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Architectural Atrocity Tourism
The Cursed Architecture Twitter feed showcases the best of the worst
a seat at the table, allowing anyone to weigh in. It’s also possible that when faced with overwhelmingly terrible design that fails at a basic level, everyone can put aside their quibbles and unite to make fun of it, together.
i'm on the way to america and i spent the night inside the most nightmarish and oppressive bit of architecture i've seen in a long while pic.twitter.com/IRlZh49h3R— dom (@zerstoerer) March 15, 2019
Green Deal With It
NYC Council passes sweeping building emission legislation
Photographs document the Italian Fascist architecture of Eritrea
Walking the central streets of Asmara, Eritrea, for the first time can be quite a puzzling experience for a foreigner. The capital city is full of structures and modernist buildings that blend Art Deco and Futurist styles. Shops and bars have signage that could easily be found in Italy: Farmacia Centrale, Bar Crispi, Cinema Roma, mixed with many in the Tigrinya and Arabic languages.
In fact, the city was planned and built in its current form during the Italian colonization of Eritrea starting in the 1890s. When the Fascist Regime took over, Mussolini set out to build an overseas empire with Asmara as the model city of his colonial expansion.
Many recognize the effects of colonization on the architectural quality of the city. But few acknowledge one of its most controversial aspects: racial segregation.
Since the very beginning, the city’s master plans aimed to separate Italians from Eritreans and enforced this when dividing the city into four separate sections: a European-only quarter in the south, an Eritrean quarter in the north, a mixed zone around the central market for both groups, and an industrial zone in the northeast.
Historically, Eritreans needed a special permit to cross into the European-only side of Asmara to go to work as housekeepers, artisans, and masons. Today, some of the local elderly still refer to the city’s center as the “Fenced Field” because one of the original Italian outposts was called Campo Cintato–or “fenced field” in Italian.
The Eritrean quarter, known as Aba Shawl, was the most densely populated in the city and largely left unplanned. Ninety years later, the effects of this lack of planning are still visible today. The construction quality of the buildings is not comparable to the rest of Asmara; some have neither running water nor bathrooms. When it rains, the streets get coated in mud because there is no stormwater drainage system. The people who live here are still poorer than inhabitants elsewhere in the city.
But despite all of this—or perhaps due to the lack of planning—Aba Shawl has become the Eritrean face of Asmara, which complements the Italian part of town.
Starting in the 1910s, Italian architects merged vernacular Eritrean elements into the architecture of the city—both in Italian and indigenous areas—and constructed a mosque, an Orthodox church, and movie theaters for the Eritrean population.
In 1938, the Fascists, intending to enforce newly drafted racial law, set forth a plan to bulldoze Aba Shawl and relocate its dwellers farther out from the city center. However, the local governor—afraid of alienating the indigenous population—stopped the plan. A few years later, Mussolini lost control of the country to the British, and Eritrea began a decade-long struggle to achieve full independence. This didn’t come until 1993, after a gruesome war with Ethiopia. Since then, the Eritrean capital has been in the process of reclamation and reappropriation of its colonial past and architectural legacy. In 2017, UNESCO declared the center of Asmara, including Aba Shawl, a world heritage site.
When asked why Asmarinos care so much about their city, a worker from its heritage office said: “These buildings might have been designed by the Italians, but it’s our grandfathers who built them, it’s us who preserved them and live in them. These buildings are our own buildings now.”
More Than a Phase
Jeffrey Inaba digs into McKinsey’s Design Study
“I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist…During the hippie era, people put down the idea of business. They’d say, ‘Money is bad’ and ‘Working is bad.’ But making money is art, and working is art—and good business is the best art.”
McKinsey & Company’s recent study on design confirms what designers have long known to be true. And it recommends all businesses do more of it. To McKinsey, design is the single most important factor for growth and should be an integral part of every organization. For it to have the greatest impact, McKinsey advises companies to make design a cyclical process instead of a single phase in a project, and dedicate the time needed to achieve good results.
On the occasion of the McKinsey Design Index’s release, AN contributor Jeffrey Inaba talked with Ben Sheppard, one of the report’s authors.
Jeffrey Inaba: It’s fascinating that companies are interested in improving their quality of design, but they aren’t sure how to go about it. The Index says, “Less than 5 percent of the companies surveyed reported that their leaders could make objective design decisions, from developing a new product to entering a new sector.” That’s a surprising realization about the state of the business world.
Ben Sheppard: In the last five years we’ve received a critical mass of questions from business leaders about design, and so we thought we needed to do a global study on what the opportunity is. They've got the highest of aspirations—they want to make the next iPhone, the next Amazon Prime—but they don’t know what actions they should take to give their companies the best possible chance at designing the best products and services.
JI: What correlations were found between design and business performance?
BS: There are two things. First is the business value of design, and second are the actions leaders should take to capture that value. On the first, there are three numbers to remember.
One: Those people who are top performers in terms of design significantly outperform their industry peers—as much as 70 percent higher shareholder return gross than their industry peers.
Two: Across the board, whether you’re doing product, physical, or digital design, good design is good for business regardless of what type of design you are doing.
Three: The study showed that the companies who are best at design were disproportionately rewarded in a given industry. Users care about the very small number of companies in an industry that are consistently making the best products and services.
These are remarkable numbers. At McKinsey we do a lot of essential science research pieces. This is one of the most statistically significant correlations we've seen in years.
The second part: Because the study was done in such a rigorous and detailed way, not only can we say at the broad level that design is the most tremendous engine for business growth, we can point out the individual actions that show the best correlation with improved business performance. This is a world first, to tie individual leaders’ actions to performance.
JI: Good. Before we get into the actions, what is McKinsey’s definition of design?
BS: For our clients, design is understanding users’ needs and then creating fantastic products and services to meet those needs; put the prototype into users’ hands and listen to what they're telling you.
JI: It must be a sea change for many companies to go from seeing design as an added cost reserved for special projects to an essential part of what they do as a business. Let’s start with the section, “More than a Feeling,” since it touches upon this paradigm shift.
BS: What we've found is that those companies that have treated design with the same rigor as they treat discussions on revenue and cost significantly financially outperformed their peers. The companies who quantified design metrics in their discussions about design outperformed their peers.
JI: Of the recommended actions, the section called “More Than a Phase” stands out as a key lesson for businesses. Design firms try to communicate to clients that paying for the hours to iterate are worth it since the added time will lead to a better, more desirable project outcome. McKinsey’s study argues precisely for this point.
BS: Yes. We have very clear evidence that those companies who just have one discrete design phase are outperformed by those companies who iterate with their end users from early strategy to postlaunch.
JI: What does McKinsey say to companies who are hesitant to invest the time in undertaking an iterative process?
BS: It's a case of investing to save. Take Disneyland, for example. The first prototype of the MagicBand [an all-in-one wristband device for Disneyland/World guests] cost 40 dollars and is made from parts from Home Depot. If you iterate early, you do so at lower cost. If you have a single design phase and decide to make all your investment at once, then if it turns out you were wrong, you’ve got a huge loss. When you talk about the risk associated with that, not just from a cost point of view, but also from a sales point of view, it’s easier to quantify why iteration is so important.
JI: “More Than a Product” observes that just about any project involves the design of a digital as well as physical side. Whether it’s a building or a car, there needs to be a digital component to a product.
BS: Traditionally, many industries thought of themselves as only physical or only digital. Now everything has some combination of digital plus physical space. We found that all the companies that historically have been very good at just hardware or just software now find the very thing that gave them success in the past is something of a burden in the future. The automotive industry is a great example of this. For decades, it was all about hardware. Now suddenly their users are saying, “We expect a great experience, from the digital apps within the vehicles themselves to the way that software integrates with the rest of my life.” That’s a real challenge for car companies. But the rewards are rich. Those companies that are able to break down the internal barriers between service design, experience design, front-end, back-end, user interface, and user experience and provide a great overall experience are outperforming their peers.
JI: How can companies take advantage of the different speeds of digital and physical production? Execution is much faster on the digital side. How can that help the experience of the physical side?
BS: It’s so much easier to iterate in a software environment than it is in a physical one. What we have found, though, is even in industries where traditionally people have thought it’s impossible to iterate, you can iterate. One example is shipping. It could take as many as ten years for a ship to go from concept to launch. In the past, there was one design, which was locked in at the beginning, because they said you can’t iterate a whole ship. Now there are two different design specifications, one that is locked early on, and a second one for software—for control and operation systems. As technology evolves and its operators’ ways of working evolve, iterations can continue to be made to those systems. When it's launched a decade later, the software is modern, intuitive, and easy to use.
JI: A McKinsey retail banking study found that early technology adopters prefer their most important transactions to occur in physical spaces. In other words, people who are deeply interested in digital technology are deeply interested in physical environments. When making important decisions, they take cues from the person they interact with and the design of the space they’re in. Are companies thinking about the design of their physical environments given that physical space becomes more consequential as our lives become increasingly digital?
BS: I’m working with a car dealership, which has traditionally been a physical environment. We hear lots of pain points with that model: Often the centers are outside of towns; you need to travel to them; the salespeople are often commission-based and that can lead to a pressurized environment. Therefore, some people hypothesized that the future of automotive was basically an Amazon for cars. It would all be digital. Different companies piloted that, and they found it doesn’t work. People want a combination of physical and digital. While you can make things more efficient by moving to digital, often, particularly for large purchases, people still want a human connection. And as you say, the physical environment can have a big effect on that experience.
JI: With the completion of the study, McKinsey has a good overview of the industries that can benefit from good design. What industries do you believe will have the greatest benefit?
BS: We’ve seen the power of design on everything from energy to consumer goods to hospitality.
We believe it’s a signal that design has come of age. Across industries, design is a priority for senior management. I don’t know a single company where creating fantastic products and services don’t matter. Frankly, if you’re not doing that, then why are you a company at all?
Bruce Goff’s imaginative teaching lives on in Oklahoma
Do not try to remember.Bruce Goff, a self-trained architect and long-time mentee of Frank Lloyd Wright, instilled this idea in his students at the University of Oklahoma (OU) during his tenure as chairman there from 1947 to 1955. Instead of copying the popular Beaux Arts and Bauhaus styles of the recent past, Goff wanted architects in training to express their own creativity and views of the world through designs that avoided architectural stereotypes and instead presented a radical future. This era of educational exploration and disruption became known as the American School of architecture. Historian and OU Visiting Associate Professor Dr. Luca Guido is the curator behind the exhibition, Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture at Bizzell. Now on view in OU’s Bizzell Memorial Library, it details the widespread influence of Goff’s personal teaching style and the program he built, which attracted students to the American Midwest from as far as Japan and South America. The exhibit features large-scale drawings by alumni, as well as uncovered models and writings from Goff’s students and colleagues like Herb Greene, Elizabeth Bauer Mock, Bart Prince, Mendel Glickman, and Jim Gardner, and Bob Bowlby, among others. Built from the school’s expansive American School archives, the show unveils former students' work that’s been so pristinely preserved and restored, it all looks like it was completed yesterday. Goff, who seemed to have encouraged serious attention to presentation, penmanship, and shading, left behind what Guido considers a “gold mine” of materials. Every framed assignment on view is a piece of art in and of itself—a testament to the architectural educator’s guidance. “Bruce Goff introduced a new architectural pedagogy,” Guido said, “and the School of Architecture at OU endeavored to develop the creative skills of the students as individuals rather than followers of any particular trend. The drawings represent the evidence of an extraordinary and, at the same time, little known page of the history of American contemporary architecture.” That history is one that OU is now trying more heavily to build upon. As one of just two architecture schools in Oklahoma, OU lures students from across the state, nearby Texas, and around the globe to the small town of Norman. It was considered a world-class institution during Goff’s years and still seeks to live up to that legacy today. Since becoming head of the school three years ago, Dean Hans E. Butzer has worked to re-elevate its status. “Our discussions over the past few years prove a symmetry between those defining aspects of the American School and the overarching strategic priorities of the Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture,” he said. “The work of the American School of the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s may be described as contextual, resourceful, and experimental. Today, we have set the goal of graduating entrepreneurial students who design resilient cities, towns, and landscapes through the lens of social equity and environmental sustainability.” This idea is evident in the success of last year’s graduating class. As of fall 2018, one hundred percent of architecture students secured a full-time position within six months of graduation, according to Butzer. Only two, the faculty jokes, didn’t get hired. They instead went on to begin master’s degrees at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. When asked why OU graduates are so attractive to firms across the country, Butzer noted the work ethic and creative problem-solving skills they learned as students. Teaching students to speak up, stand out, and work hard can be traced back to Goff’s presence at the school and his own career as an eccentric architect who always put the client first and aimed to “go the extra mile,” according to Guido. His modus operandi was to first connect deeply with the client, ensuring the end result was strictly their vision. His objective was to never design a building he personally wanted to live in. Some of Goff’s most famous structures, the Ledbetter House in Norman, the ill-fated Bavinger House that was demolished in 2016, as well as the Bachman House in Chicago, took on forms reminiscent of Wright’s residential work—low-lying residential homes with surprisingly large interiors, cantilevered carports, and large windows—but they all displayed a curious amount of flamboyancy that was signature to Goff himself. The architecture of his early years, such as the historic Tulsa Club and the Art Deco-designed Boston Avenue Methodist Church, are celebrated landmarks in Tulsa and reveal Goff’s visual personality. Goff was also a champion of sustainable and site-specific construction; he often utilized local materials for his projects. Fittingly, Goff rejected the idea of having a personal style of architecture. Some of Goff’s mid-century work and the sketches of his students from this time seem to be inspired by Atomic Age tropes. Viewing them now, they’re so futuristic they probably seemed structurally unbuildable at the time, but the geometries that came out of the American School were forward-thinking and technically-advanced. During Goff’s leadership, architectural courses fell within OU’s College of Engineering where students were taught how to complete construction drawings and to specify materials. But in Goff’s classes, it was all about creativity. “Bruce Goff didn’t believe in critiques,” said Guido. “He wanted them completely free to propose what they wanted. The assignments were structured around abstract themes that allowed the students to express themselves in the best possible way because for Goff, there would be no little Corbusier's, no little Mies's, and even no little Goff's. He didn’t want his students to become followers of someone. He wanted them to abandon all memory of what came before them.” Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture at Bizzell is on view through July 29 and will turn into a comprehensive traveling exhibition this year with a stop at Texas A&M University in the fall. The OU Libraries also has plans to secure the preservation of the archives by making them part of the school's Western History Collection and digitizing select images for online research.
New Thinking Needed
Zumthor’s LACMA proposal is an affront to L.A.’s architectural and cultural heritage
Despite gaining approval from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in April, what has already been said many times needs to be said once more: Peter Zumthor’s oil slick–inspired redevelopment proposal for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) campus is just plain bad.
Say what you will about the existing mish-mash of buildings designed by William L. Pereira & Associates and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (HHPA) the scheme seeks to demolish, but the $650 million Zumthor proposal is simply not a suitable replacement.
Many have already delved into the (really) long list of reasons why Zumthor’s proposal leaves so much to be desired—its substandard size, inflated cost, and absurd urban configuration among the top reasons to dismiss the idea. But worse still, perhaps, is that the overpriced proposal will also destroy a vital urban cultural resource: the museum itself, as Angelenos know it.
Critics might not like to say so, but LACMA is a real place and a beautiful one, at that. The terrace sandwiched between the HHPA addition and the main Pereira building can be effervescent when tour groups, families, and aficionados converge upon it, for example. Pereira’s galleries next door are peculiar, yes, but the spaces just off the elevator, wrapped in warm wood paneling and studded with delightful details like inlaid clocks and flush-mounted wood accessory doors, are dignified and rich in a way that simply isn't found in other L.A. art museums. HHPA’s building may form an impenetrable wall along Wilshire, but when you finally find the entry, a shaded outdoor living room soothed by flowing water and the jovial sounds of the social life taking place on the terrace beyond create a public space articulated for the senses.
For better or worse, the current manifestation of the complex has existed for a longer period of time—37 years—than any other of LACMA’s incarnations. The current configuration is LACMA, it’s the LACMA that director Michael Govan inherited when he arrived from New York, and it is the LACMA he wants to destroy as he strives to leave his mark.
Though the current configuration leaves much to be desired, Govan has had to strong-arm the Zumthor project into being, weathering withering criticism of the ever-devolving proposal without pursuing any meaningful changes to the design.
Govan, of course, did downsize the proposal as fundraising efforts pushed up against their natural limits, but he has persisted in pushing a vision that is fundamentally and irrevocably flawed.
In a way, the project and the persistence in bringing it to life despite its continuing and multiplying inadequacies follows a long line of efforts to undermine the legitimacy of Los Angeles and its unique architectural and cultural history.
To put it plainly, Zumthor’s LACMA represents the latest attempt to apply a colonial mentality to Los Angeles. It follows in the tradition of slash-and-burn conquests waged by powerful men who, like Zumthor, a Swiss starchitect, and Govan, former director of the Dia Art Foundation in New York City, come to Los Angeles and see nothing but a blank slate. They land at LAX as “visionaries” blinded by their own genius to the thriving richness of everyday life here.
It’s not that they are violent and destructive men. Zumthor’s delicately reverential Kolumba Museum in Cologne, Germany, and Govan’s meticulous restoration of the former Nabisco headquarters for Dia: Beacon suggest that both are capable of thoughtful and respectful restorations. The reality is that, like many who came to Los Angeles before them, they simply don’t value the city s as a real place with a long, complex, and legitimate history.
Late modernism and postmodernism are fundamental to Los Angeles’s design history, however, and Angelenos should not let others delete them away.
The majority of people here inhabit these types of buildings in one way or another. It’s where we go to the doctor, it’s where our children go to school, it’s where we work, it’s where we learn about art. To try and minimize that aspect of Angeleno culture, to try and erase the sometimes contrived nature of late modernism or the often over-the-top pastiche of pomo, erases a fundamental aspect of who Angelenos are and how they live.
Often, outside voices serve to turn a mirror on a place, uncovering morsels of beauty from what might be considered banal to the local eye. Zumthor and Govan have failed in this regard and instead seek to erase buildings that are neither fully understood nor appropriately admired. Los Angeles has had enough of that; perhaps it’s time for some fresh thinking.
What is a facade?
Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas contemplate the emotions behind architecture at Facades+ New York
Going Up, Way Up
Western Europe’s tallest tower could have sheep grazing at its base
Is There A Chance The Track Will Bend?
Canada hops on the Hyperloop train with Montreal-to-Toronto study
- The hyperloop concept can be transformed into a viable technology that is safe for passengers and the communities where the tubes traverse
- The hyperloop technology cost is comparable or is significantly more affordable than conventional high-speed rail systems or developing maglev technologies