All posts in Architecture

Placeholder Alt Text

Be Less Bored

Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore is a delightful distraction during troubled times
If there ever was a time to slip away from reality for a moment to feast your eyes on buildings that are exaggerated, extravagant, eccentric, exuberantly colored, overly embellished, unabashedly hodgepodge-y, and incorporate cartoon dwarves as supporting columns, now is the time. Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore, released late last month by Phaidon Press, is the perfect architectural tome for hunkering down with for an extended spell at home. Compiled and written by London-based curator and architectural historian Owen Hopkins, this is a photo-driven architectural survey that’s hefty in size, exhaustive in scope, and, most important, a lot of fun. Featuring over 200 globe-spanning projects of all types and sizes, Postmodern Architecture—a more rambunctious companion piece to previous Phaidon surveys of modernism and brutalism—includes multiple works by the usual suspects: Michael Graves, Philip Johnson, Denise Scott Brown, Stanley Tigerman, Aldo Rossi, and, of course, Robert Venturi, the so-called father of postmodernism himself who coined the Mies-ribbing, anti-minimalist adage that the book borrows as its subtitle. “It’s a celebration and a global survey,” Hopkins told AN of the book. “When creating a book like this there’s always the sense that you are establishing and promoting the canon. But at the same time, there’s an opportunity to broaden the canon, by including both the familiar projects and some unexpected stuff as well.” To achieve this, Hopkins includes lesser-known practitioners of postmodern architecture; obscure and overlooked buildings; and in some cases, nonconformist structures that met the wrecking ball long ago. Also featured are works by architects who dabbled in postmodernism during the movement’s mid-1970s through late-1980s heyday but who are generally known for being more restrained in their approach. What’s more, Hopkins also included numerous examples of more contemporary postmodern architecture, as well as a sizable assortment of buildings that are playful, iconoclastic, and distinctly Dutch. Hopkins noted to AN that when curating Postmodern Architecture, he was “instinctively drawn to the classic buildings of that moment” like Arquitectonica’s Atlantis Condominium, a 1982 Miami luxury apartment tower that’s “so very redolent of that era.” A personal fan of the radically altered big-box showrooms designed by SITE for now-defunct American retailer Best Products, Hopkins was also “really interested and very eager to point out” the lesser-known work of the late, great postmodernist architect Charles Moore. “Everyone knows the Piazza d’Italia, said Hopkins referring to Moore’s cheeky, column-heavy public plaza completed in downtown New Orleans in 1978. “But there’s much more to his work, and there’s a real kind of intellectual depth to it.” Hopkins pointed out Moore’s own home in Austin, Texas, as being “just this most extraordinary composition of ideas and forms and objects.” In addition to big photos of bold buildings, Postmodern Architecture is also peppered with quotes from a range of architects, critics, and cultural figures—Andy Warhol, David Byrne, Charles Jencks, Noam Chomsky, Jane Jacobs, and Venturi to name just a few—who are either associated with postmodernism or “whose work has provided some kinds of inspiration or backdrop to the movement,” as the book’s preface explains. “These quotations provide both context or counterpoint. Some are rather more condemnatory than complimentary. Yet this is wholly fitting for a movement that revels in provocation and very often defines itself against a moribund status quo.” “Postmodernism has been tainted with the brush of being a very kind of commercial architecture, and in many ways it is,” Hopkins told AN when asked why reactions—particularly contemporary reactions—to postmodern architecture are frequently disparaging. “And therefore it has been seen, partly at the time but particularly retrospectively, as kind of the embodiment of the worst aspects of 1980s individualism—so there’s that kind of more ideologically motivated prejudice against this moment.” “Also, aesthetically, postmodern buildings, for the most part, are designed to stand out,” Hopkins continued. “They are often very bold in the forms that they employ and their colors, and in their decorative languages. And buildings that stand out do polarize opinion. At the same time, there’s lots of contextual, kind of polite postmodern architecture—but maybe not that much of it is in the book.” “Maybe there’s a groundswell of architects who don’t like postmodernism,” Hopkins added. “But I think with the public, it’s always been popular.” Below are eight projects featured in Postmodern Architecture—some quite iconic and others more under-the-radar—that run the gamut from private homes to public spaces to municipal office buildings and beyond. These are strictly North American projects, but there’s obviously a lot more where they came from.

Blue House, New Buffalo, Michigan; Margaret McCurry (1993)

Best Products Showroom, Miami; James Wine/SITE (1979)

Franklin Court, Philadelphia; Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (1976)

James R. Thompson Center, Chicago; Helmut Jahn (1985)

Academic Center at Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, Georgia; John Portman Associates (2003)

Casa Wolf, Ridgeway Colorado; Sottsass Associati (1989)

Team Disney Building, Burbank, California; Michael Graves (1986)

The Charles Moore House, Austin, Texas; Charles Moore

Placeholder Alt Text

Building America Trump’s Way

What to make of the draft executive order to classicize federal architecture?
In early February, when Architectural Record broke the news that President Trump might force classicism on future federal architecture, the design industry erupted in anger. Despite the fact that the rule still hasn’t been enacted weeks later, the frustration remains for many. Jean Baker, professor and author of Building America: The Life of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, argued that Latrobe, who contributed to the design of some of America’s most important government buildings, including the White House and the United States Capitol, would be “aghast at any politicizing of his designs.” The process of designing federal structures in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the Capitol was built, was fairly informal, she said. President George Washington solicited designs for the Capitol through a competition advertised in various newspapers, and the resulting building was unfinished when the government moved there in 1800. Latrobe pushed for the Capitol to be a significant and permanent structure and worked on the north and south wings until the War of 1812 diverted funding. “Latrobe was very conscious of the connection of architecture to the political ideals of the United States,” Baker told AN. “He argued, in a famous oration that was three hours long, that architecture, along with other arts, served freedom, and in Greece and Rome had strengthened those governments and would do the same in the United States.” According to Baker, Latrobe’s vision for the Capitol was for it to be functional, rational, and understandable “without any need for expert explanation, as he believed some European buildings needed, or a connoisseur for appreciation.” Opponents of Trump’s draft order have argued that a return to neoclassical architecture would result in buildings inspired by another time that need some amount of translation for the present or elevate certain cultural traditions over others. The National Organization of Minority Architects, for one, wrote in a statement that such structures embody “cultural exclusivity” and “would signal the perceived superiority of a Eurocentric aesthetic.” The contemporary buildings cited in the draft order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” have “little aesthetic appeal” according to Trump, but have been lauded elsewhere. Both Arquitectonica’s Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami and the Morphosis-designed San Francisco Federal Building have won national design awards. Two weeks after the story broke, former presidents of the AIA added to the organization’s earlier, immediate reaction in a letter of dissension to the White House asking Trump to reconsider the proposed mandate. They argued that dictating a uniform style of architecture, whether neoclassical or modern, sets a precedent for suboptimal design. “The investment of federal funds into public buildings demands an appropriate return on investment to the American people—the taxpayers,” the former AIA presidents wrote. “That return is not guaranteed by stipulating a singular design style; it is achieved by engaging in a rigorous process that engages the most qualified and experienced design and construction professionals. In fact, it is well-known that neoclassical design often equates to higher construction costs and extended time schedules for project completion.” The issue extends beyond neoclassical aesthetics—material choices would be affected, as well, which would influence building performance and carbon footprints. If a certain style dictates the use of copious amounts of stone, then contractors have to seek out manufacturers and quarries that can deliver the quantities needed for a federal project with such a large square footage. Baker said that Latrobe, even in his time, sought out local materials for his buildings. The breccia marble found in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, for example, was quarried along the Potomac River. “Pure neoclassicists would demand marble,” she noted, which could complicate sustainable supply chains and material sourcing decisions. Federal projects located within the U.S. wouldn’t be the only built works affected by the order—it could affect the renovation and construction of embassies around the world. Many recently announced projects, like WEISS/MANFREDI’s update to the Edward Durell Stone–designed U.S. embassy in New Delhi, would have to reflect classical European values of architecture instead of a reinvented modernist aesthetic fit for India’s climate. Sources who spoke anonymously to AN said that design-excellence advocates have been fighting for high-design federal architecture at home and abroad for years in Washington, and it’s been an ongoing battle. Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the U.S. General Services Administration oversees the construction of overseas embassies, which is in fact managed by the State Department.
Placeholder Alt Text

Tall Timber in Tinseltown

Michael Maltzan Architecture designs affordable mass timber housing tower for Skid Row
The newest supportive housing development is in the works in the Skid Row neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles at the hand of one of the city’s most experienced designers of the typology. Local firm Michael Maltzan Architecture is currently in the design phase for The Alvidrez, a 14-story tower containing 150 studio apartments and “support spaces” on the ground floor, which will include case management, individual and group counseling, and group activities to improve the health and well-being of residents. The massing of The Alvidrez was determined in part by the construction logic of the mass timber frame system that the firm will employ to meet sustainability guidelines, while the units were designed using modular building blocks made of cross-laminated timber (CLT) column, beam, and deck members. The building’s overall appearance is described by the firm as a “collection of vertical bundles” that provide a series of rooftop terraces providing spaces for unprogrammed community spaces, though it may draw comparison to Kisho Kurokawa’s endangered Metabolist Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo. The 77,000-square-foot project will provide housing exclusively for the homeless community of Skid Row, with 30 percent of its units reserved for those with mental or physical disabilities. Each unit will come with all the features required for independent living, including a bathroom, kitchen, appliances and furnishings. “Individual apartments and on-site supportive services have proven, time and again, to be key to breaking the cycle of homelessness,” wrote the firm.  The Alvidrez was commissioned by the Skid Row Housing Trust, a local nonprofit group that has completed 26 buildings throughout Los Angeles County, to provide affordable, permanent supportive housing for nearly 2,000 people and was named in honor of the Trust’s former CEO Mike Alvidrez. Michael Maltzan Architecture has designed several other buildings for the nonprofit in the past, including Crest Apartments in Van Nuys and the Rainbow Apartments and New Carver Apartments in Downtown Los Angeles. The group has also employed other notable architecture firms, including Koning Eizenberg and Brooks + Scarpa.  Following the completion of an environmental impact report, construction is expected to begin early next year and be finished by early 2023.
Placeholder Alt Text

In Memorium

Peter Cook remembers Robert Maxwell
Robert Maxwell, former Princeton dean of architecture, passed away on January 2 of this year. Below, Peter Cook offers his remembrances of his late friend and colleague. Robert “Bob” Maxwell was one of the people you listened to. He was a survivor of the mythical “Liverpool syndrome” who came down to revitalize the self-satisfied London scene in the late 1950s (along with James Stirling, Colin Rowe, and Thomas “Sam” Stevens), working first for the London County Council (LCC) and then in both practice and academe. While at the LCC, Bob was the design architect for the revision of the north and south sides of the Royal Festival Hall—those most visible to the public. He joined the office of Douglas Stephen, which also included Kenneth Frampton, Elia Zenghelis, Panos Koulermos, Stephen Gage, and others. This became a pivotal spot in the territory between building and academe. Bob taught brilliantly at the Architectural Association (AA) and then at the Bartlett, becoming a beacon of discussion about design. We at the AA would regularly bring him over from the Bartlett to take part in reviews, with Cedric Price as his sparring partner. Bob always brought a rounded perspective to the discussion without being too soft. He was equally a friend and supporter of both Colin Rowe and Reyner Banham, which sometimes put him in a curious position of having to defend the reputation of the one against the other (for they could not stand each other). I was able to witness his obvious lightness of being when he married his second wife, Celia Scott, who had studied under him at the Bartlett—a wise and creative woman who has become a significant portrait sculptor. After being exposed to Princeton, his tastes in architecture did seem to shift in favor of postmodernism for a while, which threw us somewhat, since the AA had successfully resisted it in the 1980s. His return to the AA after Princeton as a guru and link to real architecture was appreciated by all. When I went to sort out the Bartlett, it was, in a sense, to reopen the breadth of conversation about design that had been forgotten there. He was a loveable man.
Placeholder Alt Text

Grafton For The Opportunity

Grafton Architects will design Anthony Timberlands Center for the University of Arkansas
Following a lengthy design review process, Irish architecture firm Grafton Architects was chosen by the University of Arkansas’ Board of Trustees to design the institution’s new Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The firm, which was also awarded this year’s Pritzker Prize earlier this month, won out against five other big-name practices, including Dorte Mandrup A/S, Shigeru Ban Architects, LEVER Architecture, Kennedy & Violich Architecture, and WT/GO Architecture. “This is fantastic news,” said Farrell and McNamara of Grafton Architects in a press statement. “We are very excited about building our first building in the United States in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This building helps us think about the future optimistically, where the use of timber with all its possibilities, becomes real, useful and hopefully loved.” The $16 million facility, in partnership with the local modus studio, will become the Fay Jones School of Architecture's design research center and will be built with a major emphasis on timber, a building material that has become increasingly popular in the past few years in North America for its structural properties and ability to sequester carbon. The department’s brand new graduate program in timber and wood design will be housed in the new building, along with existing and forthcoming design-build fabrication technologies laboratories. “We want people to experience the versatility of timber, both as the structural ‘bones’ and the enclosing ‘skin’ of this new building," said Farrell. "The building itself is a teaching tool, displaying the strength, color, grain, texture and beauty of the various timbers used.” Like most other projects designed by the firm, the building will have a civic quality with plenty of natural light throughout its interior spaces that, in turn, makes the innovative research visible to passersby. The board of trustees was impressed with Grafton Architect’s demonstration of timber’s potential, noting that their proposal "creates a memorable institutional landmark for the urban landscape of Fayetteville.” Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture, added that “this selection, in short, is a landmark day for our school, our university and our state [...] As an accomplished, recognized women-led practice, Grafton Architects confirms for all our students that the design professions are equally theirs in which to find their identities and to realize their potentials.” The project was funded in large part by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, both of which see great potential in the timber building industry. “The University of Arkansas has been a leader in showcasing all the benefits of mass timber architecture,” said Carlton Owen, CEO of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities., in a press statement “We are looking forward to the results of a leading architectural university working with this year’s Pritzker Prize winners to take wood-based architecture to new heights.” The comprehensive design phase for the Anthony Timberlands Center is scheduled to begin this summer.
Placeholder Alt Text

He Said She Said

Is the School of Architecture at Taliesin staying open or not?
When the news broke on March 5 that the board of the School of Architecture at Taliesin (SoAT) had voted to keep the school open, it seemed like the 88-year-old institution was getting a reprieve. However, now that the March 10 deadline SoAT had offered the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to come to the table and negotiate has come and gone, the only path forward could be arbitration. The school and the foundation split in 2017 under Higher Learning Commission regulations and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to govern the relationship between the two. The current MOU also acts as the school’s de facto lease and is set to expire on July 31, 2020, unless extended. However, in a March 14 memo, the foundation announced that in a final decision, it would let the memorandum expire and provided a list of requirements the school would have to meet as it vacated both Taliesin locations. “The Foundation,” the memo reads, “will return to its own efforts to develop new programs in architect education that advance this legacy, [Wright’s] pedagogical ideas, and the integrity of Taliesin and Taliesin West as architectural campuses.” Whether these new efforts take the form of unaccredited programs, as previously suggested by Stuart Graff, president and CEO of the foundation, or another accredited program, remains to be seen. While the foundation claims that the school acted without its knowledge on its vote to stay open and the foundation’s staff only found out about the school’s decision through media reports, SoAT’s leadership says otherwise. In a March 9 call, Aaron Betsky, the former president of SoAT, and Dan Schweiker, the chairperson of the school’s board of governors, rebutted that assertion, saying the foundation had two representatives on the school’s board and would have been informed of any and all moves the school was going to take. According to both Schweiker and Betsky (who were joined by a representative from Chicago-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis, which is representing the school pro bono), they had secured pledges of support to continue the next semester with six students as well as a line of credit. Additionally, thanks to the outpouring of support the school had received after the news broke, alumni and fellows had pledged additional funds to keep SoAT running. However, the foundation never responded. March 10 passed, and now the only way forward will be, according to the MOU, through a mediator. The school claims that all it wanted was to renew the memorandum for another two years as a runway to adapt and change the school for the times and reevaluate its options, but the foundation refused. Yesterday, in an editorial for Dezeen, Betsky laid out his version of events:
“The school was given two choices: close immediately, or give up its accreditation and continue for one more year while developing programmes with the foundation. However, the school would have to continue paying the foundation's fees while not being able to recruit students, retain those who sought an accredited degree or raise funds. This would have been financially impossible, so the school was forced to take the first option and announce its closure.”
Betsky explained that the foundation ordered the school to close and that SoAT had changed its mind after seeing the outpouring of support from the architectural community and former students. If the foundation and SoAT fail to come to an agreement through mediation, the next step may be arbitration. AN will follow this developing story and update this article accordingly.
Placeholder Alt Text

Hip To Be Square

3XN completes hyper-faceted office building at the center of a Berlin square
Danish architecture firm 3XN has recently completed a mirrored-glass cuboid building in Washingtonplatz, one of the most prominent squares in Berlin. Originally a competition entry for Deutsche Bahn’s new headquarters, cube berlin was conceived as a ‘sculptural centerpiece’ with a more delicate balance of context and content than typically expected of an office building. “When we began the design process,” Torben Østergaard, 3XN Partner in Charge of the project, said in a press statement, “our ambition was to create a building that would contribute to the animation of the square. We wanted to engage by-passers while providing top-notch office spaces.” The triangulated facade of the 10-story building was designed to accomplish many of the firm’s goals using only 12 distinct glass elements. By pulling the facades inwards on the lower floors, the building provides partially-sheltered public spaces that enter into a dialogue with the recently-completed Main Railway Station Lehrter Bahnhof. The surroundings are reflected like a kaleidoscope in the building’s double-skin facade, which was engineered to yield substantial daylight, natural ventilation, and protection from solar heat gains. The multifaceted elevations are designed to provide additional outdoor spaces on the upper floors that promote interaction among its occupants. “The architectural body defines a soft - yet articulate - transition between inside and public space while allowing people to access outside platforms at every level and provide for a strong street-level interaction,” the firm’s website explains. The firm has billed cube berlin as the “smartest building in Europe” for its integration of data-collecting technology throughout the building that can be observed and managed using an app that occupants and visitors alike. The app is designed to encourage sustainable behavior, identify optimal workspaces based on its occupants’ unique preferences, and connect people to the overall square. Cube berlin is the second building 3XN has completed in the city, following the Royal Danish Embassy in 1999.
Placeholder Alt Text

Ando 'Nother Gallery

Former Paris stock exchange building renovated by Tadao Ando as contemporary art gallery
François Pinault, the founder of the luxury group Kering and the investment company Artémis, is known throughout Europe as an avid supporter of contemporary art. In 2017, Pinault announced that he had purchased Paris’s former stock exchange Bourse de Commerce, two blocks north of the Louvre Museum, to house at least a portion of his vast collection. “With the creation of this new museum,” Pinault wrote of the institution, now titled Bourse de Commerce — Pinault Collection, on its official website, “I am writing the next chapter of my cultural project, whose goal is to share my passion for contemporary art with as broad an audience as possible.” With an estimated budget of $170 million, he commissioned famed Japanese architect Tadao Ando to renovate the 19th-century domed structure with the assistance of local talent including NeM Architects, architect Pierre-Antoine Gatier, and engineering firm Setec. Pinault additionally entrusted designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec with the interior and exterior furnishings. Three years later, the project is nearly ready for the public. To renovate the Bourse de Commerce to its condition in 1889, the year in which all of its additions were first completed, the team used archival documents produced by architect Henri Blondel to analyze the original carpentry of the facades, update the marble mosaic tiles lining the interior of the vestibule and rotunda, replaced the glass canopy, and reinforced the iron framework on cast-iron columns. Restoring the paintings lining the interior of the dome proved to be an enormous challenge in itself, yet in the process, the team discovered graffiti and other embellishments from previous eras. Ando’s greatest contribution to the space is a large, cylindrical concrete wall at the center of the multistory interior designed to increase wall space for exhibitions without visually competing with the hand-painted dome above. There will also be a restaurant added on the top floor of the building, as well as an auditorium with 300 seats, and a black-box theater for video installations and experimental performances. According to the museum’s website, the additional components of the building, which was once solely animated by the frenzy of the stock market, “will become the actors in a scenography intended to remove visitors from their daily lives, to allow them to focus on what’s before their eyes, on the here and now.” The institution is expected to have ten special exhibitions a year on average while also featuring work from Pinault’s private collection. The opening date has been pushed more than once; it was first scheduled to be complete in 2019, then once again in June of this year. According to ARTnews, the institution’s opening has again been postponed due to the coronavirus, and is now scheduled to welcome visitors sometime in September. When complete, the Bourse de Commerce—Pinault Collection will be the third gallery Ando has completed for Pinault, following the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana in Venice, Italy.
Placeholder Alt Text

Who Glasses the Glass House?

When the glass cracks at the Glass House, how is it replaced?
The Glass House, Philip Johnson’s renowned personal residence in New Canaan, Connecticut, recently replaced the oversized glass panes of its iconic exterior after cracking due to thermal stress. The home, part of a 14-building compound on the bucolic 49-acre site, now functions as a historic house museum run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Originally completed in 1949, the Glass House features floor-to-ceiling plate glass exterior walls held in place by steel stops and black-painted steel piers of stock H-beams that expressed the mass-produced, industrial materials employed for its design. In the summer of 2019, one of the home’s 18’-0” x 7’-10” panes of existing glazing cracked due to thermal stress. The stress was caused by temperature differentials and a lack of movement within the original steel frame, said Ashley R. Wilson, FAIA, the Graham Gund Architect at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the lead architect for the glazing replacement project. While the replacement of original building fabric is often a contentious topic in the field of historic preservation, Wilson noted that the glass that was replaced was “likely an early-generation replacement” because it was 3/8” annealed glass, meaning that it was heat-strengthened glass—a technology not available yet in the late 1940s. The original glass, Wilson pointed out in conversation, was likely a single pane of 1/4” polished plate glass, per 1948 drawings, and would have been “beautifully clear and flat, but fragile.” Although the team was not replacing the original glass, the project was not without complexity. The new glazing, provided by Canadian glass manufacturer Agnora, needed to meet ANSI safety standards, accommodate wind load (particularly challenging because of the glass’s large dimensions), avoid overloading of the existing steel supporting rail, and, of course, visually match the original design intent as closely as possible. To accomplish these goals, the selected glass was slightly thicker, at 9/16” rather than 3/8”, and laminated with an inner layer of PVB for safety, said Wilson. To avoid potential corrosion of the steel and clouding of the glass in case the inner PVB layer gets exposed to moisture, the team added weeps to the glass pocket. The removal of the existing glazing and install of the new presented a new set of challenges: The old glass was prone to more cracking, requiring extra care in its removal. In order to extract the glass, the steel stops also needed to be removed. The steel frames were cleaned, prepped, and painted before the system was reinstalled. Because construction took place in November 2019 to minimize conflicts with tours and programming, the workspace also needed to be heated and protected from the elements, explains Wilson. What’s more, she noted, “the west wall glass had to use a crane to lift the glass unit over the building,” Wilson contends that the thermal stress that caused the glass to crack was not due to extreme temperature swings due to climate change but rather to “but an inherent weakness and limitations of 3/8” thick glass at such a large size.” But despite the unique nature of the Glass House—and its oversized glazing units—there are clear lessons to be learned from the project about considerations when replacing glass at midcentury buildings. “At the Glass House, care was taken by the preservation team to analyze the replacement glass options, thickness, performance, and installation to match the original design while improving performance and complying with current safety codes,” said Wilson. While the replacement project focused more on safety and appearance rather than sustainability goals, it did take advantage of how glass technology has evolved since the 1940s and 1950s. More broadly, new glazing products such as IGUs and more effective, longer-lasting sealants can significantly improve energy efficiency for mid-century buildings, allowing for better buildings that are more highly adapted for what the 21st century will bring—global warming or otherwise.
Placeholder Alt Text

Northern (de)lights

Henning Larsen unveils seaside museum in Norway’s northernmost reaches
Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen, experts in sustainable and site-specific modern Scandinavian architecture, has released plans for a luminous waterfront museum in Tromsø, Norway. Among the top design considerations Henning Larsen faced when conceiving the Arctic Museum of Norway in the surprisingly mild city of Tromsø—the third largest city located north of the Arctic Circle—were: Seamlessly integrating the structure into the rugged surrounding landscape, respecting and reflecting the rich local cultural heritage, and artfully displaying the skeleton of a very large blue whale. Suspended from the ceiling of the site's largest exhibition hall, said whale skeleton will be the main, impossible-to-miss archaeological attraction at the Arctic Museum of Norway. The breadth of the museum’s collection, however, will be quite extensive, as it combines Tromsø University’s cultural artifacts and natural history archives. Both of these collections are currently held separately in different buildings and have outgrown them. The museum is expected to be one of the largest cultural institutions north of the Arctic Circle when it opens. (Construction is expected to commence in 2023.) As a press release explains, the new museum, located a short walk  from the city center down a sloping hill, will “be an anchorpoint in a new cultural path in Tromsø.” This “cultural path” will dead-end at the harbor-hugging museum in an attempt to reactivate Tromsø’s scenic but largely overlooked waterfront. “Despite being such a visible presence in the city, Tromsø’s waterfront is largely absent from the public realm,” said Henning Larsen partner Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen in a statement. “The museum, with its focus on the natural and cultural history of Norway’s northernmost areas including the Arctic, and its cascading site, makes a first move back down to its shores to celebrate the region's history.” Similar to other Henning Larsen projects, the Arctic Museum of Norway will be hyper site-sensitive. Wedged into a rolling hillside just above the shoreline, the museum will be composed of a quartet of freestanding but snugly situated slate-base buildings, each topped with “translucent masses whose facades are composed of cassette-like modules that can be individually maintained and replaced.” “Opaque and milky in the daylight, they transform into a cluster of glowing beacons on the waterfront at night,” wrote Henning Larsen. “These delicate, glowing masses atop the slate base reference the indigenous Saami’s lávvu homes, whose canvas walls radiate light on the frozen winter earth.” According to the firm, the “landscape is not just part of the site but part of the exhibitions” and doubles as a highly publicly accessible gathering spot, where various features, including a tiered seating area directly adjacent to a small beach and promenade, invite locals and visitors alike to relax and socialize. “The landscape will be open to visitors and maintained throughout the year, offering a calendric view of the area’s natural heritage. Connection to the landscape, both in geography and in flora, is at the backbone of the design, with outdoor paths doubling as botanical passages and courtyards serving as pocket parks. The parkland around the site offers space for experimentation, study, and discovery and acts as public demonstration for the expertise housed within the museum itself.” Henning Larsen has designed numerous cultural institutions and museums across Scandinavia including the Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. This, however, is the firm’s first project of any kind in Tromsø.
Placeholder Alt Text

In The Lows

Hurricane Maria memorial unveiled for Battery Park City
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has released renderings for the new Hurricane Maria memorial in Lower Manhattan. Designed by Puerto Rico-based architect Segundo Cardona and Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell, the glass spiral aims to be a symbol of resiliency for the Puerto Rican community. Located on Chambers Street overlooking Rockefeller Park, a multicolored glass curve will mimic both the spiral shape of a hurricane and a shell to represent protection against the elements. The iridescent panels will be painted with the words of Farewell from Welfare Island, a poem by Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos, written in New York City in 1953. The panels will fan to create the rotating star of the Puerto Rican flag. “We felt committed to working hard to bring together architecture, art, and literature into one single powerful message that we hope will engage and invoke reflection on the fate of the many victims,” Cardona and Martorell said in a joint press statement. The 10-person Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission selected Cardona and Martorell’s design from among the 120 competition entries. The governor’s office announced the commission as the latest development in New York State's support of Puerto Ricans since the hurricane, having dedicated approximately $13 million for over 11,000 displaced victims in New York. “New York stands with Puerto Rico today, tomorrow and always--and we are proud to celebrate and further strengthen the connection between the Empire State and Puerto Rico,” wrote Governor Cuomo in a press release. Community and even committee members pushed back against Cuomo’s site selection, citing the multiple monuments already located in Battery City Park. Critics have also voiced concerns that the memorial should be built in a neighborhood with stronger Puerto Rican ties. Controversy over the memorial isn’t limited to its location in New York City but expands to its timing and appropriateness. Students from the University of Puerto Rico School of Architecture issued counterproposals following the competition launch in 2019. The students created photomontages depicting U.S. memorials overlaid with FEMA tarps and wreckage to make a statement about how the destruction of Hurricane Maria was still ongoing; the images suggest that it’s not time yet for a memorial in New York, but for renewed reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico. Throughout 2018 and 2019, the state of New York sent 1,150 volunteers to Puerto Rico to rebuild 246 homes and over 1,000 people to restore power. No doubt this wave of humanitarian aid was necessary to the stabilization of Puerto Rico, but over two-and-a-half years later, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without functional housing. Despite pushback, the $700,000 memorial is set for completion in early 2021.
Placeholder Alt Text

Gone But Not Forgotten

Vittorio Gregotti’s death marked the end of an era
Vittorio Gregotti’s passing on the 15th of March truly marks the end of an era. Gregotti is considered by many to be an outstanding figure whose career profoundly transformed the architectural practice in Italy and beyond. Known for his stern commitment to modernism, Gregotti decried the profession’s downward slide into frivolity. The mantra “form follows function” had lost, according to Gregotti, all utility: The market became for all practical purposes the substitute for function. This would lead to the corruption of the design process itself, bringing Gregotti to famously declare in 2008 that the time had come for “the end of design.” Nonetheless, in his own practice, Gregotti remained true to his beliefs, succeeding in culling major architectural and urban design commissions throughout Europe and Asia. Vittorio Gregotti’s reputation reached well beyond architecture—he was also a respected art theorist, editor, curator, and teacher. Gregotti’s interests led him on an intellectual trajectory that presents some contradictions however, at least to the extent that his convictions on architecture didn’t necessarily line up with his broader view on art culture. Gregotti, I would argue, benefited from his close contacts with two intellectual juggernauts of his day, Umberto Eco and Manfredo Tafuri. The first, a noted philosopher, semiologist, and writer, the latter the Marxist architectural historian and theorist. Umberto Eco’s influence on Gregotti in the mid-sixties helped shape the architect’s view on art theory, design, and communications. Manfredo Tafuri, in his assessment of Gregotti a decade later, attempted to expurgate these earlier mediatic dalliances in order to cement Gregotti’s position as one of the forerunners of a rigorous urban scale architectural practice. From my perspective, the 1964 Milan Triennale Tempo Libero (Free Time), co-curated by Vittorio Gregotti and Umberto Eco represents a turning point in the history of experimental exhibitions, one of the rare joint endeavors between an architect and a philosopher. This odd pairing shares similarities with another strikingly revolutionary exhibition organized in the mid-eighties at the Pompidou Center in Paris, when Jean-Francois Lyotard and Thiery Chaput co-curated Les Immatériaux. To create this exhibition at the Triennale, Gregotti and Eco plumbed a brilliant network of artists, philosophers, writers, and theorists who loosely belonged to Gruppo 63. Libero Tempo explored the city and the countryside, green spaces, sport and spectacles, and presented prototypes for domestic and leisure products. The design for the exhibition formed a procession of galleries, and spread into large muraled rooms and led into a spectacular kaleidoscopic volume—a darkened trapezoidal space featuring a multitude of reflected projections. In this hall of prisms, a singular filmmaker, Tinto Brass, then a young upstart recently back from Paris and deeply impressed by the French nouvelle vague cinema, created two short films on Tempo Libero and Tempo del lavoro. The exhibition installed audio works, including musical performances in homage to James Joyce, composed by Luciano Berio. Joyce remained a key figure in Eco’s open work universe. Clearly Gregotti absorbed Eco’s critical understanding of how communications and the mass media were transforming society, along with the importance of bridging the sciences and the arts to better glimpse the future. Gregotti’s fluency with the vast creative world outside architecture, surely bolstered his role when he became president of the Venice Biennale in the mid-seventies. This open-mindedness doesn’t come across much in Gregotti’s curriculum, however. This probably has a lot to do with Manfredo Tafuri, who authored Vittorio Gregotti: Progetti e architetture for the Electa series on contemporary architecture in 1982. Tafuri’s introductory essay “Le avventure dell’oggetto: architetture di Vittorio Gregotti,” (roughly translated as “The adventures of the object: architectures of Vittorio Gregotti” ) went a long way to readdress the contradictions inherent in Gregotti’s practice. First, Tafuri sought to undercut the story of the 1964 Triennale, no doubt because of his general antipathy for Umberto Eco. One should by experience be cautious when translating Tafuri into English, but if I can take a venture, Tafuri literally calls out Eco’s Open Work text before launching into a particularly scathing assessment of the exhibition: “The public therefore bombarded and violated. The sadism that dribbles out…” Tafuri goes on to qualify his view: “At the triennial of 64 the work of the architects, of the semiologists, of the visual operators attempted an inter-coda operation in an attempt to dominate and possess in its entirety the mechanism of technological broadcasters, to build a language of plurality and ephemerality, to operate a multiversum without information centers.” Tafuri here is making a clean sweep of Gregotti’s involvement in this exhibition, considering it a failed attempt to properly harness the protocols of communication. But Tafuri then rescues Gregotti, by demonstrating that when the architect joins with Franco Purini in Palermo in 1970, he becomes transformed, moving ideologically towards anti-utopianism while simultaneously rejecting the facile seductions of the megastructure. Tafuri further declares that Gregotti moved empirically towards an introspective architecture about architecture and territory. Returning to the mysterious essay title concerning Gregotti’s practice, Tafuri states: “From the fetish of the object to the crisis of the object, therefore: the Gregottian arc of research recounts the stages in the historically marked process, experimenting with diverse formal organizations…” I am not suggesting that Gregotti was in any way naïve about how others might have shaped his past. There is no question in my mind that Gregotti welcomed Tafuri’s critical reinterpretation, including the strategic distancing of his contribution to the making of the 1964 Triennale. This shift in tendencies is apparent when Umberto Eco and Vittorio Gregotti meet amicably on the pages of Lotus in 2008; when the two now older and wiser men bring up the discussion on the end of design. While Eco deftly kills the idea of form follows function once and for all, Gregotti falls back on the sanctity of the decorative arts, explaining that design had succumbed to a false aesthetic premise to begin with. This time there was no real meeting of minds, merely a retrenchment on Gregotti’s part. Nonetheless, this does not dismiss the importance of their collaboration back in 1964, and the incredible vision that Eco and Gregotti succeeded in communicating. Would we all have such contradictions in our closets.