All posts in Review

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Stock up on Dreams

EXTENTS and stock-a-studio create virtual spaces for Collective Reality
In one of the oldest neighborhoods in Cleveland, a group of architects, designers, and software developers are imagining the future of citizen-led urban development. Collective Reality: Image without Ownership took over an empty ground-floor retail space in Slavic Village earlier this month, featuring a low-fi installation of bright red foam, matte-black steel frames and an invisible, virtual overlay of crowdsourced urban objects. The installation, as explained by the creators, was meant to “allow citizens to engage in conversations about urban development by creating images of possible neighborhood futures.” The team behind this piece, Laida Aguirre (stock-a-studio), McLain Clutter and Cyrus Peñarroyo (EXTENTS), and Mark Lindquist, hailing from the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning and the School of Environment and Sustainability, collaborated directly with the Slavic Village Development nonprofit group and LANDstudio to create a space which is referred to as a “laboratory for the development of the Collective Reality software.” The software, programmed by two other University of Michigan researchers, Frank Deaton and Oliver Popadich, is an augmented reality application that filled the exhibition space with a growing collection of virtual objects, spaces and, to the expectations of its creators, prospects of a new imagined city. Slavic Village, located near the industrial valley of Cleveland, has experienced a difficult decade of stagnant development after a majority of properties foreclosed during the 2007 financial crisis. While the housing bubble’s burst may seem like the primary culprit for its decrepit state, the neighborhood fits a list of textbook definitions for urban decline: The rapid disappearance of manufacturing, declining populations, loss of urban amenities, high amount of low-quality housing, poverty, and crime. Perhaps the most relevant ingredient in this cocktail of urban depression is the lack of outside investment, where only a few courageous individuals have decided to stake a claim in the future of this important area. It is this last ingredient which Collective Reality attempts to confront. Conventional urban development depends on capital to both create and envisage change; growth depends on how well an idea can be imaged, presented, and sold, typically consuming vast amounts of resources during its approval processes. Slick renderings require advanced computing and educated skill sets. Maps and other forms of urban planning communication are criticized for their exclusivity to the disciplines which produced it. Community board meetings, one potential space for citizen engagement, often take place in difficult to reach places or during times of which individuals can not afford to attend. These structures of urban development privilege wealth over local embedded knowledge, especially in places like Slavic Village where the socioeconomic divide is drastic. The team of Michigan-based researchers questions this status quo, asking if technology—specifically augmented reality—can offer opportunities to separate imagination from monetary means. The installation's interactive process empowers citizens to bridge this planning gap through devices more familiar to the everyday urban user. Upon entering the space, visitors are presented with a prompt—a request to capture several photographs of favorite spaces, places, and objects around the neighborhood with no more than a camera phone. Photographs are sent to the researchers, photogrammetrically transformed into three-dimensional objects, and then placed within the virtual environment of the gallery space. Visitors were encouraged to use one of the provided tablets to interact, manipulate and explore the collective imagination embedded within the augmented reality application. The physical installation, while seemingly in competition with its virtual counterpart, offered material targets for the application to recognize and attach to. In reality, the exhibition was no more than a funhouse of soft foam blocks to play with and climb on, at least in the minds of the children that visited. While the creators and their beta-stage augmented reality software ask important questions on citizen engagement, bottom-up planning, and collective empowerment in the age of ever-increasingly accessible technology, the physical nature of the gallery permits its users to actually act out their collective imagination. The bare, unadorned geometries of the red foam and steel frames were reminiscent of the simplistic playgrounds designed by Aldo van Eyck in post-war Amsterdam. It was the playground, he argued, which literally gives space to the imagination. This unintentional consequence of Collective Reality points out an important aspect of community development: the spaces and architectures which promote social interactivity are vitally important to the creative imagining of possible futures. Collective Reality: Image without Ownership ended on October 19, 2019. The gallery is located at 5322 Fleet Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44015.
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More Than a Dream

The mid-century fairy tales of Cinderella Homes
The Cinderella Homes of Jean Vandruff: Fairy Tale Tracts in the Suburbs By Chris Lukather $35.00 “Men are forever guests in the home no matter how much happiness they may find there,” famously stated Elsie de Wolfe, the American interior decorator often credited with founding interior design as a profession. In the early 20th century, de Wolfe’s thoughts on the importance of decoration established a framework that empowered women to consider how domestic interiors shaped and reflected feminine identity, both socially and psychologically. She believed that while men may build and decorate the house, it’s the woman’s personality that will always shine through—it’s the woman who makes a house a home.  A new book by California-based writer and publisher Chris Lukather, The Cinderella Homes of Jean Vandruff: Fairy Tale Tracts in the Suburbs, explores this complex relationship between women and domestic architecture. It tells the story of how one man, Jean Vandruff, dedicated his life to designing homes conceived around atomic age fantasies about housewives, who the homes’ advertisements called “modern Cinderellas.” The book echoes de Wolfe’s sentiment while painting a picture of the dramatic changes women began to face, both in the home and out, as the country progressed through the Great Depression, the Second World War, the growth of the American middle class, and, most importantly, the mass migration to the suburbs In 1954, seven years after the first Levittown, and many before Disneyland came to Southern California, Vandruff started designing and building communities of “storybook” tract homes in the image of a midcentury modern fairy tale. While typical tract developments were filling out landscapes across the country, they just as quickly entered the popular imagination, as, in the words of Malvina Reynolds’s 1962 song, “little boxes made of ticky tacky…little boxes all the same.”  In a catalog for the 2001–2002 exhibition held at the Brooklyn Museum, Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, the postwar single-family home was romanticized as, “a fairy-tale castle hidden away under a magic spell in a wilderness of identical streets curving past a series of identical, partially prefabricated wooden boxes.” Vandruff’s Cinderella Homes embraced this idealized notion of fairy-tale living but offered an alternative to the ubiquitous box housing that was popping up all over California. He designed ranch-style homes that didn’t shy away from color, ornamentation, or custom craftsmanship, all for a competitive price, and people camped out overnight to secure a model. Lukather’s book is the first to take a look at these homes through an in-depth collection of oral histories with the Vandruff family, Cinderella homeowners and realtors, as well as interviews and essays by Vandruff, who, at 96, is still thriving and telling tales by going door-to-door preaching the history of the 6,000 homes he created across California, Kansas, and Texas between 1950 and 1962.  The book is richly illustrated with original photographs, floorplans, and advertisements exhibiting the many variations of the ranch homes, which set Cinderellas apart from prefab war housing and other experiments of the time (Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House Program ran contemporaneously from 1945 to 1966). “I detested modern architecture in homes…so cold, rigid, simplistic, blah!” Vandruff wrote in a manifestolike list of key Cinderella features. “Architects hated Cinderellas,” he said.  Cinderellas featured high gabled entryways, large overhangs, Victorian gingerbread trim, and diamond-shaped windows with cartoonish, scalloped frames. Perhaps the most striking features of the original homes were their shake-shingle roofs and custom stone and brickwork, which flowed into the interior where a massive fireplace “anchored” the home. Vandruff cites traditional Swedish and Austrian homes as sources of ornamental inspiration.  The story of the Cinderella Home illuminates an era of U.S. history characterized by abundant self-indulgence and escapist material culture, an era when the home entered the consumer sphere as a mass-market commodity just like the automobile or the television set (which soon began to dictate the organization of a living room more so than the home builder themselves). It’s fitting that the first home opened in 1954 in Downey, California, where the first McDonald’s franchise opened a year prior.  The book displays a list of 50 architectural features originally printed in the Downey development’s brochures. Number 32 reads: “TV viewing directly from kitchens!” While the houses didn't have completely open plans, each Cinderella kitchen had a large window that looked out into the living quarters. The design feature was also heavily advertised for its other purpose: to maximize visual and verbal communication between wives and their husbands and children. For Vandruff, this was the most important design issue of all.  “This was key to a happy home. A kitchen-isolated wife is an unhappy wife…likely producing an unhappy family,” he wrote. “My constant thought was for the woman, the home-maker. Everything must be done to make her a fulfilled success.” It was, in fact, his wife Eleanor Vandruff, a former beauty queen, singer, and popular radio personality, who came up with the name Cinderella after she saw one of the first drawings and thought it to be fit for a princess.  Vandruff believed that setting women up for success (and, in turn, setting up the husband for success) meant creating spaces that appeared open and light-filled. In some models, you could stand in the front entryway and see all the way through to the back of the house. Vandruff wrote, “Wall mirrors and big clean windows added ‘space’ to any room, making it the opposite of a jail cell or dungeon,” a sentiment that anticipated the attitudes and feelings toward the home that would be put into words a few years later in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique from 1963, which dissected the psychology of the suburban housewife and ushered in the age of second-wave feminism.  Perhaps before Friedan’s book, women’s unhappiness with household drudgery was rarely discussed—it was “the problem that had no name.” But no one wants an unhappy wife. As Vandruff explained in his interview with the author, “I wanted to make a home for the woman of the household, since she spent the most time there…if she is happy, the home is probably happy…then you’re probably going to be happy too.” We now know that personal fulfillment for women involves far more than being able to watch TV while cleaning the kitchen. It is hard to theorize what life was actually like for the housewife in a Cinderella Home, as the book failed to include a single account of a female homemaker who occupied one of the tracts in such fraught times or even an account of a female homeowner today. While informative and aesthetically pleasing, the book, like the homes, was crafted entirely from a male perspective with the wife in mind—but how much was she involved?  That’s not to discredit Lukather’s important addition to the history of the rise of suburban life and the fantasy of the American Dream. Cinderella Homes, just as much as Levittown, embody postwar U.S. culture in all of its complexities—of course, the book wouldn't be complete without a chapter dedicated to Jean Vandruff’s years in the Air Force.  But just like the era itself, it’s hard not to think about something darker going on beneath the surface. Marshall Vandruff, Jean Vandruff’s son, fondly recalled memories of growing up in a Cinderella tract neighborhood and becoming “dangerously nostalgic” upon revisiting it for the book. In a way, the entire book is dangerously nostalgic. Lukather wants to tell the story of playful design, happy families, material abundance, and optimism, but only through the insight of the men who built and continue to surround themselves with the homes. What’s given less importance in the book is the atmosphere outside the home: the threat of nuclear danger, the ideological dynamic of the cold war, the uneven distribution of wealth, and rampant racism and sexism. The Cinderella Home lives magically outside of such realities. There is simply no room for those very real anxieties in the story’s fantastical fairy tale.  Leilah Stone is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor.
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Freedom of Expression

Is Torkwase Dyson's abstract recount of racial violence a missed opportunity?
Torkwase Dyson’s 1919: Black Water, on display at Columbia GSAPP’s Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery through December 14th, is an inscrutable meditation on an incident of racial violence that took place in Chicago on a hot summer’s day in July 1919: the killing of a black 17-year-old named Eugene Williams on a Lake Michigan beachfront by a white man throwing rocks. Represented in the form of abstract paintings, geometric sculptures, and ink drawings, Williams’ story becomes a framing narrative for Dyson’s installations, which combine expressionist, minimalist, process art, and postminimalist elements in the manner of Mark Rothko, Dan Graham, Theaster Gates, or Nari Ward. Dyson describes her projects as “spatial systems that build upon the architectural typologies that people have used to liberate themselves.” But this is not social practice art or urban interventionism. There’s no evident intention to interact with or build a community, educate a group, or communicate a didactic message. As the accompanying exhibition pamphlet discusses in an engaging conversation with architectural historian Mabel O. Wilson, the works are at least partly meant to function as abstract ciphers for the re-imagination of architectural space through black experience. Deciphering that code for practical uses might require an advanced Ivy League degree. Dyson tends to fixate on sites of trauma in black history, seeking the potential for liberation within spaces that otherwise appear to lack all potential for agency: Henry “Box” Brown, who freed himself from enslavement by having himself mailed in a crate to the north, or Samuel Osborne, a janitor at Colby College who earned the school’s dedication by exemplifying an upright moral code. In the case of 1919: Black Water, the redemption emerges from an experience of pleasure-seeking and invention turned tragic: the fabrication of a boat to create a group space of joy, interrupted by racial violence. The story behind the show is compelling. In the summer of 1919, Eugene Williams and his friends had constructed a makeshift raft to carry them to a small island on the shores of Lake Michigan near 25th Street, in between the two unofficially segregated sides of the waterfront. There they were free to swim and play away from the crowds. It was a summer of heightened racial tension: The black population had more than doubled in Chicago during the preceding decade—the beginning of the Great Migration of six million African-Americans from the south. Competition for jobs had intensified at the nearby stockyards at the end of World War I and white supremacists had been increasingly fomenting hatred. The teens had apparently got caught in the middle, accidentally crossing an invisible boundary between the informally segregated areas. A group of white men began throwing rocks at them; as Williams ducked in the water and resurfaced, he was hit in the head, going under and drowning. The police neglected to arrest the rock-thrower, instead arresting a black man following a complaint by a white person. An explosion of violence ensued. In the following week, police killed seven black men; mobs and individual gunmen murdered 16 blacks and 15 whites; more than 500 others suffered from injuries; mobs burned more than 1,000 black families out of their homes. A mass of black string congealed with black acrylic hangs on a wooden bar against a blue background with a geometric abstraction above (Pilot), possibly invoking a blue sky mingling with its reflection in the water, a raft floating on top, a black body bleeding from the head, and maybe, sinking below. Thick black acrylic paint and graphite on canvases suggest a line of polluted water (Just Above and Just Below; Place, Raft, and Drift), and slices of brass bisecting canvases evoke segregated division of space, the surface of the water, and the horizon (Plantationocene; Being-Seeing-Drifting). A few geometric figures appear on canvases that resemble towers or antennae (Hot Cold; Extraction Abstracting). On the gallery floor, shiny black plexiglass tetrahedrons with voids on some sides (Black Shoreline) reference the reflection of the water, which gain energy from the presence of gallery visitors. The absence of figurative representations of Williams, the raft, or the crowds after the drowning—though historical images do appear in the catalog—recalls the protest a few years ago of Dana Schutz’s Open Casket at the Whitney Biennial. Schutz had portrayed the open casket of Emmett Till, a young black teen lynched in an incident of racial terror. His mother insisted on an open casket so everyone could see what was done to her son, producing a shocking image of brutality that spurred the civil rights movement. Did it do violence to his memory to represent his broken body? Was Schutz making common cause or exploiting Till’s suffering? In this case, the inverse question might apply: why isn’t Williams represented more powerfully rather than rendered in abstraction? Is it a missed opportunity not to deploy figurative tools to animate Williams’ story, bring it to light, propel it into the present, deploy it to inform policies, use it for more than personal expression? Or is the freedom to be a black expressionist a worthy end in itself, our desire to see his body exploitative, and art that exhorts politically tedious and doomed to failure anyway? “These systems also consider infrastructure and the environment to create a visual amalgamation that recognizes the ways that black people move through, inhabit, cleave and form space,” Dyson is cited as saying the catalog, describing her nomenclature of representation as “black compositional thought.” Often Dyson uses dancers accompanying installations to animate them with exuberant gestures, and the presence of performers might make this rhetoric seem less overblown. If these works constitute a kind of expressive freedom grounded in black narrative and experience, they operate within the exclusive prison-house of the institutional contemporary art and academic architecture world, its markets, nonprofits, grants, and formalist language games. It’s a project worthy of poststructural critique to seek liberation even within the most repressive situations. As with the collapse of the New Museum’s Ideas City program in the Bronx, it can be challenging to reconcile the sustained intellectual discourse with the urgent, viscerally felt problems of the world: lack of control over space and governance, being unable to afford a place to live or to find adequately paid work, and abstract financial forces determining the fate of your community.
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Drawing Attention

How are architects drawing in the world of digital culture?
We have a lot to thank computers for; the laptop I typed this article on can execute millions of instructions every second. This is a number us humans can’t comprehend, but thankfully, computers can. Computers have changed the way we see and interact with the world around us: able to connect people across the globe and able to optimize oil extraction from prime sites decided through digital derivation. Those most grateful for our microprocessor-driven overlords should be architects: they may romanticize the analog medium of sketching, but the truth is every building constructed today is “drawn” up using a computer at some point and the computer allows them to conceive every shape and size imaginable. Depending on who you ask, this has either saved or ruined architecture, and this friction is acknowledged in Drawing Attention, currently on show at the Roca Gallery in West London, where drawings from 70 participants are on display. Drawing digitally is now part of the process of design, something historian Mario Carpo describes as the digital turn in architecture. Drawing Attention, curated by Jeremy Ficca, Amy Kulper, and Grace La, professors at Carnegie Mellon University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Harvard GSD respectively, attempts to unpack the manifestations of this and asks questions such as: Where does the advent of BIM (Building Information Modeling) leave 2D digital drawing? As evidenced in this exhibition, the second dimension is far from obsolete. In a post-digital age, and as digital representation techniques allow architects to obfuscate renderings and reality, we find these 2D drawings to be evermore abstract as they take on more artistic qualities, representing architectural ideas more so than buildings themselves. The 70 drawings are thematically displayed in the following categories: Drawing limits; Drawing omniscience; Drawing instrument; Drawing environments, and Drawing as world-making. In Drawing limits, architects like Zachary Tate Porter play with scale: his Topographic survey of two Sidewalk Holes in Downtown Los Angeles (see gallery above) is wonderfully ambiguous; the holes could easily be moon craters. “The digital model presents a crisis of scale,” he argued, and the scroll of a mouse facilitates a “seamless” and “disquieting” transition between scales. Architect Achim Menges, meanwhile, achieves ambiguity in a different way. An abstract view of his Bundesgartenschau Wood Pavilion celebrates the structure's parametric qualities, something which is fitting for the exhibition’s venue (the Roca Gallery was designed by Zaha Hadid). However, this view is a reminder of how alienating parametricism can be. Where Porter’s scale subversion was playful and called upon the viewer to interrogate a terrain they see every day but probably ignore, Menges’s drawing is devoid of any scalar reference; it could be any size—a daunting and maybe exciting prospect, but one thanks to Hadid, we’ve already experienced. Rightfully so, parametricism doesn't get much more of a look-in; but still many works on show exhibit the digital tropes from this period (fractals and excessive iteration) which is odd considering, by the exhibition's own definition, this is an examination of the contemporary. ‘Drawing as world-making’ showcases the industry’s biggest names. Jimenez Lai of Bureau Spectacular; Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen (KGDVS); Mark Smout, Laura Allan, Geoff Manaugh, and Tom de Paor are all on show. All exhibit interesting works though only KGDVS’s OFFICE 171 Crematorium from 2014 stands out, a hallmark of the post-digital ‘style’ pursued by other offices such as Point Supreme, Hesselbrand, and Fala Atelier, among others which aren’t part of the exhibition. Drawing Attention also partially highlights how architects are representing the environment. C. J. Lim of Studio8 Architects goes against the grain of using endless amounts of data to inform a drawing, instead opting for a tongue-in-cheek cartoonish depiction of the ocean littered with plastic bags with phrases like “recycle or die” written on them. Lim’s Ocean Cleaning falls under the ‘Drawing Environments’ section of the exhibition, which arguably misses a trick by omitting architects who are aggressively pursuing a more sustainable planet. As the academic Peter Buchanan argues, without the computer we could not grasp the complexities of climate change nor be able to design the built environment to ameliorate it. Where are the drawings that exhibit this way of thinking? We are in a climate crisis after all. That aside, there are some outstanding drawings on show: Sarah Wigglesworth’s The Disorder of the Dining Table is a classic—dating back to 1997—but always a joy to see and still relevant, as evidenced by James Michael Tate's development of this drawing for an architecture office showcased adjacent. Meanwhile, Maj Plemenitas’s MSFM — Territorial Printing with Ocean Currents riffs off graphic designer Peter Saville’s timeless work on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover. That work was informed by radio signals from a neutron star, whereas Plemenitas’ piece is derived from a simulation of the autonomous “production” of islands, seamounts and resilient shorelines. “Drawing is taking a line for a walk,” said artist Paul Klee in 1961. When he said this, he was invariably inferring a pen, pencil, or paintbrush being guided across a page by a human hand. Through drawing, architects conceive spaces and places; stage sets for the theater of life. British anthropologist Tim Ingold takes it a step further, proposing that life is carried out on such lines, not just within them. Today, however, algorithms, scripts, and strings of code are used to represent architecture, serving as more than architecture’s final form before the hand-over to contractors and builders—the people that make architecture manifest in physical, tangible reality. However, contractors and builders will never use the drawings exhibited in Drawing Attention, for drawing digitally is not just a means to an end, like it was before Carpo’s “digital turn”, defined by him as a period between 1992–2012. We’re now well beyond that and Drawing Attention gives us a glimpse of our post-digital trajectory.
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Prismatic Modernism

Gerard & Kelly draped Villa Savoye in flesh to explore modernism's sensuality
Multidisciplinary artists Gerard & Kelly’s Modern Living is a dance performance that has been presented in a series of famous modern houses, including Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the Schindler House, and Mies Van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. This dance troupe cavorts through the spaces of each house to explore, in their words “intimacy and domestic space within legacies of modernist architecture.” There is additionally an emphasis on an exploration of “queer space,” where voyeurism and exhibitionism are uncovered through the interaction between the dancers through the transparency of the rooms they explore. The latest incarnation of Modern Living ran from September 28 through October 6 in Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, completed in 1930 in Poissy, a suburb of Paris. Probably his most famous house, at the time it was an astoundingly radical image of a floating white pavilion elevated on thin columns above the flat lawn below. It is shocking even now, and reminds us of Frank Lloyd Wright’s comment that “human houses should not be like boxes blazing in the sun.” It was a complete rejection of all things Beaux Arts and classical. Where a house was rooted firmly on the ground, this modernist villa hovered above; in place of small windows punched into a wall, it had a continuous horizontal strip of glass; where a gable roof would provide shelter, there is a flat roof terrace of paving and plants. Compared to the excessive ornament of the Beaux Arts, and even contemporary Art Deco interiors such as that of Robert Mallet-Stevens, the Villa Savoye is abstract and stripped bare. The walls are stucco, the only ornament is the occasional highlight of a deeply saturated painted color—architecture is reduced to space, form, and light, the house is essentially as “naked” as the Greek ruins that Le Corbusier admired. Villa Savoye first appeared in Le Corbusier’s’ Complete Works in grainy black and white photos, with barely any furniture inside. The Savoye family only lived there briefly, complaining that it leaked and was uninhabitable. The interior was seen briefly in a black and white film by Pierre Chenal in 1930 along with other Le Corbusier houses and his urban plan for Paris. It was occupied by the Germans, then the Americans in World War II, and was a derelict ruin used as hay barn until its restoration from 1985-97. Since then, it has been a mysteriously empty shell and absent of dance, even though Le Corbusier’s idea was that architecture is activated by the human presence in a “promenade architecturale,” as one walks through and around the forms and spaces of the house. In this sense, Gerard & Kelly have finally brought the Villa Savoye to life, in a choreographed work that is inspired in part by the purported affair of Le Corbusier with the singer and dance sensation of the 1920s Josephine Baker. Aboard an ocean liner from Buenos Aires to France, Le Corbusier met the black, American “chanteuse” who had performed in Paris and drew her nude. The Marilyn Monroe of the 1920s, Baker captivated the imagination of Adolf Loos as well, who designed a striped house for her on a corner in Paris, although there is no evidence she ever asked him to do so. Along with Cubism’s inspiration of African masks and culture as in Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the perceived exoticism of Baker’s singing and dance had injected new life into these two uptight, polemical architects, certainly at odds with Le Corbusier’s Swiss Calvinist background. Baker went on to aid the French Resistance and became a Civil Rights activist, speaking at Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. Taking Baker and Le Corbusier as a starting point, Gerard & Kelly’s six dancers glid, slid, sinuously snaked, and danced through the house, beginning at the entry, going up the ramp and spiral stair to the Grand Salon, then up the ramp to the roof terrace. Individually and together, singing and dancing to an insistent drumbeat, they joined to form a conga line through the master bedroom, then back down the ramp to the outside. Alongside the linear activity of the choreography, the dancers alternately formed pairs of male and female, black and white, gay and straight, gesturing to and intertwining with each other in intimate poses in relation to the internal architecture. They sporadically exposed various body parts, baring buttocks and breasts, draping themselves over the seductive curves of the spiral stair, and then outside on the roof terrace. The dance extracted the essence of the architecture as a magic box of possibility, where the audience and stage oscillate back and forth, creating an electrifying and exhilarating experience. Remarkably, at the end of the last performance, after the light rain stopped, a double rainbow emerged, a tribute not only to Gerard & Kelly’s multi-colored queer themes, but recalling da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, inscribed within the circle and square, the ultimate symbol of motion and stasis, and the harmony of architecture and humanity.  
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Enough Already!

What is the architecture of degrowth?
The Oslo Architecture Triennale, now in its seventh iteration, has made a name for itself under the directorship of Hanna Dencik Petersson as one of the most prescient and timely showcases in the relentless stream of -iennales and -ennials, those beloved recurring art and design festivals where dreams are made. After a successful 2016 exhibition themed around migration and identity in the face of hyper-globalization, the program returned in 2019, this time examining climate change, resource allocation, and economic systems under the theme of “degrowth” with Enough: The Architecture of Degrowth. Curated by Interrobang, an architecture and engineering firm, with chief curators Matthew Dalziel, Phineas Harper, Cecilie Sachs Olsen, and Maria Smith, the exhibition is a fresh take on ecology, introducing the ideology of degrowth into architecture discourse and examining how it would help realize a more ecologically-oriented human civilization. Degrowth has recently gotten attention as a new paradigm for understanding a post-consumerist future where resource extraction and economic growth are decelerated, giving way to new social, political, and economic systems that are more harmonious with nature and the earth’s finite resources and terrain. For an exhibition, this is fertile intellectual territory to speculate on the ways in which we build, and how they can evolve in alternative worlds. It is a refreshingly positive take on politics today, as much of our discourse, in architecture and beyond, is overwhelmingly negative and aims to discount or problematize (cancel) rather than propose new ideas or provoke new thoughts. The main festival exhibition, titled The Library, was conceptualized as “a spatial infrastructure for sharing knowledge” and was organized as a series of four rooms or “collections” that featured works ranging from material samples and books to analyses of languages and economic systems. The range and breadth of types of thought experiments presented a holistic and clear vision—almost a manifesto—of what degrowth might look like as an architectural philosophy. It was not a set of solutions, but rather speculative, positive provocations on what this new area of discourse might look like. In the Library's first collection, “The Subjective,” personal identities and rituals were examined. How would life change in a degrowth world? How would we live, laugh, and love? The Aerocene backpack by the Aerocene Community is a personal, solar-powered balloon imagined as an alternative to carbon-intensive jet air travel. Helen Stratford’s Organizational Diagrams for Everyday Life is a set of schematic diagrams that redraw the rituals of a daily schedule to visualize new routines outside of the pressures of work and productivity metrics that define us today. Perhaps the most traditionally eco-friendly collection is the “Objective Collection,” which is about materials and building techniques. Like the rest of the Triennale, it attempts to take these decades-old sustainability ideas and pushes them into new places. Another Column by YYYY-MM-DD is a deployable textile column that can be filled with sand or aggregate to create a site-specific architecture to replace concrete. Multiplo by GUSTO is a simple brise-soleil made of discarded fan covers from an abandoned army base in Northern Italy. A host of other new, eco-friendly materials gave a glimpse into how resource extraction, especially fossil fuels, could be replaced by smaller-scale reuse and bio-engineering to architectural "degrowth." In the Collective and Systemic collections lie the big questions that both define a possible “Architecture of degrowth,” and are also impossible to answer now. How new collectivities and systems would be constructed is not clear in degrowth discourse at the moment, but the ideology is ripe for speculating on how we might live in a post-consumerist, post-growth society. Collective projects include Visual Ecolophonic by INDA and Animali Domestici examines and visualizes the Sami language of Northern Finland, which they describe as more in harmony than nature than most languages. ARPA by (ab)Normal is a theoretical world where artificial intelligence replaces market forces as an organizing principle. It is an important aspect to consider here, as questions about power structures and humanity’s proclivity toward violence have to be taken into consideration. The biggest questions are raised in the Systemic Collection, where entire social and political systems, networks, and environments are rethought at both the local and the global scale. This, according to the curators, is where degrowth departs from previous environmental movements. MassBespoke, a project to build quality housing out of timber, another replacement for concrete, was also on show at the Triennale. By allowing that flexibility in the system, these homes can now be personalized like custom homes. The Intentional Estates Agency (Jesse LeCavalier, Tei Carpenter, Dan Taeyuong, and Chris Woebken) is a set of real and imagined real estate models both new and old—from 19th-century utopias to seasteading—that speculate on alternatives to our current real estate metrics. In addition to the main exhibition, more than 100 events and other programming added to the degrowth chorus. Standouts included a workshop to make tote bags from recycled tote bags from previous events, as well as a spectacular, interactive performance by Rimini Protokoll that made the audience unwilling participants in the complexities and absurdities of our growth-fueled construction industry; politicians engaging in corruption, lawyers battling, financiers gambling, and precarious workers struggling. Perhaps what is the most interesting aspect of this festival are the questions about that come next. How is degrowth a helpful ideology for architecture? Can it provoke new ways of building at the individual level that can become communal and then translate into change at the systemic scale? What power structures are most susceptible to degrowth in architecture? How can the development and real estate industry be convinced to participate in this? How do democracy and degrowth interact? What would happen if the right were to take degrowth and use it as an excuse to enable eco-fascism? Conversely, what does a green, socialist utopia look like? Can every aspect of our lives be redesigned through the lens of degrowth? The answers don’t matter right now, it is the questions being raised that offer promise, and should echo through architecture at this most critical and important time for these eco-ideas.
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Architects of Austria

Resident Alien: Austrian Architects in America explores the globalization of locality in design
The Austrian Cultural Forum’s iconic building by Austrian-American architect Raimund Abraham plays a fitting setting and set-piece for Resident Alien: Austrian Architects in America. The exhibition, jointly curated by Stephen Phillips and Axel Schmitzberger, opened on September 25 with a standing-room-only panel and five galleries showcasing the iconic works of expat Austrian masters, from the classic modernist forms of Adolf Loos to the current high-tech work of Peter Trummer.  The opening night panel used the contextual significance of the exhibition as a springboard to address broader themes, opening with a conversation between the Austrian passport-carrying panelists including Herwig Baumgartner, Andrea Lenardin, Christoph Kumpusch, Peter Trummer, Bettina Zerza, Duks Koschitz, and Matias del Campo. Their varying generations resulted in the discussion of the contemporary meaning of hyphenated Austrians, as well as the implications of being from an era of voluntary, rather than forceful, migration stateside, differing from their predecessors in the ‘30s and ‘40s.    Andrea Lenardin referred to this 20th/21st-century transition as stemming from a collective “idea of the misfit,” to the nods and agreement of everyone else on the stage; “we weren’t forced out, we were free to come here. Hopefully, the 21st-century idea of who you are will not be tied to locality,” said Lenardin.  With ideas of identity and the weight of the creators of modernism on the mind, visitors were invited into the galleries after the panel, which was forced to end on time despite the high energy circulating through the conversation to the very end. The galleries are thematically split into the five themes: Primitive Domains, Aggregate Families, Urban Terrestrials, Cloud Natures, and Media Atmospheres, all said to explore the idea of bicultural heritage. However, while the stated intent was ascribed to the sort of heritage discussed on the panel, these five themes were presented more so as shelves on which to categorize interesting projects and objects, rather than come alive as platforms for deeper cultural ideas or placemaking. Starting with Primitive Domains, drawings, models, and photographs explore the beginnings of modernism as geometries set in landscapes, free from ornamentation and following the concept of form and function. As the galleries progress, towards Aggregate Families and Cloud Natures, the architectural forms acquire added complexity, both in form and context—including an evolving urban setting. The works and representations on the walls reach towards increasingly digitized methods of creating, viewing, and building, with the uppermost gallery housing Media Atmospheres, a darkened and immersive space where spatial manipulation—even intangible elements, like neon light—is explored as a manipulation of the human condition itself.  While this exhibition explores the physical outcomes of the flow of ideas and design culture from Austria to the U.S, the objects and concepts read more as being a part of the flow of contemporary messages we recognize today, global in scale and adaptation—there is a continuous feedback loop, not a one-way street, in the design world. Today, practicing architects are often true global citizens, like the panelists, all of whom have worked in their home country, the U.S, and around the world, not just as “cosmopolitans” in the dated sense, according to Duks Koschitz.  Design and architectural representation, pushing new limits in digital and post-digital worlds, is a language in itself, with an identity untethered from locality, the same untethered existence that Lenardin hopes for the professionals themselves. So while there may indeed be some truth in the humorous myth of the Trummer-suggested Austrian “architect gene” that sent laughs around the stage, it’s no longer contained, but carried by the self-proclaimed misfits in the lab, studio, and world.  Resident Alien is on display at the ACFNY until February 17, 2019.
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Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip Mall

A study of L.A. strip malls validates a long-ignored building type
Sunset Market Plaza: Meditations on Strip Malls in Los Angeles Edited by Shaina Goel and Use All Five Published by Use All Five List Price: $35.00 If there was ever an official tribunal to determine what Architecture is and what it is not, the strip mall building type might be placed in the latter category without hesitation. Strip malls, sometimes known as mini-malls, can rarely be traced back to an architect, virtually never receive historic protections, and are rarely perceived as anything more than a response to the modern consumer’s demand for convenience. Even their origins struggle to align with any familiar canons of architecture history: when the 1972 oil crisis caused several gas stations to close throughout Los Angeles, their small corner parcels became ideal sites for the inexpensively-constructed building type, which attracted small business owners due to their relatively cheap rental costs. A new self-published book by the Los Angeles-based design firm Use All Five and edited by Shaina Goel intends to elevate the strip-mall into a building type as worthy of study as any other, complete with a historical overview, fine-art photography, and genuine speculations concerning its future against the prevalence of online shopping. Sunset Market Plaza: Meditations on Strip Malls in Los Angeles begins with a plea for clemency from Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour’s 1972 classic Learning from Las Vegas: “Learning from the existing landscape is a way of being revolutionary for an architect. Not the obvious way, which is to tear down Paris and begin again, as Le Corbusier suggested in the 1920s. But another, more tolerant way; that is, to question how we look at things.” Just as the two saw the common person’s tastes made legitimate in Sin City, so too does the team behind Sunset Market Plaza elaborate on its subject without a hint of irony or derision. Its spiral-bound spine and numerous fold-outs, in fact, lend it the essence of a field guide. The first half of the book details several of the “best strip malls in L.A.” and nearby San Gabriel Valley, each distinguished by their site plans rendered in dense green stripes and the businesses they contain. Comparing plans, it becomes clear that the strip mall is an infinitely variable thing: some are more than one story, some are irregularly shaped, some have scores of underground parking and many have surprising relationships to the street(s) in front of them. Reading through their descriptions tells us that many of the businesses have not only survived for decades but have also become some of the most popular destinations in the city for a variety of cuisines and specialty services. Sunset Market Plaza also includes a few proposals for the future (or alternate past) of the strip mall, in response to the highly informed marketing present in the world of online shopping. “What would happen,” its editors ask, “if these strip malls were designed with more explicit intentionality?” The results, as they imagine them, are “made with consolidation in mind.” One proposal imagines a strip mall as a one-stop-shop for self-publishing, with independent shops that, when combined, would become a graphic designer’s paradise, while another, titled “Wedding Chapel Plaza” divides the space into several independent businesses catering to the wedding crowd. It becomes up to the reader to determine whether these spaces function better with all of its spaces united under one industry or, more traditionally, as divided among many independently-spirited businesses. An interview between urban planner Jonathan Crisman and urban developer Sam Bachner, the “key figure in the history of strip malls because of his role in co-founding La Mancha Development Company,” succinctly reveals the thought process behind their unique aesthetics. When asked about his approach towards the architecture and design of strip malls, Bachner claimed that he has always aspired “to incorporate elements which are reflective of the specific community in which they are located… Some places might care more about color schemes, or I might have one place with a bell tower, or maybe I will use a blue tile roof in Koreatown—it’s all about community context.” Near the end of Sunset Market Plaza are Catherine Opie’s panoramic photos of strip malls across Los Angeles, all of which honorably confirm the site-specificity Bachner describes as well as their delicate beauty. “[Strip malls] are about the American dream for me,” writes Opie. “But they’re very fragile. They change almost overnight, and are often forgotten about, just like the freeways.”
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Second Home, Third Space

AN tours the SelgasCano-designed Second Home coworking space in Hollywood
The 21st century’s profusion of freelancers, start-ups, and frequent travelers has ushered in the era of the co-working space. With more than 19,000 such spaces now operating around the world, co-working has become an attractive alternative to renting expensive traditional office spaces and the isolation of working from home. Companies like WeWork, Phase Two, and The Wing have tried to anticipate the needs of a growing nomadic workforce, yet co-working remains a developing phenomenon, and there is still much to learn about the kinds of environments that best support the practice. One company that seems ahead of the curve is Second Home, whose recently opened campus in East Hollywood, Los Angeles, proves that its competitors have some catching up to do. Every seat within the 90,000-square-foot complex feels like the best place to open a laptop and get to work, while a wide range of public services makes the company’s fourth outpost feel especially welcoming. In 2017, Second Home purchased a four-acre property on the corner of North St. Andrews Place and De Longpre Avenue and hired SelgasCano, the Madrid-based architecture firm that has designed its other locations, to develop its first campus outside of Europe in an impressively short amount of time. One of the creative challenges the site presented was an existing courtyard building by legendary “architect to the celebrities” Paul Williams. Completed in 1964, the colonial revival building, which once housed offices and events for the Assistance League of Southern California, is notable for its glamorous exterior, circular staircase, and central courtyard. SelgasCano gutted the building while incorporating these three elements into its design. From the street, visitors pass through the formal facade to enter what feels like a different world: a low-slung, columnless lobby with a dizzying array of tropical plants, extruded tubular furniture pieces, and a mobile coffee cart. Beyond this space is the courtyard, which has been charmingly reimagined as a casual workspace, restaurant, and public event space shaded by a canopy of trees. The space will soon host all events currently held at the SelgasCano-designed Serpentine Pavilion, which Second Home purchased and transported from London to the grounds of the La Brea Tar Pits. In an effort to distance itself from other co-working companies, Second Home has made the lobby and courtyard spaces accessible to the public without membership. But the real showstopper is beyond the perimeter of the Williams-designed building: Sixty office spaces with acrylic walls and lemon-yellow rooftops carpet the rest of the site, connected to each other by pathways that meander through a forest of over 6,000 trees and shrubs. Each office space is lined with outward-facing desks underneath a yellow, steel-braced ceiling festooned with the ductwork of a central air conditioner (it comes as a mild disappointment that the windows are inoperable, ruling out the option of passive heating and cooling). When walking the yard’s labyrinthine paths, one is somehow able to forget just how closely the site abuts a Home Depot and a massive Target currently under construction. Accessed via the original grand staircase, which contrasts with a translucent egg-like chandelier designed by SelgasCano hanging at its center, the second floor of the Assistance League building is divided between an outdoor lounge and 37 additional office spaces. While the rooms here are finely detailed, with orange carpeting that climbs up walls to reach waist height and entirely transparent top halves, they lack the lower-level offices’ immediate connection to the outdoors. From the lounge, one is afforded the most idyllic vantage point on the site: The lush courtyard is visible from one side, while on the other is the sea of office pods in front of the Santa Monica Mountains. Given its commitment to inclusivity and creative adaptation to its site, Second Home Hollywood sets a new standard for the co-working building type; its creators should not be surprised if they feel other companies looking over their shoulders as the industry continues to discover its potential.
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Detroit Design

Detroit Design 139 showcases how Detroiters are reshaping their neighborhoods
Detroit has always been a design-forward city, a fact made official back in 2015 when they were designated a UNESCO City of Design, the only in the United States. A center of architectural innovation, futuristic automotive design, boulevards meant to rival the Champs-Élysées, and one of the U.S.’s foremost collections of art, the city in recent years has gotten more attention for its bankruptcy, corruption, and mass foreclosures and vacancy.  But, as Olga Stella, executive director of Design Core Detroit, a partner organization which “champions design-driven businesses and their role in strengthening Detroit’s economy,” points out, “Detroit is not and never has been just one thing.” Throughout its expansive 139 square miles, many are working to create neighborhoods and a city that works for them. Design doesn’t just happen at the rarefied scale of a Beaux Arts museum, it happens in and by communities who work to create a city they want to live in. These projects are being celebrated at the second iteration of Detroit Design 139 (DD139), a serial exhibition co-organized by the City of Detroit, Design Core Detroit, and developer Bedrock. Members from each organization, as well as nine others, served on the advisory board. The projects were selected by a jury of design notables, both from Detroit and other cities, including New York City Public Design Commission executive director Justin Garrett Moore and Detroit-based equitable development strategist Lauren Hood. With the main showcase at street level in downtown Detroit in a Bedrock-owned building, as well as at three partner locations throughout the city, celebrates 70 projects under five thematic headings that, according to the organizers and jurors, embody DD139’s 2019 theme of "Inclusive Futures".  “All of us working on design problems and projects should be holding ourselves to higher standards,” said Melissa Dittmer, Bedrock’s chief design officer, of the ethos of inclusion ostensibly showcased in the exhibition, which features projects built in the last two years or to be built in the next three. The projects were laid out rather blandly like a well-executed science fair or a real-life PDF, with posters along temporary slatted walls and the occasional model or video. Stella said that, historically, “In a city that doesn’t have a lot of capital [the question of] ‘how are we going to pay for it?’ was guiding decisions, not design solutions,” noting that it was a developer-driven process, with Maurice Cox, Detroit’s outgoing planning and development director. (Cox was also on the advisory committee of DD139.) Dittmer says there was a need for new building to begin “prioritizing the process as much as the outcomes,” something many of the projects exhibited; for example a cafe-laundromat combo, The Commons, designed by the local firm LAAVU in a process which founder and chief design officer Kaija E. Wuollet explains, began by collectively creating a strategic plan to inform the design, building, and operations. The choice in amenities was guided by neighbor requests and they act as not only a space in their own right, but a revenue stream for the non-profit MACC Development, which provides literacy programs, coworking space, artistic opportunities, and other community resources right within the building. This was a recurring theme: neighborhood-focused and neighborhood-led design solutions are a strength of Detroit now and could be what shapes the city's future. But, another recurring theme that the MACC project implies is that due to a dearth of government support, many private organizations have had to pick up the slack. That said, some public programs were featured in the exhibition, perhaps among the most noteworthy for designers, the Michigan ArcPrep program, a public school architecture initiative led by the University of Michigan's Taubman College. Even restaurants were in the exhibition. In community engagement workshops, residents in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood expressed a desire for more places to eat and more Black-owned businesses. With the help of a Motor City Match grant, Norma G’s was opened by Lester Gouvia. Kaitlynn Hill, one of the project’s architects from Hamilton Anderson Associates, said she saw this as “a community-based project,” as much as a commercial enterprise. Other Detroit mainstays made the cut for the exhibition. The legendary Pewabic Pottery, whose distinctive glazed tiles that adorn high-rise facades and fireplaces alike are still made in small batches in Detroit, had recently undergone an expansion with the help of inFORM Studio. While the expansion added more workspace, it also helped Pewabic—which is organized as a non-profit—further advance their public mission. Like the original 1903 structure, this new building is close to the residential street. In addition to a shop, museum, and classroom space, there is also an open courtyard with a large mural that hosts events or allows passersby to come in and chill for a bit. In addition, Pewabic goes into communities with portable kilns, keeping design heritage alive and inviting others to participate in it. Many cultural projects were featured, including a skatepark-slash-sculpture park and public mural initiatives. One particularly intriguing project highlighted was the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67, which investigated the legacy of Detroit’s 1967 rebellion in a “community engagement” project by collecting oral histories, producing an exhibition, and providing grants to “placemaking” projects. Some of the projects include an LGBT-focused community garden, an outdoor theater space focused on the Black, Latinx, and Arab communities of Detroit, and a memorial to those who lost their lives around the time of the uprising. There were a number of environmentally-focused projects, both grassroots and large scale, a balance and comparison that was interesting to see. Some included academic research on stormwater management interventions, the Zero Net Energy Center, rain gardens, and an upcycled windmill Projects with international design pedigree also appeared: David Adjaye and New York’s Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates have designed a pavilion and other structures for the Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park, which, when it’s open, will be part of a network of riverside parks and greenways in an area that was once home to abandoned manufacturing plants. The park is currently overseen by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy However, on a tour through the Dequindre Cut, a rail-trail connected to the riverfront, on a Sunday when it was clearly being enjoyed by many, it was mentioned by an employee of the Conservancy that many houseless people formerly lived on the trail. In fact, this was mentioned many places, but inquiries made into where those people went and whether these “inclusive” projects accounted for housing access for those they were displacing remained mostly unanswered. While houselessness is declining in Detroit and new projects like the short-term housing Pope Francis Center (not exhibited) are on their way to reality, police have also been known to sweep away the belongings of the houseless, even in the dead of winter. If this park is for everyone, what about those who called it home?  In this second iteration of DD139, the choice was made to include projects from other UNESCO Cities of Design, like Saint-Étienne, France, and Montreal, which are using design to address many of the same challenges faced in Detroit. The organizers hope that this can help create a dialogue and show the fact that Detroit, though a unique situation, is not alone, and that everything from new elder caregiving studies in Singapore to canal projects in Mexico City could help Detroit think through its own unique challenges. However, how every project fit in seemed unclear. A project, the Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center, to help give homes and resources such as jobs and healthcare to houseless youth and those at risk of houselessness, especially LGBTQ+ kids who make up as much as 40% of this country’s houseless population, are undeniably necessary, ameliorative projects. However, on the poster for a banal mixed-use and mixed-income housing development the description of why the project is inclusive reads: “The project has gone through extensive design iterations, city vetting, and community engagement processes to ensure it captures neighborhood feedback. Meetings around the community were offered in both English and Spanish, with translators and/or translation equipment at every meeting, making it as accessible as possible for community members.” Is this not the bare minimum we should expect? Pair that with the bare minimum in architectural quick-build tastelessness by the Philadelphia firm SITIO and one has to wonder what sort of definition of “design” is at play here.  Some projects are more design-y than others. Pewabic Pottery, the Symbiotic Landscape watershed restoration, a digital mapping project that proposes using architectural and urban interventions to fight Detroit’s “digital divide”—these all make design part-and-parcel of their mission, and they're realizing that mission. An entrepreneurship incubator or a bakery in a mixed-use development, Core City, which some Detroiters I spoke with expressed distrust of, might be interesting, or at least tasty, but is it necessarily a “design” solution? Is a building in and of itself using design to address these so-called civic challenges, let alone being inclusive by and through design? This vagueness of mission and indeterminate take on the role of design in some projects points out a bigger issue. The project’s main sponsor and proponent, one of the three partner organizers, Bedrock, has undeniably reshaped downtown Detroit, perhaps in ways, some residents might see as for the better. From the design-forward Shinola Hotel to the forthcoming first foray by the fast-fashion retailer H&M to the revamp of the 475-foot-tall Book Tower, a magnificent and delirious example of early 20th-century architecture that has sat unoccupied for a decade, downtown Detroit is increasingly lively (and increasingly expensive). And, fitting with the exhibition's theme, “Creating unique, inclusive experiences through real estate is Bedrock’s mission,” claims a Bedrock press release. Yet, as the Detroit Free Press has recently revealed, Bedrock has gotten huge swaths of downtown property at little cost, with many incentives and tax breaks, and with an unheard of lack of financial oversight. Also, Bedrock has leveraged their power to strong-arm Michigan’s OSHA into looking away from their safety violations while “lecturing” inspectors on how to do their jobs. Is creating buildings without protecting working people inclusive? In addition, while Bedrock has been touting their successful bid to redevelop the site of the so-called “fail jail,” turning this long-vacant lot into usable space, this deal was negotiated with Wayne County by allowing Rock Ventures, another Dan Gilbert organization and Bedrock’s parent company, to construct that county’s jail, presumably without sullying Bedrock’s name. How can one claim to not only celebrate inclusive design but create "inclusive experiences," while supporting the creation of one of the United States’ most powerful and inarguably racist tools of social and mortal death?  Perhaps the theme, "Inclusive Futures", says it all: a virtuous-sounding word like “inclusive” can itself often be so inclusive as to be virtually meaningless, a rhetorical throwaway. Because what is “inclusion”—and what “inclusive futures” are possible—without equity, without reparations, without an effort to shift the balance of political and economic power? While many grassroots projects and even larger scale ones featured in DD139 are compelling, worthy, and deserve the spotlight, with the ongoing efforts of the exhibition’s primary sponsor Bedrock to stymy state oversight, build jails, and get land cheaply, you wind up not only with misplaced good intentions—you get design washing. DD139 is on view in Detroit through September 30th. You can read more about the projects here.
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Blinded me with Science

A new show at Cooper Union bridges architectural research and fabrication
As architects further blur the lines between science and design, lab and studio, and academia and practice, the experiments that arise from architect’s labs are changing the way the profession operates. With new digital fabrication and design tools and the university-fueled facilities to play with them, architects are able to reach in and engage with the physical construction process of their buildings more than ever before, altering a professional cultural divide that has been occupied by stonemasons, engineers, and contractors for millennia.  “Really, this is an opportunity for architects to get back a lot of power they’ve lost over the last century,” said Fabio Gramazio, “We finally have the tools to take these risks.”  Gramazio is a cofounder of Gramazio Kohler Architects, along with partner Matthias Kohler. But in 2000, the firm expanded into Gramazio Kohler Research (GKR) with the support of ETH Zurich, where the two both teach. The duo started tinkering with industrial robots, like those found in automobile factories, in the early aughts when they adapted the programmable arms for specific, repeatable building tasks like stacking bricks. However, they’ve come a long way since 2000. How to Build a House, an exhibition on the future of digital architectural fabrication, opened at the Cooper Union last Thursday and showcases a body of research at GKR and their partners from the renowned DFAB House, Benjamin Dillenburger and Mania Aghaei Meibodi. The four architects walked me through the exhibition space, where pieces of their experiments on architectural robots, large-scale 3D printers, and VR visualizations were curated by Hannes Mayer. Displaying a sensuality through its intense realism, the exhibition breaks new ground and questions the role of the architect in the profession of architecture as well as in the traditional context of a construction site.  The technologies on display were adapted by these architects and tested for the first time in the real world with the construction of DFAB house, which was built on the third tier of the NEST building in Zurich. The inhabitable three-story structure is the first to be built almost exclusively with robots and digital technologies, designed from the computer screen up.  “But there’s no repetitiveness anywhere—except for maybe the screws,” said Dillenburger.  For the designers, the process of building the house itself was also a process of changing perspective and expectation. The new opportunities for digitizing age-old building methods like pouring concrete slabs, assembling timber structures, and shaping formwork further an already pressing question the profession is facing. As Kohler asks of his colleagues, “Is research the future of architecture, the core of the profession?”  But the technologies themselves, and their presentation, reinforce their reality and existence in the "now"—this is not a futuristic exhibition. Mayer has adroitly positioned standout pieces of text, like “Architect” and “A Robot” amidst 1:1 models of digitally fabricated, full-size mullions, real-time process videos, and even a complete piece of a detailed, 3D-printed concrete slab.  “It evokes an attractive industrial logic, as well as suggests a recipe,” says curator Mayer, gesturing to the thick black text that accompanies the eye as visitors travel around the non-linear exhibition floor, including the larger-than-life title type of How to Build a House.  And this recipe is still being tinkered with. “Concrete, like architecture, is only limited by convention,” Dillenburger told AN as he gestured to 3D-printed concrete details. “It can be freed if we change our ideas about what it should look like.”
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Exhibit Columbus 2019 celebrates the value of good design and community

In a small Indiana town, a rich architectural legacy is celebrated with an annual exploration of architecture, art, design, and community. In its second exhibition run (it’s first in 2017) Exhibit Columbus features 18 site-responsive installations that use Columbus, Indiana’s heritage as inspiration and context while highlighting the role that community plays in growing a vibrant city. This year’s exhibition explores “good design” and “community,” a reference to the 1986 exhibition Good Design and the Community: Columbus, Indiana at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The early exhibit championed town business leader and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller’s hometown pride by emphasizing the community’s process and involvement in building renowned architecture. As his community-based, activist approach resurges to mold this year’s theme, Exhibit Columbus becomes an architectural showcase aimed at doing good for the people. Bryony Roberts Studio’s Soft Civic is a complimentary showstopper to arguably the most civic site of the exhibition, Columbus’ City Hall, designed by Edward Charles Bassett of SOM (1981). The two cantilevered steel beams masked in brick veneer, generous lawn, and lengthy walkway toward a broad staircase frames the collection of colorful woven and steel structures. The installation articulates the many different vantage points afforded in civic life—play, performance, or protest; on the lawn, the steps, or at the front door. The solid brick planar facade that meets a clear glazed half-circle atrium fundamentally shapes the installation. These elements reveal layers of circles that slice (at an angle) and frame (vertically or horizontally) a new reading of the municipal building. The installation will offer programming opportunities for the community, including but not limited to a democracy day and youth summit with musical performances. An interview with Bryony Roberts in collaboration with Brooklyn-based textile workshop Powerhouse Arts describes the laborious process of weaving the large structures. (Courtesy Spirit of Space) Understorey, a project by Hans Tursak (MIT School of Architecture + Planning) and Viola Ago (the Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture), is an open-air vivarium, a place of life, built from a combination of off-the-shelf agricultural products and custom, digitally fabricated structural elements. Understorey is an ecological education center (like many of this year’s installations) that highlights a cross-section of southern Indiana’s geological specimens taken from quarries, forests, and urban sites. The pavilion is an architectural expression devoid of aesthetic neglect commonly seen in environmentally conscious design.  Corn is no surprise in Indiana. The leading crop covers one-quarter of the state and is traditionally processed as animal feed and ethanol. Though Boston and Kigali, Rwanda-based MASS Design Group surprised Hoosiers with an already familiar scene in Corn / Meal. What. From the street view, the installation looks like a standard, well-maintained miniature cornfield. Upon entry, maze-like corridors made of corn lead to a tangled serpentine picnic table within a dedicated open clearing. When read as an absurdist, formalist sculpture referencing local tropes such as corn and the always-communal picnic table, it’s actually one of the more successful installations. An interview with Caitlin Taylor, MASS Design Group’s Design Director, as she describes the depth of research for Corn / Meal and the need for education around food production. (Courtesy Spirit of Space) PienZa Sostenible, led by architect Carlos Zedillo Velasco and his brother Rodrigo Zedillo Velasco, present Las Abejas, a series of homes for bees. The project brings internationally-recognized Mexican architects, like Tatiana Bilbao Estudio and Rozana Montiel Arquitectos, to share their countries’ expertise as regional leaders of apiculture products worldwide. Located in a humble Dan Kiley landscape in front of Eero Saarinen’s Irwin Conference Center (1954) visitors are encouraged to consider the importance of bees everywhere in order to sustain our food and environment. Two remaining installations from the inaugural exhibition aren’t leftovers but more so savor-the-flavor of a less-didactic exhibition concerning architecture. Oyler Wu Collaborative’s all-white, tectonic pavilion, The Exchange, still notably stands in the plaza of the Irwin Conference Center, just moments away from PienZa Sostenible's bee homes. Nestled in a more intimate setting outside the William O. Hogue House, Formafantasma’s Window to Columbus originally pledged to display stories of materials that were used to define Washington Street and Columbus. Though, for the Good Design and the Community opening weekend, the significant structure displayed this year’s marketing material. It reminds us that Exhibit Columbus’s impact goes beyond any one installation as the program leaves a lasting impact on the downtown, and more importantly, how people live and play downtown.