All posts in Review

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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.
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Filler Piece

Martin Filler lyrically recounts the luminaries of modern architecture

Martin Filler's new book Makers of Modern Architecture, Volume III: From Antoni Gaudí to Maya Lin is as moving as the other two editions in the series: not only are his portraits individualized, but their particularities are given broad and vast depth in history. As Filler describes the Italian-born Latin American emigre Lina Bo Bardi’s writings, "they are anything but a dry educational treatise." This is equally true of this text. 

Filler has a literate writing style, smoothly telling stories about individuals both liked or strongly disparaged; Maya Lin is a benign favorite and Albert Speer an ominous criminal. The essays were originally written for The New York Review of Books where they found an apt home. Yet, for me, Filler's style could be better suited for creative literature because of the vivid word pictures he draws of individuals, their works, and the generalized historical fabrics in which they belong. 

On most of his critiques I am in agreement, but on Frank Gehry, I part ways. Filler is not uncritical but ends up agreeing with most of the press that Gehry is deservedly the most celebrated contemporary architect, except for his Seattle Museum of Pop Culture. I think that Gehry’s style is too peculiar and doesn’t fit into its siting, although the famous Guggenheim Bilbao is perfectly sited within the urban fabric, in my opinion. 

Filler becomes somewhat poetic when comparing Louis Kahn’s sculptural powers to Michaelangelo’s: both conceived that all forms are embedded within materials and receive their powerful force by coming into being through the artist’s touch. In the Kahn chapter, Filler also sees Kahn’s "irrepressible egotism" most obviously in his philandering personal life.

In dealing with his subjects Filler exhibits keen or probing observant insight. In the introduction, we find that Renzo Piano won his enviable commissions as much from his superbly able and talented skills as from his ability engaging to potential clients. Filler carefully weighs the religious, social, personal, aesthetic, and political strains of his subjects, so we get a crammed-full picture, a three-dimensional image of the individuals, like in Margot and Rudolf Wittkower’s Born Under Saturn.

When Filler takes on Edwin Lutyens as a figure equal in influence, although polar opposite in style, to Le Corbusier we get a sense of Filler's droll wit. He refers to Christopher Wren’s affecting Lutyens as a "Wrenaissance." In the midst of speaking on Wiener Werkstatte, he brings up Rafael Viñoly’s 432 Park's grid, remarking that it resembles a waste paper basket of Josef Hoffman. This is an essay in kitsch, says Filler.

Humor aside, Filler is poetically determined to bring out the breathtakingly serious gift that Frederick Law Olmsted gave to mankind in his designing such landscapes as Central Park and its slightly later progeny, Prospect Park, together with his partner, Calvert Vaux. Regardless of their being created in the 19th century, Filler says, they are ageless. This could be extended to Filler’s historical accounts.

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What, Me Worry?

New monograph chronicles Alfred Neumann, Israel's unsung architect
A fascinating and thoroughly researched book, Space Packed: The Architecture of Alfred Neumannby Rafi Segal (2018, Park Books) investigates the rise and fall of Alfred Neumann, Israel’s perhaps most major, and yet still unknown, architect. In addition to providing a compelling biography, Segal makes the claim for Neumann’s unique significance and demonstrates how his work captured important conversations and conflicts in Israeli architecture of the 1950s and 60s; Neumann's work was a cipher for debates about the future of architecture in the new state. Lavishly illustrated with drawings and photographs and concluded by an appendix that contains Neumann’s own writings, Space Packed convincingly asserts that this man at the margins was ahead of the times. Alfred Neumann was born in 1900, trained with Peter Behrens and Auguste Perret, survived World War II as an inmate at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, and then emigrated to Israel in 1949, a year after the state was founded. He became dean of Haifa’s prestigious Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and, in 1956, published the first part of a theory that would inform his work for decades: a pamphlet that called for architecture’s reform through a new, humanizing system of proportion to determine a better measurement unit. Buildings were to be seen not as singular large forms, but as an aggregate assembly of smaller, repeated, and interconnected units that could render them more humane. Beginning with his astonishing Bat Yam City Hall, and through the fabulous seaside holiday villages for Club Méditerranée and Kiryat Yam, Neumann became known for buildings with complex interfaces between interior and exterior. Space packing came to be understood as a mode of making architecture—in her obituary, Ada Louise Huxtable called him the father of the movement—structured on polyhedral forms that could be “packed” for maximum spatial efficiency. The polyhedral and non-orthogonal geometries these ideas produced were impressive in their capacity to relate to local conditions of climate, light, and topography. Bold colors were an important element of Neumann’s work and were used as a way to interpret programmatic space. Pattern and repetition were paramount in space packing. Neumann’s architecture had a major impact in its time and is still alluring today. Zvi Hecker joined Neumann’s studio in 1952 and became a close collaborator for life. Moshe Safdie spoke of the affinity he felt with Neumann’s work, and, for Neumann’s obituary in 1968, Architecture d’Aujourd’hui gave him an entire page alongside Walter Gropius’s full-page announcement. During their lifetimes, Gropius said of Neumann that he had developed the only meaningful system of human proportion except for Le Corbusier. The history of Israeli architecture writ large is a history of dynasties—the Rechters and Sharons among them—to which Neumann, a minor architect, did not belong. For the last two years of his life, Neumann lived in something of an exile in Canada, where he founded the architecture department at the University of Laval in Quebec City. Caught in controversy around his Danciger Building (1963–66), as well as Israeli architecture’s tilt toward historicist postmodernism after the Six-Day War, Neumann no longer had his finger on the pulse of the country’s architecture scene. He was buried in 1968—as a Christian in a Catholic cemetery in Quebec City—per his request.
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Out In FRONT

Cleveland's FRONT festival ties the city together with art and history
The expressed goal of the inaugural FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art is to shine a spotlight on the cultural landscape of Cleveland, a city many might overlook when thinking of art hubs. The organizers of FRONT, of which there are many, are taking their chances on yet another triennial/biennial event but are decidedly not relying on a market-based model, like Art Basel or the closer Expo Chicago. In doing so the city is hoping to set itself apart and focus on the cultural aspects of the art, rather than the scene of art culture. The first thing that will strike visitors to FRONT is its scope. With this year’s theme, An American City: Eleven Cultural Exercises, it can honestly be said that the show spans much of the city, including dipping its toes into Lake Erie. With no single institution claiming the show as its own, each of the city's major art museums and a number of galleries and universities have worked in unison to produce the encompassing show. It is a credit to Curator Lisa Kurzner, Artistic Director Michelle Grabner, Executive Director Fred Bidwell, and their team that such a complex undertaking could be negotiated. Public spaces and government buildings also get in on the act with massive new murals, large-scale sculptures, and a number of temporary installations. In many ways, these pieces, outside of typical presentation settings, are the most striking. Possibly the least expected of the non-traditional spaces to show art is the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Completed in 1923, and fully adorned in ornate gold and marble details, the lobby of the bank is home to a mesmerizing video and sound installation entitled Volatility Smile by New York-based Midwest-native Philip Vanderhyden. The 24-channel video of digitally rendered abstract forms plays with imagery pulled directly from the space itself. A similarly poignant installation fills the large gallery of the downtown Cleveland Public Library. The American Library continues Yinka Shonibare's research-based cultural art practice. The piece is composed of thousands of books covered in African cloth and embossed with the names of American immigrants. The bright color and context of the piece make accessible the timely content, which builds on Shonibare's work dealing with post-colonialism around the world. The work within the established art museums and galleries is broad-ranging and varied, and many pieces are not to be missed. At Case Western University and MOCA Cleveland, a giant silver hand by sculptor Tony Tasset welcomes guests to the museum and the university, both of which are also participating in FRONT. The inside of the Farshid Moussavi-designed MOCA Cleveland echoes with the soundtrack of Cyprien Gaillard’s Nightlife, a slow-motion 3-D video installation of animated urban plant life. It is as intoxicatingly beautiful as it is hypnotizing. Equally powerful, if not much quieter, is what may be the hidden gem of the entire exhibition. Located in the oldest church in Cleveland along a quiet street, Night Coming Tenderly, Black by photographer Dawoud Bey exemplifies the type of work that FRONT is aiming to promote. Both regionally specific and universally accessible, the large installation fills the pews of St. John’s Episcopal Church with almost completely black images depicting landscapes that escaped slaves traveling the Underground Railroad would have encountered. Appropriately, the church itself was the final stop along the perilous system of safe heavens before escapees crossed Lake Erie into Canada. The placement of the large-scale prints in the pews allows for viewers to sit unusually close to the images, making them incredibly immersive as one studies their intense shadowy detail. In many ways, FRONT International has set itself up to achieve its goal of bringing the world to Cleveland. The array of work is a testament to the cooperation between institutions, which would seem unlikely to happen in the more competitive art scenes of larger cities. The work is often both specific to Cleveland as well as relevant to outsiders. Taken in all together, the show is exciting and shows the potential when a city like Cleveland puts on an international exhibition. Does the world need another art festival? Perhaps not, but if we are going to get one, Cleveland seems to have figured out a way to make it worthwhile.
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Architecture Is…

Review: Bezalel Academy's student show celebrates diversity in Jerusalem
Architecture is… is this year’s edition of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design’s Department of Architecture end-of-the-year exhibition in Jerusalem, Israel. Curated by Henry Urbach, former curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the exhibition features the year-long design projects of approximately 75 graduating students. The show includes for the first time design work from the department’s branch for ultra-Orthodox women, an innovative program that is now in its fifth year and celebrating its first graduating class. Architectural projects, with their many drawings and models at multiple scales and levels of abstraction, are rarely accessible to a broader public. The show takes on this difficult challenge. The exhibition design—precise and subdued—nods to the problem with beige paint bands that unify the projects, along with other graphic and text elements used to distinguish the eight units, or design studios. The stately front courtyard of Bezalel has been transformed by a collective of fourth-year students into a “garden of reverie,” replete with wooden frames holding plants and flowers, hanging laundry, easels, a sandbox, and games of all sorts, making it a true Jerusalem garden (not to mention the ‘Heterotopia’ described by philosopher Michel Foucault) that is also a 1:1 scale installation, another way in which architects, especially younger ones, work. Inside the school’s foyer, a large wall text piece presents the exhibition title along with student, faculty, and staff reactions to the incomplete phrase; these responses appear in multiple languages and mark out a kind of portrait of the school. Taken together as a whole, Architecture is… provides a compelling frame for viewing Israel’s architectural future, while asking, in a fresh and enjoyable way, the question: “What is an architectural exhibition?” Architecture is… Main Gallery, Department of Architecture Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design Jerusalem, Israel
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Pastel Paradise?

Inside North Korea: A candy-colored fever dream
When British landscape architect Nicholas Bonner set out for North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, in 1993, he anticipated a gloomy concrete metropolis. However, on the flight there, brightly colored sugar and pepper condiment packets hinted that a more florid environment lay in store. Fast forward 25 years and Bonner is offering tours of Pyongyang to visitors, including The Guardian's architecture critic Oliver Wainwright who documents the candy-colored city in his new book, Inside North Korea available August 15 from Taschen. Wainwright only spent a week inside North Korea, but that was sufficient time to take enough photographs to fill a 240-page book. "Every day was jam-packed," Wainwright told The Architect's Newspaper. The photographs along with an introductory essay shed light on what is a typically closed-off country that has strict rules for journalists. Though he was shepherded by three guards at all times, Wainwright was afforded more freedom by traveling as a tourist instead of a journalist and was able to document Pyongyang's built environment through a point-and-shoot camera. The images, particularly the interior shots, could easily be stills from a Wes Anderson movie. Interiors are laid out symmetrically, with portraits of the former North Korean premier, Kim Il-sung, and the former Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, typically hanging at the focal points of the room. Their presence is no accident. According to Kim Jong-il's 160-page treatise, On Architecture, "the leader's image must always be placed in the center of the architectural space," a dictum which is carried through with regulations that stipulate that nothing else can be hung on the same wall as these portraits. Perhaps the most dazzling interior is that of the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre seen above. Originally built in 1989, it can hold an audience of 3,500 people. A 2007 renovation brought the theater up to Grand Budapest Hotel standards with plaster moldings, scalloped peach-colored walls, purple upholstered seats, a bright-blue vinyl floor, polished stone tiles, and a huge mural relief being added. Images of the theater and other interiors can feel staged, which Wainwright acknowledged while saying everything was shot "just as it is." Images of leadership are used even more emphatically outdoors. Streets have been organized to maximize the effect of these portraits, which Wainwright describes as "utterly crushing, giving the impression of a street made for giants." The world's largest bronze statues of people can be found at the top of Mansu Hill. Looking over a stone plaza, 66-foot-high statues of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung peer onto the Monument to Party Founding situated at the end of an axis one-and-a-quarter miles away. The two former leaders stand in front of a mosaic and are flanked by giant red granite flags which are propped up by bronze workers. One has a plaque which reads: "Let us drive out the U.S. imperialists and reunite our fatherland!" For a country so focused on image, it's unsurprising to learn that it has tried to scrub all foreign influences, U.S. imperialism included, from its aesthetics and architecture. "An architect who is convinced that his country and this are the best will not look upon foreign things or try to copy them, but make tireless efforts to create architecture amenable to his people," wrote Kim Jong-il in On Architecture. Despite all this, images of architectural precedents could be found at the Paektusan Academy of Architecture where images of buildings from around the world could be found, from Moscow's Seven Sisters to Terry Farrell's MI6 Building in London. In all, Pyongyang embodies North Korea's approach to self-presentation: Big Brother-esque images that project the state's power and ability to protect its citizens amplified at a bombastic scale and sweetened with saccharine pastels. Inside North Korea Oliver Wainwright, Julius Wiedemann TASCHEN $60.00
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Made Manifesta

Review: Manifesta 12 is the real deal
Manifesta 12’s The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence, which opened on June 16 in Palermo, Sicily, is a sprawling and at times fragmented series of venues and events. But unlike other art and architecture biennials whose main purpose is to deliver trends, Manifesta 12 is the real thing. This is an exhibition that’s been hardwired into the city’s fabric, and while undeniably the city of Palermo completely upstages the Manifesta exhibition, this must have been the prime intention of the curatorial team from the start. Manifesta 12 is Palermo, and therefore the exhibition is a diagram to explore the city and to discover some of the most fascinating and haunting architectural spaces anywhere in the European-Mediterranean region. It is precisely this urban-based formula that the Dutch-based Manifesta “franchise” is best known for, and therefore the impressive success of this exhibition has much to do with the way the curators have been able to weave their fertile themes into the city’s fabric. There is art, there is architecture, and there is the city. Given how much there would be to cover in a review of this size, I will try to present some of the biennial’s bolder highlights. Much of the credit for Manifesta’s achievements is thanks to OMA’s partner Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli who led the curatorial team. Laparelli succeeds in cracking Palermo’s urban code, precisely because he trains his lens on Palermo’s convoluted urban fabric, its magnificent cardo and decumanus, the overgrown gardens, the abandoned urban masterplans, and melancholic housing estates. As Laparelli notes in the opening introduction to OMA’s Palermo Atlas, “the Biennial’s thematic and geographic organization are intertwined, triggering a journey through the city like a section through anatomy; from the abandoned and derelict heritage of the old town to the failed utopia of the outskirts; from the glorious history of its Gardens to its neglected and toxic coast.” This is especially true of the city and its dramatic relationship to its old town, one of the largest historic city centers in Europe. And yet this impressive segment of the city lies in some kind of lethargic black hole when compared with the adjacent districts of Palermo that grew in the thirties and then expanded exponentially in the sixties. The one constant is the draw of the periphery, which serves as the cash cow for the city’s black economy while the old town lies in neglect and disrepair—a condition the city continued to submit to well into the nineties. In order to better comprehend where Palermo was headed, Manifesta enlisted politicians, local associations, patrons of the arts, and institutions to suggest ways to engage the city, to establish new routes of access, and to generate new kinds of cultural experiences. By and large, it’s a project that has pervaded into different levels of society, and it’s not uncommon on the streets to hear locals discuss Manifesta’s merits or problems. And there are viable results: Massimo Valsecchi and his wife Francesca have made it their mission to restore the magnificent Palazzo Butera in the heart of the city. Valsecchi, whom I spoke with during Manifesta’s opening, saw the renovation of Palazzo Butera as a stopgap measure, a way to decisively reengage the city’s historic axis by reasserting the building’s role as both palatial seawall and monumental gateway to the ancient city. For what turns out to be the price of a single Gerhard Richter painting, the purchase of Palazzo Butera by these important Lombard contemporary art collectors could impact the city’s future. But for now, the palace’s impressive interior renovation, in preserved ruin style, frames Manifesta’s verdant exhibition Garden of Flows. Not far from Palazzo Butera one can enter the historic Botanical Gardens, another destination in the procession of Garden of Flows, to become entangled in the rhizomatic plant cultivations. Much of the same could be said about another architectural monument, Palazzo Forcella de Seta, an old bastion with a casino built above it from the 17th century. It’s aligned perpendicularly with the seafront and is just as mesmerizing a stage for this exhibition. This Moorish-influenced venue is one of the spaces around the city that are assembled together and are “Out of Control,” along with the Palazzo Ajutamicristo where we are confronted with projects investigating different conditions on immigration, data, and identity. There are projects by Forensic Architecture’s offshoot, Forensic Oceanography, where they investigate the militarized control of the Mediterranean, and Tania Bruguera’s look at the Mobile User Objective System, known as MUOS, the cordoned off American base in southeastern Sicily directing remote drone warfare. But it’s the urban conundrum that remains most compelling, and beyond the layers of 16th, 17th, and 18th century buildings, streetscapes, and gardens. There is also a ponderous stratum of Fascist-era buildings, many in near states of abandon, but all intriguing for what they once represented in the time of Fascistization when Sicily’s mafia was subjugated and Mussolini’s regime added its symbolic stamp to the island. One building in particular, the Casa del Mutilato, stands out for its unfinished beauty and troublesome iconography. Designed by the architect Giuseppe Spatrisano in 1939, the modern rationalist style building remains surprisingly intact with most of its original statues, icons, murals, furniture, and memorabilia. Inside its main interior hall is Cristina Lucas’s Unending Lightning, a mapping of the long and fatal history of aerial bombing. There’s also an intervention by Alessandro Petti’s "De-colonizing Architecture” developed by the students attending the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. Their workshop and symposium, “The Afterlife of Colonial-Fascist Architecture,” featured a scissor lift that extended up into the open dome of the central courtyard, inserted there to disrupt the building’s regimented spatial order. When I asked Petti about their intentions, he responded by saying: "With the re-emergence of today’s fascist ideologies in Europe–and the arrival of populations from north and east Africa–we have had to ask ourselves: how do the material traces of the Italian empire today acquire different meanings in the context of migration from the ex-colonies?” This point is especially onerous because not much inside this building has changed since its opening, and the building still features the original Fascist era maps of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Petti went on to note: “We have had to ask who has the right to reuse this fascist colonial building? Shouldn’t people arriving today from these countries that suffered fascist colonial occupation have the right to re-inhabit these kind of buildings?” But it doesn’t end here. Post-war Palermo continues to be fraught with good architectural intentions gone sour. Nothing encapsulates this urban dilemma more than ZEN (Zona Espansione Nord), a public housing expanse from the late sixties designed by Vittorio Gregotti with a team that included Franco Purini. Like many of these largescale mass housing projects built from this era, ZEN’s reputation belies its origins. According to an interview with Purini from 1998, the strength of this project was in its desire to replicate regional territorial characteristics, specifically the fenced citrus groves found all around the area. Purini, who would go on to develop the master plan for earthquake-devastated Nuovo Gibellina, recalled Gregotti’s close relationship with the Sicilian publisher Sellerio, who sought to ground Gregotti in the island’s local building culture, which resulted in the project’s unusual compactness. Evidently, the project stripped of its amenities was doomed to failure. But here is where Gilles Clément, author of The Third Landscape and guru behind Manifesta’s Planetary Garden concept, is making a significant comeback, precisely in these original disaffected groves. To get the perfect overview of Palermo, one can make his or her way up to the top of the peak Pizzo Sella, where the group Rotor has transformed one of the many unfinished and illegal private homes, basically a concrete frame into a spectacular viewing platform. Manifesta 12 is worth the time and the space. Some might worry it prefigures a wave of gentrification that will certainly kill all that is so enchanting about this city: the entropic streets and gardens, the ruined palaces, the many multi-cultural public spaces, polyvalent cuisines, and the sublime beauty of the city. But I don’t think so, or not just yet given the unusual political direction the city is taking under its current mayor. Leoluca Orlando, a veteran of previous campaigns against the Mafia, sees a bright future for the city in welcoming new immigrants. Palermo should not be considered a European peripheral city, but rather the center of the greater Mediterranean region: Sicily is at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East, and the Ionian islands with a centuries-old history of multi-ethnicism and multi-culturalism. I see Palermo as an alternative model for living, outside the tired economies and nationalistic concerns of an older Europe. It will be interesting to see if Manifesta 13 will keep this kind of critical edge when it lands in Marseille in 2020. Manifesta 12’s The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence is curated by Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Mirjam Varadinis, Andrés Jaque, Bregtje van der Haak and is on view through November 4.