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"The work shown at the exhibition, rather than serving as a speculative criticism pointing out towards a techno-fetishist paradigm, tries to act as recording device to capture a moment in architectural discourse. Both the excitement and skepticism around the presented methodologies are due to the fact that they are yet to come to fruition as built projects," said the curators in a statement.
Here's to paid competitions!
Last week, as AN’s executive director, I participated in a juried competition for a renovation of the cafe at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. Dallas-based ceramic artist and collector Louise Rosenfield has donated a 3,000-piece functional ceramics collection to the museum, which will be integrated into the cafe’s food and beverage programming.
It was a unique design prompt, and it deserved a comparably special design to complement it. In a collaboration between the Everson Museum and the School of Architecture at Syracuse University, Dean Michael Speaks and Assistant Professor Kyle Miller organized the competition, which brought together four finalists and seven jurors to decide who would take on the cafe design. The jury consisted of Everson Museum director and CEO Elizabeth Dunbar and Everson Museum curator of ceramics Garth Johnson along with Sean Anderson (MoMA), Aric Chen (Design Miami), Jing Liu (SO—IL), Matt Shaw (The Architect’s Newspaper), and Oana Stănescu (Harvard GSD).
The four presenters were FreelandBuck (David Freeland and Brennan Buck, Los Angeles/New York), MILLIØNS (Zeina Koreitem and John May, Los Angeles), NATURALBUILD (Yanfei Shui and Yichi Su, Shanghai) and Norman Kelley (Thomas Kelley and Carrie Norman, Chicago/New Orleans).
The competition brought to light a host of serious issues and questions about architecture today.
First, the format is a throwback to a time when competitions were a way for architects to get high-profile commissions and build their practices through proposals and thought experiments. Some of the world’s greatest structures were realized through competitions, including London’s Palace of Westminster (1836), the Sydney Opera House (1956), and Paris’s Centre Pompidou (1971).
Competitions have also served as fertile grounds for the development of intellectual projects, as second-place proposals have become as important historically as the winners. OMA’s Parc de la Villete (1982) and Reiser + Umemoto’s Yokohama Port Terminal (1995) are both important markers in the firms’ legacies, while the Chicago Tribune Tower competition has echoed through time, first as an actual building competition (1922), then as the basis for Stanley Tigerman’s book Late Entries to the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition (1980), and then in Johnston Marklee’s Vertical City (2017) as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Despite their significance and success at delivering world-class projects, competitions have come under fire in recent years as exploitative, using architects as sources for ideas while not compensating them for their time and effort. However, a paid, invited competition is much different than an open call where labor goes uncompensated.
The competition model helps clients mitigate risk by giving them the opportunity to move beyond obvious choices and take a chance on a younger practice that might not immediately seem capable to the untrained eye. In the Everson competition, the jury directed the clients toward a more ambitious proposal that might have seemed less desirable to a client at first.
Competitions not only allow institutions to take risks on progressive architecture, but they also save them money. Rather than pay top dollar for large corporate firms or high-profile established designers who have already proven themselves over multiple projects, an institution can find a cheaper firm that would not be affordable in ten years. This kind of knowledge only comes from a panel of experts. It is a win-win for everyone involved, and, at the Syracuse competition, it was clear that both the jury and the museum were satisfied with the result.
These competitions might cost money up front, but the results they deliver for the client will offer savings in the long run by using a less-established—yet talented—team that is not charging corporate rates or top dollar design fees. And they are an important way to create opportunity for young designers and foster the contributions they make to architectural history. Here’s to more paid competitions!
World's largest treehouse burns down in minutes
Clear Eyes, Whole Trees, Can't Lose
WholeTrees is smartly repurposing timber across the Midwest
The Festival Foods Grocery Store in Madison, Wisconsin, features WholeTrees’ largest natural round-timber trusses, which facilitate spans of up to 55 feet. The structure showcases the potential of unmilled lumber without compromising strength or visual impact, and the whole timber in combination with steel embodies a junction of nature and technology. The trees that make up the trusses were harvested during the City of Madison’s campaign against the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect lethal to local ash trees, and the standing columns are red pine sourced from just outside of the city.
Lakeridge Junior High School
WholeTrees repurposed 29 trees cleared from the project site as structural members for a new building designed by Mahlum Architects for Lakeridge Junior High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. The company harnessed a 3D-scanning system known as lidar to create digital models of the trees that included every nub, notch, and scratch. These models ensured each tree met the structural and spatial design parameters of the project. The 3D files created through this process can be shared with engineers and architects, allowing building professionals to confidently fabricate and specify related products, and architects to precisely visualize the organic material in their designs.
Blakely Elementary School
WholeTrees’ first project in Washington State developed a new steel connection to help meet the seismic requirements of the region. WholeTrees harvested, processed, and delivered 14 straight and branched tree columns rising up to 25 feet tall for a school on Bainbridge Island, outside Seattle, which was designed in collaboration with Seattle-based architecture firm Mithun. Blakely was the first project to adapt WholeTrees’ explorations into 3D-scanning technology for every column in a built project. The technology allowed the company to scan trees in its storage lot and share the resulting information directly with engineers and architects.
Maharishi University Sustainable Living Center
Located in Fairfield, Iowa, Maharishi University’s Sustainable Living Center was required to comply with the International Living Building Challenge’s mandate to use materials sourced within 300 miles of the project site. WholeTrees delivered 22 columns, 24 beams, and 2 structural arches harvested from managed woodlands in southwestern Wisconsin. Realized with sustainability-focused architecture practice Innovative Design, the project exceeded the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum standard. The building’s entrance features a narrow corridor of massive but slender trunks, which creates the sensation of being among trees while still being inside.
“To a full house. “There is no one who better represented what is ethical and responsible and what is best in architecture in our time than Stanley.” “A fabulous and pathological truthteller.” “He was never satisfied with straightforward interpretation. From the start, his work typically contained a subtext that was dying to become the principle discourse, a hidden whimsy, even irrationality.”Peter Eisenman:
“I would impersonate Stanley to get a seat at Gene and Giorgetti’s. I did this so many times that the last time I walked in the maître d greeted me with “‘Hello Mr. Tigerman.’” “After reading Stanley’s architectural memoir, Building Bridges to Burn, all of us who think we knew him should read this book. Whatever one thought of him, his work is revealed in another life.” “The architect who never had enough bridges to burn.”Robert Somol:
“If Bob (stern) and Peter (Eisenman) and Stanley, represent what Stanley once called dysfunctional siblings, then those of my generation are Stanley’s dysfunctional children. And as such we tried to be loyal if we weren’t generally obedient. Which might not be ideal, it’s a lot better than those that are obedient but disloyal.” “When you talked to Stanley, whether you realized it or not, you were making a contract or a promise. And god help you if you didn’t keep your end of the bargain. Stanley was not one for idle banter. For Stanley his work was his bond, and that is how you have to live when you are an outsider.”John Ronan:
“From him, I learned how to be an architect, and how you had to make your projects. I learned how to thrive on conflict. I learned the perils of fame, and the proper usage of the word fuck.” “When Stanley started his practice, architecture was still something of a gentleman’s profession, and Stanley proved in many ways, you didn’t have to be a gentleman to succeed in it.” “All of us here were shaped by Stanley in some way. We are how we are, do some less or more degree because of him. We are all now part of his family, and he is part of us… whatever the fuck that means.”Frank Gehry:
“I’m just tempted to say ‘ditto,’ but I did write something so please forgive me.”