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Recession Tales: James Polshek

In the third of AN's conversations with architects about past recessions, Julie V. Iovine talks to James Polshek, senior design counsel and a founder in 1963 of Polshek Partnership Architects, who will be presented with the Augustus Graham Medal by the Brooklyn Museum on April 23.


James Polshek in 1972.
 
elmer kardos

 

The Architect's Newspaper: Which downturn has been hardest on you so far?

James Polshek: 1972—that was the big traumatic one. My memory of the later ones is not as vivid as when there was no gasoline or oil in the ’70s.

Before that, things were going great. I went to Japan in 1962 when I was 32 for almost two years. It was a busy time of unlimited possibilities, and I was doing these big $100 million laboratory projects.

When I came back in ’63, I was back to doing little remodeling jobs and consulting for the New York State Mental Hygiene fund that was very progressive then, hiring young architects to consult on bigger projects.

I was sharing an office at 295 Madison with Richard Kaplan, Michael Zimmer, and Walfredo Toscanini, grandson of the conductor. We each had a corner office in the tower at the top. We had an agreement that whoever got the busiest first would take over the whole space. And I got it. We grew to about 45 people.

Then in 1969, I was working on a student center at Wesleyan University when there was a sudden, gigantic drop in the market and they cancelled it. That was the beginning of rumblings from the Middle East. Then in 1972, we had a fire. I had these two apartments on 9th Street side by side: one my family lived in and the other was a kind of branch office because we had grown so large. For me, the fire was really symbolic, like Thor had thrown his lightning bolt.

Did it really feel that desperate?

Well, we were down to about five people, from 45. I recall talking to my wife at the time, saying I thought it was time to call [Ulrich] Franzen (I had worked for him years before) and tell him that maybe it was time for me to go back to work. She said, don’t be silly, something will happen, but I was really considering closing the office. I didn’t engage in a job hunt, but I did look at ads. There wasn’t much around, anyway. I just didn’t want to fail.

At the same time, though, we were doing some interesting planning studies for Westinghouse. And we did the Brotherhood Synagogue on Gramercy Park. That turned out to be important as it proved my commitment to preservation.

Did you go into preservation as part of a survival strategy?

You can say strategy, but preservation, like planning and feasibility studies, was also a philosophical predilection. It had to do with my own eclectic set of interests and my getting easily bored. I really believe in preservation, particularly when it’s in conjunction with the addition of something new.

When I was at school at Yale, historic buildings were not even looked at, but I thought preservation was a moral obligation. I didn’t share the agenda of that generation of architects who came out of school after World War II, Harvard in particular, who were kind of mini master-builders. I think that in architecture, at its most ideal, the architect is somewhat anonymous. That encouraged me to find ways to create new architecture that was not always visible, not de novo: underground, historic preservation, interiors, healthcare, and laboratories.

When did you start teaching? Was it to support your practice?

I became dean of Columbia in 1972, but I didn’t seek it out. Max Bond recommended me and I had every reason to agree because things were really bad. And it stayed depressing all the way until about 1976.

Some architects weather downturns by looking abroad for work.

That’s another strategy, but not one we entertained. In the ’70s, many big firms were running to the Middle East for work. They were making presentations to the Shah of Iran. I was too young to get offers of that kind, but I was absolutely disinclined anyway. And I think there was an unspoken consensus in my office because everyone had little children. They didn’t want to go off to Saudi Arabia or China. And we still don’t.

Was there something else you did go after?

Feasibility studies—they don’t often result in buildings, but they can. They’re sometimes intellectually provocative and they force you to collaborate with engineers. We worked on a plutonium processing plant until everyone realized how dangerous it was. And on a prototype to develop a new type of industrial plant—it was the most eclectic bunch of stuff you can imagine, but it all helped in our recovery. Studies go on, whether there’s a recession or not.

I was one of Philip Johnson’s adoptees and went to those soirees where architects criticize one another. It was a parallel universe, when Eisenman and those guys were dividing up the world into whites and grays. I said, I’m not white or gray. I’m pink, and I’m not going to be part of this, and I wasn’t. It is, however, important to establish a reputation within the profession for quality of work and integrity. But it’s even more important to survive.
 

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Comment: Worlds Away
Canadian architect Clive Grout has designed the U.S. pavilion for Shanghai's 2010 world expo, but the project may not be built.
Courtesy Clive Grout Architect

In May 1956, a young federal employee named Jack Masey was asked to create a pavilion for an agricultural exposition in Afghanistan. The United States embassy in Kabul had been lobbying for a pavilion ever since it learned that the Soviets and the Chinese were planning large shows of their own. With the fair scheduled to open in August, Masey had just three months to create a pavilion that would help the U.S. outshine its Cold War rivals.

Masey, an army veteran and graduate of Yale’s architecture school, contacted Buckminster Fuller, creator of the geodesic dome. Within days, Fuller had drawn plans for a 110-foot-diameter building, which was fabricated in the U.S. and airlifted to Kabul. There, it was erected by Afghani workers, who, according to Masey, were visibly proud of their involvement. (By contrast, the Soviet and Chinese pavilions were built by imported technicians.) Thousands of Afghans visited the dome, which contained a working TV studio and other displays of American know-how. A photo taken in the pavilion during the fair shows a group of young men in traditional garb, suitably agog.

Masey tells this tale in his new book Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and Their Role in the Cultural Cold War (Lars Müller Publishers, 2008). The book, coauthored with Conway Lloyd Morgan, couldn’t be more timely.

Next year, the eyes of the world will be on Shanghai, where the Chinese government will host a world exposition (informally called a world’s fair) from May 1 to October 31. Nearly 200 countries are building pavilions, many by important architects chosen in national competitions. The host city will try to match the showmanship of last summer’s Beijing games, and, unlike the made-for-television Olympics, the expo will likely attract tens of millions of Chinese visitors.

But whether the U.S. will be at the fair is still an open question. Under a misguided 1999 law, the State Department is prohibited from spending money on international expositions. Last year, the department authorized a private group, headed by Washington, D.C. lawyer Ellen Eliasoph and California amusement park executive Nick Winslow, to solicit donations for a privately funded pavilion. Last fall, unable to find sponsors, they abandoned their quest. Now they are trying again, and the Obama administration, according to Winslow, is rallying behind them.

Meanwhile, Clive Grout, a Canadian architect chosen by Winslow and Eliasoph, has designed a U.S. pavilion that may or may not get built. Time is running out. “The U.S. government can only commit to participating in the Shanghai Expo if the necessary funding from the private sector can first be secured,” a spokesman for the U.S. Consul General inShanghai confirmed by email last week.

That the United States wouldn’t attend a giant international gathering, at a time when so much is at stake in U.S.–Chinese relations, seems unimaginable. Sadly, though, it is not unprecedented. The U.S. embarrassed itself with a tacky pavilion at the Seville expo in 1992 (timed to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage, with the U.S. meant to be the guest of honor). It ignored the next expo (in Hannover, Germany, in 2000), insulting a crucial ally. At the insistence of Toyota, whose retired chairman conceived the 2005 expo in Aichi, Japan, the U.S. did have a pavilion. But the building’s creators, who had to rely on corporate funding, put more thought into the VIP suite (where those sponsors could entertain clients) than into the main event, a film about Benjamin Franklin.

If the U.S. pavilion for Shanghai gets built, it, too, will have a lavish VIP suite, Winslow said. The exhibition will be by BRC Imagination Arts (the company behind the Franklin movie in Aichi). The building is by Grout, who designed a number of pavilions for the 1986 Vancouver Expo, and went on to masterplan the 2002 Swiss Expo.

According to Grout, the pavilion he has designed for Shanghai—where the theme is “Better City, Better Life”—will be “a celebration of an American metropolis in 2030, focusing on health, sustainability, and community.” The 60,000-square-foot building will employ “a very contemporary vocabulary of metal and glass,” he said. The glass will be covered in a decorative film made by 3M, a sponsor of the pavilion. Grout is waiting to see which other companies give money, so that—if there’s time—he can incorporate their products into the design as well.

As his clients scrounge for handouts, Grout is collaborating with a Chinese architecture and engineering firm, which is creating working drawings even as design development continues. “We are under tremendous pressure,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time to study or investigate. I’m just focused on the fact that this is going to open in May of 2010, and we’ve got to get it into the ground. Until somebody tells me different, that’s my responsibility, to keep it alive.” He added: “We don’t yet know how much money is going to be available. It’s not the way to create a crackerjack pavilion.”
 


Fuller's dome landed at Expo '67 in Montreal, where the Soviet hammer and sickle made a definite statement.
Courtesy Lars Müller Publishers
 

That is a far cry from Masey’s day, when pavilions were symbols of national pride and funded by the government. Masey’s employer, the United States Information Agency (USIA), made its first foray into exhibition diplomacy with barge- and truck-borne displays touting the Marshall Plan, helping to win the hearts and minds of western Europeans, and it participated in hundreds of large expos and small trade fairs over the next five decades. According to Masey, it was the USIA that gave Fuller, George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Ivan Chermayeff, and Thomas Geismar their first peacetime commissions.

Among the highlights of Masey’s tenure was the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. Best known as the site of the “kitchen debate” between Nixon and Khrushchev, the fair attracted 2.7 million visitors during its six-week run. The interest of Soviet citizens was, according to observers, palpable.

Even more poignant is the tale of the 1956 exhibition in Brussels. Though the fair had an atomic energy theme, the U.S. chose to present its human side in a stunning circular building by Edward Durell Stone. (Among other exhibits, there was a fashion show organized by Jackie Kennedy’s sister, Lee.) A separate building was designed to house an exhibition on race relations in America. The goal was to counter Soviet claims that the United States, with its history of segregation, was in no position to lecture the Soviets on human rights. Called Unfinished Business, it depicted progress being made toward racial equality.

The show created a furor at home, with Senator Herman Talmadge of Georgia writing to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that the pavilion represented “an unwarranted invasion of the rights and prerogatives of the states of the south,” where “segregated society has proved to be in the best interest of all races concerned.” The exhibit was replaced with one devoted to public health, which Masey calls “an unworthy end to one of the most successful examples of architectural propaganda ever attempted by the United States.”

But there were to be other successful U.S. pavilions, at Montreal in 1967 (a giant Fuller dome) and Osaka in 1970 (a fascinating, inflatable building). Indeed, since at least the 19th century, world’s fairs have produced important architecture, as the assumed temporariness of the structures frees designers to experiment. (Both the Crystal Palace and the Eiffel Tower were built for international expositions.) Recent fairs have been filled with estimable structures, from MVRDV’s startling Dutch pavilion in Hannover to Foreign Office Architects’ Spanish offering in Aichi. In Shanghai, expect great things from Denmark’s BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), Italy’s BiCuadro, and Spain’s Miralles Tagliabue EMBT. England’s pavilion was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, chosen in a competition over Zaha Hadid and London Eye designers Marks Barfield.

But the U.S. no longer turns to its top talent. Ironically, Shanghai officials commissioned Yung Ho Chang, head of the architecture program at MIT, and Edwin Schlossberg, a prominent New York exhibition designer, to create their pavilion for Shanghai. Chinese business leaders have chosen American experts to sell themselves on their own home turf. 

Congress should immediately end the ban on public funding for international expositions, and allocate the $100 million or so it will take to build a pavilion worth texting home about. Jack Masey, 85 and still working, might have a few ideas.

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02_New Acropolis Museum
The glass enclosure atop the New Acropolis Museum is rotated so that it is parallel to the Parthenon.
Christian Richters

In September 2001, Bernard Tschumi won the international competition to design a museum to contain all surviving antiquities from the Acropolis, including those housed in the British Museum since 1817. Originally scheduled to open during the 2004 Olympic Games and focus attention on Greece’s campaign to get the marbles repatriated, the museum’s official inauguration was repeatedly stalled by political infighting and construction delays. The public opening date is now set for June 20. Tschumi talked to Julie V. Iovine about the anxieties and opportunities of designing a contemporary building hinged so intimately upon a complicated and powerful past and uncertain future.

You have disagreed in the past with those who said you have to be historicist to be historical. Do you still?
I have always believed there is no such thing as a tabula rasa. There’s always something you have to take into consideration. Sometimes it’s something on your part, sometimes it’s a major constraint.

In the case of a building like the New Acropolis Museum, the site and the context are so unbelievably present and powerful that you are inevitably caught within them. Either you try to act against them or you try to work with them. It has nothing to do with contextualism. I hate contextualism as much today as I did once upon a time. But it is absolutely about understanding the conditions of the site, the culture, and the constraints. It’s in a sense a love of constraints.

How did you approach the historical constraints in Athens?
Of the three major challenges, the first one, as you’ll notice, is that it’s 300 yards from the Parthenon, the most influential building in western civilization. How do you as an architect do a building that is actually just a tiny bit bigger than the Parthenon?

Second, the site is covered with archaeological ruins that you have to keep. The third challenge is that one of the main objectives of this particular building is to hold the Elgin (now called the Parthenon) Marbles, half of which are still in the British Museum. The building has to be good enough to convince the Brits, or rather the British Museum because the British people already agree, to return the marbles.

Due to these three factors, an architect cannot start with form, cannot start with theory. You have to start with those conditions and they lead to a concept. I use the expression, “conceptualizing context.” And that’s what we’ve done: One part of the building responds to the archaeological ruins; another deals with the collection of statues and relates to the street pattern around it. And the top of the building is in direct dialogue with the Parthenon itself.

These different interpretations of the site conditions may even contradict each other. For instance, the glass enclosure of the third layer is aligned parallel to the Parthenon itself. That means it is slightly rotated in relationship to the grid below, creating a tension with the other levels. This contemporary sensibility of slight disjunctions is not what people did in earlier periods, when they were trying to erase distinctions to make everything into one synthetic whole.






top: The museum is about 110 yards below and 300 yards distant from the temple itself. center: the museum's entry level looks down into an excavation site. above: concrete columns in the main display area are 24 feet tall.
  
christian richters

 
 

So you wanted to confront the past?
Not to be confrontational, but also not to erase its inconsistencies or paradoxes. On the contrary, I want to reveal in a subtle way that things are not as homogenous as they seem to be. Not necessarily celebrating conflict. I am not Daniel Libeskind, who invents conflicts when they aren’t real.

You seem in your approach here more influenced by the mathematical than the monumental achievements of the ancient Greeks.
I had to avoid the issue of form. You are in front of the Parthenon; you are not going to compete with Phidias. It’s just not possible. But if you want to make certain parallels with that culture, then rather, look to Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician. Actually, I never start with form. I start with a concept, a hypothesis, or a theorem.

The Greek papers attacked us for not trying hard enough to look like the style of the Parthenon. We wanted to be as abstract and minimal as possible, placing a great importance on the materials, or rather, the materializing of the concept. To that end, we used only thee major materials: glass, concrete, and marble.

The glass is crucial in order to ensure transparency and dialogue between the frieze fragments in the museum and the temple itself. When you are walking around the frieze in the exhibition, you are actually able to look at the Parthenon at the same time.

The second material, concrete, was not only structural, but it is the background of all the sculptures. There is not a single partition in the building, no Sheetrock walls. The columns and the large core walls provide the background for the sculptures. And we worked very hard with the contractors to get exactly a concrete with a soft, almost velvety feel to absorb the light while the hardness of the marble pieces would reflect it.

Floors are beige marble in the exhibition areas, where the statues are a little darker. All other circulation, or anyplace that doesn’t have galleries, is in black marble.

This was hardly a project just about a new museum on a historic site. How involved were you in the controversy?
The enormous desire to have the return of the Parthenon Marbles precedes me by at least 100 years. And it was very alive in the 1960s, too, when the actress Melina Mercouri got involved. I would have always been in favor of their return. The museum itself is a political act, since the British Museum said you can’t have them back because you have no safe place for them. But the condition of their being in fragments all over the place is also absurd. There are pieces at the British Museum, at the Met, at the Louvre, and at the Glyptothek in Munich. I have a series of images showing one piece with its torso in London, a shoulder at the Louvre, another piece is someplace else, and for some reason, the penis is in Athens with the rest reconstituted in plaster all around it.

People couldn’t travel as much in the 19th century, but now they can go and see the real stuff. For me, the idea of bringing the pieces back together also had to do with my fascination with literature. The frieze is a narrative story, where the movement of your own body is a means of reading it as an experience in one place. In this sense, the building has a lot of reasons—both on an artistic level as well as on a political level—to exist.

But aren’t you now erasing a part of the story yourself, about the years they were elsewhere?
When you see the pieces together, it’s a very strange thing. They’ve aged differently, depending on where they have been. There was no attempt to clean them in the same way, fortunately, so you see that, indeed, they are 2,500 years old and some have suffered in the passage of time and some are practically intact. The ones from the west side are in fantastic condition; those on the east side are not so good. The ones from the British Museum are in pretty good condition, too. The pieces themselves tell the story.

You are dealing here with a history that is thousands of years old. Would you approach the remains and relics of a more recently bombed-out museum differently?
I am very cautious in terms of projecting or imposing one’s own subjectivity onto a site or onto a material. This is very problematic. You have to take a distance. You have to let the viewers, the visitors, judge for themselves. The architecture has to allow for emotions but should not dictate emotion. Let people bring their own range of emotions to the project.

Would you preserve bullet holes?
I would not try to hide prior histories at all. Here’s a strange, touching example: We wanted to reconstitute the continuity of the frieze but it is a continuous rectangle, so how do you penetrate when the frieze is only a little higher than you? As it happens, we can enter at the place in the frieze where it was entirely pulverized by Turkish powder in the explosion of 1687. It’s strange how you can conceptually take advantage of certain events in history.

There are also both replicas and originals in the frieze. Originally I wanted no reproductions at all, just bad black-and-white Xeroxes of them. But out of respect for the people coming to see them, we decided to play it straight. But it is obvious by the colorations which are real marble and which are white plaster.

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03_Neues Museum
Christian Richters

 


rosa mai/smb
 
 
 

In 1997, London-based David Chipperfield Architects won a competition to restore the Neues Museum, an imposing ruin at the center of Berlin’s Museum Island. Designed by Friedrich August Stüler and completed in 1859, the museum had lain open to the elements for decades after sustaining heavy damage in World War II. The architects could have argued for the structure’s replication—along the lines proposed for Berlin’s Schloss—or opted for the opposing strategy of the city’s Kaiser Wilhelm Church: the wreck preserved in amber.

Chipperfield, working with restoration architect Julian Harrap, chose a much more difficult path. Their meticulous re-completion, to house the collections of Berlin’s Egyptian and pre- and early history museums, preserves the power of the building as ruin: The architects conserved the existing fabric whenever possible, leaving the museum’s half-exposed brickwork and shell-pocked facades as testament to time’s decay.

Yet where elements were irretrievable—including the museum’s southeast bay and the entire northwest wing—modern interventions were made that followed Stüler’s original volumes and room sequences. The marble staircase in the ravaged main hall (above left), for example, was replaced with a reinvention made of white cement and Saxonian marble chips. The effect, here and elsewhere, can be mesmerizing: Interior open spaces like the Greek Courtyard (top), are simply roofed with glass. Their handmade-brick walls, now sparingly retouched, convey like nothing else the richly raveled strands of time.

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Comment: Worlds Away
Canadian architect Clive Grout has designed the U.S. pavilion for Shanghai's 2010 world expo, but the project may not be built.
Courtesy Clive Grout Architect

In May 1956, a young federal employee named Jack Masey was asked to create a pavilion for an agricultural exposition in Afghanistan. The United States embassy in Kabul had been lobbying for a pavilion ever since it learned that the Soviets and the Chinese were planning large shows of their own. With the fair scheduled to open in August, Masey had just three months to create a pavilion that would help the U.S. outshine its Cold War rivals.

Masey, an army veteran and graduate of Yale’s architecture school, contacted Buckminster Fuller, creator of the geodesic dome. Within days, Fuller had drawn plans for a 110-foot-diameter building, which was fabricated in the U.S. and airlifted to Kabul. There, it was erected by Afghani workers, who, according to Masey, were visibly proud of their involvement. (By contrast, the Soviet and Chinese pavilions were built by imported technicians.) Thousands of Afghans visited the dome, which contained a working TV studio and other displays of American know-how. A photo taken in the pavilion during the fair shows a group of young men in traditional garb, suitably agog.

Masey tells this tale in his new book Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and Their Role in the Cultural Cold War (Lars Müller Publishers, 2008). The book, coauthored with Conway Lloyd Morgan, couldn’t be more timely.

Next year, the eyes of the world will be on Shanghai, where the Chinese government will host a world exposition (informally called a world’s fair) from May 1 to October 31. Nearly 200 countries are building pavilions, many by important architects chosen in national competitions. The host city will try to match the showmanship of last summer’s Beijing games, and, unlike the made-for-television Olympics, the expo will likely attract tens of millions of Chinese visitors.

But whether the U.S. will be at the fair is still an open question. Under a misguided 1999 law, the State Department is prohibited from spending money on international expositions. Last year, the department authorized a private group, headed by Washington, D.C. lawyer Ellen Eliasoph and California amusement park executive Nick Winslow, to solicit donations for a privately funded pavilion. Last fall, unable to find sponsors, they abandoned their quest. Now they are trying again, and the Obama administration, according to Winslow, is rallying behind them.

Meanwhile, Clive Grout, a Canadian architect chosen by Winslow and Eliasoph, has designed a U.S. pavilion that may or may not get built. Time is running out. “The U.S. government can only commit to participating in the Shanghai Expo if the necessary funding from the private sector can first be secured,” a spokesman for the U.S. Consul General inShanghai confirmed by email last week.

That the United States wouldn’t attend a giant international gathering, at a time when so much is at stake in U.S.–Chinese relations, seems unimaginable. Sadly, though, it is not unprecedented. The U.S. embarrassed itself with a tacky pavilion at the Seville expo in 1992 (timed to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage, with the U.S. meant to be the guest of honor). It ignored the next expo (in Hannover, Germany, in 2000), insulting a crucial ally. At the insistence of Toyota, whose retired chairman conceived the 2005 expo in Aichi, Japan, the U.S. did have a pavilion. But the building’s creators, who had to rely on corporate funding, put more thought into the VIP suite (where those sponsors could entertain clients) than into the main event, a film about Benjamin Franklin.

If the U.S. pavilion for Shanghai gets built, it, too, will have a lavish VIP suite, Winslow said. The exhibition will be by BRC Imagination Arts (the company behind the Franklin movie in Aichi). The building is by Grout, who designed a number of pavilions for the 1986 Vancouver Expo, and went on to masterplan the 2002 Swiss Expo.

According to Grout, the pavilion he has designed for Shanghai—where the theme is “Better City, Better Life”—will be “a celebration of an American metropolis in 2030, focusing on health, sustainability, and community.” The 60,000-square-foot building will employ “a very contemporary vocabulary of metal and glass,” he said. The glass will be covered in a decorative film made by 3M, a sponsor of the pavilion. Grout is waiting to see which other companies give money, so that—if there’s time—he can incorporate their products into the design as well.

As his clients scrounge for handouts, Grout is collaborating with a Chinese architecture and engineering firm, which is creating working drawings even as design development continues. “We are under tremendous pressure,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time to study or investigate. I’m just focused on the fact that this is going to open in May of 2010, and we’ve got to get it into the ground. Until somebody tells me different, that’s my responsibility, to keep it alive.” He added: “We don’t yet know how much money is going to be available. It’s not the way to create a crackerjack pavilion.”
 


Fuller's dome landed at Expo '67 in Montreal, where the Soviet hammer and sickle made a definite statement.
Courtesy Lars Müller Publishers
 

That is a far cry from Masey’s day, when pavilions were symbols of national pride and funded by the government. Masey’s employer, the United States Information Agency (USIA), made its first foray into exhibition diplomacy with barge- and truck-borne displays touting the Marshall Plan, helping to win the hearts and minds of western Europeans, and it participated in hundreds of large expos and small trade fairs over the next five decades. According to Masey, it was the USIA that gave Fuller, George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Ivan Chermayeff, and Thomas Geismar their first peacetime commissions.

Among the highlights of Masey’s tenure was the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. Best known as the site of the “kitchen debate” between Nixon and Khrushchev, the fair attracted 2.7 million visitors during its six-week run. The interest of Soviet citizens was, according to observers, palpable.

Even more poignant is the tale of the 1956 exhibition in Brussels. Though the fair had an atomic energy theme, the U.S. chose to present its human side in a stunning circular building by Edward Durell Stone. (Among other exhibits, there was a fashion show organized by Jackie Kennedy’s sister, Lee.) A separate building was designed to house an exhibition on race relations in America. The goal was to counter Soviet claims that the United States, with its history of segregation, was in no position to lecture the Soviets on human rights. Called Unfinished Business, it depicted progress being made toward racial equality.

The show created a furor at home, with Senator Herman Talmadge of Georgia writing to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that the pavilion represented “an unwarranted invasion of the rights and prerogatives of the states of the south,” where “segregated society has proved to be in the best interest of all races concerned.” The exhibit was replaced with one devoted to public health, which Masey calls “an unworthy end to one of the most successful examples of architectural propaganda ever attempted by the United States.”

But there were to be other successful U.S. pavilions, at Montreal in 1967 (a giant Fuller dome) and Osaka in 1970 (a fascinating, inflatable building). Indeed, since at least the 19th century, world’s fairs have produced important architecture, as the assumed temporariness of the structures frees designers to experiment. (Both the Crystal Palace and the Eiffel Tower were built for international expositions.) Recent fairs have been filled with estimable structures, from MVRDV’s startling Dutch pavilion in Hannover to Foreign Office Architects’ Spanish offering in Aichi. In Shanghai, expect great things from Denmark’s BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), Italy’s BiCuadro, and Spain’s Miralles Tagliabue EMBT. England’s pavilion was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, chosen in a competition over Zaha Hadid and London Eye designers Marks Barfield.

But the U.S. no longer turns to its top talent. Ironically, Shanghai officials commissioned Yung Ho Chang, head of the architecture program at MIT, and Edwin Schlossberg, a prominent New York exhibition designer, to create their pavilion for Shanghai. Chinese business leaders have chosen American experts to sell themselves on their own home turf. 

Congress should immediately end the ban on public funding for international expositions, and allocate the $100 million or so it will take to build a pavilion worth texting home about. Jack Masey, 85 and still working, might have a few ideas.

Shovels Ready?

California has finally begun detailing its stimulus spending, and that means both good and bad news for builders. The good news is that billions of those dollars will go toward construction. The bad news, at least for architects, is that the majority will be going to infrastructure, not architecture, projects.

According to the state of California, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will provide the state with a total of $85 billion in funding, $35 billion in tax relief, and $50 billion from federal sources. Federal construction-related spending from that pot should total about $5 billion, with up to $4 billion more coming from California itself, according to Cliff Brewis, senior director of editorial operations at McGraw-Hill Construction/Dodge. Brewis, who has compiled a list of all funded construction projects in the state, explained that the funding leans heavily toward engineering projects over architecture projects.

Government is primarily responsible for infrastructure,and it has been underfunded for years," explained Brewis. 

Back on March 11, the California Transportation Commission approved the state’s first 57 stimulus-related projects, totaling $625 million; most of them to help repair highways and bridges. The McGraw-Hill Construction/Dodge list indicates that as of March 31 California has allocated funds for a total of 447 stimulus-related construction projects, totalin $7.5 to $7.7 billion, which will be paid for by federal and state money. Highway and road paving, storm sewers, roadway lighting, new parks, bridge construction, and sidewalk construction make up about 90 percent of the projects. The remaining tenth will include schools, fire and police stations, government buildings, offices, medical clinics, airport terminals, and military installations.

That figure does not include the governor’s discretionary funds; GSA funds; and Department of Energy Funds that will soon be coming into the state as well.

The funding probably won’t hit the construction market until next year, he said. And many of California’s federal stimulus funds are still being applied for or are waiting response from the federal government, confirmed Camille Anderson, a spokesperson for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“There are many and various pots of money,” she said. “We’re still working through all the rules and regulations.” She added, “We have an immense amount of staff assigned to this. We’re going to ensure that we utilize this funding as it comes forward.”

At the end of March the state sold $6.5 billion in general obligation bonds to help pay for more public projects ranging from school construction and repair to transportation, water, and flood control. That includes $700 million for infrastructure projects that were halted this winter due to the state’s budget crisis. Meanwhile, upcoming bills in Congress that could help architects include legislation on transportation, climate change, affordable housing, education, and health care.

Regardless of what the figures work out to, stimulus money is just the beginning of the recovery, pointed out Andrew Goldberg, senior director of federal relations at the AIA. "At the end of the day, the hope is that all these efforts will generate enough economic activity to help the whole economy. Anything that helps unfreeze credit will help building get going again. In a macro sense, the overall recovery will do more to help things get moving than the stimulus.”

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Dream Team
The Smithsonian Institute has selected Freelon Adjaye Bond to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Courtesy Freelon Adjaye Bond

The Smithsonian has selected a team led by London-based David Adjaye to build the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, the last major institution planned for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The team, known as Freelon Adjaye Bond, is a joint venture between the Freelon Group, Adjaye/Associates, and Davis Brody Bond Aedas. The venture in turn is paired with SmithGroup.

“Their vision and spirit of collaboration moved all members of the design competition jury,” said NMAAHC Director Lonnie Bunch III in a press release issued this morning. The museum, due for completion in 2015, will cost $500 million and be located on the southwest corner of the intersection of 14th Street and Constitution, across from the National Museum of American History and about 800 feet northeast of the Washington Monument.

“It is kind of like being in the Sweet Sixteen,” Bunch said of the selection. “We’ve got a ways to go, but I’m going to enjoy it for a while.”

Freelon Adjaye Bond has deep roots with both the museum and Washington. Before the competition began, Phil Freelon, president of the Freelon Group, and the late Max Bond, partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas, oversaw the museum program planning process (Bond passed away on February 18, 2009). And all three firms in the joint venture are currently designing new branch libraries for the D.C. Public Library system.

"The joy of this moment comes with mixed emotions,” said Steven Davis, a partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas. “Max Bond, who was my partner for over 20 years, worked tirelessly in conceiving the programming and design of our submission. We miss him especially on this incredible day.”


A rendering of the central hall as conceived by Freelon Adjaye Bond.
Courtesy Freelon Adjaye Bond

The team faced tough competition from a mix of avant-garde and establishment firms, ranging from Diller Scofidio + Renfro to Norman Foster to the duo of Devrouax & Purnell and Pei Cobb Freed.

The winning design—which Freelon stressed is more an expression of concepts, and likely to change significantly—comprises a multistory stone plinth open on the north and south ends, with a pair of inverted, bronze-paneled trapezoids stacked on top of it. The team has cited both a crown and Yoruban columns as inspiration.

The interior of the museum will soar 100 feet, with exhibit spaces radiating from a center spiral ramp, similar to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum. The procession will culminate in a rooftop garden.

“It had to be a project about celebrating a journey and looking toward the future,” said Adjaye.

All four firms on the winning team have extensive museum and institutional experience: Freelon designed the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture in Baltimore, and the firm was selected last month to design the Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights.


A model of the winning design.
Ken Rahaim/Courtesy SMithsonian Institute

Adjaye recently completed the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver and the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, while Davis Brody Bond Aedas is involved in planning the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. SmithGroup has perhaps the most extensive experience with federal cultural projects, most recently completing the National Audio Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia.

Adjaye, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, was born in Tanzania but raised in London. Based in London and with a New York satellite office, he will be the design lead, while Freelon is the architect of record.

The competition was not without controversy, not surprising given the political sensitivity of its program. Several minority architects—though none involved in the competition—demanded the museum select an African-American-led firm and complained that too many of the finalist firms were predominantly white. These calls, in turn, raised opposition from both white and black architects, who worried that such calls could put pressure on the selection committee to choose based on race rather than design excellence.

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Kennedy Central
The Kennedy Library is due to receive $22 million in stimulus funds for an addition by Boston-based Einhorn, Yaffee, Prescott.
renzodionigi/Flickr

While much attention has focused on the fate of the future George W. Bush Library in Dallas, few may have noticed that another presidential clan, the Kennedys, are expanding their architectural presence in Boston with two new projects.

As part of a $495 million earmark going to the National Archives in the omnibus bill signed by President Obama on March 11, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, designed in 1979 by I.M. Pei, is receiving $22 million for an addition (along with smaller amounts for the Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson libraries).

The addition, however, will not be designed by Pei but by Boston-based Einhorn, Yaffee, Prescott (EYP), the architects of several National Archive projects as well as the 2004 renovation of Harvard’s Widener Library. According to EYP principal David Fixler, the addition has been in development for at least six years as funding has been shored up, and is due to break ground this year after an equally complicated design process.

The library is a sequence of monumental forms overlooking Boston Harbor, and had already been altered by a Pei-designed addition in 1991. “We analyzed the Pei: It’s all primary geometries, like origami,” Fixler said. “So we took another fold and looked at it two ways.” The choice was between continuing the line of Pei’s Smith Center addition, or folding back toward the harbor and away from the building’s approach.


THIS WILL NOT BE THE FIRST ADDITION FOR THE LIBRARY, WHICH WAS EXPANDED IN 1991 BY PEI COBB FREED & PARTNERS (above right).
 
RENZODIONIGI/FLICKR
 
 

 “We decided to be deferential,” Fixler said, which meant extending the existing plinth to follow the contour of the shoreline. The 28,000-square-foot, two-story, pre-cast concrete addition will contain temporary exhibition space and much-needed storage for a vast artifact, audiovisual, and textual collection, along with offices and classrooms. “Pei is aware of the plan but did not seek any revisions,” Fixler added. “The Kennedy Foundation did make changes. But the final plans got the [exhibition designer and husband of Caroline Kennedy, Edwin] Schlossberg blessing.”

The expansion joins another Kennedy project underway on an adjacent four-acre site belonging to the University of Massachusetts. To be designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, the $100 million Edward M. Kennedy Institute will be dedicated to educational causes and include a replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber (perhaps aping the customary Oval Office replicas at presidential libraries), as well as galleries showcasing famous confrontations in the history of the Senate, spaces for mock Senate debates by students, and even a training program for actual junior senators.

The nonprofit institute would be financed, according to a report in The Boston Globe, by a group of pharmaceutical, biotech, hospital, and insurance companies that have already raised $20 million.

Selected from a shortlist said to include Steven Holl and Pelli Clarke Pelli, Viñoly will be working with Sasaki Associates, and exhibition design will be handled by none other than Schlossberg, according to Josslin, Lesser + Associates, the project manager. The building is expected to cost about $50 million, and ground breaking is due later this year.

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The Jersey City Shore
Starr Whitehouse and nARCHITECTS have designed a park for the Jersey City waterfront.
Courtesy JCWPC

In recent years, New York City has finally been reclaiming its moribund industrial waterfront. But across the Hudson, Jersey City has been at it for decades. The problem, as some see it, is that while New York has mostly been redeveloping its waterfront as parkland, Jersey City has almost exclusively built office and apartment towers on its shores since redevelopment began in the 1980s.

“Sure, there’s the promenade, but that’s basically just a steel railing,” Matthew Johnson, president of the Jersey City Waterfront Parks Conservancy, said of the city’s current open-space offerings. “We want more of a natural feel.”


The proposed park would stretch from the Goldman Sachs tower across little basin via a bridge to the peninsula. 
Julian Olivas

And so the conservancy unveiled plans for Paulus Hook Park on March 26. Designed by Starr Whitehouse and nARCHITECTS, the 9-acre park on the southern end of downtown seeks to weave together a half-dozen disparate lots into a destination for the area. “With the tremendous amount of residential development that has sprung up in Jersey City, there are a limited number of parks to serve this new community,” Johnson said.

One of the main challenges behind connecting the six separate plots is that they are owned by as many government agencies: Liberty State Park, the New Jersey Department of Military Veteran Affairs, the Morris Canal and Banking Company, the Colgate Center Property Owners Association, and the city.


The park was originally conceived as an alternative to the corporate and condo towers that have overtaken the Jersey City waterfront.

As if that were not enough of a challenge, the conservancy is also working against nascent development interests. Indeed, the group was founded two years ago after word had spread that some groups had expressed interest in building on various sites within the planned park. Thanks to the recession, the conservancy hopes it may have bought enough time to get the park past the planning stages and into the political ones. “It may be the perfect opportunity before somebody decides to build one of these pieces,” Johnson said.

At the heart of the park is a 1,000-foot-long shank-shaped spit of land that is already a public park, though it is little more than a plot of grass that is quickly eroding—a foot per year, estimates Johnson—because of heavy ferry traffic. One of the first tasks the designers will undertake if the park gets built is shoring up the peninsula against further erosion.


One of two proposed concession stands in the park designed by nARCHITECTS.

Beyond that, the plans call for a largely passive park, based on extensive community surveys. The surveys started with 25 different uses, from the most active (soccer fields and jogging tracks) to the most passive (walking paths and lawns for picnics and sunbathing). Johnson said the reaction was overwhelming for the latter, though a volleyball court will be included for a local group that currently plays on the extant park. A dog run is also being added, by popular demand.

Active uses aside, the idea is to provide a peaceful respite with views of the city and respect for the surroundings. “The community really understands that,” Stephen Whitehouse, principal of Starr Whitehouse, said. “They value the basic landscape, the sweep of that outdoor landscape and the sweep of the city and the river and the sun. Yes, there are some activities they wanted, but they really wanted a park that respects the space, one that integrated with the natural landscape that already exists.”


The "infinity bridge" is meant to serve as both circulation and symbol for the park.

Or at least used to. Across the Little Basin from the peninsula, the spaces are mostly vacant. The iconic Colgate Clock is still there, but otherwise the land is occupied with parking, a dilapidated shoreline, a basketball court, and a roller hockey rink. In addition to the new landscape, the designers want to add an education component on the north side of the basin detailing the history of the canal that once led inland from the site, including a tie-up for a historic barge. A Korean War memorial on a secluded part of the site will be moved to a more prominent location on the northern plot and surrounded by perennial gardens.

The signature piece of the park is the “infinity bridge,” a swooping figure-eight of wood that joins the peninsula to the northern side of the park. Designed by nARCHITECTS, the bridge is meant to visually represent the connectivity and continuity of the park with its surroundings and history while also serving the practical purpose of easing circulation within it. “The longer you can walk in green the more transformed you can become,” said Laura Starr of Starr Whitehouse.


A plan of the proposed park (Click to view larger image).

The project is still in the planning phases, though Johnson said that he has spoken with all the associated public agencies about the project and they have all been supportive so far. “We’re confident this park will be built,” he said.

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P!LA: SynthE-sizing Dinner
On Saturday, before we headed over to the Standard for my star turn on the media panel, Sam Lubell and I first swung by the Flat, home to celebrated LA restaurant Blue Velvet. We were there for an event hosted by colleague and co-panelist Alyssa Walker, part of her de Lab (design east of LaBrea) series. SCI-arc professor and hunk Alexis Rochas had installed easily the coolest green roof we've ever seen on top of the condo, and two dozen or so people had shown up for a tour, followed by a most-interesting lunch. The Flat, you see, is an old Holiday Inn motor hotel on the border of Westlake and downtown that was converted three years ago into luxury apartments. (I guess this is what passes for historic preservation in LA.) Well, shortly after the residences and attached restaurant opened, the folks at Blue Velvet asked Rochas to design a green roof for them, not only to retain stormwater runoff but also to supply the most local produce imaginable, at least for Downtown LA. With a group of his students, Rochas devised SynthE. The team took about 950 laser-cut panels, no two alike, bent them into the desired forms, welded them all together, and created what looks like Logan's Run if it were set on the Inner Mongolian steppe. Rochas explained that the form serves two purposes, directing the flow of water into the planted bands as well as subtly outlining the mechanical systems hidden beneath. Because the building was built before the 1967 code took effect, the weight tolerances of the roof were incredibly thin, and only 20 pounds per square foot could be added. This necessitated not only the use of the lightweight aluminum, but also a special soil, which only weighs, with water, around 15 pounds per square foot. Still, Rochas said the system absorbed 80 percent to 90 percent of all precipitation and had no trouble sustaining the plants that are product, or rather produce, of the roof. "As an architect, you design the structure and its shape, but also this time, its program and its use," Rochas explained. "The architect becomes a gardener, the gardener a planner." Indeed, the entire roof, but for a patch of grass intended for lounging by residents, is planted with various fruits, vegetables, and other edibles for Blue Velvet. Working 90-day crop cycles, the team grows all manner of tomatoes, herbs, greens, berries, wheat grass, even some monster cabbage. "It's a true, organic experiment, seeing what will grow and succeed," Rochas said. "And you can't get more local." Plus, it makes a decent slide.
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P!LA: Painting Sound, Ben Ball, Vampires, & MMOs, Oh My!
Though I already gave Mike the Poet pride of place, he was far from the only show in town Thursday night at Postopolis! LA. When I walked into the conference room--things had moved inside because the roof bar had been buffeted by a freezing wind all day--I saw a cluttered screenshot from World of Warcraft, something that had my inner-geek (aren't we all?) terribly excited. Indeed, Ben Cerveny of Stamen Design was talking about, among other things, deriving real life planning and tracking systems derived from more mediated sources, like MMOs. The talk was rather technical, and combined with my tardiness, I was kind of lost. Still, the potential is intriguing, especially after poking around Stamen's website. One of the examples Cerveny gave was the potential of cellphone apps. He proposed a program that would project one's preferences onto a wall, usually calibrated to some set of sounds and colors. When one person comes into proximity with another, it would create a cacophony or a melody between the two, depending on their settings. Another was a replacement for the personal library. As books decline in the digital age, Cerveny proposed a projection, ironically or not, the projection of one's digital self. "We're losing out real digital culture," he said. "Book-lined walls are being replaced with blank white ones, maybe a few modernist baubles." Whereas Cerveny and Stamen's work is about as technical as it gets, Steve Roden's is almost ambivalent to its very existence. A trained painter, Roden is seemingly obsessed with transforming one mode of experience, one sense, into another. His first, and probably best, example is how he found a piece of sheet music in his grandmother's attic. "I've never been able to let go of it," Roden said. But Roden does not play the music. Instead, he meticulously broke it down into its component scale--E-G-B-D-F, etc.--and then came up with a numbering scheme. That then gets plugged into a paint-by-numbers system that developed dozens of paintings. "I don't know how to read or play music," Roden emphasized. And yet, another major project was his installation for Alvaro Siza's Serpentine Pavilion in 2005. Roden, with the help of lay assistants working at the pavilion, mapped the structure in a rainbow of five colors, then transformed it into a painting, which, when he looked at it, resembled the scheme on a Tyco xylophone. He decided to turn the painting into a "player piano strip" that led to a recording played over an hour in the space. He played a minute of the composition. It had a haunting beauty for someone who seemed as though he could care less about what he was doing. Perhaps that was the genius of his art. Someone who cared very much, perhaps too much, was Gary Dauphin. An LA resident, Dauphin apologized for giving a presentation largely about New York, namely his home-hood of Fort Greene. As a gentrifier myself, Gary's talk about the cultural vampirism of gentrification really hit home. Dauphin argued that gentrifiers, specifically in Fort Greene but also beyond, are not always (white) outsiders, but generally ethnic (black/Latino) educated returners who make way for their new friends and thus feel guilty for it. The same goes for vampires, at least in the popular culture of Buffy/True Blood/Twilight/Blacula. More often than not, the story is about the "good vampire," the vampire who is trying to get beyond his vampirism, drinking synthetic blood or animal blood and not that of humans. When I asked if there was a solution to either problem, the answer was no. Finally, Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues Studio. I shared a beer with Ben afterwards--more on that later--but his talk was mostly on what he's done and everyone knows--Maximillian's Schell, P.S. 1, Venice--and what's yet to come--a teepee in Woodstock, a bird installation at Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital.
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Don't Call It a Comeback?
Courtesy A.C. Martin

Signs of life exist in LA. At least on the drawing board.

The Thomas Property Group and Korean Air have just proposed a $1 billion mixed-use complex consisting of two large towers in the heart of the city’s downtown. If approved, the buildings would be designed by A.C. Martin and Partners, architects of several of the city’s tallest buildings, like the 52-story Two California Plaza, the 53-story Figueroa at Wilshire, and the 55-story Bank of America Plaza.

The 1.75 million-square-foot project would be built on the site of the current Wilshire Grand Hotel, at 930 Wilshire Boulevard, which would be razed. The new complex would include a 40-story tower featuring a luxury hotel of up to 700 rooms topped by several floors of condominiums, and a 1.15 million-square-foot, 60-story office tower, connected with plazas and up to 18,000 square feet of public space.

The architects could not be immediately reached for comment, but renderings suggest that the new buildings will be clad with folded glass facades, tapering inward as their height increases. Their thick, angular profile is similar to that of Morphosis’ Phare Tower in Paris. The developers say they plan for the buildings to achieve LEED certification.

While the project is still not funded or approved—not an easy task in this economic environment—the team has a weighty track record. Thomas Properties owner James Thomas has built downtown’s Wells Fargo Tower, Library Tower, and Gas Company Tower. Korean Air, which owns three hotels in Korea and another in Hawaii, acquired the Wilshire Grand Hotel in 1989 under the name of Hilton Hotel & Towers.

Thomas told Bloomberg that despite the current economic downturn, his company plans to have the scheme ready to go by the time credit markets “start flowing again.” He added, “The ideal timing is to get everything lined up, and as you come out of the recession, you have the product to deliver. So I think our timing is really superb.”