Search results for "shenzhen"

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Eavesdrop> Downtown LA, You’re Nuts: Soho House, swanky international development remaking the urban core
The swanky meter is getting dialed to 11 in Downtown Los Angeles. Rumor has it that the rarified Soho House club will be opening its second LA location in a six-story warehouse in the area’s Arts District. The facility will include the usual boojie facilities as well as a rooftop pool and artist studio rooms where guests can stay for weeks and months, as if they were staying at the Chateau Marmont. Meanwhile it’s a great time to be a Chinese developer in nearby South Park. Beijing-based Oceanwide and Shanghai-based Greenland Group are already building two of the largest projects in the city. Now Shenzhen-Hazens Real Estate Group has announced plans to build a $700 million project including three towers across from LA Live. Eavesdrop better start practicing its Mandarin.
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Chinese developers see gold in Downtown Los Angeles
It's a good time to be a Chinese developer in Downtown Los Angeles. Beijing-based Oceanwide and Shanghai-based Greenland are already building two of the largest projects in the city: Fig Central and Metropolis. Now according to LA Downtown News, Shenzhen-based Shenzhen-Hazens has announced plans to build a $700 million, Gensler-designed project on Figueroa street across from LA Live. The scheme includes a 30-story hotel and 30- and 42-story condo towers. There would be 650 condos altogether as well as 80,000 square feet of retail, most of it along Figueroa, heating up the already super hot South Park. Apparently the company's connection to the area is based on basketball in addition to business.  “Our chairman is a big fan of the NBA—the Lakers, the Clippers," Shenzhen-Hazens General Manager Greg Sun told the Downtown News. "So he comes to Staples [Center] often when he is in town, and he sees big crowds here. When we did our research, we saw an opportunity to do something big in a gateway city.”
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Thorsten Helbig on Engineering Cutting-Edge Facades
As an engineer, Thorsten Helbig, co-founder of Knippers Helbig Advanced Engineering, has a unique perspective on facade design. "We conceptualize a facade as an integral part of a whole, as part of a larger system," he explained. Helbig, who will deliver the morning keynote address at next month's Facades+ NYC conference, identified two focal points. The first is the relationship of the building envelope to structure. The second is performance: "What can the facade offer back to the building?" Helbig asked Helbig queries all of his facade design choices. "Can we use the facade to capture energy for the building? What are the operation modes—is there a potential the facade could be flexible or adaptive to actively support the building functions?" In both cases, Knippers Helbig is invested in moving beyond yesterday's solutions. "Our engineering approach is fundamentally driven by our interest in innovation," said Helbig. Two areas in which Knippers Helbig is leading the innovation charge are design technology and materials. The firm began developing tessellation tools for grid shells about two decades ago, well before similar software was commercially available. In the years since, the engineers have refined their in-house technology into a multi-criteria optimization tool, which proved critical to the Shenzhen airport project. "Our work on the Shenzhen airport profoundly shaped our approach to design technology—as it relates to our basic understanding of the design process (or you might say process design)—and as it relates to a potential paradigm shift in project organization as a whole: away from the traditional hierarchical-linear design process toward a design of the process in which all design parameters are simultaneously considered," explained Helbig. As for materials, the firm is known for its facility with both conventional and "new" systems. Knippers Helbig capitalized on the flexible strength of glass fibre reinforced polymers (GFRP) first for an operable facade in a typhoon zone for South Korea's Expo 2012 pavilion, then for a proposed shading concept for Renzo Piano's Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. "However," added Helbig, "even more traditional building materials such as timber can be re-interpreted through an application of the latest design and fabrication technologies." Two cases in point are a double curved multi-layer grid shell in Cologne and a parametrically developed timber grid shading screen for a Dubai high-rise. Knippers Helbig is also known for its sensitivity to environmental performance. Helbig points out that 75 percent of New York City's greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the building sector. "As long as we are not able to generate the required energy emission-free and based fully on renewable resources, the reduction of the operational energy will remain a key factor in designing sustainable buildings," he said. Embedded energy is also a concern, leading the engineers to explore materials that are based on renewable resources and/or compostable at end of life. Knippers Helbig recently collaborated on the EpiCenter Expansion for Artists for Humanity (with Behnisch Architekten and Transsolar), poised to become Boston's first LEED Platinum building and the first Energy Plus house in New England. "The facade system will be developed to have the capacity to supply energy back to the building, ultimately producing a building system that generates more energy than it consumes," Helbig explained. To hear more from Helbig and other movers and shakers in the world of facade design and construction, register today for Facades+ NYC. Visit the conference website for more information and a full schedule.
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Architecture of Unrealized Potential
The proposal for Lagos by NLE + Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas.
NLE + Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas.

Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
Through May 10

Just inside the entrance to the MoMA exhibition, Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities, a video shows men yanking wooden frames out of brick walls and hammering materials into place, providing a glimpse into the ‘tool-houses’ of Mumbai’s urban settlements that mix live-work functions. A passing viewer commented to his companion while shaking his head, “Look at that, they have to build everything by hand. Can you imagine how much work that takes?” This visceral response—a mixture of marvel and estrangement—encapsulates the conundrum of an exhibit showcasing tactical urbanism scenarios in six global cities. Who exactly does the work of tactical urbanism? And what can the architect or designer accomplish in these constantly shifting urban milieus?

Uneven Growth is the third in a series of architectural shows at the MoMA that positions the museum as an incubator of new ideas rather than a reactive repository of culture. Like the two preceding shows in the series, Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront, and Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream, the exhibit is intended to address urgent contemporary issues while testing the boundaries of design thinking. In focusing on urban inequality in the face of ecological crisis and intense population pressure, this show is perhaps the most ambitious in its scale.

The proposal for Lagos by NLÉ + Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas.
NLÉ + Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas

However, rather than ask designers to propose complete solutions, the exhibit is framed by the parameters of tactical urbanism—a broad movement that relies on small-scale, low-cost interventions intended to catalyze long-term social change. Rather than projects, the exhibition presents design scenarios and speculative proposals that showcase an architecture that is always in-progress. Six teams were tasked with six cities: Hong Kong, Istanbul, Lagos, Mumbai, New York, and Rio de Janeiro. The interdisciplinary teams paired design practices with research institutes, as well as local practices with international ones. A 14-month process of research and design, which included public workshops and three face-to-face meetings in New York, Shenzhen, and Vienna, have resulted in the exhibition, book, and a Tumblr website collecting crowd submissions.

In the book that accompanies the exhibit, curator Pedro Gadanho takes care to emphasize tactical urbanisms in the plural, to move away from one particular interpretation of the concept and include a broader array of interventions by actors, including specialists like designers and even the state itself. Indeed, the exhibition is a compressed microcosm of scenarios that vary greatly in scale, time horizon, and feasibility. The experience is not unlike that of wandering down a chaotic urban street in an unspecified era, with the voice of Marxist geographer David Harvey making pronouncements in one corner while dance music from Brazil animates another, video kiosks planted against a backdrop of floor-to-ceiling images.


New York proposal by SITU Studio + Cohabitation Strategies (CohStra).
Courtesy Situ Studio

Startling projections of the future, such as that asserted in the New City Reader newspaper created by the Network Architecture Lab, are juxtaposed against more quotidian interventions that can be implemented tomorrow, such as the creation of a post-urban development agency in Istanbul’s outer-ring housing complexes that operates like many localized social networking apps in existence today, proposed by Superpool and Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée NLE in Paris. A few projects are multi-scalar in their approach, such as the work of URBZ in Mumbai and Ensamble Studio/MIT-POPlab, which proposed lightweight, flexible structures that can add on to existing homes and large “Supraextructures” which serve as “flying carpet” platforms for development of urban infrastructure.

Other projects veer into the territory of industrial design and rely more firmly on designing architectural objects. The proposal by Rua Arquitetos and MAS Urban Design for Rio de Janeiro is Varanda Products, a line of objects designed for easy installation on Rio’s puxadinhos, or add-on structures. This project envisions that the widespread use of such furniture and small-scale objects will enhance social interaction. The Lagos team, constituted by NLE in Lagos and Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas from Madrid, takes a distinctly infrastructural approach, proposing a variety of urban prototypes that take as their starting point the city center located in water, with energy systems off the grid, connected by light rail and cable car systems.

Hong Kong project by MAP OFFICE + Network Architecture Lab.
Courtesy MAP OFFICE + Network Architecture Lab

If there is a theme that brings together many of the projects, it is the forwarding of more collective models of ownership, housing, and infrastructure. Many projects find opportunity for this in unused and vacant spaces, proposing rooftops, apartment landings, and unused air rights as avenues to expand the street and generate funds for community assets. Few projects are as comprehensive as the work proposed by Cohabitation Strategies (CohStra) and SITU Studio, both of which focused on New York’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis. Proposing Housing Cooperative Trusts and Community Growth Corporations, respectively, these projects integrate policy, political, and financial mechanisms to create housing and public resources in ways that seem very pragmatic, and in the case of the housing cooperative trust, are initiatives already set in motion by the housing justice community in New York City.

URBZ + Ensamble Studio/MIT-POPlab

While the exhibit succeeds in presenting an expanded realm of practice for architects far beyond the design of buildings and physical spaces, it is less clear whether these designs are innovative or catalytic. The wildly speculative series of artificial islands proposed by MAP office for Hong Kong make a number of claims about the kind of spaces needed to relieve Hong Kong’s population and ecological crises, but it is not clear how these islands move beyond the realm of legend, or differ from the much-criticized strategy of urban expansion in Dubai and other cities in the Gulf region.

It is also easy to lose sight of the central preoccupation with urban inequality that spurred this process of inquiry in the first place. The potentially insurgent spirit of tactical urbanism is flattened when, for example, the Eko Atlantic project in Lagos, a privatized urban district in development, is presented as an opportunity area and a model for inspiration. It is also possible to envision that some of the projects, like the work of the Mumbai and Rio teams, remains confined to the level of local improvements, enhancing people’s everyday lives but never building the potential to disrupt the status quo.

While opportunities have been unearthed in vacant and unused spaces, who or what groups will determine those new configurations of resources and infrastructure? Whose priorities and desires will be met? When a proposal relies on the entrepreneurial spirit of city residents, will it be the most disadvantaged residents who will farm, trade, and construct these new environments?

The paradox of tactical urbanism as a category of practice is that it recognizes a subset of people who are enacting strategies for urban intervention that millions of people make everyday around the world in pursuit of survival, livelihood, and community exchange without any recognition. With this exhibit, it appears the jury is still undecided on the potential of tactical urbanism to scale up to the urgent urban problems facing us today.

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ASLA announces winners of its 2014 Professional Awards and Student Awards
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has announced this year's winners of its Professional and Student Awards, which honor "top public, commercial, residential, institutional, planning, communications and research projects from across the U.S. and around the world." Each of the winning projects will be featured in the October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine and be officially presented by ASLA at its annual meeting and expo in Denver on November 24th. In total, 34 professional awards were selected out of 600 entries. General Design Category   Award of Excellence  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus Seattle Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Honor Awards Slow Down: Liupanshui Minghu Wetland Park Liupanshui, Ghizhou Province, China Turenscape Gebran Tueni Memorial Beirut, Lebanon Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture Segment 5, Hudson River Park  New York City Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. Salem State University Marsh Hall, Salem, Mass. WagnerHodgson Landscape Architecture Urban Outfitters Headquarters Philadelphia Navy Yard, Philadelphia D.I.R.T. Studio Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Grand Teton National Park, WY Hershberger Design for D.R. Horne & Company Hunter's Point South Waterfront Park Queens, NY Thomas Balsley Associates and Weiss/Manfredi Low Maintenance Eco-Campus: Vanke Research Center Shenzhen, China Z+T Studio Shoemaker Green University of Pennsylvania Andropogon Associates, Ltd.   Residential Design Category Award of Excellence Woodland Rain Gardens Caddo Parish, La. Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects Honor Awards Hill Country Prospect Centerport, Texas Studio Outside for Sara Story Design Vineyard Retreat Napa Valley, Calif. Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture Le Petit Chalet Southwest Harbor, Maine Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC Sky Garden Miami Beach, Fla. Raymond Jungles Inc. West Texas Ranch Marfa, Texas Ten Eyck Landscape Architects Inc. GM House, Bragança Paulista São Paulo, Brazil Alex Hanazaki Paisagismo City House in a Garden Chicago McKay Landscape Architects   Analysis & Planning Category Award of Excellence Midtown Detroit Techtown District Detroit Sasaki Associates Inc. Honor Awards The Creative Corridor: A Main Street Revitalization for Little Rock Little Rock, Ark. The University of Arkansas Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architect Devastation to Resilience: The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center Houston Design Workshop Inc., Aspen, and Reed/Hilderbrand Zidell Yards District-Scale Green Infrastructure Scenarios Portland, Ore. GreenWorks, PC Yerba Buena Street Life Plan San Francisco CMG Landscape Architecture Unified Ground: Union Square - National Mall Competition Washington, D.C. Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Communications Category Award of Excellence The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley The Cultural Landscape Foundation Honor Awards Freehand Drawing and Discovery: Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers James Richards, FASLA, published by John Wiley & Sons Inc. Monk's Garden: A Visual Record of Design Thinking and Landscape Making Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. Garden, Park, Community, Farm Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Lands Louise A. Mozingo, ASLA, published by MIT Press   The Landmark Award Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square Boston Halvorson Design Partnership Inc.
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Talking tall buildings in Shanghai
In September the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) gathered high-minded designers, developers and engineers for a conference in Shanghai. CTBUH, which often partners with AN on conferences, including our own Facades+ events, invited me to serve as a special media correspondent for the conference, held September 16–19. I spent most of the time conducting video interviews with the symposium guests, which we'll post here on the AN blog as they become available. For now, here' a quick overview of the topics discussed. The theme of this year's conference was “Future Cities: Towards Sustainable Vertical Urbanism.” It was an especially relevant topic given the venue—held in the elegant, SOM-designed Jin Mao Tower, the conference looked for lessons (and warnings) in the kind of supertall, super-dense development that turned the Lujiazui area of Shanghai's Pudong district from farmland into a world financial center in just 20 years. Symposium presenters tackled sustainability from several angles. Matthew Clifford, head of energy and sustainability services for North Asia at JLL, stressed building operation and management is as important as design when it comes to energy use and building performance. Cathy Yang, manager of Taipei 101, recounted how “greening” the 101-story building did not turn a profit until the initiative's sixth year, but then made up for it in just three years. The Taiwanese supertall remains the largest LEED Platinum–certified building in the world. Jianping Gu of Shanghai Tower Construction and Development espoused the benefits of the “stereoscopic” form of his building, which at 2,073 feet is set to become the tallest building in China upon completion next year. “If you compare Shanghai Tower to Taipei 101Petronas Towers, those were all isolated," Gu said. "There were already two towers in the vicinity when we started. We had to pay particular attention to harmonizing with those buildings. We consider this an issue of sustainability.” But towering, monumental architecture may not be for everyone. David Gianotten, an OMA partner heading the firm's Hong Kong office, told me OMA gets so many briefs seeking “iconic” design that the word has begun to lose its meaning. “If everything's special, then nothing's special,” he said. That debate continued onto the conference floor, where developers discussed how China's third- and fourth-tier cities should embrace the tall building boom—or whether they should at all. On the conference's final day, Mun Summ Wong of Singapore-based WOHA talked about the psychological environment of horizontal cities, and how tall buildings should better embrace the human scale. “The idea is to inject more urban life into the high-rise city,” Wong said. “We introduce horizontal movement in the high-rise building because it changes the dynamic. When you talk to the people next to you in an ordinary high-rise, it is considered rude. But in the street, you talk to people, build relationships and bonds.” Similarly, Yang Wu of the Bund Finance Center warned of the risks of homogeneous skylines. “When I open my eyes in the morning and I am in Shenzhen, I still think I am in Shanghai because they look the same,” he said. “[China is] duplicating buildings and the mistakes of the West. There is focus on building bizarre and tall buildings but ignorance of the connotations–resulting in cold buildings for cold cities. As a developer, I call on architects: you need to have your own independent ideas that bring vitality.” You can read more about the conference on CTBUH's website. Check back here as we post video interviews.
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Goettsch Partners to design five towers in booming Shenzhen's Qianhai district
Goettsch Partners landed its largest project in China, a cluster of five towers on 15 acres in Shenzhen’s Qianhai district. China Resources Land Limited (CR Land) hired the Chicago-based Goettsch to design 5.4 million square feet of space for offices, apartments, a five-star hotel, and retail. U.K.–based Benoy is the masterplanner, and is designing a shopping mall and retail areas at the towers’ base. CR Land and Goettsch have worked together before, including on two hotel towers at Shenzhen Bay. Shenzhen’s Qianhai district is in a “special economic zone” targeted for development by the Chinese government, which envisions the 5.8-square-mile area as the “Manhattan of the Pearl River Delta.” Goettsch’s towers will rise in “Neighborhood 2,” the most recent Qianhai parcel to host development that Chinese authorities say will total $45 billion by the conclusion of the area’s overhaul. Their announcement has spurred a small frenzy of building and land speculation, attracting billions of dollars of investment from real estate developers in this boom town about an hour from Hong Kong. Goettsch’s design plays off the blue glass of nearby buildings with a metallic-painted aluminum frame, using horizontal fins on the hotel and apartment towers to differentiate them subtly. As with many such megablock developments in China, ground-level shopping and pedestrian paths will link the five towers. Since it was designated a special economic zone in the late 1970s, Shenzhen has seen its population balloon from 30,000 to more than 8 million. Its reputation as China’s “instant city” has brought an influx of foreign investment, but it also speaks of the city’s struggles with pollution and dangerous working conditions. Perhaps best known in the West for making Apple products, Shenzhen is a manufacturing hub that has been called "China's Silicon Valley." In the wake of a “suicide crisis” at Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturer in charge of Shenzhen’s most notorious Apple factories, the company moved most of their jobs north to Zhengzhou.
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La Biennale's Must See Pavilions
Inside Belgium's pavilion.
Courtesy la Biennale


In a biennale that emphasized “research” and presented scores of graphs on the walls, beauty seemed nowhere to be seen. While many countries presented catalogues of buildings but forgot about the need to create compelling installations for the public, the Belgians made a pavilion that was a joy to enter and absorb. This pavilion managed to accomplish both thoughtful research and the most beautiful installation. The Belgians did not think of the pavilion as a research project, but they smartly put the research into a catalogue and created an abstract interior of string. The pavilion argues that the interior is fundamental in architectural design but has been little studied, and if it had it would become clear, “counter to the notion of modernity as an all-consuming phenomenon, interior research would reveal that vernacular architecture is instead absorbing and consuming modernity.”



The curators of the Finnish Pavilion (Ole Bouman and Julia Kauste) took the Koolhaas directive that it describe if and how national traditions and habits still matter in todays globalized world. In fact they presented a compelling argument that national traditions still do matter in architecture. Bouman, who curated the recent Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (China and Hong Kong), presented a “primitive hut” by a Finnish architect in China, Anssi Lassila, and then re-presented it in Venice. In front of the Alvar Aalto–designed pavilion the curators placed one version of the Lassila piece constructed by a Finnish master carpenter for Venice and then in back the one designed for Shenzen. The one made for Venice was built of cedar logs while the Shenzen one was made for economic reasons of local bamboo. With the doors open in the pavilion, a large table displayed the drawings for each structure and clearly and concisely showed the variations in the two national constructions as they moved from Chinese bamboo to Finnish cedar.



This intensely research-based installation, Instant Past, was not the easiest to absorb, as it featured multiple small tear sheets on the wall and photographic snap shots inside glass vitrines, but it was worth the extra effort. Modestly curated by Seyed Reza Hashemi and Azadeh Mashayekhi, it is an example of how to do a Venice installation on a minuscule budget. Rather than focus first on national identity, this exhibit showed how architecture itself can help form national identity. It argues that “if modernization is viewed as a force where ‘all that is solid melts into air,’ history presents itself as a tactic to find meaning and solace within these changes.” It wants to argue that the past is closely tied to visionary ideas of the future. Finally, a video highlights the dialogue between the two formal languages: Persian and modern. It starts from the biennale’s premise, Absorbing Modernity, but turns this notion on its head.



This was a very modest installation befitting an emerging country like Mozambique. Further it was at the very end of the exhibition in a room with two other small installations, so many biennale goers may have overlooked it and missed one of the most well meaning and powerful attempts to come to terms with Absorbing Modernity. The exhibit, Architecture Between Two Worlds, curated by Jose Forjaz, Vincent, Joaquim, and Joel Mathias Limbombo, focused on the building projects and legacy of the colonial Portuguese building program. It took the research mandate seriously and featured iconic modern buildings from around the world and then showed how they were influential in Portuguese-designed buildings in the their country. A three level display on a wooden wall featured various historical realities of the country: The first section displayed a series of images and audio-visual media giving the visitor an idea of the country’s reality—natural systems, the people, infrastructure, human settlements and economic activities, illustrating the human, geographical, and cultural context of a young country, little known due to its recent history and geopolitical importance. It also highlighted contemporary gaps in urban development, making the point that they “should be understood, in themselves, as unavoidable steps in the creation of an endogenous architectural culture.” Like other developing countries, they took the theme of modernism and its cultural, social, and political baggage seriously and without anger into a future they are still creating.

Entrance to the British pavilion.


Three of the last four British pavilions in the Venice Architecture Biennale have featured public housing, as if the country has nothing else to celebrate on an intentional level. For this year’s biennale, the British curatorial team of A Clockwork Jerusalem (taken from William Blake), Sam Jacob and Wouter Vanstiphout, did not focus exclusively on public housing but used it as examples of how the “British form of modernity emerged from the aftermath of the industrial revolution.” We heard from several national pavilion curators in Venice that uber-curator Rem Koolhaas contacted them about staying on point with their research approach to presenting material on their country. But the British curators seemed to not focus on encyclopedic research and instead created a thoroughly idiosyncratic and unique view of regionalism in architecture. In the end it made a convincing and really brilliant installation (though I did not understand the totemic dirt mound in the entry space) on how responses to the industrial city combined “with traditions of the romantic, sublime, and pastoral to create new visions of British society. It was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable installations in the biennale, particularly when it focused on images of past utopian (and dystopian) visions of the future city ranging from Stonehenge to council estates, Ebenezer Howard to Cliff Richards, ruins and destruction to back to the land rural fantasies.



The economics of curating a national pavilion at the Venice Biennale are daunting with the costs approaching a million dollars for the temporary installations. The traditional western European pavilions get huge financial support or subsidies from their central governments and this can truly be seen in this year’s German pavilion. The curators created a 1:1 partial replica of the Kanzlerbungalow, which was built for the German chancellor in Bonn in 1964 by the architect Sep Ruf. The bungalow was a pure representation of a type of Southern California case study project that was widely featured in the German media as a symbol of progress for the country and served as the nation’s “living room.” When the capital moved to Berlin in 1999, the Kanzlerbungalow lost its usefulness and apparently “vanished into oblivion.” The curators claim this wonderful scale model is supposed to be in dialogue with the German Pavilion, which I don’t really get as meaningful, but as an image the model powerfully sums up how architecture can represent the wishes and political goals of a country. When it was finished, the German chancellor said, “You will find out more about me if you look at this house than if you watch me deliver a political speech.” The chancellor’s Grand Mercedes Benz was brought to Venice and parked in front of the German pavilion, adding an exclamation point to this built symbol of German democratic hopes for the future.

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Designed in Chicago, Made in China: Blair Kamin, Chicago designers mull Chinese urbanization
Blair Kamin convened a panel of designers at the Chicago Architecture Foundation last Wednesday for a discussion around themes explored in his recent series “Designed in Chicago, Made in China,” in which the Chicago Tribune architecture critic assessed the effects of that country’s rapid development on urbanism and design. “It’s often said that architecture is the inescapable art,” Kamin said to lead off the talk. “If that’s true then China’s urbanization is the inescapable story.” Joining Kamin were Jonathan D. Solomon, associate dean at the School of Architecture at Syracuse University; Thomas Hussey of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will; and Silas Chiow, SOM’s China director. The event was part of the Tribune's "Press Pass" series. If you haven’t read Kamin's series, you should. It examined contemporary Chinese cities and some U.S. designers thereof, giving special attention to trends in three categories: work, live, and play. Photographer John J. Kim illustrated with visuals. “In regards to street life and public space,” said SOM’s Hussey, “there can be a lack of an attitude towards it.” Long Chinese “megablocks” in Shanghai’s soaring Pudong district facilitate an urbanism not on the street, which few Americans would find walkable, but it has given rise to a kind of vertical urbanism within mixed-use towers and urban malls. Hussey pointed to SOM’s plan for a new financial district in the port area of Tianjin, China’s fourth largest city, which seeks to restore the street life present in Chinese cities before rapid modern development. And while Chinese cities are growing up, they’re also growing out. Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will reminded the audience that in the absence of property taxes, Chinese municipalities make money for new development by selling off land. That creates a ripple effect of rising property values and a pressure to sell that is devouring arable farmland. That trend’s not likely to slow down, said SOM’s Silas Chiow, since part of China’s national strategy to turn the largely manufacturing nation into a consumer country is to continue its rapid urbanization. That pressure helped produce China’s enviable mass transit systems and light rail connectivity, but also a homogeneity of design that some have called dehumanizing. Height limits, uniform standards for south-facing units and other design requirements that by themselves improve standard of living can breed sprawling, cookie-cutter developments that are easy to get lost in. Still, housing projects in China don’t carry the social stigma that they do in the U.S., commented a few panel members, in part because they’ve brought modern amenities to so many. Where China’s urbanization goes from here, however, is an open question. Images of smog-choked skylines remind some of Chicago in 1900, but the situation is not a perfect analogue. For one, the problem of carbon pollution is far more urgent now than it was then, and its sources far more potent. “Will China be the death of the urban world,” asked Kamin at the panel’s close, “or its savior?”
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Beatrice Galilee Appointed Architecture Curator at the Metropolitan Museum
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced the appointment of Beatrice Galilee, 31, as associate curator of architecture and design. She will work within the department of Modern and Contemporary Art. According to a job posting in The Art Newspaper, the curator will develop collection and research strategies for the department as well as organize collection and special exhibitions, among other duties. Galilee is a writer and curator, most recently of the Lisbon Design Triennial in 2013, called Close, Closer. She was co-curator of the Gwangju design biennale in 2011 and 2009 Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism. She was previously the architecture editor of Icon magazine, and holds a MSc in the History of Architecture from the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London. Galilee will have a wonderful piece of architecture to work in. The Met is taking over the Marcel Breuer–designed Whitney Museum building uptown to show works from the Modern and Contemporary Art department. “Beatrice Galilee will join the staff of our Department of Modern and Contemporary Art as it expands to embrace a more global program and mandate,” stated Thomas P. Campbell, the Met's director, in a statement. “She brings to the position her strong international experience in the presentation and study of architecture and design-related work. Hers is one of two positions in the department that were endowed recently by Dan and Estrellita Brodsky. Their commitment to modern and contemporary art at the Met has been visionary, anticipating the new opportunities for programming in the Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue that will be vacated by the Whitney Museum in 2015 and then occupied by the Met.”
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China in the Parlor
Sliced Porosity Block, Chengdu, China, 2007-2012, by Steven Holl Architects.
Courtesy Steven Holl Architects

City in a City: A Decade of Urban Thinking by Steven Holl Architects
MAK Center
835 North Kings Road
West Hollywood, CA
Through March 9, 2014

City in a City: A Decade of Urban Thinking by Steven Holl Architects opened at LA’s MAK Center for Art + Architecture in late January. Do not be fooled by the title. The exhibition is not about any particular city. Instead, it profiles a suite of projects by Holl’s office across China. The urban thinking in question, then, plays out in the scale of these built works and proposals, which express themselves over huge swaths of landscape and dazzle with their square footage. Consider the numbers:

In order, they correspond to the square footage of the following projects: Linked Hybrid, Beijing (2009); Porosity Plan for Dongguan (2013); Tianjin Ecocity Ecology Museum (2012); Horizontal Skyscraper–Vanke Center, Shenzhen (2009); and, finally, the Schindler Chase House (1922) on Kings Road in Los Angeles, home of the MAK Center. And just to put those numbers in comparison, the 104-story One World Trade Center in New York City clocks in at 3.5 million square feet.

The Porosity Plan for Dongguan is two thousand times larger than Schindler’s residence. I mention the figures not necessarily to underscore bigness, but rather to emphasize the almost tactile intimacy, the lingering domesticity that comes with mounting a show in the space. Nothing is neutral in this context. Visitors coming to see City in a City must first reckon with the question of Why? Why is a New York City–based architect showing artifacts from the design of supersized Chinese cultural commissions in a house in West Hollywood? Still, the question is as cloying as the answer is elusive.

Sketches of Holl's Tianjin Ecocity Ecology and Planning Museums.
Courtesy Steven Holl Architects

In Urban Hopes: Made in China by Steven Holl, edited by Christoph A. Kumpusch, which covers similar terrain as the exhibition and was launched at the opening, Holl lays out five points of a manifesto. The first is “Hybrid Buildings,” structures that bring together living, working, recreation, and cultural amenities. On this point he writes, “Each project is like a city within a city.” The phrase, shortened and edited for the exhibition title, suggests internal connections rather than context-based urbanisms. As such, there is a case to be made for a domestic setting.

Six SHA projects fill four Schindler rooms in reverse chronology from 2013–2002. In each room, Holl’s concept watercolors line the walls and beautiful handcrafted models, some milled out of walnut or mahogany, perch on tables in the middle of the room—toy-like wooden sculptures. Some projects are accompanied by bound construction drawing sets in various stages of development. Absent is any overtly didactic material. (In each room, info sheets are discretely tucked into a tray below the model). Without wall texts or labels to identify each building and site, visitors must contend with each watercolor sketch as cryptic gestures: modest aquarelle pages washed with diagrams and vignettes. The paintings suggest dynamic form, but not scale.

Sketch of Holl's Quingdao Culture and Art Center.
Courtesy Steven Holl Architects

MAK Center director Kimberli Meyer commented that the decision to hang the architect’s watercolors, over photographs or larger drawings, was in response to the homey galleries. The choice, however, frames Holl’s work in China as quixotic. A video monitor set up in the sunroom plays a loop of the architect describing his projects. Of the winning design for Qingdao Culture and Art Center and the long, twisting galleries of the Light Loop he remarks that the horizontal galleries “tell stories like those found in Chinese scroll paintings and create a line along time and space.” We are asked to understand SHA not as a robust global architecture firm, but as an aesthetic endeavor tied to the conceit of a single author.

The accompanying video montage, slow pans across mammoth facades, glinting pools of water, and impressive plazas filled with people, offers a viewer a tightly-curated peek into the reality of Holl’s designs, albeit one devoid of the socio-political and economic context that comes with building in China today. These glimpses confirm that Holl is working at the top of his game on large, complex structures. Indeed, SHA’s buildings, such as the mega mixed-use Linked Hybrid or super-eco Horizontal Skyscraper–Vanke Center, have been published and publicized extensively in endless digital outlets. The exhibition, in its reliance on watercolors and object-like models, confines the firm’s work to concepts and diagrams that border on platitudes. In a sketch dated 10/15/12 of the Ecology Museum in Tanjin, Holl dashes off a wash of green paint and three ecologies: “1. Earth to Earth, 2. Human to Earth, 3. Earth to Cosmos.”

City in a City frustrates because it holds its representational cards so close. Over a decade of urban thinking, Holl’s office has created a refined, even domesticated, narrative around creative gestures and ideas, even as SHA produces millions of square feet of enviable architecture.

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Ma Yansong & MAD Architects Present Mountainous Masterplan for Nanjing
Ma Yansong & MAD presented their installation, dubbed the Shanshui Experiment Complex at the the Shenzhen and Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture. The elaborate model is based on Nanjing Zendai Thumb Plaza, the firm's new master-plan for the Chinese city. The model, and the proposal more generally, are indicative of the firm's commitment to meeting the demands of modern urban China through naturalistic architectural efforts. The name given to this approach is Shan-Shui City, a phrase that predates MAD but has been extensively developed through the designs of Yansong, the firm's founder. Its first two words translate as mountain and water, the two pillars of Chinese landscape painting. In the context of Yansong's practice these two representatives of the natural world are seamlessly incorporated into the urban context in which MAD operates. In doing so MAD attempts to distance itself from the notion that the man-made and natural environments exist on opposite ends of a strictly defined binary. In the Nanjing proposal the blurring of these lines results in a series of buildings that avoid the obscene heights of the new skyscrapers increasingly prevalent in 21st-century skylines. The shapely structures are imbued with an organic irregularity that allows them to meld with the surrounding atmosphere without trying to breakthrough it. Amongst these mountains curved pathways link plazas in which artificial and natural landscaping coexist and the distinction between the two is ambiguous. Here, the natural world is not relegated to strictly defined green spaces but is instead allowed to pervade every aspect of the urban environment. The aesthetics on display in the installation are very much in keeping with other MAD projects also conceptualized along Shan-shui principles. Situated within the Yangtze River Delta and surrounded by mountains, the rapidly growing city of Nanjing is a fitting location for the implementation of Yansong's methods. If all goes according to plan, MAD's creations should be added to the Nanjing landscape by 2017.