Search results for "Syracuse University School of Architecture"

Placeholder Alt Text

Forever Young (& Ayata)

Young & Ayata builds practice through discipline
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course at the Syracuse University School of Architecture taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller (and is now an AN interview series). On October 10, 2019, Felix Samo and Tirta Teguh, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Kutan Ayata of the Brooklyn-based Young & Ayata. The following interview was edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. Felix Samo and Tirta Teguh: We’ll start with an easy one… What does it mean to practice architecture? Kutan Ayata: Do we have three hours?! Actually, this is something I recently discussed at length in a lecture titled, “Practicing-Teaching.” These two modes of operation are inseparable for us, as well as for many of our colleagues who established their offices after the recession in 2008. We actually started our office three months before the recession… timed perfectly! We quickly realized that traditional practice was no longer going to be viable for us. So, our practice includes teaching, our teaching includes practice. They’re inseparable. Practicing architecture is pedagogical. It’s about an exchange of ideas. Because we are primarily supported by teaching salaries, we can be very selective when it comes to our practice. Our office is a space where we actively explore our evolving curiosities about architectural potentials without too much compromise. Was starting an office something that you always wanted to do or something that happened unexpectedly or circumstantially? It’s both. I always knew I wanted to have a practice of my own. Michael [Young] would say the same thing. We both worked for about eight years for others before starting our practice. The way we started was incredibly casual. Michael and I lived on 14th Street in Manhattan after we graduated. We met up one night for drinks and had an unplanned discussion about starting a firm. We studied at Princeton at the same time and we worked together at Reiser + Umemoto. We got along, and we enjoyed working together. At that time, forming a partnership was almost more of a social decision than a professional decision. The spirit of that moment is maintained—we enjoy working together which helps us stay motivated. The answer is “yes” to both parts of the question: the practice came about rather unexpectedly, but it was also very intentional. What was your experience of the financial crisis in 2008? How did it affect the way you and your peers practice? That was a defining moment. In hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We had real projects, real contracts, projects going into construction… and all that basically disappeared overnight. All of a sudden, no job, no income. It was obviously a moment to freak out. But we found ways to deal with the situation. That’s when I started teaching, which changed the way I look at the world. The crises gave us an opportunity to slow down and contemplate our position in the discourse of Architecture. We began developing self-generated speculative projects, which, to this day, serve as the conceptual basis for much of our work. Concerning success you’ve had as an architect and as an office, do you attribute these moments more to fortunate circumstances or to skill and perseverance? Again, both. Nothing happens without hard work. In this last 10 years, both of us have started families, had kids… our lives got more and more hectic. We have less and less time to work. Additionally, we often teach at multiple schools each year and every day of the week, which is not common, nor easy. Before Michael earned the tenure-track position at Cooper Union, he was jumping around quite a bit—sometimes teaching at three schools in three different states in one semester. We figured out a way to make our work time more efficient amongst all those scheduled pressures. Success doesn’t come without a tremendous amount of hard work, but it also doesn’t happen without luck. We’ve had some luck. But in this country, I still believe you’re rewarded for hard work. That’s what strikes me about living and working in the United States… value is assigned to sustained effort. Persistence is recognized here and that’s quite amazing. What was the experience of starting a firm in a country in which you didn’t grow up? When we started the firm in 2008, I had already been in the US for 14 years. I came right after high school. The US was my home at that point. Now I’m quite removed from the place I come from, in the sense of customs and business… it’s all very unfamiliar. I know my high school lingo in Turkish, but I don’t know how to operate there as an adult. Does where you grew up have an influence on your work, or have you been removed from where you grew up for so long that it does not affect the work? It’s hard to say. I’m sure it does in some deep psychological level. It’s been 25 years, and I’ve lived most of my life in the US now. But let’s unpack this. When I was in Turkey, I was a die-hard skateboarder, and I always wanted to go to California. I didn't quite make it that far, but I found a partner who's from California. I tried to come to the US during high school as well. I ended up in a really small town, which was very depressing. At that moment, I didn’t want to stay, but it was very clear to me that my future would be in the US. But where I come from certainly influences me. Exposure to certain conditions present in Turkey during the time I lived there definitely influence how I look at the world today. Do architects have the responsibility to engage global issues? You can’t escape them. But I don’t think architecture as a discipline is responsible for solving the world’s problems. There are other issues that we are immediately engaged with, that are more disciplinary and, to us, more important, at least from the perspective of an architect. I’d like to draw the line between a citizen and an architect. We have our politics, we have our interests, we know where we stand in terms of the issues. In the last 10 to 15 years, there are always voices within the discipline which claim a broader reach and an urgency to deal with political issues. We’re more interested in central disciplinary questions that operate through aesthetics, which has its own political agency. Your answer reminds me of something you said in your 2014 Architectural League of New York talk, when you claimed that architecture should be separate from politics. You said that “architecture is not contingent, it develops its logic internally and grows from disciplinary concerns.” Can you elaborate on that and share how this belief affects your work? The relationship between architecture and politics is intensifying, but we have remained focused on issues internal to our discipline as a way to ensure its continual evolution. For us, it’s most interesting to talk to other architects about architecture… to have deep discussions and debates about the pertinent and persistent architectural topics. Of course, architecture performs on a broader cultural platform once it’s out in the world, but we believe that we have a responsibility to imagine that we can use our knowledge and tools to create new worlds rather than simply reflect and accommodate the one in which we live. In many of your projects, there is a continuous translation between objects, drawings, and buildings. Where does this interest come from and how does it ultimately affect your work? Michael and I are stuck in-between architectural generations, which is simply a result of what was happening in architecture culture when we graduated from Princeton. We’re close friends and colleagues with the generation of architects above us—let’s call them digital formalists or the affect and sensation generation who focused on digital modeling, digital fabrication, and rendering—and the generation of architects below us, who are interested in things like figure, graphic expediency, and engagement, and who more commonly use physical models and collage. We're interested in the routines and techniques of both cohorts. When we completed graduate school, the digital project was winding down as it pertains to experimentation in an academic environment. Michael and I were never directly a part of the authorship of that project. We never rejected it, but we also weren't looking to dismantle it. We quickly realized that we were interested in engaging multiple contemporary mediums and modes of representation. We were operating through sketching, physical modeling, digital fabrication, lecturing, teaching, writing, etc. Our projects are intellectual pursuits as much as they are design speculations, and they are developed through and across each of those modes of operation. The combination of and translation between drawings, objects, and buildings is a way for us to combine unique mediums through which our aesthetic ideas mature. Can you talk about this approach to design in relation to your most recent project, DL 1310? How does the building embody conceptual studies that may have first appeared in drawings or objects? It’s important to recognize that we evaluate all mediums individually. Throughout the development of DL 1310, drawings did things for us that objects could not, and vice versa. Equally important to note is that a drawing of the project by itself doesn’t necessarily capture the entire idea of a project, nor does a model, nor does the building. Cumulatively, these three outputs are the project. In fact, I would argue that as much as we love to build, the building is a form of representation with the very least amount of freedom in terms of articulating the architectural idea. This is because the building must account for more than a drawing or a model… concern for cost, financing institutions, contractors, subcontractors—these things add more complexity. We don’t think about these complexities in relation to compromise, but we do recognize the addition of necessary forces beyond our control that claim partial authorship over the project. In DL 1310, the building is inspired by a range of drawings and objects we’ve produced over the years in addition to the ones produced for that project. It goes back to an answer I gave earlier. All of our projects, including DL 1310, are part of a body of work with an interconnected and evolving aesthetic sensibility. Regarding clients, who commissioned DL 1310? How did your relationship with the client impact the result? The project is a collaboration between our office and Michan Architecture. Michan Architecture is an office based in Mexico City that is led by a former student of mine, Isaac Michan Daniel. We kept in touch after he graduated and moved back to Mexico, where his father owns a development company and serves as a collaborator. He called us one day a few years ago and asked us if we’d like to collaborate on a small housing project. That's how it all started. It's a relationship that developed through teaching that became a friendship and now a collaboration. How does the office operate now? How many people do you employ? Right now, it’s just me, because Michael is in Rome. Well, today he’s in London, but he is away all year at the American Academy in Rome. What’s interesting is that I've seen him more frequently this fall than I last fall when we were both in New York. Our teaching schedules don't typically align so we're always communicating over the phone and through email. So, it’s actually not different this year with him living in Italy. We’re currently working on a competition and our shared comments are made on the internet. This is the reality of practice today, regardless of whether your office is distributed or operating in one place. That's how we’re managing projects right now. During the winter months, we rarely have anybody else in the office with us. In summer, we try to grow to four or six people for more intense production outside of the academic calendar. With a few exceptions, almost all of our projects have been completed during the summer months. What’s been the most rewarding moment in your practice thus far? The office is a place where I can go and explore ideas freely without the pressure of economic performance. Teaching affords us the opportunity to approach practice in this way. The space academia created for the practice is thrilling. It's an incredible luxury. To have time to think about issues that interest us and to speculate on the way in which they become architectural… that's the biggest reward. It’s incredible for Michael and me to have time to spend working on things that we love. For architecture, that's incredibly important. If you're working on a project that you're not interested in, you’re not likely to do a good job. We really enjoy the day to day activities of the office. Because of the way in which we are able to practice, we remain excited and optimistic about the future and our ability to make meaningful contributions to the world through design.
Placeholder Alt Text

Design Grouping

The LADG builds practice in parts
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, and now an AN interview series. On September 3, 2019, Ella Arne and Eliza Williamson, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Benjamin Freyinger and Andrew Holder of the Los Angeles-based The LADG. The following interview was edited by Kyle Miller and AN and was lightly condensed for clarity. Ella Arne and Eliza Williamson: Thank you for joining us. Our first question is a very simple one; how and when did your practice start? Andrew Holder: We started our practice when we were still students. Ben and I were in graduate school at UCLA from 2002 to 2005, and we began working on our first project together at the end of 2004. If you look at the older projects in our portfolio, you’ll see stores for a ski boot retailer called Surefoot. Surefoot in Vail, Colorado was our first project. I don’t think we intended to form a durable corporate entity at that time, and it wasn’t our intention to be a practice forever. The Surefoot store was our first opportunity and was followed very quickly by a residential remodel in downtown Los Angeles and a loft building across the street from SCI-Arc. But to the original question, “How did it start?”... we were raised on a myth of how architecture firms start. You sit down and write to clarify your position in the world. After that is absolutely clear to yourself and others, you begin to work. Our experience was almost exactly the opposite… the work came first. What is the identity of your practice, and how has it changed over the years? We started our practice during boom years for construction in Los Angeles. It was a good time to be an architect. For the first four years, we were totally consumed with work and executing projects commissioned by various clients. During the financial crisis of 2008 it became clear to us that architecture purely as a service for the market was not enough for us. We decided that we needed another layer of activity or set of incentives to impel what we were doing, because we felt as though the financial crash had removed many market-based incentives. We weren’t making money anymore. The thinness of incentives that we had thought would stick around forever was revealed. We needed new reasons to get out of bed in the morning, which lead us back to the idea that we needed an operating theory of what architecture wants to be in the world. We asked ourselves why we do this on a very personal level, but also how architecture can engage a broader audience. It was in 2009, 2010, and 2011 when we first started thinking through architecture’s relation to audience. In those years, you see the emergence of animal figures and biomorphic forms in our work. These things were essentially the most direct answer that we could imagine to the question of how architecture interfaces with a mass audience. Our answer to that was architecture sheds its status as an object, and it becomes a subject. I know how to participate in a crowd if I’m a living thing. We were doing everything we could think to do to turn architecture into a subject that could participate like other people. We reached a limit with 48 Characters, an installation at the University of Michigan where we were creating plaster versions of balloon animals. We started to realize that if architecture as a subject needs formal complication, then we have to come up with different ideas about how to make habitable space. It’s a very simple initiating problem. And that question essentially initiated a string of investigations up to the present day where we are thinking about assemblies of objects that produce rooms. Who exactly are you referring to when you talk about audience? Who is the audience for your work? We always want to have a couple of different conversations simultaneously. We are hoping that the balloon animal projects are immediately legible with no specialized knowledge in architecture. Stuffed animals have a mode of communication that requires little to no expertise. It just requires enculturation. You have to have been a person on the planet for a while. At the same time, balloon animals have a kind of second discursive tale. They're plugged into issues in architecture that are for sophisticated audiences. That longer tale has to do with the history of complex form and architecture, and the history of the use of digital tools and a long conversation about character. What exactly that term means… it looks like Ben is joining us now. Ben Freyinger: Hello. Sorry, I’m super late from another meeting. We were talking about how your work resonates differently with different audiences. But now that we have both of you here, we can ask how you maintain the identity of your practice considering both of you are in different locations. Ben: Case in point. Andrew: It'll be interesting if we have different answers to this question. Ben, what is that noise? Is that an airplane? I can assure you there is no airplane in Cambridge. Okay, so first, the geographic distance for us is profoundly clarifying. So, to revisit the history of how we started… Ben there's incredible background noise. Please go inside. Ben: I'm on a job site. I'll mute my microphone when I'm not speaking. Andrew: Great, thank you. So, bear in mind we started as students, which means that didn’t yet have formalized understandings of our roles. What we had was a desire to work together. It was when we started living on different coasts that we had conversations about who does what. It was that moment of specialization that also required us to have conversations about the operating theory of the practice. All of a sudden, in order to be efficient in schematic design, we needed to constantly be referring back to ideas we had about how to make space and how to use assemblies of objects loosely fit together to produce things like rooms and interior order. Those were as much theories of architecture and how it should work as they were a series of conversations regarding how to distribute labor between the two coasts, and how to clarify what Andrew does and what Ben does. Ben: I agree. To be blunt about it, having two people with either similar ideas or productively conflicting ideas in the same room is not always productive. There's the personal growth that you need to go through in order to expand in your career and move forward and learn new things that tends to get stunted when there is someone else in the room. Independently, we've discovered that the practice can grow and that there is a need for specialization. But no matter how specialized we each become in our roles, we still wear a lot of the same hats. We still do a lot of the same things. Andrew: Here is an example of how, for instance, something we produce has multiple lives, and becomes useful for the office. When I wrote “Notes on More,” the Log piece about density, I was interested in an academic audience. But I was also writing it as a letter to our office. It was how I was structuring thoughts about design, and was asking, “Can this help give us a common understanding of how to sit down to work?” We're always growing and shrinking, so it means anywhere from two to six people are participating in schematic design. Everyone has to be extraordinarily coordinated in their work output. The essays help hold that together. Can you talk more about the way in which the preference for using everyday objects informs your aesthetic sensibility? Also, how does this approach impact constructability and construction? Andrew: Interesting. We haven't used the word sensibility a lot in our conversations with one another. But maybe we should more often, because we have definite ideas about where we want to end up in terms of how things look. We want a kind of casualness, as though materials could come together in a variety of orientations and we would have simply picked one of those possibilities. We want a sense that our material palette is not elevated and expensive, but is common to the point of being retrievable from a junkyard if funds are limited. We also want for the fits between things to produce an occasion for design. If things fit together too perfectly, design is discouraged. One way that we create opportunities for design is by subjecting our work to physics by frequently positioning things with respect to one another so that all of the energy and intensity is in an interface or point of contact. Ben: We are using materials that are readily available and, in some cases, kind of ugly. And yes, it's in the interface between the materials and how they respond to one another or how they coexist… it’s where the invention is. The reality is that we have contractors that are looking at what we are producing. What they see is complicated or complex. We can break it down very logically, piece by piece, and explain why it isn't. But the reception of it is often “Oh, this is unusual… this is too complex to build.” Andrew: I also want to say that the casualness and looseness is not just for its own sake. Actually, let me go back. I'm totally fine if it's casualness for its own sake. I have no need to justify it further, but maybe we have an additional possibility. One thing that starts to happen as things are loosely arrayed against one another is the production of crenelated edges, which makes it difficult to assign things to the inside or outside. Elements often fall outside of the proper territory of the house or building. This means more engagement in the surrounding context. If you can't figure out where the envelope is, you're always questioning what’s around you. For us, that's good politics. We want to self-consciously style ourselves as part of architecture’s progressive crowd, but we don't see that as being related to exclusion on the basis of privilege—educational, financial, or otherwise. We're trying to resort to things that have a democratic availability and low barriers to intellectual engagement. Given this attitude towards being democratic and inclusive, what kinds of projects do you hope to work on in the future? Andrew: In the very immediate future, we're really interested in the suburbs and we're really interested in the single-family home, which may seem a weird answer to your question. We're trying to think of ways in which the form of the house can open up and start to create shared regions with neighbors. So, imagine many House in Los Angeles I’s next to one another. We'd have to imagine a different way of describing what constitutes yard or private ownership. Ben: We’re looking at the fringe areas of Los Angeles, specifically hillside areas, which encourage invention with regard to what Andrew was saying about the concept of yard or the concept of private ownership. We want to challenge and reconsider these things. Andrew: If you look at the larger context for House in Los Angeles I, you'll see that it's part of a series of suburbs that stretch between downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena. They're all super irregular, hillside lots. House in Los Angeles I looks kind of flat, but it's at the edge of a pretty steep hillside. What that means is that buildable area is tightly circumscribed. You can only put houses in certain spots, which leaves huge portions of the hillside unbuilt but also given up for shared uses. We want to be deliberate about how built form can preserve collective spaces that have already emerged, and start to encourage the emergence of new collective spaces. You spoke earlier of your dissatisfaction with conceptualizing architecture as being subservient to the market. How would you position your practice in relation to the market now? Is the market something you engage with critically? Andrew: What the market asked of us in 2009 did not overlap with how we wanted to spend our time. We wanted personal and intellectual satisfaction that the task given to us by the open market did not demand. We wanted to do more thinking and more drawing and more model building… and we weren't doing a lot of those things. When we talk about a reaction against an exclusively service-based practice, it's not that we were withdrawing from the market or the structure of how business works in Los Angeles. It's that we were trying to construct a viable business model with habits of life and thought and work that we found to be more humane and of interest to us regarding ways we wanted to live our lives. I would love to be a soldier of resistance against late capitalism, but my tools for thinking through that problem are more effective when I examine it at the scale of what I do when I get up in the morning. We’re encouraged that the market is now telling us that it has niches that support our habits. What's been the most fulfilling moment in your professional careers thus far? Andrew: I had a very fulfilling experience on my last site walk at House in Los Angeles I. It's been a while since I've been out there. When I went out, it was just after all of the rain in Los Angeles, but before the landscaping went in, so it was super muddy. My foot got stuck in one of the courtyards. There I was stuck in an idea we'd only been kicking around on paper. Ben: I'm going to play a similar card, but I'll zoom out a bit. For me, it's the physical evidence of the work. I can relate this back to Andrew's comment about how we choose to lead our lives in the office. If there's physical evidence of that work in the world, that is also the litmus test of our success in trying to bring a desire to operate, practice, and live a certain way into the market productively and reconcile those two things. I can look at it, I can touch it, and I can see it. That never gets old.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

Only If It's Built

Only If builds practice through research and context
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, and now an interview series on AN. On September 26, 2019, Stewart Tillyer and Aditya Jain, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Adam Frampton and Karolina Czeczek of the Brooklyn-based practice Only If. This interview has been edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. Stewart Tillyer and Aditya Jain: Was starting an office something that you always planned to do? Karolina Czeczek: Yes, definitely. I’ve always wanted to run a practice. Adam and I were working together at OMA when we decided to leave and start our own practice. Without the opportunity to have a partner, I don’t know that starting a practice at that moment would have happened. Adam Frampton: I worked for about seven years after school before we started this practice. There was a real advantage to working in one place during that time and having the opportunity to make meaning[ful] contributions to multiple projects. The experience built some confidence in my ability to start and run a practice, but nothing really prepares you for the challenges of having your own office. Does your experience working at OMA influence your work today? Karolina: Definitely. In particular, how we approach projects is something that is inspired by our time at OMA. We try to understand the broader issues of each project. We’re not always able to solve that issue solely through building, but our position is embedded in our design. What was also impactful about spending time at OMA was the opportunity to take on a lot of responsibility really quickly. We were just not executing sketches of more experienced architects. It was an office environment that encouraged the newest and youngest employees to insert themselves from the start. This collaborative, relatively non-hierarchical environment is something we try to maintain in our office today. We’re not simply handing off sketches to our employees, but are promoting a collaborative effort. Who would you consider to be the primary audience for your work? Is it colleagues and other professionals, the general public, or someone else? Karolina: Other architects, no. Of course, they are an audience by default, but we're not designing for architects, we're designing for a much broader audience. It's important to keep that in mind because we have to understand the issues and needs of the general public. We have to understand the economic and political context in which we work to respond more appropriately through design. Adam: An architect’s obligation is to the public. Even with projects for private clients, there is a responsibility to imagine how a project engages society and an audience beyond who commissioned it. And I agree with Karolina. We do not explicitly design for other architects, but we take pleasure in working on disciplinary issues through drawings, collages, and models… everything that precedes the building. How does the location of your practice affect your work? Karolina: We’re based in New York and I think this requires us to focus on New York right now. We’re dealing with the issues that are specific to this context, such as housing, and it takes a lot of time, effort, and expertise to understand and navigate building in New York. We don’t want to pretend we know everything about everywhere, but at the same time, some specific issues we’re working on now in New York could also apply to other areas. Expanding where we practice is on the horizon. Adam: Having an office in New York as young architects almost seems to entail working on local projects in a very hands-on way. It’s very different from what we experienced previously, where large projects or budgets enable global collaboration: everybody in the office was from a different country, traveling constantly, and working on projects scattered around the globe. But starting an office requires commitment to the place where the office exists. Eventually, we’d like to take on much larger projects, and projects outside of New York, but we’re enjoying working on smaller projects in New York right now. We can be on construction sites, work directly with contractors, and watch projects evolve on a daily basis. Is your built work more meaningful to you than your unbuilt work or vice versa, or do they hold equal value? Karolina: We’re definitely interested in building and executing buildings. That being said, we also find tremendous value in working in a more speculative manner on urban-scale projects. We understand that you have to engage projects at a variety of scales and with vastly different objectives in order to execute one project. For example, the Narrow House came out of research on overlooked and irregularly shaped narrow lots in New York City. The research at an urban scale was ultimately realized as the Narrow House, at an architectural scale. Adam: We know there is value in research and in developing masterplans and working the scale of the city and even the region, but these types of projects can take a long time to be implemented. They afford us space to think and design in a more speculative manner, but in the end, often get passed to others to execute or become smaller scale projects only slightly related to the initial conception. We enjoy the smaller scale projects right now because they can be executed and have an impact quickly. Do you approach smaller projects differently than larger projects? Adam: Our approach is different at different scales. Each scale has its own degrees of indeterminacy or looseness. When you put dimensions on the drawing, there are some dimensions you omit because there are always deviations in construction. In small projects, there might be tolerances of an eighth of an inch. In urbanism, there [are] other degrees indeterminacy that need to be built into the project, but the techniques are very different for doing so. Every scale has its own techniques and approaches. We’re also interested in developing ideas for one scale and applying them to another. For example, in a competition for temporary installation, we thought about urbanism playing out within a very small interior. We developed an idea about how a city grid hosts events and activities that unfold over time. The architect or planner cannot choreograph or script everything happening in the space of the city, but they can setup a system or structure in which activities take place. This scenario became the basis for our entry. We like the idea of applying approaches developed for one scale to drastically different scales.  You’ve stated that you view Narrow House as a prototype for confronting unused narrow lots in the city. What are the qualities of Narrow House that transcend its site? Karolina: Of course, we do not imagine this to be a copy-paste prototype, because every narrow lot is slightly different, with different zoning regulations and different existing conditions and contexts. The notion of “prototype” corresponds more to a development approach that challenges existing models of building in the city. We are thinking in terms of strategies young architects can employ to be more proactive when it comes to development and construction. We mapped over 3,400 of these narrow lots scattered throughout the city. 600 of these lots are city-owned and also not suitable for development relative to existing financial models. But they are suitable for development if other priorities take the place of simply earning profit, such as helping to ameliorate the housing crisis or inventing new forms of housing. In that sense, we're thinking about methods and policies that will enable us and others to work in these types of sites. Adam: Working on Narrow House has allowed us to think about a broader approach to designing in other narrow lots. What’s critical for these sites is not the outward expression or form of the building, it's about interior circulation and how to deliver light into a very deep floor plan. The strategies we’ve developed in Narrow House to solve these issues can certainly transfer from lot to lot. We’re also excited to now be working with New York City to help develop 23 of these city-owned lots for affordable housing. What have been the biggest highlights and challenges that you’ve faced during the design and construction of Narrow House? Adam: Those are two different things, right!? Well, the biggest highlight will be getting it done! Karolina: It's going to be our first completed ground-up project as Only If—definitely a highlight on its own. When we conceived of the project, we didn’t even know if it was legally or logistically possible. I'm not going to go into detail, but we had to prove certain things to show that it's possible to build on the site within the existing zoning. Receiving the permit was a highlight! With construction, the biggest challenge is getting out of the ground. The specific conditions of the site constrain the staging area as well as space for construction. Adam: There are hundreds of challenges. The zero-lot condition, where you're building one structure right up against another one requires layers of legal agreements, seismographs for construction, vibration monitoring, surveys for optical deflection of movements, etc. I'll share one specific challenge... in New York City, all of the natural gas comes from the Marcellus Shale. It comes through pipelines in an area where it's becoming more and more challenging to build pipelines. There's actually a pipeline that the utility company is trying to build right now under Rockaway Beach, but they can't build it and there's no more natural gas in Long Island. I was on the phone recently with a gas company asking them where to put the meter when I learned about this. All of a sudden, we have to redesign the building without natural gas, which is a good thing because we’ll be able to transition the building off [of] fossil fuels. It's a challenge that will ultimately have a positive impact in the design. All things considered, it's been a very long and challenging process. What type of projects do you hope to work on in the future? What do you see as the trajectory of your firm going forward? Karolina: Housing is definitely on our mind and we want to work on housing at a variety of scales… single and multi-family, affordable, senior, etc. It's something that we're planning on working on for a long time. But, of course, we have other interests. We understand that housing is not the only component of the city. We've been looking at public amenities and infrastructures that also constitute the city. Adam: Working on public and cultural projects is an ambition. But we’d be happy to do parking garages, too. We’re not thinking of the future of the office solely in terms of typology. We want to work with really enlightened, ambitious clients who see the value of design. How do you allocate resources for research? Does your research generate revenue or are you using revenue from other projects to fund your research? Adam: To be honest, we’re not terribly successful in managing time or money in the office. It's difficult. We both teach and are very fortunate to be supported by academic institutions. We're not an office that has “bread and butter” work that we don't publish and that we're just doing to make money. A lot of offices do that. Our time is very valuable, and we can’t imagine working on something that we’re not invested in simply for financial gain. Karolina: Research also has potential to create other projects for us. We don't see it as research for the sake of research. It's always combined with something that we're teaching or that we're personally interested in. Adam: Maybe not connected to your question, but looking at all the practices that are being interviewed as part of this seminar… everyone is teaching. We have mixed feelings about the role of teaching and academia in our practice. On one hand, teaching and being connected to and supported by an academic environment facilitates and enables research. But on the other hand, teaching takes a lot of time. It's rewarding on many levels, but it sometimes feels difficult to devote enough time to both ends, as a teacher and scholar in the academic world and as architect, striving to make significant contributions to the built environment. What's been the most rewarding moment in your practice thus far? Adam: Architecture is a very difficult profession. We find pleasure in the act of design, as simple or complex as it may be. Having an opportunity to work on projects is incredibly rewarding in and of itself. We are not motivated by the outward accomplishments. It’s simply the ability to work on complex design problems, struggle through them, find a resolution… when everything clicks, it’s very rewarding.
Placeholder Alt Text

10th Anniversary Memories

SCHAUM/SHIEH builds practice through agreement
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course (and now AN interview series) at the Syracuse University School of Architecture, taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller. On October 10, 2019, Kate Kini and Rachael Gaydos, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Troy Schaum and Rosalyne Shieh of SCHAUM/SHIEH. The following interview has been edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. This year marks your 10-year anniversary. Congratulations! Can you talk about how starting a practice in 2009, the year after the recession, presented a challenge that may have limited growth? Troy Schaum: Both of us were teaching when the recession hit. Rosalyne was a Taubman Fellow at the University of Michigan and I was a Wortham Fellow at Rice. What we anticipated would be a brief foray into the academy was extended as a result of the macroeconomic situation in this country. We had to figure out how to work as architects without being hired to work as architects. So we started making our own projects—competition submissions and university-sponsored independent research projects and installations. It was only after we were invited to participate in the Venice Biennale in 2012, curated by David Chipperfield, that we started to get commissioned work. I don't know if those two things were related, but we started to pick up projects both in New York and Texas, and we very quickly had four additional employees. Our office size hasn’t grown a lot since then, but when we look at the numbers every year, it's been relatively steady, which is its own form of success. In response to the challenges of starting a practice at that time, have you used unconventional methods to promote your firm or to attract potential clients? Rosalyne Shieh: We began our practice in an academic setting with little opportunity to practice in a traditional manner. In 2009, by starting in the midst of the recession, there was little momentum to be lost and the work we made was unsolicited. I don’t mention this so much to bemoan, rather to state the conditions within which we set out and to explain why in the beginning, most of our work was speculative, invested in an alternate economy of ideas and discourse, one partially encapsulated from the macroeconomic situation that professional practice is embedded in. So we may have had a small audience tied to the academy, but we didn't have clients. We started by thinking about what it meant to make work that nobody was asking for, about what questions could be posed or offerings made through the framework of an architectural project. The parameters and conceptual territory of this early work were partly self-defined but also defined by our educations, conversations with our peers and collaborators, as well as things we were reading and looking at. This was an important incubation period for us, but it didn’t necessarily transition seamlessly into attracting clients and working on commissioned projects. Troy: What encouraged that transition for us was a desire to work at a certain scale. We were conducting design research and building temporary installations, but we were interested in engaging building[s] at a much larger scale. When we received opportunities to work on larger projects, we realized that the two of us couldn’t do it alone anymore. We had to build an ecosystem of people to support us. All of a sudden we had to develop an economy around the work in order to support the people that were supporting us. At that point, we found ourselves running a business. We didn't say “no” to a lot of requests, because you never know where certain journeys are going to take you. In 2012 or 2013, we were asked by some relatively young people in Houston if we were interested in designing a music venue. We made some sketches and renderings for a very small amount of money. We just assumed these people would go away and we’d never hear from them again. What actually happened was that they took those renderings all over town and raised significant capital to build the music venue. What also happened was that lots of people who build things in Houston saw the renderings. They didn't necessarily want to invest in a music venue but were very curious about us as architects. Developers would contact us and request a portfolio of built work. The problem was that we hadn't actually built anything! It’s a common and unfortunate catch-22, especially for a U.S.-based practice in its earliest stages. That said, some of them hired us anyway. How do you mediate between presenting your work to a broader public audience versus an audience of architecture students, colleagues, and other professionals? Troy: This is a huge issue for us, especially as we oscillate between our audiences. We're both teachers and we both have conversations with very erudite students and colleagues, and we have conversations with people who work out of the back of their trucks and know a lot about building things, but not so much about architectural discourse. The importance and role of communication and the ability to articulate ideas to many different audiences [are] primary to our understanding of architecture. You mentioned two audiences, but there are probably 20 audiences that we communicate with throughout the course of the day, from the people that are going to send us metal samples to the lawyers that are helping us draft contracts for our clients. Rosalyne: Also, communication is a very personal thing. You have to respond to who you're talking to. Depending on what it is that each person is able to receive or wants to talk about, you have to meet each other somewhere, and you both need to arrive from where you’re coming. I like to speak with my own voice across different conversations, but communicate differently given the situation or who I’m talking to. Troy: It's become very apparent to me that when we talk about audiences in school, we’re talking about collectives. And we're very interested in creating projects for collectives. There's a democratizing idea that architecture is for everyone. It is. But, one of the things that I underestimated was how powerful architecture can be for individuals­–our individual clients and the contractors who build our projects. What do you understand to be your responsibility as an architect? Troy: Wow, that's a difficult question! Our practice is both of our names for a reason. SCHAUM/SHIEH wasn't just a default. That decision makes the practice a very personal thing for us. I imagine there's certain ethics in our work. I believe we have a responsibility to use these professional tools and our ways of seeing the world to be as careful and reflective and deliberate about our decisions and our work, especially when working in cities and in public spaces. To be stewards of the resources that we’re given, to be stewards of opportunities that we’re given to shape cities–these are very important responsibilities. Rosalyne: I agree and would add that we hope our projects enrich the world and make more connections possible. That's the aspiration, at least. We hope our efforts lead to building more complexity into the world. One of the quotes that we come back to a lot is this one–it's included by Jane Jacobs at the beginning of Death and Life of Great American Cities, from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: “Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it.” He's talking about the vibrant complexity of civilization and Jacobs connects this to cities as an engine of that. There's an interest in the pursuit of what we do as architects, but also as people to contribute to more life for more people. Some architects believe that there should be a separation between being a citizen and being an architect, specifically in relation to political issues and attempt to be as apolitical as possible. With your office, it seems to be the inverse. How much effort do you put into making a project political? Does it come naturally from its inception? Rosalyne: That’s a good question, and it's one that comes up again and again in architecture: What is the relationship between architecture and politics? If being political means seeing and engaging structural inequality, I can't live in a world where those two things can be separated, because it would mean willfully denying a part of reality, if not my own then someone else’s, with whom I share this world. It’s not only an issue of what we believe, but it’s also about lived realities. There could be different reasons why people feel the need to separate these roles. It could be because the very act or idea of the work—its property—requires that its limits are circumscribed. One way to work on something is to isolate or bracket it from other things. Or it might be a matter of survival: the world can be difficult; maybe you’re at capacity with what you can handle, and creative work is a kind of expression that feeds you. Some might have the choice to separate the two where others don’t. Broadly speaking, people undertake creative work for so many different reasons. I would just ask whether your position to proceed in any certain way is predicated upon an invalidation of someone else’s, and if it does, I would find it hard to support. I do not require you to not be in order for myself to be. That said, work that is explicitly political is not the only way to be political as an architect or artist. Godard said: “The problem is not to make political films but to make films politically.” That might mean simply expressing or applying yourself without explanation. There's no way to escape this question. It's not fair actually, to say that those worlds should be separate. I can't say that every project we do is political; we're not a political practice per se, but I am who I am, who I am, who I am… whether it's an architect, an educator, a person in the world, a cis-woman, a Taiwanese person, visibly Asian, a daughter of immigrants in the United States, today. The tension of trying to hold all these things together is at the heart of my humanity. Troy: There's a certain disciplinary agenda in the work of some practices, and a legacy of a particular kind of formalism. This way of approaching architecture is very different from how we understand practice. One important role of the architect is to construct agreement. For example, when working on White Oak Music Hall, we found ourselves in scenes similar to scenes in Ghostbusters where we were summoned to the mayor's office at eight in the morning to be reproached regarding an aspect of the project that a certain constituency was not happy with. These explicitly political aspects of practice and this particular project necessitated engagement with a broad audience and a range of issues well beyond the purview of the discipline of architecture. I don't know how you practice any other way. It's beautiful that buildings have the ability to engage political issues, and that architects have the ability to engage political issues. What's been the most rewarding moment in your professional careers thus far? Troy: We recently had the opportunity to observe how powerful work can be for an individual. This positive impact is not something you can encounter until you build something. White Oak Music Hall was embedded in a lot of politics around how music is booked in this country. We created White Oak Music Hall and made a lot of sacrifices in order to complete that project. We were criticized by a portion of the local community, but also supported by many diverse groups within the community. Recently, after finding out that we designed White Oak Music Hall, a local musician said to us, “That space you've created—we didn't have a space like that. That's my temple.” There's an entire ecosystem of creative people that can now work in this space we designed. Rosalyne: I agree with that, and I'll give you pretty much the same answer, but in a more abstract sense. We’ve had that experience a few times with the projects that are out in the world, with both White Oak Music Hall and Transart. You talk to people, and you might not know them well, and they’re like, “I know that project,” and they share some story that gives you an understanding that the project somehow belongs to them. These are the moments when you realize that projects, once they are out there, belong to the world and not just to ourselves. It can come back to us through clients, contractors, or anyone really… when they share a sense of belonging to this thing that we helped create, and that’s a really special moment.
Placeholder Alt Text

Practice and Praxis

AN kicks off its Building Practice interview series
For the next 14 weeks, The Architect’s Newspaper will publish interviews with emerging architects on the matter of building a practice that engages with the culture and politics of architecture through building. “Building Practice” was a course taught by Professors Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller at the Syracuse University School of Architecture in fall 2019. Students enrolled in “Building Practice” studied the work of 14 architecture offices through discussion, presentation, drawing, and model making, and conducted live interviews with the principals of each office. The interviews will be shared here, in series, leading up to an exhibition in Syracuse in April 2020 that will feature drawings and models of 14 projects—one from each practice. The list includes: “Building Practice” is an interview series that encourages emerging architects to share their experiences linking practical and theoretical forms of knowledge during the beginning stages of building a practice. The objective of this series is to study the manner in which the act of beginning initiates the development of a body of work that seeks to produce new forms of architectural knowledge through building. To evidence this production, the academic course and the interview series both highlight one project from each practice that has been either recently completed or is under construction. The projects range in size from small accessory dwelling units to multi-story housing complexes. Through questions related to the formation of the practices and development of the projects, the interviews reveal how these architects claim unique conceptual territory regarding form, space, order, materiality, and aesthetics, and convey urgent necessity for design to acquire meaning and value in relation to cultural, environmental, political, and social concerns. In doing so, these practices collectively partition themselves from previous generations of experimentally minded architects, while individually exemplifying their distinctive and inimitable affinities, techniques, sensibilities, and values. In surveying the ongoing efforts of young architects, “Building Practice” expands the reach of contemporary architectural design by introducing, to a broader audience, designers now more engaged in cultures of building. Pressing questions such as, “What is the responsibility of the architect?” and “What does it mean to practice architecture?” will be posed throughout the interview series. In asking these questions and others, “Building Practice” will uncover how architectural design practices are being constructed today. For a generation of architects more commonly associated with “speculative” or “academic” work, “Building Practice” updates the narrative, repositioning the most talented emerging designers as able and eager to make genuine contributions to the built environment and contemporary culture. “Building Practice” celebrates this new cast of architects actively mending the unnecessary divides between image-making and activism, design and politics, academics and practice.
Placeholder Alt Text

Arkansas Rising

2020 AIA Gold Medal awarded to Marlon Blackwell
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced that Marlon Blackwell will receive the 2020 Gold Medal, the AIA’s highest annual honor which, according to their website, recognizes individuals “whose work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.”  “Marlon Blackwell is a student of his ‘Place’ in the world. This ethic provides a philosophical coherence to his work,” Brian MacKay-Lyons wrote in a letter supporting Blackwell’s nomination. “His is a uniquely American Architecture; he builds confidently upon the American cultural landscape.”  Blackwell received a Bachelor of Architecture from Auburn University and his Master of Architecture from Syracuse University. Although he was born in Germany, the AIA describes Blackwell as a “product of the American South”, which shows through his large body of work in Northwest Arkansas. His first monograph, An Architecture of the Ozarks: The Works of Marlon Blackwell, was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2005 and in the Fall of 2020, a new monograph will be released under the title Radical Practice His achievements are not only in practice but in strong academic leadership. As the department head of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas, Blackwell was named one of DesignIntelligence’s “30 most Admired Educators.” He also served on the U.S. Department of State’s Industry Advisory Group for the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations from 2012 to 2019.  “Every Marlon Blackwell design is a new lesson in the transformative ability of architecture to reveal the uniqueness of every site and give meaning to any program, to achieve an expressive clarity in strong and simple forms,” wrote Julie V. Snow in another letter supporting Blackwell’s nomination. 2013 Gold Medal recipient, Thom Mayne, wrote, “As a practicing architect and educator myself, I have become aware of the growing estrangement between the world of the practitioner and that of the academy. Marlon teaches because of the great sense of responsibility to add a measure of reality to the education of architectural students while also supporting the theoretical or less pragmatic aspects of their education.”  The 2020 Advisory Jury consisted of: Kelly M. Hayes-McAlonie, FAIA (Chair), The State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA, Arrowstreet Inc., Boston, MA Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA, Foster + Partners, London, United Kingdom Marsha Maytum, FAIA, LMS, San Francisco, California Takashi Yanai, FAIA, Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, Culver City California Scott Shell, FAIA, EHDD, San Francisco, California Melissa Harlan, AIA, Christner, St. Louis Missouri Maurice Cox, City of Detroit, Detroit, Michigan
Placeholder Alt Text

Editor's Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Placeholder Alt Text

Graham Grants

Graham Foundation announces 2019 organizational grant recipients

The Chicago-based Graham Foundation has released a list of organizations that will receive its coveted Production and Presentation Grants to pursue architecture-related projects this year. A total of 54 organizations will be presented with financial support from the foundation, with no grantee’s allocation exceeding $30,000 and few receiving the full amount requested. In line with the Graham Foundation’s mission to “foster the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture,” awardees will receive assistance with production-related expenses for a variety of undertakings that aim to enrich architectural discourse, including films, publications, exhibitions, and lectures. Final decisions were made on the basis of four criteria: originality, feasibility, capacity, and potential for impact.

The winning projects for 2020 are split into four distinct categories—exhibitions; film, video, and new media projects; public programs; and publications—and were submitted by a wide range of institutions, companies, and non-profits. Among the grantees are Boston’s MASS Design Group, Michael Sorkin’s Terreform, the Oslo Architecture Triennale, and the University of Chicago’s South Side Home Movie Project. Several past grant recipients received funding for new projects this year, including the Museum of Modern Art for a publication on the work of Robert Venturi and Mexico City-based LIGA-Space for Architecture, which is working to highlight Latin American designers in its annual public program. Here is the full list of the 2020 recipients and their respective projects:

EXHIBITIONS (19 awards)

Àkéte Art Foundation Lagos, Nigeria How To Build a Lagoon with Just a Bottle of Wine?, 2nd Lagos Biennial

ArchiteXX Syracuse, NY Now What?! Advocacy, Activism, and Alliances in American Architecture since 1968

Art Institute of Chicago Chicago, IL In a Cloud, in a Wall, in a Chair: Six Modernists in Mexico at Midcentury

Chicago Architecture Biennial Chicago, IL Graham Foundation Artistic Director

Cranbrook Art Museum Bloomfield Hills, MI Ruth Adler Schnee: Modern Designs for Living

Elmhurst Art Museum Elmhurst, IL Assaf Evron & Claudia Weber

El Museo Francisco Oller y Diego Rivera Buffalo, NY Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments

Equitable Vitrines Los Angeles, CA Florian Hecker

Landmark Columbus Foundation Columbus, IN Good Design and the Community: 2019 Exhibition, Exhibit Columbus

LIGA–Space for Architecture Mexico City, Mexico LIGA Public Program 2019–2020

Madison Square Park Conservancy New York, NY Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertà: US Pavilion, 58th International Art Exhibition

Materials & Applications Los Angeles, CA Staging Construction

National Building Museum Washington, DC Architecture is Never Neutral: The Work of MASS Design Group

National Trust for Historic Preservation—Farnsworth House Plano, IL Edith Farnsworth Reconsidered

Oslo Architecture Triennale Oslo, Norway Enough: The Architecture of Degrowth, Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019

Serpentine Galleries London, United Kingdom Serpentine Pavilion 2019 by Junya Ishigami

Storefront for Art and Architecture New York, NY Building Cycles

Toronto Biennial of Art Toronto, Canada Learning from Ice

University of Illinois at Chicago—College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts Chicago, IL A Certain Kind of Life

FILM/VIDEO/NEW MEDIA PROJECTS (4 awards)

Architectural Association School of Architecture London, United Kingdom Architecture in Translation

The Funambulist Paris, France The Funambulist Network

MASS Design Group Boston, MA The Whole Architect: Giancarlo De Carlo

University of Chicago—South Side Home Movie Project Chicago, IL South Side Home Movie Project Interactive Digital Archive

PUBLIC PROGRAMS (6 awards)

Association of Architecture Organizations Chicago, IL 2019 Design Matters Conference

Harvard University—Graduate School of Design—African American Student Union Cambridge, MA Black Futurism: Creating a More Equitable Future

Independent Curators International New York, NY Curatorial Forum

Lampo Chicago, IL Lampo 2019 Concert Series at the Graham Foundation

New Architecture Writers London, United Kingdom Constructive Criticism

University of Michigan—A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning Ann Arbor, MI Re: Housing: Detroit

PUBLICATIONS (25 awards)

Anyone Corporation New York, NY Log: Observations on Architecture and the Contemporary City, Issues 47, 48, and 49

ETH Zurich—gta exhibitions Zurich, Switzerland Inside Outside / Petra Blaisse

Flat Out Inc. Chicago, IL Flat Out, Issues 5 and 6

Harvard University—Graduate School of Design–New Geographies Cambridge, MA New Geographies 11: Extraterrestrial

Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin, Germany Counter Gravity: The Architecture Films of Heinz Emigholz

Instituto Bardi/Casa de Vidro São Paulo, Brazil Casa de Vidro: The Bardis’ Life between Art, Architecture and Landscape

The Museum of Modern Art New York, NY Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction at Fifty

Northwestern University Press Evanston, IL Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side

Paprika! New Haven, CT Paprika! Volume V

Places Journal San Francisco, CA Reservoir: Nature, Culture, Infrastructure

PRAXIS, Inc. Boston, MA PRAXIS, Issue 15: Bad Architectures

Produzioni Nero Scrl Rome, Italy Scenes from the Life of Raimund Abraham

REAL foundation London, United Kingdom Kommunen in der Neuen Welt: 1740–1972

Rice University—School of Architecture Houston, TX PLAT 9.0

The School of Architecture at Taliesin Scottsdale, AZ WASH Magazine, Issues 003 and 004

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York, NY Countryside, The Future

Southern California Institute of Architecture Los Angeles, CA LA8020

Standpunkte Basel, Switzerland Archetypes: David Ross

The Studio Museum in Harlem New York, NY The Smokehouse Associates

Terreform New York, NY UR (Urban Research) 2019

University of California, Los Angeles—Department of Architecture and Urban Design Los Angeles, CA POOL, Issue No. 5

University of Florida—Graduate School of Architecture Gainesville, FL VORKURS_Dérive

University of Maryland, College Park—School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation College Park, MD See/Saw, No. 2: Difference

University of Miami—School of Architecture Coral Gables, FL Cuban Modernism: Mid-Century Architecture, 1940–1970

Yale University Press New Haven, CT Mies van der Rohe: The Architect in His Time

Placeholder Alt Text

Going Dutch

The Independent School for the City embraces activism as an ideology for sustainable urban development
In treating the city with an acupuncture-like approach, Rotterdam’s new Independent School for the City combines small-scale and temporary projects with activism to counteract the effects of tabula rasa planning. Strategies and solutions like ice cream trucks and radio stations exemplify the school’s broad perspective on architecture and urban design. The school recently closed its inaugural year with an exhibition of ideas from its eight-day spring program “Borders are for Crossing” which investigated the visible and invisible borders that create physical, social, and economic divisions. Traditionally, the Netherlands holds tremendous collective confidence in its representative democracy, but corporatism and privatization are slowly but surely finding ways to nest in the country. This phenomenon is most widespread in cities—neighborhoods fall, revitalize themselves, land values rebound, and gentrification and inequality follow. As the school sees it, the pattern leads to more conservatism and only expands the need for an activist attitude in architecture and urbanism. The school’s brand of urbanism is exemplified in its home, the Schieblock building, a modernist office building in the heart of the city, which is also home to the school’s founders, Dutch planning and design practices Crimson Architectural Historians and ZUS (Zones Urbaines Sensibles). The area around the Schieblock building had been grossly neglected,  but in 2009, amid the economic crisis, ZUS initiated a renovation of the building that secured six floors of central, flexible rental spaces for creative entrepreneurs. This act—taking a stake in the city—expresses the ideology that drives the Independent School’s agenda. This attitude grows from the credo of the school: independence. Rather than be obsessed with curricula and rankings, students are meant to be free to decide what topics are relevant and important to their fields. The school wants people to oscillate between craft, skill, and fields of knowledge, and wants to reimagine how topics are or could be related. Current research topics include migration, inequality, and climate change—though the school does not assert that these topics are original, new, or surprising. ZUS is now leading a studio and seminar summer program in New York City with Syracuse University titled “Gentrification Lab NYC.” Students will investigate architecture’s role and responsibility around issues of gentrification that revolve around economic, social, and political transformations. After three weeks of field research at the Fisher Center, Syracuse’s academic home base in the city,  students from that program will join the Independent School’s Climate Utopia summer program. Learning from both the U.S. and Europe will provide insight into how people have tried to adapt to their changing local conditions and how climate change, migration, and the need for housing form the critical triptych for the 21st century. The school will continue into the 2019–2020 academic year, offering 12-week and yearlong programs, workshops, and collective assignments. Additional programming includes “School’s Out,” a Friday night celebration open to the public featuring talks, films, drinks, food, and tunes. Previous visitors include Georgeen Theodore, Peter Barber, Dore van Duivenbode, Lesley Lokko, Dirk Sijmons, and Maria Lisogorskaya.
Placeholder Alt Text

1917–2019

I.M. Pei passes away at 102
Legendary architect, founder of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (originally I.M. Pei & Associates), and 1983 Pritzker Prize winner I.M. Pei reportedly passed away last night at age 102. Pei’s influence could be felt all over the world, from the National Gallery of Art, East Building, in Washington, D.C., to the iconic pyramidal glass entrance to the Louvre in Paris, to the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong. Pei’s lesser recognized, but still no less impressive, Brutalist museums like the 1968 Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, or the 1973 Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, New York, reflected Pei’s relationships with modernists like Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer and their work, and introduced groundbreaking modern architecture to smaller cities. Not all of Pei’s most notable work still stands, and some of his grandest designs stayed on the page. Sunning Plaza in Hong Kong was demolished in 2013, Terminal 6, the Sundrome of New York’s JFK International Airport was pulled down in 2011, and the 102-story, nuclear bomb-resistant Grand Central replacement, the Hyperboloid, never got off the ground (but was later immortalized in Never Built New York). Pei, originally born in Guangzhou, China, in 1917, moved to the United States in 1935 to attend architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania. Pei was unsatisfied and eventually left for MIT, before graduating and later attending the Harvard Graduate School of Design. AN will follow this announcement with a longer obituary.
Placeholder Alt Text

Meet the Architect-Activist

Designing Justice + Designing Spaces cofounder wins 2018 Berkeley-Rupp Prize
Today, the University of California, Berkeley, announced Deanna Van Buren, co-founder of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces (DJDS), as the recipient of this year’s Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Professorship and Prize. An award honoring architects or academics who show a commitment to sustainability and the community, it offers up the chance to teach and conduct research for a semester at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design (CED). Van Buren is the mind behind DJDS, an Oakland-based nonprofit aiming to holistically transform the American jail system through a vision called restorative justice. As a national leader and advocate for smart justice architecture, her work zeroes in on supportive justice interventions that can help solve the serious issues caused by mass incarceration. Her architecture and real estate development practice, which she launched with Kyle Rawlins in 2015, works with government, non-profit, and community partners to spread awareness and create design projects that address social justice needs. “Deanna is a visionary leader, whose design work and activism are reshaping the cultural construct of justice in the U.S.,” said CED Dean Jennifer Wolch in a statement. “Her support for underserved communities, and efforts to create spaces that cultivate diversity in our field, exemplify the values we strive to encourage with this prize.”
  Van Buren’s extensive background showcases her commitment to the role of architect-activist. Last November, she spoke at a TEDWomen conference where she challenged the audience to consider what the world would like without prisons, and what we could build in their place. Before beginning DJDS, Van Buren founded the public interest design studio FOURM, and earlier this year started BIG Oakland, a new co-working space for minority- and women-owned architecture, engineering, and construction companies. Van Buren previously held positions at Perkins+Will, The Buchan Group, and Eric R. Kuhn & Associates where she completed institutional, educational, and urban design projects around the world. Her portfolio with DJDS includes a handful of peacemaking centers, roving villages, and housing units for youth in both Syracuse and Oakland, among other places. Her latest project is Restore Oakland, a restorative justice and economics center in East Oakland that, when open next spring, will be the first of its kind in the United States. Her team also recently launched the Pop-Up Resource Village in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, which brings resources and dynamic programming to in-need communities of color via mobile architecture and nature. Van Buren believes in the power of design and creative placemaking as means to help keep people out of the jail system and provide room for healing as well as training on the systemic injustices that stem from inequality. “Architecture is a potent medium for shifting and solidifying and fomenting movements,” she said. “We can’t do much without space. We can’t launch movements without a place for us to gather that is safe and nourishing.” Among her many accolades, Van Buren is the only architect to have ever been awarded the Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellowship, and she’s also held the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. As part of the Berkeley-Rupp Professorship and Prize, she will be awarded $100,000 and the visiting professorship at UC Berkeley starting next fall. There she’ll focus on a book project and teach an intensive seminar that explores architectural responses for peace-building. She’ll also give a public lecture and hold a gallery exhibition. Past recipients of the Berkeley-Rupp prize include Carme Pinós in 2016, Sheila Kennedy in 2014, and Deborah Berke in 2012.