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Flower Power

David Hartt brings the tropics to Frank Lloyd Wright's Beth Sholom Synagogue
Orchids sprout their spindly stems skywards in search of water on rainy days. Leaves bunch in boxes, fighting one another for space in the light, vibrant pink. Not so distantly, a piano can be heard. This is the scene at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. It is a scene reminiscent of the lush floral paintings of Martin Johnson Heade, a citation noted by David Hartt, the artist behind this installation, The Histories (Le Mancenillier), on view at the synagogue through December 19. (Other references include the classical historian Herodotus, the Creole-Jewish composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and the Canadian experimental filmmaker Michael Snow). Heade was born not 25 miles from where the synagogue stands today, however, he traveled widely, visiting Jamaica, Brazil, Colombia, and other locales to create sensitive paintings of misty miniature worlds, all orchids and bugs and hummingbirds—a migratory creature with symbolic “affinity to abolitionist movement,” according to Hartt. Heade was himself a prominent abolitionist. Hartt too traveled for this work, filming scenes of waving foliage in Haiti and Louisiana for videos on display on two 98-inch monitors. The orchids, however, were filmed in his Philadelphia studio; a seed can travel far, after all. Movement, displacement, diaspora, and homebuilding figure and reconfigure themselves in The Histories. Hartt was inspired by discovering that the Beth Sholom congregation’s original home in Philadelphia’s Logan neighborhood now serves as the home of a Black evangelical congregation. During the mass suburbanization that took hold of America after the Second World War, which coincided with the so-called “Synagogue Boom,” the congregation moved, enlisting Wright to build their new home, which would be completed just after his death in 1959. With its shocking pyramid form, designed to be in Wright’s words “luminous Mount Sinai,” it’s the only synagogue Wright ever built. Curated by the Glass House’s Cole Akers, The Histories (Le Mancenillier), overtakes the Wright’s bold structure without overwhelming it. Entering through the back, as most people do, you’ll encounter a large flat screen on black scaffolding, about human height, though much larger than any human being. On it, plants move and flow, including orchids and fronds. An occasional white X flashes across the screen, a reference to Snow, whose structuralist films considered the presence of the camera and materiality of that more analog medium. Video is not as tangible a thing as celluloid film, and so here the X seems to index the physicality of the screens (another monitor be found, oriented vertically, across the synagogue). These TVs are more sculptures than frames. While at times the view in the videos is fixed, trained watchfully on fronds swaying in brackish water, other times they float and flutter with videos taken by choreographed drones and flipped upside-down. In planters where artificial plants once sat, Hartt has inserted live tropical flora lit with pink grow lights to keep them alive in the subterranean settings. In the main sanctuary, a jaw-dropping theatrical space with a glass roof soaring 110 feet above, orchids have been placed throughout: on the floor, over chairs, and on large tables straddling whole swaths of seats. The roof, impressive as it might be, leaks. When Hartt first encountered the synagogue, there were buckets and kiddie pools placed throughout to collect rainwater and snowmelt. The orchids serve as a more expressive and a no less functional replacement.  What is the medium of a building, of architectural experience? In conversations with Hartt, he said that he had been thinking about Wright’s notion of “total design”—of not just creating the architecture of a building, but the architecture of living, down to the smallest details. The exhibition's two tapestries perhaps evince the clearest example of this. Classic design objects and textiles make physical the most immaterial of things. Light hitting a camera sensor, the semiconductors revealing the facts of themselves as pixels, become most obvious in the fabric forest and lens flare hanging in one room. The Histories is not just objects. Music is central to the exhibition, with renditions of Gottschalk’s music, as recorded by Ethiopian pianist Girma Yifrashewa, playing in the main sanctuary, not only creating a new sonic texture, but building on the exhibition’s story of hybridization, travel, and transmission. Gottschalk had a mixed-race and mixed-faith background and synthesized European and African-American musical traditions, spending much of his life outside the United States. As Gottschalk serves as a “cipher” for Hartt, music serves as an anchor for the exhibition. Hartt invited Yifrashewa, who trained in Bulgaria, to score the exhibition with Gottschalk’s music. In addition, performers were invited in throughout the exhibition’s run and a piano and mixer on display serve as a sort of sculptural intervention that constantly hint at latent performative possibilities. Hartt describes his artistic process as “peripatetic,” both intellectually and formally, but also spatially. At home in transit, Hartt traces shifting vectors of time and space that despite their motion, become the stabilizing forces that create communities. But these flights are fraught. Drone footage and landscape travel paintings can show new sights and celebrate the richness of life, but they can also serve to surveil or as colonial capture. The conditions that create diaspora are often stories of painful displacement, which might serve in some ways as unifying forces for this primarily white Jewish congregation and the Black church that replaced their former home, but the synagogue also stands as an index to the white flight suburbanization that took place in the 20th century. History, this exhibition's subject, is a story of entanglements and estrangements that echo into the hybrid present. The installation’s parenthetical title, Le Mancenillier, wryly acknowledges this messiness. It refers to both a song by Gottschalk, and to the Caribbean manchineel tree, which produces a fruit that the Christopher Columbus referred to as the death apple: it is enticingly sweet, and deadly. David Hartt: The Histories (Le Mancenillier) Through December 19 Beth Sholom Synagogue Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
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ACADIA

ACADIA 2019 showcased the state of digital design
The presentations and activities at this year’s ACADIA (Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture) conference gave attendees a glimpse of potentially disruptive technologies and workflows for computational architectural production. The conference was held this year in Austin from October 24 through 26 and was organized by The University of Texas School of Architecture faculty members Kory Bieg, Danelle Briscoe, and Clay Odom. The organizers collected papers, workshops, and projects addressing the theme of “Ubiquity and Autonomy” in computation. Contributors reflected on the state of architectural production, in which digital tools and methodologies developed in the boutique, specialized settings at the fringes of the profession a generation ago have now become commonplace in architectural offices—while at the same time, new forms of specialist computational practices are emerging which may themselves soon become mainstream. While each participant grappled to position themselves in the cyclical and ever-advancing framework of technological inheritance and transference, the most encouraging efforts can be described in three categories: Expansions, subversions, and wholesale disruptions of the computational status quo. The expansionists claimed new technological territories, enlisting emerging and peripheral technologies to their purposes. The subvertors sampled the work and scrambled the workflows of their predecessors, configuring novel material applications in the process. Disruptors actively sought to break the techno-positivist cycle, questioning the assumptions, ethics, and values of previous generations to leverage computational design and digital processes to advance pressing and prescient political, economic, and ecological agendas. Expansionists appropriated bleeding-edge technologies, or those newly introduced to the discipline, to stake new terrain in design and construction. The conference was the first of its kind to host a dedicated session on the use of Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) in design. This machine-learning system pits two forms of artificial intelligence against each other—one AI acts as the creative “artist,” generating all the possible solutions to a given task, while the other acts as the “critic,” selectively editing and curating the most appropriate responses. After training the networks on archives of architectural imagery, panelists put the GANs to work on evaluative and generative design tasks, alternately generating passably authentic floor plans, building envelopes, and reconstructed streetscapes. The workshop sessions, hosted by a suite of computational research teams from several architectural offices, demonstrated possibilities for adopting emerging technologies with familiar platforms, adopting and adapting tools like Fologram and Hololens to more familiar software platforms and fabrication methods. The subvertors, familiar with the expected uses and applications of given tools, would offer intentionally contradictory alternatives, short-circuiting established workflows and celebrating the unintended consequences of digitally enhanced platforms. A project from MIT researchers Lavender Tessmer, Yijiang Huang, and Caitlin Mueller entitled “Additive Casting of Mass-Customizable Brick” is a good example of the subvertors’ approach to interrogating workflows, enlisting precision-equipment for low-fidelity effect. As the current state-of-the-art in custom concrete formwork employs costly and time-consuming workflows to task CNC routers or robotic arms with milling, the MIT project is a critical alternative. Instead of shaping the mold, the project mobilizes the mold, achieving a wide variety of sculptural concrete “bricks” using standard cylindrical forms wielded by a robotic arm, while leveraging the ability of liquid concrete to self-level. The molds are shifted to preset positions while the concrete sets, allowing the sequential states of self-leveled concrete to intersect in complex geometries. The process is surprisingly delightful to watch, as the robot controls seven molds simultaneously like a drummer with a drumkit. The unexpected combination of high- and low-tech recalibrates possibilities for the robotic craft. Other researchers swapped out expected materials to produce unexpected results. Vasily Sitnikov (KTH) and Peter Eigenraam (TU Delft) teamed with BuroHappold to produce IceFormwork, a project that uses milled blocks of ice as the unlikely forms for casting high-performance fiber-reinforced concrete. Ice, the team argued, is a preferred, environmentally neutral alternative to industry-standard EPS foam molds, which produce a vast amount of waste. Ice molds, the team demonstrated, are easy enough to make (with some help from a reliable water source and a repurposed refrigerated ISO container). Airborne particles suspended by the ice-milling process are harmless water vapor, unlike the dangerous foam dust requiring ventilation equipment and other protective measures. When it comes to de-molding, the ice can simply be left outside to melt. While these investigations showcased new ways to hack the assembly process of cast building elements, their choice of concrete as a material contradicted a growing consensus in the panels; that designers should actively seek alternatives to the glut of concrete in the building industry, given the high ecological cost and high carbon footprint of concrete manufacturing in the context of an accelerating global sand shortage. Daniela Mitterberger and Tiziano Derme (MAEID/University of Innsbruck) offered one of the more radical alternatives with their project “Soil 3D Printing.” The team is using hydrogels—non-toxic, biodegradable adhesives—as binding agents injected into loose soil, to form alien landscapes of networked, earthen structures that portend a near-future where biocompatible, organic additive manufacturing processes restructure geotechnical landscapes and planetary geology. The provocations of the disruptors—who radically repurpose computational tools beyond perceived disciplinary constraints—raised profound questions about the potential for design technologies to enable and enact larger societal transformations by lining up global supply chains, material economies, and non-human constituencies squarely in their sights. Jose Sanchez (Plethora Project/Bloom Games/USC), in the presentation he gave while accepting the Innovative Research Award, presented his work leveraging computation and game design to critically examine and transform economic and ecologic realities. Sanchez has developed a series of game environments which force players to navigate wicked problems in contemporary cities, to confront the complexities, contradictions, and paradoxes of urbanization, logistics, and manufacturing. Sanchez described the continued focus in his work on efforts to "optimize for the many"—as opposed to the few—in a period of increased economic inequality, re-assessing the predominant use of digital technologies over the past few decades to enable complex mass-customized assemblies. Sanchez, in his own work, and in projects like Bloom with Alisa Andrasek (Biothing/Bloom Games/RMIT), has been exploring the potential of digital technologies to disrupt mass-production models through high-volume production of serialized and standardized “discrete” architectural components. In a similar vein, Gilles Retsin (UCL/Bartlett) argued for a reconsideration of the labor practices and digital economies enmeshed in, and implicitly supported by,  a building industry that has not yet come to terms with automation. By focusing on the ability of digital tools to combat material waste, Retsin argued, a generation of digitally savvy architects have ignored the potential of automation to address wasted labor. Through speculative research and small projects, Retsin is hoping to disrupt the building industry, increasing the capacity of architects to design and implement new platforms for project delivery which can combat exploitative practices. As expansionists pointed out where to look for the next big advancement, subvertors demonstrated how existing tools could be used differently. Disruptors were some of the few to ask—and answer—why. Stephen Mueller is a founding partner of AGENCY and a Research Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University College of Architecture in El Paso.
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Should we?

Re-imagining the Avant-Garde re-examines the state of the field
“We are in pursuits of an idea, a new vernacular, something to stand alongside the space capsules, computers and throw-away packages of an atomic/electronic age,” Warren Chalk, member of former British architecture studio Archigram once said. Chalk's quote epitomized Archigram's outlook and approach—daring, brave, looking firmly into the future, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Archigram and its contemporaries of similarly brilliant names (Ant Farm, Superstudio and Archizoom) have since been canonized as being part of an elite group of supposedly Avant-Garde architects. But if that was the crème-de-la-crème of 50 years ago, what is the equivalent today? Re-imagining the Avant-Garde, on show at Betts Project in East London, might have the answer. If you want to see some good drawings, this is the place to go—not surprising given the star-studded exhibitor list: Ant Farm, Pablo Bronstein, Peter Eisenman, Sam Jacob, OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Jimenez Lai/Bureau Spectacular, and Aldo Rossi, to name a few, are all on show and none disappoint. Neither do the smaller studios: UrbanLab, WAI Think Tank, Warehouse of Architecture and Research (WAR), and Office Kovacs. Those exhibited are either mentioned in or have contributed to a special edition of AD Magazine which takes the same name as the exhibition at Betts Project. British duo Matthew Butcher and Luke Pearson, both academics, writers, and designers guest co-edited the magazine and co-curated this exhibition. "Avant-Garde" used in relation to architecture today brings to mind the work of Archigram et al., all of who sprouted from the fervent experimental ground of the 1960s and ’70s. It's through this moment in architectural history which Re-Imagining the Avant-Garde attempts to frame contemporary architectural practice and thought. So how does the historical and contemporary sit next to each other? Rather comfortably, it turns out. As images and models, all arguably fall under the umbrella of Pop Architecture; British critic Reyner Banham's definition holding true. Take Belgium firm Office Kersten Geers' Border Wall, for example. The studio helped popularize the collage style of architectural representation a few years ago and it's a useful medium for Border Wall. Here it is employed to highlight tensions between territories—in this case, a walled forest in the middle of a desert divided by a fence. The desert landscape is a blurry image, while the tree trunks are conveniently hidden, all of which consequently obfuscates any sense of scale, adding a layer of ambiguity to the piece. Other exhibitors reference the Avant-Garde architectural canon explicitly, like WAR for example, who projects its architecture through a comic strip akin to the drawings of Archigram. L.A.-based Office Kovacs, run by Andrew Kovacs, meanwhile provides a palimpsest of readymade architectural artifacts in Miniature maze, a work that draws on the archive of affinities found in Kovacs' blog of architectural b-sides. As these works are displayed next to photos of Ant Farm's famous touring truck, and with other ’60s radicals in mind, it's evident that the contemporary practices on show are producing work that is just as visually arresting as their predecessors. But what's the difference between then and now? "Yes, ’70s utopian groups have influenced us—it's obvious, no? The difference is that we work out there in reality," Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius of the Berlin-based raumlabor told AN editor-in-chief William Menking in his article for the issue of AD Magazine. Like all good exhibitions, Re-imagining the Avant-Garde provokes more questions. Is this the Avant-Garde reimagined? Why are we being asked to re-imagine the Avant-Garde in the first place, is it the hope of stumbling upon another wave of Avant-Garde architects? Very few, if any, realize they are part of an Avant-Garde, even if they have Avant-Gardist ambitions (see Chalk's quote). The term is, for the most part, applied through a historical lens. We only realize there was an Avant-Garde once it has been and, sadly, gone. We might even find that the more we search for an Avant-Garde, the more it will evade us. When Abbot Suger worked with his Master Masons on the Basilica of Saint-Denis in 12th-Century France, he probably didn't expect the Gothic-style church he commissioned to end up defining the built landscape of Medieval Europe. Far less did Suger realize that he was part of an architectural Avant-Garde (or equivalent seeing as the phrase emerged some 700 years after). Defining a historical Avant-Garde imposes restrictions on a supposed contemporary Avant-Garde. Also writing in the same issue of AD Magazine, critic Mimi Zeiger argues that "The work of Italian radicals Superstudio [and others] provides endless fodder for appropriation," which is the case with much the work on show at Betts Project. Furthermore, the elite Avant-Garde club which Butcher and Pearson refer to is essentially an all-white gentleman's club. "Re-imagining the avant-garde might seem celebratory at first but unless radically re-contextualized and critiqued, it can be a trap. Old biases and omissions are reinforced: canons crystallized, hierarchies hardened, patriarchal practices protected," adds Zeiger. In light of this, instead of aspiring to be part of an Avant-Garde, today's architects should forget about the term altogether and strive to make a more sustainable planet. Much as how Chalk imagined building for an "atomic/electronic age," a similarly forward-thinking vision will surely prove to be Avant-Garde in time. Re-imagining the Avant-Garde runs through December 21.
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More Than Skin Deep

The 2019 Facades+ Conference in Los Angeles discussed high-performance envelopes in depth
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Now in its seventh year, the Facades+ Conference in Los Angeles was held on November 14 in the California Ballroom of the L.A. Grand Hotel and offered a wide range of lectures, symposia and networking opportunities for top professionals from the worlds of design, fabrication and construction. The subjects addressed over the course of the conference were sprawling to suit a wide range of interests yet unwaveringly focused on the importance of high-performance envelopes in the growth of cities, civic pride, and the reduction of the industry’s carbon footprint. The day began with an opening keynote lecture from Fokke Moerel, a partner at Dutch firm MVRDV, whose personal focus is on global public and cultural works, transformations, and interior design. Moerel's lecture, The Skin is the Message, elaborated on the unique challenges the firm has met developing unique facades in the pursuit of uncompromised architectural expression. Crystal Houses, for instance, featured an entirely transparent ground-floor glass facade made to appear like the brickwork common of buildings in its area of Amsterdam. By developing a novel technique for combining glass bricks, glass window frames, and glass architraves, the firm challenged the structural and aesthetic limits often assumed of the materials to “offer the store a window surface that contemporary stores need, while maintaining architectural character and individuality, resulting in a flagship store that hopes to stand out among the rest.” Moerel then highlighted the luxurious facade of the Bulgari flagship store MVRDV designed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which was developed in collaboration with Technical University Delft, with Tensoforma as the facade production team. To achieve the illusion of overscaled marble, Glass-Reinforced Concrete (GRC) was cut into a marble-like pattern, with its crevices filled in with resin and illuminated with LEDs. After her lecture, AN executive editor Matt Shaw joined Moerel on stage to moderate a discussion on the relationship between criticality and sense of humor present in the firm’s facade designs. A four-person panel, Reducing the City’s Carbon Footprint through Facade Design, elaborated on the role high-performance envelopes can play in the global initiative to reduce the industry’s carbon emissions. Given that the global building floor area is expected to grow to approximately two-and-a-half trillion square feet by 2060, more than double the current worldwide building stock, Fabian Kremkus of CO Architects advised members of the audience to “be willing to learn and get into the science” of sustainable construction techniques. The moderated conversation that followed considered how building manufacturers could develop methods that reduce material extraction, site demolition, manufacturing emissions, and the need for active heating and cooling within large-scale buildings. Michel Rojkind provided the afternoon keynote speech titled Transmutation: From Digital Design to Local Fabrication. “Where does craft sit in a world,” Rojkind asked the audience, “ruled by technology, and where digitized, mechanized fabrication is becoming more sophisticated?” He then elaborated on how he has employed hand craftsmanship “to slow things down” in his own practice, most notably with the Foro Boca concert hall in Veracruz, Mexico. Using a concrete facade “able to withstand and respond to the harsh conditions of the site,” the concert hall was constructed by a team of local dedicated craftsman.
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The RA Zoo

Where are the so-called Eco-Visionaries coming to save our planet?
To planet Earth, the city of Venice being a designated UNESCO World Heritage site is meaningless. It can, and will, treat the city with abject indifference as was demonstrated earlier this month. In more recent climate chaos news, floods have devastated other parts of Italy, causing a viaduct to collapse near the city of Savona; meanwhile, across the other side of the world, fires are raging across the Amazon and Australia. Bizarrely, and tragically, many governments lack the impetus to make any meaningful change in this regard. We find ourselves in a dire situation, crying out for radical approaches that will galvanize the human race into action, something that Eco-Visionaries, which opened last weekend at London's Royal Academy of Arts (RA), strives to do. First of all, what an exciting name: "Eco-Visionaries," does it get more enticing than that? Upon entering the exhibition, audiences are greeted with a rotating model globe shrouded in green, murky dust. Playing through speakers in the background meanwhile, is Clara Rockmore's ominous rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns' Le Cygne (The Swan). This is Domestic Catastrophies nº3: La Planète en Laboratoire by French artist collective HeHe and it sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition, which is a sobering affair; but the vision of what, exactly, is as about as clear as HeHe's installation, despite being populated with visionaries. But that's not to say it's all doom and gloom either, despite the fact that the second installation you see features a giraffe being graphically shot, with blood spewing rapidly from its neck. A journey has been crafted by in-house RA curator Gonzalo Herrero Delicado (who worked with Pedro Gadanho and Mariana Pestana to curate the original show for Lisbon's MAAT) taking patrons through installations that highlight the climate crisis we find ourselves in and propositions that attempt to mitigate it. This seems like a natural progression one should take when addressing the issue of saving the planet: here's a problem and here's how we might solve it. However, Eco-Visionaries jumps between art as commentary and architecture as proposition, and struggles to get a strong grip on either. The architecture that does hint at radical change has to build upon the success of others—New York firm WORKac developed The Dolphin Embassy from Ant Farm, while Paris-based Studio Malka Architecture's Green Machine riffs on Archigram's Walking City. Both fall short, and architects don't come off as potential planetary saviors by any stretch. The strongest installations, meanwhile, are presented as art. An imaginative proposition comes from Turkish designer-artist-researcher Pinar Yoldas, whose Ecosystem of Excess envisages plastic-gobbling pelagic insects populating a post-human planet and cleaning it up in the process. On a similar strand, working alongside DeepMind artificial intelligence, artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg's recreation of a white rhinoceros is powerful. The now-extinct creature comes to life at a 1:1 scale, developing from a wandering cluster of pixels into a great beast that seems confused by the white box it finds itself in. Here we question, besides humanity, what lies ahead for the animals of this Earth. Extinction? Digital archival? That's certainly not the case for jellyfish, who, as it turns out, are seemingly the harbinger of the end times. The pulsating creatures thrive in the conditions created by climate change. "More warm water," says a narrator in the exhibition's final, and best, exhibit, "is a disaster for anything that breathes and a dream come true for anything that doesn’t breathe much, like jellyfish.” Titled win > < win, the installation is by Berlin-based artist group Rimini Protokoll and occupies a room in the third and last gallery of the exhibition. win > < win splits audiences in two with a circular tank filled with jellyfish—something the RA had to obtain a zoological license to host. With clever lighting, the two audiences are revealed and hidden from each other, the tank acting as both a mirror and portal for the divided audiences. Through headphones, we learn about the ascendance of jellyfish, a species that benefits from humans killing their predators with overfishing and pollution as plastic bags kill turtles and other animals. The influx of jellyfish has direct consequences for humans too, as they clog up nuclear power and desalination plants across the world. "Jellyfish will be the only survivors when everything else has fallen apart," the narrator ominously intones. Despite this sombre note, win > < win is fun, engaging and informative all at the same time and makes the $15 exhibition fee is worth it. It also represents a success for Delicado, who told AN that he wanted the exhibition "to talk a younger audience," hence the inclusion of more familiar names like Virgil Abloh and Olafur Eliasson, whose installations—a gold, supposedly sunken chair and pictures of melting ice, respectively—do little to inspire. And that's what we need, inspiration. In his book, The is no Planet B, author Mike Berners-Lee writes: "Whilst the idea of limiting climate change seems like essential damage limitation, in itself, it spectacularly fails to excite most of us. More often than not, it gets framed primarily as the need to forego things we enjoy. And since humans–all of us–hate thinking about anything unpleasant, the temptation to switch off is hard to resist."
Eco-Visionaries, as its title tantalizingly suggested, might change that. This was a great chance to show the world that we might, by the skin of our teeth, be able to claw ourselves out from climate change-induced catastrophe. In this regard, Eco-Visionaries falls short. Perhaps this was because the RA only allowed the exhibition to have three rooms, preventing it from going further. However, while filled with insight and inquisitive introspection into how humanity lives on this earth, the feeling of future inspiration is sadly lacking. Eco-Visionaries runs through 23 February 2020.
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Propping it Up

Props breathes new life into Zaha Hadid's Contemporary Arts Center
Nearly two decades ago, Zaha Hadid's vision for a building that housed art, but more broadly worked to catalyze an urban redevelopment effort in Cincinnati, was to create a structure that made art accessible to the public. She delivered on her goal as a spatially complex series of stacked galleries piled up high over a tight infill site. Accentuated on the ground level by virtually no threshold between the city and institution, Hadid's Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) has since become defined by it's airy public lobby, an "urban carpet" that transitions seamlessly from sidewalk floor to gallery wall, and Corbusier-inspired stairways that form a vertical street, tapping into a set of galleries floating seemingly impossibly overhead. It is only fitting that a show like Props could emerge in a space that set out to reimagine the idea of what a white box gallery could be. Props is a set of eight experimental sculptures from architecture-trained mixed media artist Lauren Henkin, who has found new productive uses for underutilized space in the 16-year-old building. Her solo exhibition joins two other compatible shows concerned with spatial awareness: Confinement: Politics of Space and Bodies, and Cincinnati-based photographer Tom Schiff's Surrounded by Art. The trio of exhibitions will remain open through March 1, 2020. Steven Matijcio, former curator of the CAC, and the current director & chief curator at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston curated the work. "Lauren [Henkin] and I wanted to challenge and expand the typical locations of artistic presentation at the CAC," said Matijcio. "By its very nature, Lauren's series of "Props" was meant to skew the habits, conventions, and assignments that coalesce in even the most avant-garde of structures." Each of Henkin's Props is assembled from an ad hoc material palette—concrete, PVC, wiring cable, plaster scraps, and so on. In one case, scrap wood was pulled from the CAC's basement and piles of debris discarded by installers of the concurrent exhibitions. The development of the work relied heavily on photographic documentation, drawing, and visits to the building. Henkin worked between her Maine-based studio, the CAC, and a nearby Kentucky-based fabrication studio. Props intentionally undermines the programming of the CAC's formal gallery spaces. Why have work in the gallery when it can exist outside of the gallery? Lacking any formalized infrastructure for art viewing (lights, art labels, etc.), the work feels at home amid and within the architecture of the building. The pieces dissolve into walls, hug corners, and playfully grow out from the floor. In this regard, the Props do not come off as menacing or insulting in any way. Instead, they feel like discreet, optimistically friendly characters, producing compelling moments of their own that stop us in our tracks. With no labels or signage, there seems to be a real possibility that some of these Props could be overlooked during de-installation and hang around the museum indefinitely. Henkin, whose background is in architecture, says movement is the organizational force underlying Props: "These pieces are meant to be viewed while in motion where the viewer is moving up and around the work." Henkin flips our traditional relationship to art: the work becomes static, while the viewer is set in motion. However, beyond Zaha's stair, Props can be spotted hiding out in spaces less trafficked, like the entrance to the fourth-floor women's restroom or a forgotten corner of a hall leading to a fire stair. Formalized art galleries offer no escape for visitors who become immediately incorporated into the spatial logic of the institution: you must walk up these stairs, and you must view the work in this order. Henkin, Matijcio, and co. offer an alternative to this. You inevitably pass Henkin's work, but it operates as a filter, or primer, for the other work in the galleries. "The element of play, whimsy, and revelry played an important role in the conception and execution of the project. Lauren's sculptural interventions in the CAC are meant to disorient and befuddle, and provoke," said Matijcio. "Some are imposing and seemingly precarious; others are quizzical and slightly comical. Each one is different, but the unifying thread was to reimagine the structure's non-gallery spaces as fertile terrain to reconsider and activate." While this iteration of Henkin's Props likely won't travel elsewhere due to its site-specificity, the show might still have a legacy. The problem that Henkin's show exposes is that austere, raw, underutilized display and circulation spaces of today's art museum do have the opportunity to be more critically used. What would it look like for an exhibition to spill out into these spaces? What trouble would this cause, between issues of security, lighting, and liability? However, what opportunities this could create, to reimagine the broader curatorial flow to the institution! Props beg us to consider and reinvent our normative, intuitive, choreographed movements through the museum, especially in Cincinnati, where 16 years of exhibitions have begun to familiarize and dull this incredibly significant architectural space. In an institution that prides itself as a "non-collecting" contemporary museum showing "work of the last five minutes," Props exist as a welcome sideshow to the CAC's ongoing spirited circus of traveling acts. Henkin reminds us that a white room can fit only so many paintings before overflowing.
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History's Mysteries

Pittsburgh's MuseumLab renovation finds wonder in history
The thrill of discovery is palpable throughout Koning Eizenberg Architecture (KEA)’s MuseumLab in Pittsburgh. The museum is designed for older kids—tweens ages 10–15 years old—and encourages hands-on learning through arts and technology. The restoration of its building was driven by curiosity and inquiry into a historic structure that had fallen into disrepair. The MuseumLab is an expansion of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the third building to be renovated in what has become the largest cultural campus for families in the U.S. It’s the Santa Monica-based KEA’s second project on that campus, following their transformation of an 1880s-era post office and the adjacent 1940s planetarium in 2004. MuseumLab (along with a charter school and incubator for education-based startups) now occupies the next building in the row, a 40,000-square-foot Richardsonian Romanesque library was once known as the Carnegie Free Library. Commissioned by the industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1886, it was the first of over 1,600 free libraries he would build across the U.S. As the first library in his adopted hometown, Carnegie spared no expense on this Gilded Age gift to Pittsburgh’s workers. Unfortunately, the textured terracotta tiles and ornately carved column capitals were sacrificed in a 1970s redesign that saved the building from urban renewal efforts but covered up its most distinctive qualities under dropped ceilings, plaster, and carpeted walls. In 2006 a lightning strike sent a three-ton piece of granite crashing through the roof, causing damage that led the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to finally abandon the building altogether. In need of new space, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh saw an opportunity to turn the neglected building from a library into a “lab” that offers tweens a maker space for complex projects, a tech lab run in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, and art exhibitions. In working with KEA, the renovation exemplified MuseumLab’s focus on curiosity and discovery. KEA partner Julie Eizenberg described the approach to the project, which didn’t necessarily begin with a fixed outcome in mind. Eizenberg and the Children’s Museum team approached “architecture as an exploration. … We have a philosophy that the building is an armature for learning in every project we do, and that applied here as well. We started pulling the building apart and that’s when we realized that more of the building had been removed than anyone had expected.” Christen Cieslak, director of facilities and special projects at Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, describes how the renovation fits the mantra of the Children’s Museum to encourage visitors to: “Play with real stuff, and be authentic.” She saw the potential for authenticity in the renovation: “This building has a story to tell.” Exposing the crumbling plaster, missing tile, and stripped ornamentation was a way of exploring the many stories embedded in a post-industrial city and brought about unexpected design opportunities. In that sense, KEA’s work was equal parts excavation and renovation, or in Eizenberg’s words, “more of a reveal than restore.” Peeling away layers of midcentury plaster and vinyl flooring uncovered the building’s industrial materials, colors, and textures and offered surprises along the way, like an entryway lined with terra cotta fox head tiles that were only discovered at the last minute. But rather than restore the building to its original splendor, the team decided to celebrate the layered qualities of the space. “We said, ‘we’re not going to make this a clean and tidy restoration, this is going to be a lovely ruin.’ It ended up making a lot of sense economically and poetically, in terms of reinforcing program values,” Eizenberg said. There’s an irreverence to this approach that should resonate with the building’s young users without “talking down to them.” For Eizenberg, the space “needed to be cool, it needed to not to feel like it was your parents’ place or a kid’s place, and it needed to suggest the idea of discovery.” After uncovering the tall ceilings and large windows of the original design, the Carnegie Free Library was treated like a found object. Materials were restored or recontextualized to create a richly textured environment rooted in industrial materials, particularly granite, tile, and the Carnegie-brand steel that built the philanthropist’s fortune. Perforated steel floorplates that once supported the original library stacks were repurposed as a screen wrapping the main staircase, which doubles as a striking backdrop to the lean, low reception desk. The desk and light-wood benches in the lobby were built from repurposed bookshelves. Original iron shelving that once held the stacks now supports an enticing three-story architectural lace climbing structure designed by architect-trained artist Manca Ahlin that will open in January 2020. “We didn’t want a little kiddy climbing structure,” Ciezlak says, “This is art. It’s a little scary.” The renovation also whimsically reimagines the building’s past. In the Grable Gallery, for example, a lost Tiffany-glass ceiling inspired a commission by Los Angeles and New York-based architecture studio FreelandBuck. The team hung a complex layered laser-cut fabric sculpture to create the illusion of a domed Beaux-Arts space as an homage to the lost ceiling. Visitors are also invited into the process. A local mosaic artist used salvaged tile and glass from different parts of the building in a collaborative sculpture to teach visitors how to create mosaics. For Eizenberg, the reveal was a way to respect the past and change the way visitors engage with older spaces. “The key is not to do something clever and new that makes the past less important,” she said, “everything you do with historic buildings has to in some way be part of the story of the life of the building into the future.” It's noteworthy that the project was designed, financed, and built by a team led by women, who among other things oversaw the building’s capital campaign, supervised the construction, led the design, and directed the museum. As to whether this impacted the final result, Eizenberg suggested that “communication is different when there’s a lot of women around. There’s a lot more comfort, psychologically, in asking questions, in looking at options rather than feeling like you had to have the perfect answer for everything.” Altogether, the building has a dynamic feel to it, as though it is in the process of decay and construction at the same time, making the building an engaging experience for users of all ages. Sarah Rafson is the founder of Point Line Projects and teaches at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture.
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Blinded Me With Science

Projeto Chernobyl captures a post-human landscape on radiographic film
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has been devoid of human habitation for over three decades. Radiation from the 1986 nuclear accident continues to saturate the borderlands of Ukraine and Belarus, rendering thousands of square miles effectively nature preserves. The landscape has been immortalized through countless photographic projects and television series, capturing a post-human ecosystem of abandoned tower blocks and industrial facilities. Artist Alice Miceli's Projeto Chernobyl, on display at the Americas Society and curated by Gabriela Rangel and Diana Flatto, stands out from the standard documentation approach with a series of 30 radiographic negatives that map gamma-ray exposure across multiple sites within the exclusion zone. Projeto Chernobyl began in 2006 and concluded in 2010. The location of the 12-by-16-inch radiographs was determined by extensive mapping conducting by Miceli and her team, as the sheets were placed in differing proximities to the failed Reactor No. 4 and exposed for two to eight months. Each, accordingly, was subject to a unique degree of radioactive exposure. The result is a series of haunting abstracts of manmade catastrophe and a post-human landscape. Considering the distinct approach to the project and the particularities of the location, it is no surprise that Miceli depended on a unique photographic technique. The initial choice was a pinhole-like device; inside of a lead-covered steel box, there would have been a smaller two-inch by two-inch lead square with a minuscule pinhole to expose the radiographic film. Although this process succeeded in a lab-controlled environment in Rio de Janeiro, it failed within the full-scale contamination of the Exclusion zone. The second approach, what was ultimately used for the project, involved placing the autoradiographic film directly onto radioactive matter, such as open fields, walls, windows, and trees. "An autoradiograph, or autoradiogram, is an image imprinted on to a radiographic film that is produced by the decay emissions (the gamma rays) from radioactive matter," said Miceli. "The radiographic film is placed in juxtaposition to, or in direct contact with, the contaminated matter, which in this case has become a radioactive source (like most if not all contaminated matter in the Zone), thus producing life-size images of the invisible contamination." The primary exhibition space has been designed as a void; Near pitch-black and accessed through a pair of blackout curtains. The 30 radiograph negatives are mounted on five walls and backlit by LED screens and are the only form of illumination within the room. Each of the negatives has a distinct mix of markings which provide broad contours of the subject matter, and their geography of radiation contamination. Natural phenomena such as rainfall and wear and tear resulted in further representational erratic, lending a watercolor-like effect or abrasions to individual negatives. The exhibition also includes a brief introduction to Miceli's larger body of work, including In Depth, a photographic series of active minefields in Bosnia, Angola, Cambodia, and Colombia. Black-and-white film photography covering her travels from Germany to the Exclusion Zone is an additional supplement to contextualize the exhibition. Projeto Chernobyl Americas Society 680 Park Avenue New York, New York Through January 25, 2020
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The Rigorous Radical

A Barbara Stauffacher Solomon retrospective explores her lesser-known work
Barbara Stauffacher Solomon: Breaking All the Rules runs through January 20, 2020, at the Architecture and Design Center of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Organized by Brooke Hodge, the museum’s director of architecture and design, it is not a traditional architecture, graphic design, or art exhibition, but straddles all these lines, hence the title (similar to that of a small monograph on Ms. Stauffacher Solomon published by Hall of Femmes). If you are in Palm Springs, it's an exhibition worth checking out. The Architecture and Design Center occupies E. Stewart Williams’s Santa Fe Bank Building, one of those great Palm Springs banks that took inspiration from a world-famous architect; in this case, Mies van der Rohe. The “universal space” holds several pieces from Stauffacher Solomon’s diverse career, which is hard to pin down. Although visually powerful, the narrative can be a little difficult to piece together. Stauffacher Solomon is best known for her graphic design at the Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast. She has been credited with the invention of “Supergraphics” as a result of her work there, and she got almost as much press coverage as the architects for her simple, bold moves. But that work has been largely excluded from this show, as it focuses on selections from the rest of Solomon's career. It is important to understand her story. "Bobbie" grew up in San Francisco and lost her first husband to a brain tumor at a young age. In order to make a living and raise their daughter, she moved to Basel, Switzerland, to study with Armin Hofmann. This sets the stage for Stauffacher Solomon's subsequent work in graphic design, landscape architecture, and fine art. She is always moving between the rigor and discipline of Swiss Modernism and the radical spring of groovy California. She reveals some of this in the videos on display, which provide a context for appreciating the drawings, paintings, and new supergraphic—and her own mischievous delight. A group of eight of Stauffacher Solomon's ping-pong-themed paintings takes up the most space in the museum. Immediately, the visitor is intrigued by the sound of ping-pong being played somewhere just out of sight. The paintings, the exact size of ping-pong tables, hung horizontally when originally shown in 1990 at the San Francisco Museum of Art. In Palm Springs, they are displayed vertically, which is interesting given the relatively low ceiling height. Each canvas depicts a lushly illustrated green Californian landscape complete with white lines and nets. In addition to the sound of ping-pong balls bouncing, there are several actual ping-pong tables with paddles and balls. The paddles and balls were removed in San Francisco, but here, all are encouraged to play. An accompanying selection of drawings shows these rectangular green spaces in the urban landscape.
“To ping is to sing.” “To pong is to go wrong.”
Commissioned for this show, Solomon designed a new accompanying supergraphic overlooking the Ping-Pong tables with those few words. A supersized red ball appears to hurl through space. Stauffacher Solomon's supergraphics at Sea Ranch were rooted in the severity of her mentor Hoffman’s training but also showed her rebellious side, with bold use of color and humor (find the suggestive figures in the Sea Ranch’s Moonraker Pool Center next time you visit). Her work there, painted in a few days, covered an unfinished building that had gone over budget. Since her contributions to supergraphics and Sea Ranch are well known in the design worlds, this smaller show explores less familiar aspects of her career. Following the success of her interpretation of Swiss Modern graphics, Stauffacher Solomon returned to school at the University of California, Berkeley, and worked with the overlaps of architecture and landscape architecture. She ended up painting all kinds of green rectangles, including the series that resembled ping-pong tables. Her master’s thesis was entitled “Notes on the Common Ground between Architecture and Landscape Architecture.” Her ideas later coalesced in a book from Rizzoli, Green Architecture and the Agrarian Garden. This phase depicts her evolution from almost pure graphics to landscape depicted graphically. Yet her first book from Rizzoli, and the art that accompanied this period, was still rooted in the discipline of graphic design. Her journey moves on to a series of artworks that she gathered in a second book from Rizzoli, Good Mourning California, which embraces her home state and its many quirks yet foretells its possible demise. Some of the drawings of women seem influenced by German-American artist Richard Linder. The pieces are rougher, wilder, even angry. Without watching the two videos in the exhibition, it might be difficult for the uninitiated visitor (i.e. not a design aficionado) to make sense of Breaking all the Rules. Listening to Stauffacher Solomon describe her life and work on the videos provides the necessary frame of reference. She describes her early art studies, working as a dancer at San Francisco’s Copacabana nightclub while still a teenager, meeting her future husband at 17, befriending leading bohemians, rebuilding her life as a very young widow and mother, being disciplined by Swiss Modernism, applying that discipline to California in the 1960s, becoming the darling graphic designer of the city’s architecture scene (no surprise—trying to rein in the future chaos of postmodernism), and trying to synthesize thoughts on architecture, landscape architecture, design, the environment, and everything else. It will take a different show (and larger venue) to tell Bobbie Stauffacher Solomon’s design and personal story more completely, but this is splendid first look. Be sure and play some ping-pong.
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How many Utopian Hours are in a day?

A city making festival in Turin asks citizens to dream bigger
From October 18 through 20, students, architects, planners, politicians, and hordes of normal citizens all descended on Turin, Italy, to engage in talks, panels, workshops, and exhibitions at the third annual Utopian Hours festival. The name is a clever play on words; pulling the “nostra” from the middle of Torino Stratosferica, the nonprofit cultural body behind the event, results in “ours,” making the actual name of the festival more about imagining a utopian future for ourselves during that time. This year’s festival was held on the multipurpose campus of the Lavazza Coffee headquarters, offering ample space for the quickly growing event. Even before one entered La Centrale, a towering power-plant-turned-events-space, visitors were met with freestanding didactics featuring snippets of the ideas to expect within. Once inside, a sprawling exhibition floor presented visions of possible future Turins from local studios, as well as a series of low-cost placemaking interventions intended to be dropped in neighborhoods around the city. Upstairs, the festival’s organizers had set up a retrospective for the 100th birthday of Paolo Soleri, curated by Emanuele Piccardo, that tracked the Turin-born architect’s career and evolution in his thinking. Of course, civic engagement and the exchange of ideas were a central goal, and each of the festival’s three days began with activities to get participants involved. On Friday, that meant kicking off the event with a “Circular Economy Workshop” intended to make visitors brainstorm ideas for creating a more “circular,” sustainable Turin. On Saturday, Play the City started the day with an interactive workshop on using play and games to reimagine urban areas (the group would return with a presentation on their work in Amsterdam on Sunday), followed by a workshop on designing for the Turin of 2030, with the youth and elderly of the future in mind. Sunday changed things up with the chance to grab a more intimate breakfast with Jan Rudkiewicz of Werklig, the studio behind Helsinki’s rebranding; participants were encouraged to ask him about the intersection of culture within a city and institutional projects. The line-up was top-notch, as speakers from all over the world offered lectures and panels in both Italian and English. That included two mayors: Chiara Appendino, the mayor of Turin, who spoke at the “How is the Turin of our desires?” panel, and the current architect-turned-mayor of Bratislava, Slovakia, Matúš Vallo, who sat in conversation with Feargus O'Sullivan of CityLab for “How To Become The Mayor.” The shift in perspective throughout the festival, from discussions of institutional, top-down approaches to city-making, to how activists can make local, small-scale changes and advance their causes with grassroots support, provided comprehensive examples of how urban activists made people power work for them. Other discussions of note included a lecture from architectural photographer Iwan Baan on how to change one’s perception of the city, and how he approaches his work. Patrik Gustavsson of the Amager Bakke Foundation discussed the path to funding and ultimately realizing the skiable Copenhill in Copenhagen. AN web editor Jonathan Hilburg sat in conversation with Laurie Hawkinson of Smith-Miller + Hawkinson and Emily Bauer of Bau Land on how to “Make New York Livable Again,” no small task. With a mandate that big, the panel leaned heavily towards the topic of climate resiliency and flood mitigation; literally keeping the city livable. While New York is an international city and the myriad problems it faces are present in every large city, the task of informing a European city about the particulars of our own issues proved refreshing, if not daunting. One of the couldn’t-miss talks followed shortly after, as Alfredo Brillembourg of Urban-Think Tank (U-TT) delivered a fiery rebuke to the “one-size-fits-all” approach taken by many architects and urban thinkers today. Brillembourg ran down a list of the hyper-site-specific interventions U-TT had taken around the world in the last 20 years, including a cable car system through the slums of Caracas, Venezuela, and resident-led housing densification in the poorest parts of South Africa. Complementing the Soleri exhibition upstairs was what might be considered the centerpiece talk of Utopian Hours, “Paolo Soleri. From Turin to the desert,” a deep dive into the late architect’s utopian vision and thought process. Perhaps the most interesting additions to the festival, and the ones that elevate it above similar conferences, are the urban explorers. Three speakers who had never been to Turin before were invited to the city four days before the rest of the guests had arrived and given the chance to walk the city. Then, over separate days, they relayed what they had learned to festivalgoers and offered suggestions on what the city could do better. All three speakers were accompanied by flashy videos Torino Stratosferica had produced, tracking each urban explorer as they meandered around the city. Why were the urban explorers so important? Their inclusion lent the festival an “on-the-ground” feel, one of lived-in experience. It’s easy to research a place, but much more difficult to actually tackle it firsthand. Utopian Hours managed to draw an enormous crowd of engaged, thoughtful attendees who weren’t afraid to offer up questions or their own take on the material. The suggested €5 ($5.50) admission fee probably helped lure in curious passersby, and that’s certainly a good thing. Let’s hope the Utopian Hours festival make a fourth appearance. AN is an official media partner of Utopian Hours.
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Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger

Fringe Cities is a poignant study of urban renewal, and its aftermath, in the small-American city
The narrative of mid-century urban renewal is not unfamiliar; under the guise of slum clearance, vast tracts of America's architectural heritage were razed with entire communities (often of color) displaced and warehoused in deleterious expanses of public housing. There is no dearth of imagery or literature stemming from the era, ranging from Jane Jacobs's grassroots campaign against the all-powerful Robert Moses to the implosion of St. Louis's infamous Pruitt-Igoe tower blocks. However, often missing from dialogue on the subject is the integral role that federal policy and financing played in the reshaping of the American city, specifically outside of major metropolitan centers. Opened in early October at New York's Center for Architecture, the MASS Design Group-curated exhibition Fringe Cities: Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City, is an impressive historical and photographic survey examining the scope and rationale of urban renewal efforts across 100 "fringe" cities—defined as a small urban area with under 150,000 residents located at least 30 miles away from a major metropolitan center, which, are in many circumstances, still attempting to ameliorate conditions cemented by mid-century planning. The exhibition opens with a broad outline of federal urban policy over the course of the ongoing century, roughly beginning with programs associated with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, then the plateau and decline of national funding and policy following Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society, and present day's irregular growth cycles, facilitated by lopsided regulation. Strengthening the linear narrative of the timeline is a collection of renderings and illustrations produced by contemporaneous architects and designers depicting idyllic post-clearance scenes, tools to convince a skeptical public of the supposed extensive benefits of urban renewal. The strongest curatorial tool at the initial juncture of the exhibition are aerial images of 42 of the MASS-identified "Fringe Cities," overlaid with blotches of red that highlight areas slated for demolition and reconstruction in the strain of automobile-centric developments and zoning. This method—which is similar to cartography appraising the damage of World War II bombing campaigns—effectively conveys the disproportionate scalar impact such efforts placed on small urban centers, which in many circumstances altered them beyond recognition within the span of a few years. For the purposes of the exhibition, MASS honed in on four specific case studies: Easton, Pennsylvania; Saginaw, Michigan; Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Poughkeepsie, New York. "Being urban in form but offset from more diverse economic centers, these places were particularly ill-equipped to design, administer, and implement meaningful redevelopment strategies, and they were less resilient economically to rebuild in its wake," said MASS Design Group associate Morgan O'Hara. "Urban America was not always as polarized as we see today, and it is an important narrative to understand these changes, and the role of both policy and design decisions in contributing to the disinvestment of these Fringe Cities." If the first floor of the exhibition is geared towards a top-down perspective of urban renewal, the second-half of Fringe Cities brings the topic to street-level with a collection of historic photographs of long lost downtowns juxtaposed with desolate contemporary scenes. One significant inclusion is that of Iwan Baan's extensive imagery from Poughkeepsie. More importantly, MASS effectively dives into the work that grass-roots organizations have done, in lieu of federal, state, or even municipal funding, reversing or at least halting the economic and demographic decline that the selected cities have experienced for decades. On this final note, MASS presents the current urban moment as both a challenge and opportunity for architects and designers that requires community engagement to avoid the pitfalls of heavy-handed planning. O'Hara concluded, "In order to accomplish this, it is imperative that designers reach beyond their precise contracted purview to create effective community partnerships, as an outgrowth of this critical understanding: that designers cannot understand or attend to the full range of local needs without embedded, long term community decision making." Fringe Cities: Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City Center for Architecture 536 LaGuardia New York, New York Through January 18, 2020
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Don't go a-changin'

Soft Schindler at L.A.'s MAK Center seeks the ephemeral in the obdurate
“One of my dreams,” Pauline Schindler wrote to her mother in 1916, “is to have, someday, a little joy of a bungalow, on the edge of the woods and mountains near a crowded city, which shall be open just as some people’s hearts are open, to friends of all classes and types.” Six years after this letter was written, Pauline and husband Rudolph Schindler designed and built a place to live on the edge of the woods and mountains in the center of Los Angeles, but the hard-edged, modernist building that became the Schindler House has little of the features that come to mind when one envisions “a little joy of a bungalow.” That is, at least, the impression one gets when walking through the hollowed building several decades later, following its acquisition and renovation by the Friends of the Schindler House (FOSH) in 1980, with the intention of repurposing it as an event and exhibition space. The year used as a point of reference for the renovation was 1922, predating the bohemian life that once took place within that made the house a home.
Many of the items on display in Soft Schindler, an exhibition currently running in the space and throughout the grounds, capture much of the essence erased by renovation by treating ephemerality itself as a medium. Curated by local design critic Mimi Zeiger, Soft Schindler exhibits the work of artists and architects as they creatively interpret the “century of fluid, alternating domesticities” since the Schindler House was first built, while also redefining modernism as softer than they had originally been described. The most thought-provoking pieces in the exhibition, however, are both time-based or site-specific. One installation which brilliantly embodies these two qualities is The Garden of Earthly Delights, a series of curtains by Colombian architecture firm AGENdA Agencia de Arquitectura that nearly fill the entirety of Rudolph Schindler’s original studio while establishing soft volumes of their own. The curtains are dyed using coffee and tobacco—two consumables which were once the “silent witnesses to discussions, encounters, and disagreements” within the home, and the piece's layout takes the gridlines of the home’s floor plan and renders them translucent and permeable. Visitors are invited to walk through the spaces created within The Garden of Earthly Delights to recall the “social dynamics of the Schindler’s table” during its early years. New York-based firm Leong Leong initiated a four-month “culinary experiment” with their outdoor installation Fermentation 01. Three marble-block vessels designed by the firm were placed in the Chace Patio, each one filled with a unique recipe by local fermentation experts Jessica Wang and Ai Fujimoto. The vessels will ferment the recipes, using the home and the Southern California climate as a sort of outdoor kitchen, and become the centerpiece of a tasting event near the end of the exhibition’s run. Like The Garden of Earthly Delights, Fermentation 01 reestablishes the home as a place of evanescent pleasures. Though not as site-specific to the Schindler House as others in the exhibition, Jorge Otero-Pailos’s Répétiteur 3 and Répétiteur 4 is a remarkably inventive take on the prompt outlined by Zeiger. The artist peeled the “dust and other residue” left on the walls of choreographer Merce Cunningham’s rehearsal studio in New York and placed them in two lightboxes occupying either side of Pauline Schindler’s original studio. The result is an uncanny reflection of the endless hours of practice that took place in Cunningham’s studio through a method unachievable with archival photography and correspondence. Had the Schindler House not been so thoroughly renovated, it would have been a real treat if Otero-Pailos presented its own decades of residue in the same format. Soft Schindler reminds its viewers to not only think of the Schindler House as “a little joy of a bungalow,” as it truly was once, but also to seek out the diaphanous between the hard lines of modernity as we know it. The show will be on display through February 16, 2020.