, but has retained its reputation as a cultural and architectural landmark. U-JOINT PlusDesign Gallery hosted an immensely satisfying architectural exhibition on joints. The group show offered joints of all sizes, materials, and shapes to demonstrate its importance in objects and buildings alike. Over 50 designers, studios, and research institutes, including Alvar Aalto, Aldo Bakker, Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby, Konstantin Grcic, Jonathan Nesci, Cecilie Manz, Self-Assembly Lab MIT, and Jonathan Olivares, displayed prototypes and products. My Dream Home by Piero Lissoni “My Dream Home,” an installation by Piero Lissoni, stacks twelve shipping containers vertically to host an exhibition by photographers Elisabetta Illy and Stefano Guindani of photos taken in Haiti alongside drawings by Haitian children of their dream homes. Lissoni chose to build with containers as an inexpensive, sustainable option that could potentially be used for multi- and single-family homes in Haiti. Altered States Snarkitecture is no stranger to Milan Design Week installations. For its most recent, the firm partnered with Caesarstone to create “Altered States” inside the 19th-century Palazzo dell'Ufficio Elettorale di Porta Romana. The installation examined water in its three forms (ice, liquid, steam/vapor) and the way it appears in nature (glacier, river, geyser) through a collection of kitchen islands made from Caesarstone’s quartz surface material. Villa Borsani In advance of an exhibition curated by Norman Foster and Osvaldo Borsani’s grandson, the Villa Borsani opened to visitors after being newly decorated by curator Ambra Medda, who collaborated with various artists to bring in floral arrangements, scents, and a playlist that enliven the midcentury villa. James Wines X Foscarini James Wines/SITE collaborated with Foscarini to make the “Reverse Room,” a slanting black box that houses a limited edition set of lights called "The Lightbulb Series." Wines relied on his research on subconscious spatial expectations to keep visitors constantly surprised. “This series comes from the idea of disrupting the classic design of incandescent light bulbs,” Wines said in a statement. “An idea that suggests a critical reflection on the absolutely non-iconic forms of modern LED lamps. The concept, implemented by Foscarini, stems from research on the spontaneous way people identify with forms and functions of everyday objects. In this case, the light bulbs merge crack, shatter, and burn out, overturning any expectations.” Fondazione Prada On April 18, the Fondazione Prada completed the latest, and last, building in its 200,000-square-foot Milan complex. Torre, designed by Rem Koolhaas, Chris van Duijn, and Federico Pompignoli of OMA, is wrapped in white concrete and nearly 197 feet tall. This form offers a two-fold experience: From the exterior, the spare, modern block contrasts with the more ornate buildings of the campus (the Italianate-style entry building, gold-painted tower, and the mirror-clad theater, among others) and from the interior, sweeping views of the surrounding industrial neighborhood. At the back of the building, an exterior elevator core is intersected by a diagonal form that connects the Torre to the adjacent Deposito gallery. The elevator's interior is painted an electrifying hot pink, framing the panorama of the campus in madcap fashion. The gallery's floors, currently occupied by the exhibition Atlas, are similarly eclectic. Floor plans alternate between trapezoidal and rectangular and the ceiling heights increase from about 9 feet on the first floor to 26 feet on the top floor, with glowing pink staircases in between. Even so, the space complements rather than competes with massive, immersive installations from heavy-hitting artists such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. (Although the maze-like entrance to Carsten Höller's Upside Down Mushroom is so dark, this writer ran into a wall.) 3D Housing 05 Massimiliano Locatelli | CLS Architetti collaborated with Arup, Italcementi, and Cybe to 3-D print a 1,076-square-foot house on-site. The house, located in front of the Piazza Cesare Beccaria, demonstrated that 3-D printing could be used as a sustainable and feasible construction method. The house was 3-D printed from a recycled concrete that, in the event the house is destroyed, could be reused to make a new structure. Lexus Design Award This year marked two firsts for the 2018 Lexus Design Award (LDA) Grand Prix Winner: It was the first time an American design team took home the prize, and the first time a workshop, rather than a product, won. New York design research studio, Extrapolation Factory, “studies the future” and helps communities create and experience their cities’ futures through workshops and activities. “We all have a vested interest in the future. But how many people have taken a class in futures?” asked Extrapolation Factory cofounder Elliott P. Montgomery. “We’ve had classes in history, math, science, but we are never taught how to think about the future. And this seems like a glaring omission in our country’s education.” Montgomery and his cofounder Christopher Woebken conducted a workshop at the Queens Museum and presented a video alongside a few props as their LDA presentation. The unusual urban planning project garnered praise for its focus on community and its exploration of society, technology, and environment. “It’s completely different than the other participants because it isn’t product-based. It is about education and using design as a way to engage with people, and given the context of the theme, CO-, we felt that was incredibly important,” said Simone Farresin of Formafantasma, who mentored the Extrapolation Factory for the LDA. MINI Living House London-based architecture firm Studiomama created four modular co-living spaces for MINI. Each module had its own color and built-in furniture “totems” that distinguish the space’s personality. The four units share communal spaces, including a kitchen (shown above), a dining area, a gym, and home theater space.
The Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s multi-story studio is located in an old 19th-century brewery in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district. The combination artist’s studio, materials research laboratory, and fabrication workshop is outfitted with elegant Hans Wegner furniture, displays of Eliasson projects, artwork prototypes, and a glass-walled kitchen for employees’ daily lunches. Inside this calm, but busy, workshop there is now an architecture office. Directed by Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann, Studio Other Spaces is a natural outgrowth of the large-scale public sculptures and installations that Studio Olafur Eliasson has been creating since the mid-1990s. Eliasson has long had an interest in architecture, running an art school called the Institute for Spatial Experiments and working for many years with Einar Thorsteinn, an architect and geometry expert who was a follower of Buckminster Fuller. Studio Olafur Eliasson was also part of the James Corner–Diller and Scofidio + Renfro design team for New York’s High Line park. For several years the art studio has had major clients commissioning projects that were really exterior curtain walls, like the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall, designed with Copenhagen-based firm Henning Larsen (and winner of the 2013 Mies van der Rohe Award), which has a facade of quartz-like hexagonal sections. Eliasson writes that he believes the “culture sector in our society is more likely to create change than the public sector, the politicians, or the private sector.” This new architecture office is perhaps a vehicle to combine his dramatic public art with a pragmatic social program. This desire by designers and artists to also be architects has a long lineage going back to the Renaissance through the Vienna Secession, and today we see it with artists like James Wines of SITE or industrial designers like Pentagram and Thomas Heatherwick. Given all the requirements of building, it is still not common for an architect to be grounded in art, but with the capabilities of today’s digital practice and the range of large-scale public art, we may start to see more of these professional distinctions erode. Studio Other Spaces’ recent projects and its facility with spatial design shown here is not just branding, but sophisticated architecture. Head of design in Studio Olafur Eliasson, Behmann is an educated and licensed architect and has been consulting on the studio’s architectural projects since 2001, though the studio only recently began to design major monuments all over the world. The architecture office currently has eight architects on staff, all with different backgrounds. Eliasson said he admires architects because “they build buildings for people who are not interested in buildings—they just work in them, or they just sleep in them, or they just eat in them.” This a very good start for practicing architecture. Ilulissat Icefjord Park Competition The park design uses melting ice to shape space based on a unique design strategy where ice is at once the formwork of a concrete structure and the focal point of the resulting space. Icebergs were harvested directly from the nearby ice fjord to create an exhibition building, called the Ice Void, which harbors the memory of the ice that was used to shape it in its walls. Linked to the Ice Void outdoors by a 360-degree path, the Sun Cone building defines the park. The light glass structure of the Sun Cone positions the visitor center directly in the landscape and offers guests a spectacular panoramic view of the surroundings and the Arctic sun. The park helps make the overwhelming experience of visiting the ice fjord comprehensible—providing visitors with a scale for contemplating and relating to the awe-inspiring ice fjord. Fjordenhus Vejle, Denmark The new headquarters of Kirk Kapital rises directly from the harbor of the city of Vejle, Denmark. Accessible by footbridge, the 75-foot-tall building is formed by four intersecting cylinders with brick facades that have rounded negative spaces, creating complex curved forms and arched windows. The brickwork incorporates fifteen different tones of unglazed brick, making a visually rich surface; blue and green glazed bricks are integrated into the carved-out sections to produce color fades that enhance the sense of depth. The ground floor is open to the public and includes two water spaces that are visible from viewing platforms. Facades of Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre Reykjavik, Iceland Olafur Eliasson and his studio designed the show-stopping facade of the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre in collaboration with Henning Larsen Architects. Reminiscent of the crystalline basalt columns commonly found in Iceland, the facade was built from a modular, space-filling structure called the quasi-brick. The quasi-brick is a twelve-sided polyhedron consisting of rhomboidal and hexagonal faces. When stacked, the bricks leave no gaps between them, so they can be used to build walls and structural elements. The combination of regularity and irregularity in the modules lends the facade a chaotic, unpredictable quality that could not be achieved through stacking cubes. The modules incorporate panes of color-effect filter glass, which appear to be different colors according to how the light hits them; the building shimmers, reacting to the weather, time of day or year, and the position and movements of viewers. Your rainbow panorama Aarhus, Denmark In 2007 Studio Olafur Eliasson won a competition to transform the rooftop of Aarhus Art Museum in Denmark. It offers visitors sweeping views of the city, the sky, and the distant horizon. The elevated 360-degree walkway is 492 feet in diameter and glazed with rainbow-colored glass. Visible from afar, the work divides Aarhus into various color zones and acts as a beacon for people moving about the city—an effect that is heightened at night when lights running the circumference of the walkway illuminate it from within.