All posts in Architecture
Carbon Fiber Supplements
Asif Khan completes monumental gateways for Expo 2020
The LADG builds practice in parts
Dubai And By
Expo 2020 Dubai pavilions will showcase global innovations in sustainability and design
The Freshman 300
Living on Campus reveals the secret life of the American dormitory
Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory By Carla Yanni Published by the University of Minnesota Press MSRP $34.95
Dormitories figure prominently in the popular vision of American college life. They might have different forms, such as buildings surrounding a quadrangle inspired by medieval European universities or functional, modernist structures with an interior array of nearly identical rooms lining both sides of a long hallway. Dorms establish college as more than just a place where a person gains skills and knowledge before going out into the world, getting a job, and getting on with life; they help make higher education a distinctive life experience. Academic leaders have long fostered this concept. Lucy Diggs Slowe, the dean of women at Howard University in the 1920s and ’30s, declared dormitories to be not only “laboratories in human relations,” but also places “for the development of those cultural pursuits that ought to be part of every college student’s life.” In Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory, Carla Yanni, an architectural historian at Rutgers University, examines residence halls not as “mute containers for the temporary storage of youthful bodies and emergent minds.” Rather, in tracing 300 years of this building type, Yanni sees dormitories as evidence of educational ideals, ways to manage new types of students, and broader societal shifts.
The first residence hall was a space of exclusion. Constructed in the 1650s, the Indian College at Harvard University was intended to house 20 indigenous students so they could live near their classes while remaining separated from white students. This building, Yanni argues, demonstrates that “from the very beginning of colleges in North America, student housing existed to establish hierarchies.” The indigenous population differed from the typical college student of the period, namely a white teenage boy from an elite family. College contributed to these students’ individual formation but was also a broader reflection of a flourishing America. Nassau Hall, completed in 1756 at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, was “the largest and most distinguished structure in the colony.” The dorm was separated from the street by a spacious lawn and surrounded by farms, which, university leaders argued, provided the isolation from the adjoining settlement and distance from home that gave students the best chance of becoming useful citizens.
Once women began attending college in large numbers in the 19th century, their living quarters functioned as both a sanctuary and a means of surveillance and management. Completed in 1887 at Oberlin College, Baldwin Cottage, designed by Weary and Kramer, offered a homelike environment with a combination of public and private spaces, including a parlor, reception hall, and dining room along with bedrooms. Women living in the dorms were subject to strict rules about walking in the halls and requisite bedtimes, but since male students at Oberlin lacked similar accommodations until 1910, social life at the college revolved around women’s residence halls.
The 1944 GI Bill resulted in a near-doubling of the number of college students in the decade after 1945. Faced with this expanding population, urban universities, such as Rutgers University and New York University, constructed high-rise dormitories that were not only economical but required less land than a leafy, low-rise quadrangle. High-rise dormitories also appeared outside of urban areas, such as the Morrill and Lincoln Towers at Ohio State University, designed by Schooley, Cornelius, and Schooley and completed in 1965, with room for more than 3,800 students. Intended as a response to criticisms about the impersonal appearance of high-rises, the towers’ rooms were arranged in a distinctive honeycomb-shaped plan meant to encourage better communication and raise student morale. Kresge College, by MLTW, which opened in 1973 at the University of California, Santa Cruz, offered a more striking critique of high-rise dormitories as well as the seeming impersonality of a large university: Its low, white buildings were accented with playful red, blue, and yellow supergraphics and housed a mere 270 students. Kresge’s distinctive design was intended to signal the school’s close-knit student and faculty community and experimental curriculum.
Does the image of college life change without the dormitory? Today a considerable number of students attend college beyond their teenage years and early twenties, at community colleges or commuter schools, or exclusively online. Yanni’s conclusion points to these issues regarding the future of dormitories, but the book as a whole raises questions about the relationship between architecture and transformations of the American university. Whether in the shape of a medieval quadrangle, Georgian estate, or high-rise tower, residence halls help maintain the conventional image of an American undergraduate. But shifts in the student body and new resources and buildings to facilitate education will inevitably prompt new stories about higher education in the United States.
Pollyanna Rhee is an architectural and landscape historian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Hanks for Sharing
Tom Hanks announces Academy of Motion Pictures will open this December
South African studio Counterspace will design the 2020 Serpentine Pavilion
The development of an official style must be avoided. Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government. And not vice versa. […] The advice of distinguished architects ought to, as a rule, be sought prior to the award of important design contracts.The crux of MFBBA’s argument is that Moynihan’s second principle precludes his first. By granting authority on matters of style to architects, it claims, the Guiding Principles supplant the preferences of the American people with “the architectural profession’s reigning orthodoxy.” This, it continues, “implicitly discouraged classical and other designs known for their beauty,” and sanctioned instead modernist, Brutalist, and Deconstructivist buildings which “have little aesthetic appeal,” citing work by Marcel Breuer, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Morphosis, and others as examples. In so doing, the order claims, “the Federal government has largely stopped building beautiful buildings that the American people want to look at or work in.” To encourage the design of buildings that inspire “admiration” instead of “public derision,” the order proposes that “in the National Capital [sic] Region and for all Federal courthouses, the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style absent special extenuating factors necessitating another style.” While this technically leaves open the possibility of non-traditional design, MFBBA sets an extremely high bar for its approval. Brutalism, Deconstructivism, and their derivatives (specified by extremely problematic, open-ended definitions) are excluded outright. Other non-traditional buildings would be permitted to move forward only with approval from the president, who must first be provided with a detailed explanation of “whether such design is as beautiful… as alternative designs of comparable cost in a traditional architectural style.” The term beauty, or one of its derivatives, appears twelve times in MFBBA’s seven pages. Though it is not included in the document’s list of definitions, it is used throughout to signify those qualities that give pleasure to the senses and the intellect. At its core, then, this debate is about more than just architectural style. It is about publicly funded pleasure. The art critic Dave Hickey similarly locates the essence of beauty in pleasure. In his 2009 essay, “American Beauty,” he finds it primarily in the “pleasant surprises” one encounters in everyday life. Such pleasure, whether derived from monumental architecture, a clear blue sky, or a perfectly executed jump shot, often leads people—Americans in particular—to dialog. “Beautiful!” someone exclaims, moved by an arresting object or experience. Others respond, sometimes in agreement, sometimes in dissent. Chatter ensues, occasionally moving toward the consensus from which societies are built. “American beauty is inextricable from its optimal social consequence,” Hickey writes, “our membership in a happy coalition of citizens who agree on what is beautiful, valuable, and just.” In American society, beauty, value, and justice are determined similarly—through the often-contentious debates we conduct in Congress, in court, in the press, in the marketplace, at school, at home, and out in the street. Given the complexity of these collective conversations (and the difficulty of surprising oneself), we often turn to trained experts—elected representatives, lawyers, cultural critics, brokers, artists, architects, and others—to generate possibilities and look after our interests. Though it often seeks guidance in expert opinion, American society is not based on timeless values, religious doctrine, or ancient edicts. It is based on mutual agreement. With the Declaration of Independence, Americans mutually agreed to their collective right to pursue “pleasant surprises” and other forms of happiness, and to tentatively ascribe power to the government to secure that right. This is where it gets complicated. As Hickey points out, every pleasant surprise is an occasion for change, an opportunity to renegotiate our collective agreement regarding what we hold to be beautiful, valuable, and just. Such activity always threatens the stability of the status quo, which is why authoritarian societies often attempt to neutralize such threats by outlawing idiosyncrasy and mandating familiarity. MFBBA adopts exactly this authoritarian posture, though its authors undoubtedly would point to their populist invocations of “the public” and to their proposal that all GSA architectural competitions convene public panels that exclude design and construction professionals as evidence of their efforts to foster exactly the sort of open debate I am advocating. Such arguments would ring false. With their thumb firmly on the scale from the outset, MFBBA’s authors decide in advance the outcome of public deliberation on federal buildings. Their message is clear: When it comes to the most hallowed spaces of our democracy, the American debate on beauty—and by extension, on value and justice – is settled. The authors of “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” thus work entirely on the side of entrenched authority, and rightly recognize the federal buildings of Breuer, Morphosis, Scogin, Elam, and others as subtly subversive. These works signal that the brilliance of American democracy issues from its accommodation of periodic reinvention, from our collective agreement that what we held to be beautiful, valuable, and just yesterday may not align with what we will hold to be so tomorrow. This is not to say that progressive architecture best represents our union, or that classically derived designs can no longer embody American values. It is merely to recognize, as Daniel Moynihan did, that we would do well to continue to draw on “the finest contemporary American architectural thought” to help us determine the best way forward, and to remember that the “dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability” of the American government obtains from the right of its citizens to perpetually renegotiate the terms by which we are governed, to reimagine the values we wish to uphold, and to freely pursue the subversive pleasures of beauty. Todd Gannon is the Robert S. Livesey Professor and head of the architecture section at The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School.
Shedding Light on the Future
The oracular visions of Agnes Denes are on display at The Shed
These Structures are Big in Japan
Japanese engineering gets its due in Structured Lineages
Structured Lineages: Learning from Japanese Structural Design Edited by Guy Nordenson Published by the Museum of Modern Art MSRP $45.00
Western architects’ fascination with Japan is indisputable, a tendency most famously personified by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright. Contemporary practices are contributing to what is perhaps the third or fourth wave of Japanese influence on American architects, and this group was the focus of the 2016 Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibition A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond, organized by Pedro Gadanho and Phoebe Springstubb. There is something simple yet sophisticated in the examples of contemporary Japanese architecture selected for this exhibition—attributes one can trace to the synthetic nature of Japanese design itself.
To accompany the exhibition, Guy Nordenson, a structural engineer and professor at Princeton’s School of Architecture, organized a symposium that sought to delve more deeply into Japanese design from the vantage point of the structural engineers who have collaborated with these architects. (Nordenson himself has a significant engineering practice, and worked with SANAA on the New Museum in New York and Johnston Marklee on the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston.) The resultant publication, Structured Lineages: Learning from Japanese Structural Design, illuminates key figures of postwar Japanese structural engineering and the hybrid nature of their consulting on the major works in the MoMA show. Consulting is not the right word for the essential, creative contributions of these talented engineers. As Nordenson noted in his introduction, “In Japan the cultures of architecture and engineering are entirely intertwined.” Laurent Ney observed that the architect and engineer Saito Masao titled an exhibition that he organized at the Architectural Institute of Japan in Tokyo in 2008 Archi-neering Design, coining a term that neatly grafts the two disciplines. Aspiring Japanese architects and engineers study together at university in the first phase of their education and specialize only later on. Design and technical skill are given equal weight academically, which forges a hybrid of both disciplines from a unified way of thinking.
The Structured Lineages symposium highlighted various practitioners of this fusion of art and technology: In addition to Masao, Yoshikatsu Tsuboi, Mamoru Kawaguchi, Gengo Matsui, Toshihiko Kimura, and the most significant contemporary structural engineer, Mutsuro Sasaki (who has collaborated with architects like Kenzo Tange and Rem Koolhaas), were given their rightful prominence by experts such as Marc Mimram of l’Ecole d’Architecture de Marne-la-Vallée, Mike Schlaich of Technische Universität Berlin, Jane Wernick of Jane Wernick Associates, and William F. Baker of SOM. Three roundtable discussions, moderated by Sigrid Adriaenssens, John Ochsendorf, and Caitlin Mueller and transcribed in the book, explored the basis for this “intertwining” of disciplines. These revelations—of what would be considered in Japan to be open secrets—feel like the discovery of why there is such qualitative consistency in Japanese design and architecture.
Numerous structures are presented throughout the book. Little known architect/engineer Mamoru Kawaguchi’s Fuji Pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, the book’s cover image, could easily be mistaken for an early Ant Farm proposal (or a late Zaha Hadid project), with its colorful inflated tubular skin and curvaceous geometry. Toyo Ito’s innovative Sendai Mediatheque, with its occupiable structural elements engineered by none other than Sasaki, makes an appearance. MoMA curator Sean Anderson details how, in 1954, a traditional Japanese house came to be the third constructed “House in the Museum Garden,” following designs by Marcel Breuer and Gregory Ain.
This newly published book of the symposium offers essential enlightenment into the thinking, philosophy, and technical explorations behind these canonical buildings. It adds insightful analysis of and commentary on the special circumstances that gave rise to these projects, even though these significant Japanese structural engineers may be unfamiliar to the average American architecture student (and quite possibly for the average American architect). The documentation of the technical contributions, coupled with the high regard in which these projects are held internationally, makes Structured Lineages a necessary companion text for those with a deeper curiosity about the basis for the uniqueness of the design and structural experiments that have come to define architecture in contemporary Japan.
Craig Konyk is an architect and the chair of the School of Public Architecture at the Michael Graves College at Kean University in New Jersey.