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Modernity Missive

Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani proposes foundational principles for design
Modernity and Durability: Perspectives for the Culture of Design Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani DOM Publishers, 2018 The ghost of modernity—the quest to define what it means to be modern, and what its fundamental principles are—has haunted Western culture for a long time. In his 1991 book We Have Never Been Modern the French philosopher Bruno Latour revised one of modernity’s main axioms—the separation between nature and society, humans and things—by claiming that the world we live in today is characterized by the constant hybridization of politics, science, technology, and nature. Similar to Latour, the idea of modernity as a frustrated project is also present in Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani’s speculations on architecture and design, now collected for the first time in English in the book Modernity and Durability. Perspectives for the Culture of Design. Magnago Lampugnani, architect and professor of history of urban design at ETH Zurich for more than 20 years, is also a prolific writer and polemicist: his book, a series of micro-essays originally published between 1990 and 1994 in the Italian magazine Domus, is in fact a manifesto on the current status of design, where the author’s peculiar worldview is presented with extreme clarity and effectiveness. Magnago Lampugnani’s perspective—the one of a European intellectual, an enlighted sophisticated thinker who looks at design in terms of humanist values—is to some extent inscribed in a broader tradition that puts the Italian architect in good company. From Manfredo Tafuri’s idea of disincanto (disenchantment) to Pier Vittorio Aureli’s claim for autonomy, all these authors share a similar conviction: that architecture is a form of resistance. Resistance from consumerism, resistance from ephemerality, resistance from spectacle. In other words, resistance from capitalism. Whereas Latour dissected modernity in relation to the role played by science, at the beginning of his speculations Magnago Lampugnani formulates a fundamental separation between what is Modern and modernism. What the Italian architect calls Modern is a broad condition: an era that begins at the turn of the 20th century and ends after World War II, whose brightest manifestation is the work of the Bauhaus under Walter Gropius’s direction. Modernism, on the contrary, is a style, a degeneration of the principles that animated this paradigm shift at the beginning of the century, and a banalization of the Modern message into a simplistic formal language. Lampugnani’s assertions derive from a European-Eurocentric perspective; although he never makes it explicit, Lampugnani considers modernity mainly to be a European phenomenon, whose raison d’être is deeply rooted in a European cultural and social context. The only reference to American architecture, for example, is to a German architect based in the United States: Mies van der Rohe, and his Seagram Building in New York City. This doesn’t mean that the United States didn’t produce any Modern architecture, but that, once imported in the American territory, its original message was detached from its ideological impetus and was very soon transformed into a style. After having established the dichotomy between Modern and modernism, Magnago Lampugnani deploys his main argument: in order to provide precise design solutions to contemporary issues, we have to reformulate the message of the Modern by preserving its original social and humanist aspirations while revising critically its means and its technical and economic content. Its ultimate goal, in Magnago Lampugnani’s idea, is to create a better world. How? Through a holistic approach. Against the current specialization of design into different professional categories, the author argues for a return to the figure of the architect as a “bricklayer who had learnt Latin”—to quote Adolf Loos—who can design good cities, good buildings, good interiors, and good furniture. At the same time, Magnago Lampugnani suggests looking at design as a craft: “a patient, conscientious, accurate and competent work, whose result will always be useful, right, and fine.” To consider design as craft means to disconnect architecture, urban planning, and furniture from passing fashions. This way, design can reimagine conventions, or the system of rules sedimented in history aimed at guaranteeing functionality and economy of means. If design can exist as a system of rules, Magnago Lampugnani identifies some principles that can help recuperate the original message of the Modern and serve as an operative basis for the future. The first and main principle is durability, in a physical and cultural sense. To be durable, design must refer to tradition: by dealing with tradition, it’s possible to design cities and architectures that can transcend the oscillations of taste.  At the same time, only permanence transforms design into a cultural entity—the expression of certain values in relation to a certain context. The imaginary lexicon depicted by Magnago Lampugnani includes several other concepts: simplicity, which doesn’t translate in abstraction, but it means clarity and closeness to people’s needs; rigor, which is crucial to identifying the design’s requirements; essence, because every good design must be founded on a very few strong ideas—see Marcel Breuer’s S32 chair, or Villa Malaparte by Adalberto Libera; slowness, as an answer to the decline in the quality of our cities and buildings—here the author refers to the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, in Rome, which took more than 120 years. What emerges from this cosmology of terms is an ascetic dimension, a sort of passive resistance against hedonism and consumerism. And whereas the book seems to be in some points a sort of nostalgic celebration of the past, it’s in its last pages that Magnago Lampugnani delineates a project for the future. In reiterating the separation between the Modern as condition and modernism as style, the architect refers to the three Vitruvian principles—firmitas, utilitas, venustas—as main categories of the Modern but integrates them with two new ones: democracy and ecology. Democratic and ecological commitment become urgent challenges for a Modern culture, as an attempt to create a new humanity: a “humanity that believes in the ideal of social justice as the prerequisite for peace and prosperity, and is ready to share the riches of the world equally among its citizens.”
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Crème de la Crematorium

New book prepares crematoria for the architectural spotlight
Goodbye Architecture: The Architecture of Crematoria in Europe by Vincent Valentijn and Kim Verhoeven nai010 publishers, $80 Long a taboo subject, death is becoming a hot topic in architecture. Not since the 1980s has a book devoted to architecture and death been published, and many merely examine historical temples, tombs, and rites. Responding to an increase in cremation, Vincent Valentijn and Kim Verhoeven have authored Goodbye Architecture: The Architecture of Crematoria in Europe, a book collecting Europe's finer examples of architecture that does indeed burn. The book design, also by the authors, strikes a perfect balance between an image-laden coffee table book and a text-heavy treatise. Each of the 26 highlighted projects opens with a site plan, a building axonometric, the number of ovens, the number of incinerations per year with the percentage of type, as well as the size and program dedications. Spreads of photos, plans, and sections unfold with descriptions of context, conceptual approach, materials, and special features, punctuated with circulation diagrams: one for the deceased and another for visitors. Analytics, interviews, and essays follow. Cremation's resurgence in the West is recent—Japan has long had a near 100 percent cremation rate while Islam forbids it. Despite the Vatican's ban from 789 until 1963, the first modern crematorium was built in Milan in 1876 following the unveiling of a new oven at the World Exhibition in Vienna. Incineration caught on slowly, mainly by "cultural and intellectual elites," and has grown steadily since the 1990s. Currently, over a thousand crematoria perform two million services every year. How the crematoria weigh technical issues, context, and local customs varies widely, and this is where Valentijn and Verhoeven's research shines. Many facilities have undergone renovations and extensions to meet stricter emissions standards. For the crematorium in Aarhus, Denmark, designed in 1969, Henning Larsen returned for the 2011 upgrade and in the process enhanced its sustainability. Condoned by both the city council and the local church, excess heat warms the chapel and other buildings within the district's heating network. Architect Paolo Zermani invites visitors to the rationalist Tempio di Cremazione in Parma, Italy, into the crematorium for a ceremony, which is uncommon in Italy where cremation has been viewed as a technical process. Zermani's design inscribes a deliberate route through the landscape to the oven—the ritual procession is the promenade architectural. While many are singular in their use and isolated, other crematoria openly embrace their communities with flexible plans and mixed programming. The crematorium at the Heimolen cemetery near Ghent, Belgium, comprises two pavilions. One contains the oven, the other houses reception and ceremonies, which allows non-associated uses like a cafe and an auditorium for presentations and lectures. Similarly, the crematorium designed by Eduardo Souto de Moura in Kortrijk, Belgium, opens its facilities for concerts to better integrate with the community.   Others attempt to redefine and popularize the typology. Architect Albert Chambers Freeman, who published the type's first overview in 1904, showed that crematoria were highly cultural and contextual, often located in areas where final rites were divorced from the church. Albert Heinrich Steiner's Nordheim Crematorium in Zurich, Switzerland, expresses an appeal to the masses. Dok architecten designed the City of Haarlem, Netherlands' crematorium with a cultural institution atmosphere to attract clientele in an era when people deliberately plan their funerals. It makes sense that today's architects continue to grapple with designing an identity. Following the alphabetically arranged portfolio, the authors cull their analysis into a series of spreads auditing chronology, context, programmatic breakdowns, number and type of cremations, circulation, ritual spaces, and taboos. I found myself frequently flipping through the book to connect these details to the projects. The section "Theory-Design-Practice" eschews images for essays and interviews from crematoria academicians, managers, and directors, as well as several architects. Luigi Bartolomei examines socio-religious conceptions of fire, exposing the need for a psychological and phenomenological approach to experiencing cremation rites. Laura Cramwinckel reveals symbolic meanings of fire in order to build acceptance for the alternative to interment. Douglas Davies's emotional processing of death reveals how successful design addresses "emotion, identity, and destiny." Kris Coenegrachts, director of IGS Westlede, which commissioned the Heimolen crematorium, says secularization has popularized incineration, but without rituals, clients can develop unique services that affect programming, circulation, technical capabilities. One aspect alluded to, but skipped, is sustainability. The authors celebrate public parks around crematoria, but graveyards provide open space and nature trails as well. Considering land use and energy demands, I wonder about the energy required to incinerate a body versus the carbon sequestering of a similarly-sized burial plot, and leaching of formaldehyde. Possibly exceeding the authors' original scope, today's climate, literally, begs energy and resource analysis, especially as the authors provide detailed quantifiable infographics. The authors occasionally submit to hyperbole: "the crematorium is more ambiguous than any other building type," and crematoria "more so than other buildings, reflect [our society]." Fortunately, the hyperboles are few. More importantly, they clarify the challenges to a typology in transition and ignite interest in the designers and buildings confronting specialized needs. Goodbye Architecture recognizes a growing trend for cremation and the design possibilities that the mutating rituals and spaces provide. The building type is a design challenge accepted by the architects and clients whose projects are included. Part travel guide, history, and analysis, the book is a welcome addition to the limited study of funerary architecture. James Way promotes ecology and preservation at Biohabitats.
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Drawn and Quartered

Drawing Codes ironically gets the rules all wrong
Upon entering Drawing Codes, you might be struck by a sense of familiarity, as though everything looks somehow as it should. It’s comforting to be surrounded by beautiful drawings hung neatly in well-spaced, black-framed squares, little perfect windows into a collection of works by a close-knit circle of designers. But there’s also something unsettling in the comfort and familiarity of the exhibition—closing at the Cooper Union on February 23 and formally titled Drawing Codes: Experimental Protocols of Architectural Representation, Volume IIas though we are being sold something too slick, too friendly, too complete, as though everything’s been face-tuned, flattened into a collection that articulates a narrative without agonism or a predetermined history without contestation. The show’s brief itself leaves its subject quite open. In their introductory text, curators Andrew Kudless and Adam Marcus outline four prompts to consider the theme: code as generative constraint, code as language, code as cipher, and code as script. “Code” might encompass building regulations and energy standards, syntax and encryption, recipes and typologies. But an assumption underlies the brief that the project is really about computational code; the curators’ text opens with a comment explaining that emergent technologies have changed how we practice. This internal conflict of the theme—between its presumed meaning and purported openness—produces a collection that commits to neither. And while the curators’ prompt cleaves “code” open, Kudless and Marcus restrict the content through their own rules: square format, black and white drawings, only orthographic projection. These rules reference early digital aesthetics and we need look no further than to the Whitney’s concurrent show Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965-2018 to see evidence of that history. There, works like Joan Truckenbrod’s 1975 Coded Algorithmic Drawing (#45), Manfred Mohr’s Band Structures studies from the 1960s-’70s, and Frederick Hammersley’s No Title (1969) lay out a coding style that persists in contemporary practice, as seen in that same show in works by Tauba Auerbach, Casey Reas, and Alex Dodge among others. By and large, the drawings in Drawing Codes are individually impressive and conceptually rich. They are beautiful and obtuse, like Projectors by MILLIØNS or Anomalous Corner by Studio Sean Canty or DoubleVision by IwamotoScott Architecture; they are funny and smart, like Another Circle GPS Plan by Aranda\Lasch or Twisted Concrete Codes by Tsz Yan Ng with Mehrdad Hadighi; they are unexpected, like Stephanie Lin’s Accumulated Error No. 41, which uses coding to explore the blurry boundaries between rendering and drawing through visual effect. Each of the drawings could be described individually, and each has a novel take on the brief—they display a range of talented designers who should be lauded for their work—but together, they become muddled into a quasi-similar set of too-tasteful objects that don’t illustrate the potential of the topic. They seem forced into a mold rather than freed to explore new territories. The show’s restrictions put the content into a curious double-bind: individual artist statements offer a posteriori rationalizations designed to satisfy the brief, while the brief itself seems built around a priori ideas about what a show about code (or drawing) might look like. For example, that the curators eradicated perspective (in order to ensure participants wouldn’t send renderings) precludes a reading of “perspective” as itself coded, rule-based, and programmable. It also means that some of the most exciting work in computation around deep learning, neural networks, and artificial intelligence, built around interrogating and constructing perspective,are off the table here. The rules of the exhibition are curiously conservative given the topic and are too aligned with a trend towards early computer graphics popular across schools and young offices today. The statements also draw attention to how responding to the brief becomes more rhetorical than generative. Together, the works read as a compilation of exceptions that demonstrate how adept we all are at bending a brief to our work. This makes it more difficult to identify dominant narratives or sub-narratives across drawings, less compelling as a portrait of code, and privileges the individuality of the authors over the ethos of the collective. And this collective is producing a tremendous amount right now. Many, if not most of the participants in the show (and in its first volume, which debuted at the California College of Arts in January, 2017) are part of an emerging generation of practices (in which my own studio is often a part) that often cohabitate in exhibitions, publications, biennials, and conferences. These platforms should be pushing us all to do better, to produce more critically, to learn from each other. The idea of this show is great. Its constraints, however, produce a condition where expectation limits the possibility of discovery or invention across the work. The show seems dedicated to reiterating things we already know about drawing, code, and each other, and rejects the ugliness of experimentation. Which made it nice to see V. Mitch McEwen’s Arduino Bot Print and Maria Yablonina’s The perpetual spline machine, both of which foregrounded haptic process over graphic order. The former, through producing a map of avoidance as the penguinbot tried to avoid retracing its steps on paper; the latter, through the creation of a solar-powered bending machine that produces splines as it collects whatever energy it can, like some tragic figure of a near-future Greek myth. In these cases, the format enabled and helped frame the works, which indicates the productive potential latent in the project. Ultimately the comfort of the show—its sanctioned and familiar take on the aesthetics of code, its politeness over an inclusive brief—is its greatest limitation. In the exhibition press release, the curators say that they want to explore the impact of “computation and code-based processes” on “conventions of architectural representation,” a clear, straightforward proposal for an exhibition that would be great to see. Without the exceptions, without the rules, and with a more open and inclusive attitude towards aesthetics not bound by known tropes but encouraged through expansive definitions of generative practice. Comfort, for all its comfort, is too safe to compel.
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Preserve the Past

A British preservationist considers: How do you keep a building alive?
Living Buildings: Architectural Conservation, Philosophy, Principles and Practice Donald Insall Images Publishing $60.00 List Price

Conservation architecture has never been glamorous. It is simply a reflection of contemporary society that the careful continuation of what already exists is always going to be overshadowed by the creation of wholly something new. Yet from Berlin’s Neues Museum to London’s St Pancras Station, if we look across a range of globally significant architecture projects from recent decades we see that a conservation approach has been instrumental in many of them.

While there is a tendency to lump conservation architects in with their traditionalist cousins—and this book by leading conservation architect, Donald Insall, actually contains a foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales—it is wrong to see the conservation movement as necessarily conservative, or even reactionary. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) was founded in 1877 by, among others, William Morris and Philip Webb—figures to whom certain aspects of modernism can also be traced—and the histories of modernism and traditionalism have run in parallel. Both, in a sense, were cultural responses to the conditions of industrial modernity.

Even in the 1960s, when conservation became the clear counter to modernism’s excesses, particularly in town planning, the relationship between the two remained more complex than one of straightforward opposition. One could even argue that the conservation movement actually played an enabling role; its very existence freed modernism of the past so that it could focus wholly on how architecture might bring about a better future.

Postmodernism, of course, fundamentally challenged these frameworks and distinctions. One of its most pervasive and important legacies has arguably been the gradual infiltration of a conservation approach into the mainstream. Every architect today when approaching a project considers questions of context, place, and history. For that reason this book should be of interest not just to those concerned with conservation, but to all architects and, indeed, everyone with an appreciation of architecture and its past, present, and futures.

For over 60 years, Insall has led one of Britain’s most respected practices of conservation architects, working on a range of highly significant conservation projects. Part manual, part theory of conservation, this book’s chief proposition is that buildings are not fixed or static entities but are “living” things—and that this idea should inform approaches to their care and upkeep.

Early in the book, Insall states that “every building is a product not only of its original generator…but of the continuing effects upon its materials of time and weather, and of generations of successive occupants, each with his own set of values and requirements.” The starting point for every project should therefore be to look for “each project’s unique identity and character.”

Such is the passion with which Insall proclaims that “buildings are alive;” one might infer that to his mind it’s more than mere metaphor. Yet as a metaphor it proves a useful way of organizing the various aspects of his approach, whether it’s assessing the role of “locality and materials” (“materials have their own story, and in old buildings speak eloquently of their local origin”), the role of “weather and the elements” as “a continuous force in shaping a living building” or the way “cyclical renewal is part of every building’s life and history.”

One of the striking things about this book is how it ranges from the micro to the macro. It is rare, for example, to read in the same book a reminder to close the door to a library if building work is going on outside and reflections on the philosophy of conservation. But it’s this broad scope that allows it to be both a primer and of interest to the expert. Aimed at both experts and general readers is Insall’s core argument that the approach to “old buildings” should be open and led not by preconceptions but the innate qualities of the buildings themselves. One only wishes that the same principal might be applied to the very notion of heritage and what is deemed “significant,” which so often claims objectivity but is in fact reflective of ideology. But that is not Insall’s subject.

There are moments of the book that jar, notably the relentless “he” and “his” in relation to the architect, and as a distillation of half-a-century’s work, there are inevitably some aspects that feel dated. But the underlying message remains fresh—and important not just for conservation, but for architecture as a whole. The challenge for architecture today is not necessarily about building more or even better, but adapting and making more equitable use of what already exists. Of course, this is far from simply being an architectural issue. But architects can show how it can be done, perhaps even with conservation architects leading the way.

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Big Art

Monograph about Robert Murray reveals his love of structure and form
Robert Murray: Sculpture Jonathan D. Lippincott Design Books $65.00 List Price Some sculptors have to think like architects. They need to consider the actual weight of a work and whether it might wind up crashing through a floor or compromising a foundation. There are the issues of balance and whether something weighing a few tons and defined by curves and cantilevers will remain in place on its own or roll off its plinth. There are also the concerns about the best angles from which to view a finished sculpture and how it will age, especially if positioned outdoors. And once it is erected and set in place, what about the resulting shadows or reflective light? As Jonathan Lippincott, the noted book designer and independent art curator, reveals in his new book, Robert Murray: Sculpture (Design Books), the first such monograph to chronicle the artist’s oeuvre, Murray learned about weight and scale through practice. When Murray first began making some of his large-scale works in his apartment on East 22nd Street in Manhattan in the early 1960s, they were so heavy and tall that they compromised the very structure of the building. Of one such early work, Ceres, a seven-foot-high plaster sculpture, Murray said: “I had it right in the middle of the room, and I put supports out from underneath the bottom lip of it to try to distribute the weight, but it didn’t quite work. One day there was a pounding on the door and a very nice couple from downstairs demanded to see what I was up to, and I guess my floor sagged so badly that their ceiling cracked and plaster was raining down in their living room.” The comment from Murray is one of many in Lippincott’s book that reveals the artist’s sense of humor, a characteristic much welcomed in an otherwise scholarly art book. Lippincott has obviously been careful to reveal—and revel in —Murray’s playfulness. As a result, this may be among the most refreshing and entertaining books to read about any sculptor, living or not. Lippincott’s book also manages to right an aesthetic wrong. While fantastically prolific and influential, Murray doesn’t seem to have won quite the same name recognition of some his contemporaries, like David Smith, Tony Rosenthal, Louise Nevelson, and Barnett Newman. Lippincott’s book will surely reintroduce and re-establish the still-active Murray as one of the very best practitioners of contemporary sculpture. And the book’s examples of Murray’s candor and wit will only heighten the artist’s appeal. As Murray recounts about his early days as a young artist from Saskatoon suddenly immersed in the New York art world: “I always joke that it’s lucky my liver was as young as it was when I got to New York or I would have been dead a long time ago.” Although Lippincott’s monograph is visually-driven, it includes an engaging, lengthy biographical text about Murray, as well as a candid, chatty question and answer between the author and his subject. The two appear to have forged an affectionate rapport. We learn about Murray’s Canadian boyhood, his inspirations for the monumental works of art, and the process of making those sculptures (some sixty of which were made at Lippincott, Inc., the Connecticut-based fabricator of monumental works of sculpture, founded by the author’s father). But what resonates throughout the book is Murray’s collaborations with and respect for architects. There was a time not so long ago when art and architecture were more closely aligned. Lippincott describes, for instance, the Percent for Art program that flourished in the U.S. and Canada in the mid-1960s, whereby, according to the author, “one percent of the budget for any new building would be dedicated to purchasing artwork…an unprecedented amount of funding to purchase and commission artwork for government buildings and public spaces.” Murray’s large-scale abstract (some would say minimalist) sculptures were coveted by architects of the time. I.M. Pei, for instance, commissioned Murray for a massive work (Shawanaga) to occupy the plaza of Pei’s Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse. For a 1968 group show of sculptures at the then-new Boston City Hall, a Brutalist edifice designed by Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles, Murray was invited to include what is now one of his iconic works, Windhover. “The only bad part of it all was the new city hall, which wasn’t a very attractive backdrop,” he told Lippincott. “But it was a nice plaza, a good space, and that show got a lot of attention.” Murray’s relationship with architects and architecture began early. In 1958, at the very start of his career, he received a commission from a local Saskatoon architect to fashion murals composed of mosaic tiles for a new government building. Barnett Newman collaborated with Murray to create an imagined, or conceptual, synagogue that Newman described as being “organized like a baseball diamond, the rabbi on the pitcher’s mound, the men in the dugouts, and the women in the bleachers.” Murray designed two models for the project, one of which was exhibited at a show at the Jewish Museum in 1963 organized by Richard Meier. And in his native country, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada awarded him their Allied Arts Medal in 1977. As Lippincott emphasizes, “The award recognizes artists or designers in Canada who create work intended to be integrated with architecture, and Murray was one of the first artists to receive this award for contemporary sculpture.” Both Lippincott and Murray are adept at describing the architectural aspects of the sculptures. Of Murray’s Breaker (1965), Lippincott lovingly relates the structural issues in such a way that the piece can almost be envisioned without seeing it: “[Breaker] consists of two arcs that are almost identical; one extends beyond the other, providing a point of contact with the floor, adding stability to the work and extending its energy.” Because of this book, Murray reputation as a great sculptor will endure. That reputation rests particularly on his public artworks, many of which are positioned with notable works of architecture. But as Murray said to Lippincott, “Until the public starts making it, it’s not public art, it’s private art put out into public situations.” With Lippincott’s fine book, we now have the definitive visual and chronological map for finding Murray’s works and enjoying them in public settings. Murray can be experienced in person on April 7 at the David Richard Gallery, 211 East 121st Street, New York. The gallery will present a solo exhibition of Murray’s large sculptures and two-dimensional artworks, with an opening reception on April 7 at which both Murray and Lippincott will be present. The show runs through May 5.
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All-Star Cast

Plaster Monuments casts the history of reproduced sculpture in a new mold
Andy Warhol very likely attended art classes in the Hall of Architecture at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The Hall of Architecture is a star attraction at the Pittsburgh museum, a manifestation of Andrew Carnegie’s instruction to bring the world to the people of Pittsburgh. An eclectic troupe of fragments considered seminal for design practice in the early 20th century, the Hall of Architecture may well have seemed both glamorous and anachronistic to teenage Warhol: glamorous in its array of iconic monuments from Europe and the Middle East, anachronistic as the very concept of plaster casts was antithetical to High Modernist mores, to the cult of function and originality. In Plaster Monuments, Mari Lending takes her readers on a richly informative tour of this curious yet once vanguard world of architectural casts and their presentation in some of the world’s most prestigious museums. Pittsburgh has survived, perhaps as the Carnegie was not so infatuated with the diktats of Modernism. In London, the Cast Courts with their bifurcated cast of Trajan’s Column remain in situ at the heart of the Victoria and Albert Museum; and much of French architectural history is still present in Paris, in what is now the Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine, at the Trocadéro. Nevertheless, other collections, like those in Boston and Brussels, have long been abandoned or dispersed. “Only a decade,” Lending writes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “after ‘THE MOST IMPORTANT COLLECTION OF CASTS IN ANY PART OF THE WORLD’ was installed in New York City, taste—as well as fortunes—was changing, and in 1905 the position of curator of casts was abolished…The biggest collection of Parthenon casts in the world,” she notes wryly, “survived a 1937 referendum when the people of Basel suggested drowning it all in the Rhine.” Happily, Pittsburgh held out against these slings and arrows of architectural and museological fashion. Lending is Norwegian, a professor of history and theory at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design; she has also recently published a book with Peter Zumthor titled A Feeling of History. In her introduction, she posits Plaster Monuments “within the emerging scholarly field of architecture exhibitions.” For Lending, the past seems to shadow the present, toying with memory and assumptions of linear progress or of a fixed canon. She makes connections not only with the 19th-century museum and architectural theory but with such diverse contemporary technical and political phenomena as photography and colonialism. The book divides into five chapters—spanning, back and forth, across two centuries—plus a coda bringing Lending’s account into our era of digital reproduction. She starts with the Grand Tour and a watercolor, Student Surveying the Temple of Jupiter Stator at Rome, commissioned by John Soane and exhibited—along with twenty-one casts and many drawings, paintings, and engravings—in Soane’s own museum in London. Soon the French are leading the way, at the École des Beaux Art and the Trocadéro (originally the Musée de sculpture comparée). Lending describes the rivalry of Classicists and Romanticists, with the Trocadéro’s Viollet-le-Duc being assaulted at the École by eggs and apples and donkey brays. For the French, casts played a critical role not only for education but also the establishment of national identity. By the time the Met embarked on its collection, these Paris institutions possessed molds to produce multiple new casts. In addition, an entire profession of cast-makers—the formatori—existed to supply museums and private collectors. In Pittsburgh, Carnegie boldly envisaged architecture at the heart of his museum/library/music hall complex, in a roof-lit hall modeled on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Lending emphasizes the speed with which this was achieved, in part due to the frequent use of transatlantic cablegrams. The Carnegie determined its selection through correspondence with two dozen contemporary architects, many inspired by H.H. Richardson. Thus its signature cast of the Romanesque church of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, facilitated by a personal gift from Carnegie and transported from France in 95 crates. Lending’s final chapter sets up a duality at Yale: Josef Albers versus Paul Rudolph. She quotes Albers stating that “the French Beaux-Arts casts had no place in the methods of the German Bauhaus.” Only a few years after their banishment however, Rudolph incorporated many of these casts—outcasts?—into his Art and Architecture Building, itself a monumental cast of hand-hammered concrete. Whereas Charles Jencks once criticized the building as a “four million dollar architectural potpourri” with “tasteless exhibits”, Timothy Rohan recently suggested that Rudolph’s inclusion of the casts “may have been an instance of homosexual camp." Sounding positively Warholian, Landing writes in her coda to Beaux Arts cast culture that "copying was a serious matter." Can newer technologies now allow facsimiles to replace lost or destroyed works, as with the replica of the Palmyra arch erected in Trafalgar Square in 2016? Plaster Monuments sets the context for many such future discussions. Plaster Monuments Mari Lending Published by Princeton University Press, $39.99
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Layered Civilization

Syria Before the Deluge is a poignant photographic journey through prewar Syria

In 2009, architectural photographer Peter Aaron set out to Syria with his wife Brooke Allen, an author and professor of literature at Bennington College, and their two daughters. Armed with a Canon 5D modified to only register infrared light, Aaron began a two-week journey in a minivan to visit 15 sites across Syria. Put on exhibition at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, what began as a personal collection stemming from a family vacation has developed into the photographic project that is Syria Before the Deluge.

Since the start of the Syrian Civil War, there has been no dearth of imagery and footage bringing the horrors and destruction of the conflict to an international audience. The country’s history has been relegated to a veritable carousel slide projection of architectural and human destruction; Aleppo lies in Stalingrad-esque ruins while pent-up political and sectarian animosity has unleashed one calamity after the next, at a level not witnessed since the Yugoslav Wars. Syria Before the Deluge presents the country's ancient architectural heritage in 40 images of breathtaking detail, clearing the fog of war by casting a humanizing light on the war’s victims with scenes of daily life and placing the conflict within the vast continuity of the region’s civilization.

Traversing the country’s ancient urban centers of Damascus and Aleppo, through their many souqs, mosques, and labyrinthine streets, Aaron’s images display a vibrant contemporary society inhabiting the successive layers of the old. Remains of Roman civilization are embedded within these urban ensembles, sites such as Damascus’s Bab Sharqi, a Roman arch topped with a medieval minaret, have collected the accretions of time with Islamic and Roman architectural pieces—towering minarets and geometric spandrels—abutting contemporary concrete construction. 

Outside of the country’s principal demographic centers, past the Aramaic-speaking mountain towns of Reef Demashq, the “dead cities” of northwestern Syria are depicted as moraine-like vestiges dotting the rugged arid landscape. The abandoned urban settlements, numbering over seven hundred, are the hallmarks of a Byzantine civilization that gradually vanished, with its Greco-Roman architectural language of archways, colonnades, and carefully proportioned stone ashlar. The author notes that the current refugee crisis afflicting Syria has led to a renewed life for the "dead cities" as an embattled shelter for those fleeing the civil war's armed factions. 

Where Syria Before the Deluge rises to a work of historical record is in Aaron's depiction of UNESCO World Heritage Sites now ravaged by the conflict. Palmyra's Temple of Bel, infamously exploded by ISIL, which documented the event for the world to see, is captured in its ruinous magnificence as a global exemplar of Greco-Roman and Middle Eastern architectural syncretism, with nearly 50-foot tall fluted Corinthian columns and detailed Middle Eastern scenes. Located less than 15 miles from the Turkish border, the Church of St. Simeon Stylites, now subject to multiple military incursions and aerial bombardments, still stands—complex stonework along its archways, pediments, remnants of vaults, and all. Considering their historical role as military bastions, it is none too surprising that the imposing Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers and the Citadel of Aleppo have renewed their intended functions. Over their millennium-long existence, the forts, like Syria itself, have passed through the hands of Kurds, Christians, Ottomans, and Arabs, with Aaron capturing the layering of one civilization's architectural character over the next. It is on this note that the author expands: the general audience cannot "comprehend the intense concentration of ancient structures; many of them have been in continuous use for centuries and even millennia, through waves of different civilizations.” Through pictorially contextualizing the current civil war within Syria's successive waves of invasions, cultural flowering, and internal strife, Syria Before the Deluge inspires a degree of hope that the region will emerge again from the ruins.

Syria Before the Deluge Peter Aaron, Blurb $150.00

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Reassessing Rudolph

Sarasota Modern: Paul Rudolph and beyond
Modernism celebrations and conferences are becoming more numerous. After such an event gains a certain amount of local awareness, the challenge for organizers is to make it continue to appeal to a range of interested parties, from docents in Pucci dresses to scholars in button-down shirts. How do you avoid devolving into a love of style over substance? How do you keep bringing back the style groupies, the design professionals, and the scholars? SarasotaMOD Weekend, an annual midcentury modern architecture festival in Sarasota, Florida, just held its fifth program this November and made a convincing case that it is taking the challenge seriously. Presented by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, SarasotaMOD has twice centered the festival around Paul Rudolph, commonly referred to as the father of the Sarasota School of Architecture. In recent years, the festival has had programs on other architects who followed in his wake, including Victor Lundy and Tim Seibert. Given that 2018 is Rudolph’s centenary, it made sense to celebrate the legend once more. This year, high-priced trolley tours of Rudolph’s built legacy sold out. They offered opportunities to see some buildings that are rarely open to the public. But it was the thoughtful morning presentations, entitled "Paul Rudolph Legacy Morning," that suggested a way forward for this and other modernism conferences, like those in Palm Springs, Tucson, and Columbus, Indiana. These morning presentations included a documentary from 1983, entitled Spaces: The Architecture of Paul Rudolph, which offered rare footage of Rudolph being interviewed and throwing a fit over the shape of the altar design at Emory University’s Cannon Chapel. Made before Rudolph fell out of national favor, the film gave everybody the same starting place for understanding Rudolph. This was an excellent segue to "Reassessing Rudolph," a panel discussion. Rudolph scholar Timothy Rohan, the moderator, asked the panelists—architect Joseph King, coauthor of Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses, and Rudolph scholars Brian Goldstein and Ken Oshima—about Rudolph and his place in modernist history. In his comments, King pointed out that at first glance, many Rudolph buildings suggested a singular idea, but once you enter the buildings, the variety of interlocking spaces reveals itself. Rohan described Rudolph’s innovative use of perspective sections and how these and other dramatic drawings made Rudolph’s reputation. Interestingly, other architects who veered from strict corporate modernism, folks like Saarinen, Stone, and Kahn, were not postmodernists per se, but were the harbingers of change. While Rudolph’s high-rises in Asia were not pure modernist, neither were they historicist. Rudolph’s reputation suffered after the 1969 fire at the Yale Art and Architecture building, but he persevered. And his legacy continues to be debated. Unlike other architects associated with modernism or Brutalism, he did not champion an orthodoxy. He relied on intuition and emotion. In that way, he reminds me of Bruce Goff without the whimsy. One important point raised during the conversation was that Rudolph was an example of the failure of joining modernism and urbanism. He is in good company there. The big draw for the morning was Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture writer Paul Goldberger. Goldberger gave a lively lecture that would appeal to the Rudolph novice or scholar. He fills the bill for this kind of meeting. He has enough depth on the subject to bring together unlikely strands, but he can relate those strands back to popular culture. For example, he talked about Rudolph’s ability to combine high and low culture, especially in his interiors projects. Early in his presentation, Goldberger said that Rudolph was “a difficult architect…not easy to like.” This notion contrasts with the sweet and often modest early houses he designed around Sarasota. Both the scholarly panel and Goldberger were able to link the early work to the larger and less sweet later work. In the Burkhardt House of 1957, many of the conference attendees were able to see up close the complexity and intriguing circulation that Rudolph was playing with in his early work. At a cocktail reception and subsequent tour, the Burkhardt House’s current owners told stories about meeting Rudolph after they bought it. He was relieved that they were removing an unsympathetic kidney-shaped pool that an earlier owner had added. However, Rudolph was not pleased that the owners were installing a rectangular pool more in keeping with his architecture. Apparently he suggested they just use the local YMCA instead. The current owners were clear about who owns the house, often a struggle with a unique architectural talent like Rudolph. At the end of the question and answer session, Goldberger responded to a question about what to look for on the tours by suggesting that people look at the beauty of the architecture and the banality of the strip we would all travel to get there. This is an issue that is especially relevant because of Rudolph’s deep interest in and failure with urbanism. The festival’s program cover features an illustration of the Cocoon House drawn by local graphic artist John Pirman. Rudolph’s modest rectangles on or near the water lend themselves to beautiful renderings and postcards. These houses are easy to love, especially in Ezra Stoller’s beautiful photos and Pirman’s other recent prints, but what about the urbanistic implications of his larger buildings, often made with ribbed concrete, or of his tree-like towers in Asia? The success of the conference was that these kinds of questions were raised, if not wholly answered. Next year’s focus for SarasotaMOD has not been decided. Christopher S. Wilson, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s chairman of the board and a professor at Ringling College of Art and Design, suggested it may focus on Carl Abbott, a living architect of the Sarasota School. If the festival can keep the balance of informed lectures, lively discussions, and tours, it will be worth returning to learn more about this slice of Florida.
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So Sarasota

At Sarasota Modernism Weekend Paul Rudolph dazzles—for a price
Sharp winter sunlight pours over the Umbrella House on Lido Key in Florida as a group of modern architecture enthusiasts begin their morning yoga class with a sun salutation. Shadow and light battle beneath the 3,000 square-foot wooden canopy of the house, casting a latticed reflection on the pool below. Built in 1953 by the modern architect Paul Rudolph while living and working in Sarasota, the Umbrella House would become a centerpiece of the Sarasota School of Architecture: a localized architectural movement that brought the aesthetic of midcentury modernism to the beach—and keeps the tourists coming every year for a Palm Springs–inspired Modernism Weekend. Sarasota today is a characteristic American town of some 50,000 year-round residents. Concentrated around a polished 9.5-square-mile built-up downtown area, it unfurls outward into an eclectic 25-square-mile collage of gated communities, strip malls, white sand beaches, marshy swampland, and rustic cow pastures. Unlike the Sarasota of Rudolph’s time, there is ample air conditioning (some would argue too much), a plethora of open-air campuses, and a constantly expanding cluster of high-rise condos dotting the shores of downtown and Siesta Key: the once-barren strip of fine quartz sand beach where Rudolph built several of his chic micro-cabin guest houses in the 1950s. Also unique to the present is a clear, defined interest in Sarasota’s modern architectural heritage. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) was founded in 2002 to bring local and international awareness to the rich legacy of Sarasota Modern. Every November since 2013, a couple hundred tropical modernism buffs make a beeline for the Sunshine State or stir from their Sarasota siestas to attend Sarasota MOD. This year’s MOD Weekend marks Paul Rudolph’s centennial, for which SAF tapped Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger to deliver a keynote presentation on Rudolph, prefaced by a screening of Bob Eisenhardt’s short film Spaces: The Architecture of Paul Rudolph, and a panel discussion titled “Reassessing Rudolph” featuring Rudolph experts and academics Brian Goldstein, Eric Paul Mumford, Ken Tadashi, and moderated by local architect Timothy M. Rohan. As Goldberger emphasized in his keynote lecture, the '50s architecture culture in Sarasota was a “rare moment with an extraordinary meeting of minds”—minds that, conveniently enough, came to town with a lot of money. For Rudolph, fresh out of Harvard's GSD following a two-year intermission in the navy, this meant the opportunity for hands-on building experience in his 30s, when he designed several guest houses that helped anchor the Sarasota Modern style, including the iconic curving Cocoon House and yoga-friendly Umbrella House. He even pioneered a new building typology, the lamolithic house. Made from poured concrete slab walls and a steel-reinforced roof, key features of the lamolithic house were untempered (and certainly not hurricane-proof) glass windows, a roof encased in four to six inches of crushed coral that provided waterproof insulation, and a passive cooling sprinkling system on the roof. The open plan was designed to capture the cross-winds pouring in from the Gulf. Rudolph built four out of the five lamolithic houses he had planned on Siesta Key. At their public debut, over 100 visitors came and demanded he begin building identical structures for them. Following the success of these homes, Lamolithic Industries, Rudolph’s partner in the project, pioneered a prototype of a two-bedroom home costing $8,900 that never fully materialized. While touring the lamolithic and guest houses on a three-hour trolley bus tour of Paul Rudolph’s projects on Siesta Key, it became evident that this model was meant as a base that owners could pimp out at their discretion. Swanky circular pools and exotic cactus gardens materialize underneath the lanai: Florida’s unique netted cage of a semi-enclosed garden. The contemporary extensions hit an all-time absurd in Revere Quality House (c. 1948), whose owners added a three-story modernist mansion onto the humble dwelling in 2007, courtesy local architect Guy Peterson. Sarasota has always been one of the wealthiest counties in the Sunshine State; current residents of Siesta Key, one of the most expensive areas of the city and where many of Rudolph’s commissions were realized, earn an average income of $62,000 per resident (more than twice the national average). Rewind back to Rudolph’s stint in Sarasota and the story is much the same. The influx of new residents in postwar Florida melded with a burgeoning middle class that had money to burn, plus opportunistic property developers eager to turn Sarasota into a destination point, all while reaping the state’s status as a tax haven on investment properties. This placed a large demand for infrastructure and culture to fill up this sleepy town on the Gulf of Mexico—and fast. Key businessmen-cum-patrons like Lido Shores–developer Philip Hiss were instrumental in giving the cluster of Sarasota-based architects who would later be known as the Sarasota School their first shot at building. For Rudolph in particular, this was a total boon and laid the foundation for the future of his career. But for today’s architectural enthusiasts without such deep pockets (including students) this creates an area of friction in the SarasotaMOD festivities. For cultural interest events such as these, this translates into $250 dinners, $150 trolley tours, and $30 yoga classes—or a $6,000 overnight stay in Rudolph’s Umbrella House, if you’re feeling inclined—and precludes access to the Sarasota School from a much larger, and probably much younger, audience. It is true that when most people think of Paul Rudolph, they tend to think about the radiant play of light within his Interdenominational Chapel (1969) at Emory University, the menacing melancholia of the Art & Architecture building at Yale (its ugliness, it is said, led to the arson of 1969), or that overwhelming behemoth of Temple Street Parking Garage (1963), its shadowy mass swallowing up 6 blocks nearby in New Haven—and not so much his quaint beach houses dotting Siesta Key. But it is also true that Sarasota gave Rudolph the jump-start that electrified his tumultuous career. Where patrons and projects abound, the little town on the Gulf allowed Rudolph to become a principal at Ralph Twitchell’s firm in under four years (the same firm he interned at before Harvard). It enabled him to become an independent architect, ditching Twitchell in 1958 to build two major high schools in Sarasota where he grew into his own style. Sarasota was the springboard that catapulted Rudolph into the Chair of Yale University’s Department of Architecture in 1960, where he would experience another pivotal moment of divinity and fall from grace in the now-infamous Brutalist masterpiece of the Art & Architecture Building at Yale. Although Rudolph was later condemned by critics who predicted his conservative style would be left in the dust by slick and jazzy postmodernism, he always responded best when placed in the pressure cooker. Which is why what happened nearly seventy years ago in this sleepy Floridian town feels like such a special occurrence and the ultra-steep price tag of its discovery such a shame.
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Laying Down the Law

D.C.'s newest museum goes underground to explore the American police system
The new National Law Enforcement Museum isn’t easy to find, and that’s a good thing. Tucked beneath Washington, D.C.’s Judiciary Square, the 57,000-square-foot facility, which opened in mid-October, is only visible via two glass pavilions that mark its presence on the street. Driving, walking, or pedaling by, you’d never know that under the asphalt lies a structure that dives deep into the history of the policing profession in the United States. In a recent article, The Washington Post noted that the museum, designed by Davis Buckley Architects and Planners (DBA), “exhibits history with a light touch of controversy.” The architecture goes out of its way to minimize that controversy. An attention-grabbing, large-scale structure would have been a mistake given contemporary anger between local communities and law enforcement agencies. The museum goes underground in an apparent sign of humility, but also largely because of the federal building requirements already in place for that specific site. It’s located under a plaza in front of the historic District of Columbia Courthouse, a striking neoclassical building. The museum's pavilions rise 25-feet above the courthouse square, allowing the landmarked structure to retain clear sight lines of the adjacent National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which DBA completed in 1991. In an effort to respect this context and comply with public law, the museum was constructed below-grade, rendering it nearly invisible to the public. Despite this, the space is more rooted in light than shadow. The semi-submerged three-story building boasts ample natural light thanks to the aforementioned above-ground transparent boxes that serve as the entrance and exit. As the sole points of access to the outside world, these portals enliven what would have otherwise been a claustrophobic sunken space. The architects chose to make light a central feature of the design, which is helpful considering the sometimes somber nature of the museum’s content. DBA, a local firm, has plenty of experience with the difficult nature of designing commemorative architecture. Principals Davis Buckley and Tom Striegel have created award-winning designs all over D.C., most notably the National Japanese American MemorialTheir work is thorough and thoughtful, two major reasons why the non-profit organization in charge of the memorial plaza and garden, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, chose them again to build out the major exhibition space. The museum is the result of a near 20-year effort. In 2000, Congress passed a bill supporting the project that President Clinton signed it into law later that year. Though constructed on federal land and supported by the government, the $103 million museum was entirely funded through private donations raised by the Memorial Fund. Nearly a quarter of the money was raised through an annual police bike-riding fundraiser. This allowed the vision for the museum to be dictated solely by its supporters. Based on this timeline, the museum's creation was not intended to be a response to this current political moment, but it's hard to detach from the fact that it came online this year at the height of 21st-century racial tension and police brutality in the U.S. The exhibits, as well as, the building's design, don't explicitly confront these issues. Since the museum opened, it’s maintained a relatively low-profile for smart-but-obvious reasons. According to Rebecca Looney, lead director of exhibits and programs, it isn’t here to address current national politics but to give civilians a “walk in their shoes” experience of what it’s like to be in law enforcement. For all intents and purposes, the museum does just that. With an extensive collection of over 20,000 artifacts from historic moments in our nation’s history, such as the handcuffs used by police to arrest Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin to the bulletproof vest that Al Capone wore, anyone who is remotely interested in crime will be gripped. The curation even caters to pop culture enthusiasts with RoboCop’s full costume and clips of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. When a visitor steps into the facility, they get a sweeping view of almost the entire exhibition space simply from traversing the curved, second-floor walkway. With a sneak peek of what’s to come, people of all ages can zero in on the interactive exhibition they’d like to view first, whether it’s hearing about how cops train search-and-sniff dogs or taking a faux emergency call at a police dispatcher’s console. Many of these exhibits are laid out within a single, spacious room that makes other over-crowded local museums seem even more stifling. Several of the museum’s exhibits look at law enforcement through the lens of heroism, but none more respectfully than the small room known as the “Hall of Remembrance.” Photos of officers who have died this year in the line of duty are displayed in row after row on the room's back wall. It’s a startling view, given the wall is nearly full with well over 300 people. The headshots will rotate each year, according to Looney, and will play a special role in National Police Week every May when officers and their families visit for the first time. Other media exhibits show how law enforcement responded to and worked with communities after September 11, 2001, and the Emanuel 9 massacre, among other recent tragedies. One of the museum’s main offerings is a 20-minute introductory video that details the history of law enforcement and current issues officers face every day in police work. It’s set inside a striking, 111-seat theater with dramatic acoustics. According to Looney, weighty topics like police brutality and corruption within the profession won’t be explored in the museum’s main exhibits but will be part of educational programming and temporary shows when possible. Critics are already calling this a major flaw and a missed opportunity.   The National Law Enforcement Museum's completion comes on the heels of the David Adjayedesigned Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which opened in September of 2016. The two museums are starkly different. While the NMAAHC gives much more space to the Black Lives Matter movement and the relationship between the African American community and the police, the law enforcement museum only dips briefly into those issues, touching on the 2014 shooting and subsequent riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Maybe this will change, maybe it won't.   Regardless, the NMAAHC rightfully stands tall in all the glory that its 100-plus years of planning should produce. The Davis Buckley–designed museum for law enforcement—while hidden—is full of light, exuding a subtle poise, and perhaps providing a much-needed point of connection for the American people who are having trouble relating to or caring for law enforcement today. Only time will tell if it makes an impact on our cultural divide. At the very least, the museum will be a place of solace for friends and family who have lost loved ones in this profession, and for those who serve today. The National Law Enforcement Museum is located at 444 E St. NW in Washington, D.C. It’s open Sunday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. Buy tickets here.
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The Uncanny Gallery

Assemble masterfully plays with history in its design for a London gallery
Assemble Studio's most recent project is also its most ambitious to date in terms of size and permanence. The group has turned a former public bathhouse in New Cross, a south-east neighborhood of London, into an arts center for Goldsmiths, University of London. The Victorian brick and cast iron Laurie Grove Baths are now recast as the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art for a new kind of creative immersion. When Assemble was awarded Britain’s most prestigious visual arts prize, the Turner, in 2015 it was a moment of celebration for the architecture scene, but also of confusion. Were the architects artists now, and their architecture, in effect, art? Or the other way around? Some saw it as a promotion of architectural work to the realm of fine art, other a demotion. Perhaps it was neither, and what it meant remains unsettled. At the time, the architecture collective had already won the competition to design a new Centre for Contemporary Art at Goldsmiths’ campus as a wild card entry. An art-architecture commission for the artist-architects. Assemble was commissioned for the project following an open architecture competition in 2014, and it has been realized with Paloma Strelitz and Adam Willis acting as lead architects, in collaboration with Alan Baxter Associates and Max Fordham Engineers. The 10,700 square foot building accommodates an event space and cafe alongside seven galleries that opened this fall. In a sense, the building’s purpose further complicates things, and points toward the conventions we still lean toward in defining the roles of artists, architects, cultural institutions, and academia. A group of architects, attributed as great artists by the art world, commissioned to make architecture for art’s sake with affluent alumni artists as patrons. And at that, the building is on the front yard of one of today's international strongholds in the realm of history and theory of art. Assemble has previously made a name for itself in producing design projects where a hands-on approach to design and a close relationship with the local community and the prospective users lays the groundwork. In this case, that end-user community is the art theorists next door. It is the London art world. It is the curators and the museum directors and the interns. It is the gallery-circuit weekend visitors; it is fellow architects; it is the Assemble fan base. It is us. That could be cause for concern, but it could also be a moment for introspection. On the gallery's second day open, a handful of visitors strolled around, peeking up and down through openings in the three-story atrium that has been carved into the building’s heart. Spiraling around it is an array of galleries, transitional spaces, nooks, and crannies that present a buffet of architectural flavors. It is a ruin and a temple, a cave and theater stage, a maze and a manor. It is a murky basement and an airy loft. It is a piece of industrial infrastructure and a quirky contemporary playhouse. The baths have been respectfully added to and carefully taken care of. What once was a public building for the most private of uses, where grimy boilers and shiny tiles worked to unite water and naked skin, has now been brought to a new public for a new solitary-slash-social event: our encounter with art. Some things have been scrubbed away, other kinds of dirt preserved and exposed. It is generous, gentle, masterfully executed. Assemble’s CCA building is a well composed collage. And somehow it is also a monolith. It might sound confusing. It is not. It makes perfect sense, because something about it is eerie. The building is kind of good, extraordinary but also kind of ordinary. And it remains etched in your memory like a familiar face that you can not quite place. In one of the second-floor galleries, we find ourselves standing were only water once stood, inside a black iron box that used to be a cistern. A cut-away to one side now lets daylight in. For the opening exhibition, a work by Mika Rottenberg is on display. On the floor, a half-dozen frying pans are placed on electric stoves. Drops of water slowly rain from the ceiling, evaporating into a thin mist as they hit the hot pans. It is beautiful. Maybe this is what architecture for architects is, today. The “now”. The nuanced material presence of local history, the palette of delicate metalwork dipped in graceful pastels, the robust but cute bespoke detailing. What if it is calculated to fit its purpose. What if this is what it is like to have someone design for your own community. Maybe this is what we have been craving. A machine attuned to serving us this relationship with art.
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Something old, something new

The 57th Carnegie International digs where it stands
Within the last three months, two rustbelt cities have opened international art exhibitions. Cleveland, Ohio, debuted FRONT International in July, and this weekend Pittsburgh opened its 57th Carnegie International. While FRONT sends artists and art-tourists into sites throughout the city, this year’s Carnegie International keeps its art in and around its own house. The exhibition draws visitors to Andrew Carnegie’s immense, turn-of-the-century building—a complex with two museums, a concert hall, and library all under one roof—and proves that its long institutional history is a fertile ground for provocative new work. The notion of an “international” exhibition perhaps still conjures the hubris of the industrialist who founded the show in 1896 to identify the “old masters of tomorrow.” But this year’s curators, Ingrid Schaffner along with Liz Park and Ashley McNelis, aimed to use the exhibition to spark “museum joy.” The curatorial joy is certainly contagious, evident even in the team’s abolition of wall texts, which Schaffner denounces in favor of a bound book developed with Dancing Fox Press that hearkens back to a 19th-century travel guide. By saturating the building with new artwork, the 57th Carnegie International strives to construct new narratives and celebrate the art as a lived experience with architectural and artistic juxtapositions. The exhibition may be bounded by the museum walls, but the 32 artists and collectives, as well as one independent exhibition maker have taken it upon themselves to respond to Pittsburgh’s local histories and regional conditions that still have international resonance. The 57th Carnegie International is open now through March 25, 2019. Admission is free with tickets to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History.