What’s just as pressing as the little building’s demolition is the fact it could potentially be the second project by Hirsh Fleisher to see the wrecking ball. In 2014, her Queen Lane Apartments, a post-war public housing project, was demolished by the Philadelphia Housing Authority to make way for a series of low-lying affordable housing units. That building started suffering serious structural problems only decades after its completion, but the Columbus Square pavilion is forcefully sound; it’s largely built from stone. In a time where projects by prominent female architects are more appreciated than ever, there’s much attention being paid to those that are being taken down by redevelopment and in some cases, capitalism. Last month, JP Morgan Chase filed for the demolition of its headquarters in New York, the Natalie Griffin de Blois–designed Union Carbide Building. The site, 270 Park Avenue, will feature a replacement structure by Foster + Partners. Bringing down Griffin de Blois’s 52-story Manhattan tower—whether you believe it should live on or not—distinctly diminishes the already-small footprint that female architects made on New York during the 1900s. Getting rid of Hirsh Fleisher’s tiny building would do the same in Philadelphia. Luckily, today there is a slew of women-powered practices that are following in her footsteps, such as OLIN, the landscape studio, as well as KSS Architects, a multidisciplinary firm also based out of Princeton, New Jersey. While many Philadelphia firms have significantly more men in leadership positions compared to women, the women are there. Award-winning practice Interface Studio Architects (ISA), along with DIGSAU, EwingCole, and KieranTimberlake have women in top-ranking positions or more women than men on staff.
@PhillyMayor Pls STOP destruction of #PhiladelphiaLandmark, one of the few surviving bldgs of 1st licensed woman architect in Philly.#ElizabethHirshFleisher. Architecture matters! Architectural history matters! Honour the work of #Women! #womenarchitectshttps://t.co/Jm1vMx7Al4— dale b. cohen (@dcdesignstudio) March 11, 2019
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Architect Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher designed a dynamic, midcentury modern pavilion in South Philadelphia that’s now under threat of demolition as the city gets ready to renovate the surrounding park. Inga Saffron, the architecture critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer, called out the building’s potential destruction last week in an article about its importance in the city’s cultural preservation landscape. She noted the pavilion’s likeness to the LOVE Park Welcome Center, the beloved “flying saucer” that’s currently under restoration with plans to become a restaurant this spring. Both circular structures were opened in 1960, Saffron noted, along with a wave of round buildings that shaped the country’s design style of that decade. Though the small pavilion doesn’t sit directly in downtown Philadephia (it’s in Columbus Square) and wasn’t the most iconic building in Hirsh Fleisher’s portfolio, it’s still a symbol of her enduring legacy in a place that’s overwhelmingly built by men. From Anne Tyng to Harriet Pattison, Georgina Pope Yeatman, Denise Scott Brown, and Minerva Parker Nichols, the list of female architects in Philadelphia isn’t very long, but the projects they backed in the city are memorable. At the helm of some of the city’s most impressive 20th-century projects was Hirsh Fleisher, Philadelphia’s first female licensed architect. She was responsible for the Parkway House, a postwar luxury apartment complex that she designed with her partner, Gabriel Roth, in 1953. Situated alongside Century Park near the Rodin Museum, the 14-story megaproject features a distinct mountain shape. It’s been there so long it’s nearly synonymous with that area of downtown Philadelphia. Though the Columbus Square pavilion is minuscule in comparison to Parkway House, Saffron argued the 35-foot-wide park structure could live a second life as a yoga studio or café. The city plans to remove it and expand the adjacent dog park in its place.
Scaling Through Time
A life-size dollhouse interior at Friedman Benda becomes a disquieting journey across time
It’s not often that one can step into a real-life dollhouse, but Blow Up, the recent exhibition at Friedman Benda, curated by New York-based curator and PIN-UP founder Felix Burrichter and designed by Charlap Hyman & Herrero, offers just that, transforming the gallery into an exercise in feeling out of scale. After spending time in the exhibition (which closed February 16, 2019), you may not only question your own spatial reality, but also your temporal one. The curation of furniture and objects in the exhibition—complemented by its design, which transforms the white box gallery into four rooms arranged in enfilade with walls made out of cardboard panels—will make visitors rightfully question whether it is a scaled-up version of an imaginary world or whether the real world is a scaled-down version of our imagination. In the show’s accompanying publication, Blow Up Diary, edited by Drew Zeiba, exhibition designer Adam Charlap Hyman describes a childhood fascination with miniatures and dollhouses, and explains his attraction to the way “the disconnect between representation, reality, and scale, was confused” in them. This is an obsession in the work of Charlap Hyman and his partner, Andre Herrero, most clearly demonstrated in their contribution to the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, in which they presented three small shoebox-size models of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s Paris apartment at three different stages of packing their art collection for auction at Christie’s. By representing the same space at different points in time, the models foreground the passage of time as another way of understanding an interior space. Ghosted outlines of picture frames taken off the walls accentuate the dust and debris that accumulate around the paintings once they are removed, leaving us with Charlap Hyman’s gouache illustrations of the interior walls of Bergé’s Paris apartment. Blow Up’s conceptual conceit—the collapse and confusion of scale by blowing up a dollhouse interior to life-size in the gallery—is perfectly coherent as a curatorial gesture. But where the exhibition really becomes memorable is in its anachronistic approach to time rather than scale. The exhibition begs the viewer to ask: “Wait, what century are we in?” This chronological dysphoria creates strange combinations of objects, as if each room is host to a tableau of a multigenerational family conversation; these strange adjacencies of time and form produce the most jarring and exciting moments in the show. In the “living room” of the installation we find Leon Ransmeier’s Two Step (2018), a rolled-aluminum lounger that sits directly on the floor, flanked on one side by a pair of Shiro Kuramata’s iconic 1986 steel mesh couches, titled How High the Moon, and Odd Matter’s saccharine pink and purple, amoeba-shaped Guise 5 Spray Coffee Table, the Netherlands, and on the other by Wendell Castle’s bulbous Cloud Form Desk from 1979 and a pair of checkered Sarah Ortmeyer paintings, GRANDMASTER III and GRANDMASTER V, both from 2018, which give the whole thing a slightly Beetlejuice feel. Another subtle hint of time-flattening dysphoria are the gouache “paintings” on the wall, drawn by Charlap Hyman with the same fervent handmade style as his 2017 Chicago Biennial illustrations, but in the style of different artists of the 20th century, from Henri Matisse to Wassily Kandinsky to Paul Klee. If one looks carefully, one also notices the bookshelf in the “living room,” with titles like Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and a canon of queer literature for the imagined prepubescent doll-house owner. Continuing the contrast in color are Don’t Fold Young Boy, by young designer Dozie Kanu, a piece somewhere between a stepladder and a bookshelf constructed from Rimowa Aluminum sheet and steel, and artist Misha Kahn’s Saturday Morning Series: Tumbling in Turmoil (2018), a silver mirror cast in urethane resin from tensile fabric forms. Artist Camille Henrot’s piece Maso Meet Maso consists of a bulbous purple phone resting on a side table, while in the bedroom another wall-mounted custom telephone piece by Henrot, Dawg Shaming, invites the visitor to pick up the handset and eavesdrop on a conversation between the two phones. The bedroom conjures a Dr. Seuss–like vibe, with the delightfully strange combination of a loopy pink tube bed frame and light, Fruiting Habits, by Jonathan Trayte, covered in a textile piece by Oona Brangam-Snell, titled Grand Baby Bedding Set, which mixes childlike drawings with a repeated pattern reminiscent of a family crest. The bed is accentuated by Gaetano Pesce’s Felt Cabinet lurking in the corner, which faces an understated Ultrasuede bench by Rafael de Cárdenas / Architecture at Large called Untitled (ba ba ba) (2018), a piece that rounds out the generational conversation in the bedroom with its cool, calm poise. Further mash-ups of scale are presented in the “dining room,” with designer Katie Stout’s Tinder Chair and German-Moroccan design duo BNAG’s Toilet Chair and Tubbie Chair—the latter is a scaled-up version of a wooden chair from the 1990s children’s television show Teletubbies, which can be seen as a naive, happy-go-lucky children’s education show or, as in this case, a source of psychedelic inspiration. Milanese architect Luca Cipelletti’s no-nonsense XYZ table anchors the room. Overall, the show illustrates a stark contrast between flamboyant designs from the gallery’s collection and the specially commissioned contemporary pieces, which are relatively restrained and exude a humble quality rather than shouting for attention. While this sounds like a throwback to the stripped-down ethos of the Arte Povera movement, the actual effect is one of newfound sobriety, a coolness that avoids looking sleek and loud in favor of simply fulfilling a function beautifully.
In May 2019, Southern California’s “community in residence” design-build festival, Space Saloon, is returning to the desert highlands for its second incarnation. Titled Fieldworks, the elbow grease-fueled festival will take its inspiration from “cumulative methods of scientific field research—the approaches, techniques, and processes used to collect raw data outside of a laboratory setting” by staging a series of desert constructions that focus on imbuing quantified data with cultural meaning. The eight-day workshop is open to anyone age 18 or older and will cost between $1350 and $1500 to attend; the program price includes room and board, three meals a day, and all of the necessary construction materials. As with the previous iteration of the festival, organizers hope to draw an interdisciplinary group of students that will complement the diverse set of practitioners leading the project. Project leaders for this year include architects Andrew Kovacs (Office Kovacs), Zeina Koreitem and John May (MILLIØNS), Kyle May (KMA), as well as workshop leaders Alex Braidwood (Listening Instruments), Noémie Despland-Lichtert and Brendan Sullivan Shea (Roundhouse Platform), Lena Pozdnyakova and Eldar Tagi (the2vvo), among others. According to a press release, program participants will work to undermine the “constructs and apparatuses through which we perceive a place,” investigations that could include questioning how knowledge is produced, manipulating one’s perception of the desert landscape, and creating “new methods for presenting subjective realities.” The workshop joins an ever-increasing number of arts- and architecture-related events taking place across the desert regions surrounding Los Angeles, including the Desert X art biennial, the High Desert Test Sites program, and the Coachella Arts and Music festival. For a collection of last year’s projects, see the Space Saloon website. Applications for the program will be accepted through April with the workshops taking place in California’s Morongo Valley between May 25 and June 1, 2019.
Six Weeks in Umbria
Awardees announced for Italy’s WOJR/Civitella Ranieri Architecture Prize
Today the Civitella Ranieri Foundation—a prominent artist and writer residency program located in a 15th-century castle in Umbria, Italy—announced the winners of its first-ever WOJR/Civitella Ranieri Architecture Prize competition. The newly launched competition, co-sponsored by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based design firm, WOJR, will invite one emerging architect each year to the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy, where they will be given $15,000 to design and build a temporary architectural installation on the castle grounds within a six-week time frame. Alejandro Haiek from Venezuela was announced as the 2019 awardee, while Catie Newell from the United States will attend the residency program come 2020. Both the Civitella Ranieri Foundation and WOJR aim to nurture and assist the young architects by presenting them with a high-profile platform to showcase their built work and gain recognition and respect. The culturally and historically rich city of Umbria, with its rolling hills and picturesque vineyards, serves as the backdrop for the six-week residency program, and it will influence the built works created by each prizewinner. Umbria is the birthplace of Arte Povera, the avant-garde art movement known for its focus on modest resources and everyday materials, such as ceramics, concrete, and metal. Conforming to the region’s history and traditions, the prizewinners will not be able to use digital modeling and fabrication software and must rely solely on locally available materials. Prizewinners Haiek and Newell were chosen from a group of 65 nominees from around the world, 48 of which submitted detailed applications to a jury of four eminent architectural professionals. In addition to the two recipients, three finalists were selected, including Sumayya Vally from South Africa, Sean Canty from the United States, and Ang Li from China. Alejandro Haiek, the 2019 awardee, will spend this summer at the Civitella Ranieri Center, from June 13 to July 23. In mid-July, he will present his finished architectural installation at a public event held at the Civitella Ranieri castle for its 25th-anniversary celebration.
Svigals+Partners on designing for 21st-century loss and gun violence
Memorial projects seem to be coming online at a faster pace than ever before due to the fatal events our country has experienced in the last three years. Such rapid production of commemorative architectural spaces appears to immediately bring healing and hope back to the communities and victims where these tragedies have occurred. While it’s more important than ever to honor the countless lives lost from social violence, terrorism, and natural disasters, to Svigals+Partners, the process of memorial creation, sometimes slow and complicated, exposes the heart of the design. The firm recently released renderings of a new memorial garden dedicated to victims of gun violence in New Haven, Connecticut. Led by the company’s Director of Art Integration Marissa Mead and Associate Principal Julia McFadden, the (tentatively-named) Healing Memorial Garden will soon be built at the base of West Rock, a monumental boulder that bounds New Haven. Born from the vision of Marlene Miller Pratt, a school teacher whose son was shot and killed over 20 years ago, the landscape is the result of her many years spent advocating for a communal place to remember her child’s life. She connected Yale University's Urban Resources Initiative and other mothers who’ve suffered similar losses to jumpstart her long-awaited vision. After countless hours of community engagement, Mead and McFadden, the latter of whom was responsible for the redesign of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, discovered that this particular memorial effort has further embedded into them the value of listening. AN spoke with the architects about modern monument design and why they herald conversation and collaboration as the foundation of memorial creation. AN: What drew you both to get involved in this project? Julia McFadden: When this came our way, I was working on a side project—a competition entry for the Sandy Hook Memorial, a tragedy that also resulted from an act of gun violence. I believe experiential design and public art define what a memorial is today, two things Marissa and I specialize in, so this, along with our personal interests, was important to us. I’m also particularly attracted to social justice issues and concerned about the allocation of resources that create economic segregation in neighborhoods, such as unequal community policing. That method was actually born in New Haven and then dropped nationwide, which led to more disproportionate levels of communities of color being sent to jail. Marissa Mead: I’m also interested in creating meaningful environments for people by engaging them in the process and helping to tell stories. As director of art here at Svigals, I aim to create places where we want to be and places where we’re inspired. This has been an ongoing process of raising awareness in the area both about the memorial and education on gun violence. AN: Prior to rethinking designing for school safety at Sandy Hook, had either of you been involved in projects that were birthed out of community tragedy? MM: No, but at our firm, we’ve developed over time a very inclusive and collaborative process for the early stages of our building projects. That’s been hugely successful in school projects. We learned we have to get people together to listen to each other from the start. They need to feel heard and comfortable to share opinions. That’s how we get them to hone in on most important aspirations for the school. AN: What do you both think are the challenges of designing memorials for 21st-century loss? JM: Our impulse to memorialize is a very human kind of thing we’ve seen throughout history. We want to recognize and pay our respects to losses that have occurred by leaving teddy bears and heart balloons at the site of car accidents and house fires. I’m not sure we as a society fully understand what that impulse is all about, but the history of commemorating death is obviously evident with cemeteries and grave sites, which are static tributes. Nowadays, we see through working with people like Marlene that people want these memorials to be interactive. Today’s memorials dedicated to these types of loss are different than say, memorials around war. Those are typically planned as we expect death from war. I think historically Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial shifted the purpose of what a memorial could serve since the deaths exceeded what was initially projected. The challenges of designing around tragic events today are that we’re constantly trying to balance transitory commemoration versus more permanent sculptures set in place. To me, what leads us to build a permanent memorial is the communal need to remember something for a longer period of time. There must be a recognition that there’s a lesson to be had for current and future generation in memorializing this subject. It must find greater purpose and promote a larger message that has meaning for a broad range of people to tap into some larger universal themes. AN: What about designing memorials that honor America's harsh past years after the fact? MM: A hurdle in highlighting more historic issues is that perceptions may be challenged. People should be encouraged to recognize that the history they’ve learned may be incomplete. It takes some time to get past the layers of defensiveness and/or shame and arrive at acknowledgment. Acknowledging the past is a mechanism that helps us more fully understand the present, so we can begin collectively to heal from painful, even catastrophic, events. In the case of the Newport Middle Passage Port Marker Project, which I’m helping with, a driving reason to create a memorial is to bring stories to light which have been previously hidden. Newport, along with nearly all other major ports in the eastern U.S., has not publicly acknowledged how the city built its staggering wealth. Rhode Island alone participated in the trafficking of over 100,000 enslaved individuals, and the proud historic buildings of Newport were made possible by the trade of human beings. But these truths are not at all evident in the city. It’s an incomplete history, which leads to an incomplete understanding of the continuing impact that slavery has on our communities. A theme repeated in the visioning workshop I helped lead for the Middle Passage committee is that injustice is not was. There is work to be done. AN: We’ve noticed many memorial projects announced in the last year, some of which have fast-paced construction goals. What do you think about this newfound attention to both memorial commissions and competitions? JM: To me, the process is and can often be the point of memorial making. If a project moves too fast or doesn’t get the right input, you’re going to miss some major opportunities and the memorial will have a stifled response that isn’t fully formed. The best memorials create a visceral bodily experience that doesn’t depend on reading a plaque. You feel something because your senses are engaged, and I think it takes a long-term input process to solicit the needs of the community you’re designing for. With the Healing Memorial Garden, we’ve been really conscious about what you’d see, hear, feel, and smell on the site. Through a variety of design components, we want people to connect to the memorial through both their head and their heart. MM: That’s not easily achieved if we don’t know the emotions people want to be expressed through the design. If the design happens in a vacuum, it’s the wrong design. It’s short-changing that front end of memorial making which really is so critical. I truly believe grief compels people into action—they want to be involved. While the final, completed memorial might be the ultimate goal, the journey to get there is healing in its own way. That’s why I think when a memorial project comes online, the commissioning team would start a qualifications-based solicitation process of designers, instead of a full-fledged competition. That way designers are chosen based on their merits and experience, as well as their knowledge of a community, and willingness to truly understand what those people are going through.
Font of Creativity
Angela Danadjieva remains an unsung luminary of landscape architecture
In 1967, Angela Danadjieva, a Bulgarian-born architect, found herself working in the San Francisco office of the celebrated landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. From 1967 to 1976, she worked on 20 urban design and city planning projects at Halprin’s office, driving design on some of the office’s best-known projects. Her work was integral to the office’s output, but today, Halprin is remembered in histories of landscape architecture while Danadjieva is almost forgotten. In 2019, when we’re increasingly cognizant about the vital positions of women and natural resources, it seems timely to bring attention to Danadjieva. She was enabled by the socialist privilege of women’s rights in her native Bulgaria, and Halprin’s devotion to the profession. Halprin was a giant in the landscaping field, walking in the footsteps of Frederick Law Olmsted and having learned from Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius. Danadjieva won a competition while living in Paris in 1966, which brought her to San Francisco where she met Halprin. Freeway Park, which covers interstate I-5 in Seattle is their best-known project. For Halprin, it was the poetic outcome of his 1966 book Freeways and was another manifestation of his appreciation of waterfalls, while for Danadjieva, it was an opportunity to shine in Halprin’s eyes and fulfill her design ambitions. However much Danadjieva contributed as a designer, Halprin’s lead as landscape architect made him the architect in charge. But her participation in the Seattle park design can be seen as an object lesson in who gets credit for projects, particularly when one of the designers is a woman. Danadjieva was born in 1931 and was brought up in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Lofty ancient architecture adorned Sofia’s broad cobblestone boulevards, and greenery surrounded the city. But the political background for Danadjieva was highly unsettling. After a period of neutrality, the country was eventually thrust into the theater of World War II, caught between the Nazis, the Soviets, and the Allied Forces, which bombed Sofia in 1941. In 1944, the city was captured by the Soviets, and the subsequent socialist regime seems to have eased the way for Danadjieva. Women made inroads in Bulgarian culture, and the state-supported university helped to cement Danadjieva’s abilities. She studied environmental design and received a degree in architecture. In 1963 she paired off with Ivan Tzvetin to work on a Cuban urban project; they won second prize for it and she was awarded the prize by Fidel Castro. Not fully satisfied with her university education, Danadjieva chose to leave Bulgaria and attend Paris’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts between 1964 and 1966, which seems to have imprinted on her an appreciation for forms from the past. While in Paris she was employed by Denieul-Marty-Paoll. Danadjieva first became a set designer for a state film company—winning a Golden Rose (the Bulgarian equivalent to an Oscar) for The Captured Squadron—and then won the competition that landed her on the West Coast and eventually in Halprin’s office. Halprin and Danadjieva reached common agreement that she would have a creative role in his firm, and as project architect she worked on both the Freeway Park and the Auditorium Fourcourt (now Ira Keller) Fountain in Portland, Oregon. Danadjieva made clay models for the fountains’ concrete forms. Both the Ira Keller and Freeway Park fountains are exciting to the senses. When operative, primal water gushes over primordial masses that resemble brutalist waterfalls. The Ira Fountain, engineered by Richard Chaix, is built on a declivity in the road whereas Freeway Park builds over a tear in the city. Ada Louise Huxtable considered Freeway Park equal to European masterpieces. When the fountains are running crowds of people are drawn to them. There has been danger in Freeway Park—a 2005 murder—which has precipitated adding amusement structures like bandshell and food vendors. The structures around Freeway Park are not that humanistic—large metal and glass buildings like the overbearing Convention Center (which Danadjieva worked on) dwarf the park—but amid the stepped and zigzagging walkways and terraces, the rushing waterworks, and the sylvan plantings, the park is a superb haven. Both Halprin and Danadjieva claim authorship of Freeway Park. Legally, it can be assumed that it was Halprin’s design—it came from his office. While Danadjieva did make the clay models of the brutalist stonework, Halprin’s hand came into play earlier. His Portland Lovejoy Fountain of 1967, which is similar and was inspired by his Sierra watercourse drawings from 1964. And the epitome of the office’s rock and water play comes somewhat later: the Washington, D.C., Roosevelt Monument designed in 1974 but not constructed until the 1990s. Also, it was Halprin’s call at the studio to make models before drawings for the Freeway fountain. But Danadjieva’s hand seems secure at the Ira Keller and Freeway fountains because the bursting water flows over those large bold idiosyncratic forms that seem characteristic of her hand. Danadjieva said in an oral history done by Michael Apostolos in February 2010, the year after Halprin’s death:
At a few occasions he left on my board thank you notes about my work…Walking through the office at lunchtime Larry came to my desk looking at what I was modeling out of clay. Seeing my concept for Seattle’s Freeway Park he turned around and disappeared—saying nothing. I went outside for lunch. We faced each other around the block and he told me: “Angela, I am so excited seeing your Freeway Park design concept. Sorry even could not speak, needed to get some fresh air,” and at that time I saw tears in his eyes. This is how I like to remember Larry Halprin, one of the greatest appreciators of my design work.Danadjieva is still active, working with her partner, Thomas Koenig. Her work has received numerous awards, including an Honor Award in Design from the American Society of Landscape Architects. One of their projects was an addition to the Freeway Park (a monumental endeavor, including work on the Washington State Convention Center). She and Koenig are responsible for large-scale projects such as White River State Park in Indianapolis, Indiana, and James River Park System in Richmond, Virginia, and have earned a reputation in urban development. The pair live and work in Tiburon, outside San Francisco. She is reportedly a modern woman with old world aristocratic, courtier traits. She is elusive—very difficult to locate and interview and could not be contacted for this article.
Hudson Yards and its Vessel open to the public
As throngs of tourists and New York City residents descend on Manhattan’s far west side for the opening of Hudson Yards’ first phase, AN joined the first tour of the Thomas Heatherwick–designed Vessel (interested visitors can reserve free tickets). Bill Pedersen, founding partner of Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), Thomas Woltz of landscape architecture studio Nelson Byrd Woltz, representatives from Heatherwick Studio, and Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross, who paid to construct the Vessel out of his own pocket, were also on hand to dive into the design behind the development. With the first phase of Hudson Yards opening to the public today, plenty of ink has already been spilled over the new neighborhood’s “fortress-like” nature, the accusations that it intentionally and discordantly stands apart from the street grid and city as a whole, and that the development is a playground for the one-percent financed through $6 billion in tax breaks (though some might passionately dispute that characterization). Those points have been argued elsewhere. What is definitely true is that the 11-million-square-foot, $16-billion first phase of Hudson Yards is now mainly open, or will open shortly, and it’s likely to draw shoppers, tourists, and High Line hikers to what was formerly an open-air staging area for the Long Island Railroad. The second phase of the megaproject over the still-uncovered western railyard will hold five more residential towers and a commercial project from architectural heavy hitters like Herzog & de Meuron, Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, and Robert A.M. Stern. Related expects that infrastructure work on the second phase will begin next year before the site is decked over. Vessel, Heatherwick’s $150 million not-quite-a-sculpture, not-quite-a-building sits at the center of Hudson Yards’ Public Square and Gardens. The climbable installation is made up of 154 flights of stairs connected to 80 landings, and it balloons up to 150-feet-wide at its 150-foot-tall summit. As project architect Stuart Wood explained, Vessel (explicitly not “the Vessel”—although Related will rename the structure later, anyway) was designed to be open in its programming while not “jamming up” the plaza. “The project was built entirely from staircases and landings. They're public, publicly accessible, free to use spaces. It's non-prescriptive. That was absolutely our intent from the outset. This should be a project that is open to interpretation. It's open to different natures of use.” The underside of the piece is clad in warm, reflective metal paneling that distorts the glass towers around it and brings a sense of liveliness to the “sculpture” as more visitors gather at its base. As visitors scale Vessel, climbers see themselves reflected overhead as the panels act as mirrored ceilings; that interactivity is intentional. On the topside, Heatherwick has used wood railings, darkened steel, and stone for the steps and landings in reference to the site's industrial heritage. With a form so often compared to a beehive or garbage can by outside observers, actually entering Vessel produces an unusual effect. Standing in the sculpture’s base feels akin to entering a towering atrium, with the glass handrails resembling windows. Climbing the structure’s numerous staircases, at least when devoid of the crowds that will surely descend on it after the official opening, felt slightly dangerous. The view of Hudson Yards, the Shed, shops and dining areas, and across the Hudson River, open up towards the top, and might induce the same sense of vertigo found on construction sites. For mobility impaired visitors, Heatherwick Studio has added a glass elevator that travels along a curving track along Vessel’s inside rim, though it only stops at one landing per story. The plaza in which Vessel sits is elliptical and gently spirals out to each of the buildings on the site, a decision that Nelson Byrd Woltz came to in tandem with Heatherwick Studio. As such, it serves as the epicenter of Hudson Yards’ public space, and its central location in the neighborhood’s main plaza visually cements that status. Vessel, for better or for worse, is intrinsically at home in Hudson Yards and wouldn’t fit anywhere else in the world. And even if it wasn’t, as Wood explained, Related has copyrighted the design.
Another Tod Williams Billie Tsien project appears to be headed for the wrecking ball. After years of planning and fundraising, Johns Hopkins University president Ronald J. Daniels announced this month that a new student center will be built for its Homewood campus at the intersection of Charles and 33rd Streets in Baltimore. The property chosen for the new building includes the current site of the Mattin Center, a 2001 arts complex designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. Administrators indicate it will likely be demolished to make way for the student center. The announcement already has people upset. The Mattin Center would join the former American Folk Art Museum in New York on the list of Williams and Tsien buildings that have been leveled and replaced with even larger projects. Opened in 2001 like the Mattin Center, the Folk Art Museum was razed in 2014 to make way for an expansion of the Museum of Modern Art, currently under construction. The demolition was one of the biggest preservation controversies in the nation that year. Tsien has said she was unable to go by the site while the building was coming down and long afterward. There has been talk in Baltimore for the past several years that Hopkins was eying the Mattin Center as the site for a new student center, but administrators said they didn’t want to confirm anything until they had raised enough money to move ahead with the project. Hopkins is one of the few major universities in the United States that doesn’t have a full-fledged student center or student union on its main campus, and Daniels has wanted to build one to keep Hopkins competitive with other colleges and universities. On March 5, Daniels announced that the project is moving ahead with a target completion date of 2024. Without dwelling on demolition, his announcement was the most definitive statement he has made to date about securing funds and replacing the Mattin Center, which was built by a previous administration as a home for the visual and performing arts on campus. “As the needs of our student body have evolved, so has the desire for a different and dedicated student center taken hold,” he wrote in a message to the Hopkins community. “This will be a new kind of space for us—one that is not academically focused, but entirely social by design…It will be a site to which everyone lays equal claim and from which everyone benefits.” Planning for the student center began in 2013 when Hopkins formed a task force. A year later, it hired Ann Beha Architects of Boston and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol of Seattle to conduct a feasibility study and develop a preliminary design. Hopkins administrators have indicated the student center will cost between $100 million and $150 million. According to university spokesperson Karen Lancaster, an architect has not been selected and a final cost has not been determined, but “we have the funding we need to commit to this project” through a combination of institutional and philanthropic sources, including pledges from anonymous donors. The Mattin Center is the only project in Baltimore by Williams and Tsien. It cost $17 million and consists of three brick-clad structures that frame an open courtyard and together contain 50,000 square feet of arts-related spaces, including dance and visual arts studios, a digital media center, black box theater, music practice rooms, and café. It occupies a prominent site near the gateway to Hopkins’s Homewood campus, between the main academic buildings and the Charles Village neighborhood to the east. That site is largely what seems to have doomed the Mattin Center, because campus planners wanted to put the new student center in a “welcoming” location. At the nexus of town and gown, the Mattin Center site met their requirements more than any other property. According to Johns Hopkins’s news site, Hub, the final location was selected “based on the flow of students on and off campus from the Charles Street corridor and on its proximity to the heart of Homewood activity.” The Mattin Center’s size was also an issue, Lancaster said in an email. “While the building is less than 20 years old, our space requirements have evolved over time and the building, as designed, is not adequate to fulfill many of these specific needs—such as the larger gathering venues our students seek today.” In a further sign that Hopkins intends to demolish the Mattin Center, Lancaster noted that one of the next steps will be to figure out where to move the people and activities now based there. If the Mattin Center were to remain, planning for long-term relocation wouldn’t be necessary. “As part of the design and planning process,” Lancaster said, “we will be determining options for where to locate the groups and programs that are currently housed in the Mattin Center—both in the short-term during construction and permanently once a new center is opened.” Although the building’s design won a 2002 award from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, it has drawn criticism locally for “turning its back” on the city. “It represents the end of an era when the university faced inward and was moving very gingerly to interact with the community,” said Sandra Sparks, former president of the Charles Village Civic Association, which represents the neighborhood next to the Hopkins campus. Williams and Tsien were selected by Hopkins after participating in a limited competition to design the arts center. The other competitors were Bohlin Cywinski Jackson of Pennsylvania and Heikkinen Komonen Architects of Finland. When they learned several years ago that Hopkins was considering razing their building, Tsien and Williams issued a lengthy statement defending its design. In it, they said Hopkins administrators at the time had expressed a desire for a secure setting. “When we won the competition to design the Mattin Center in the late 1990s, the City of Baltimore was a much tougher, more dangerous place,” they wrote. “A student, a musician, had been recently killed in a wooded section of the proposed site. So the university chose our design over the two others in part, because they wanted a protective environment for students to pursue their artistic interests which, at that time, were considered extracurricular. “The administration was concerned about the physical security of the students. The suggested program was not so large and that allowed us to organize spaces…around a large exterior courtyard at the heart of the site.” In their statement, the architects acknowledged that the university’s and the city’s needs have changed. They lamented that they weren’t involved in future planning for the site. “Today there is a desire to create a more direct connection to the city and for more socializing spaces for students,” they said. “The site of the Mattin Center is an important one for the University and campus, and we believe it can accommodate additional density and change. If the administration elects to demolish the Mattin Center, it should not be without very serious debate…because to do so is unimaginative, and unsustainable, and because it does not acknowledge the layers of history that are crucial to an understanding of our culture, our campuses, and our cities.”
AN reached out to the firm last week but wasn’t given further information on Williams and Tsien’s thoughts about the recent announcement. In an email, the firm wrote: “We are aware of Johns Hopkins’s plan to build a new student center at the Mattin Center site, however, we do not know of any additional details regarding its development at this time.” The student center is one of several major projects that Hopkins has underway in Baltimore and Washington. Last fall it selected the Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore to design the home for a new interdisciplinary center called the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute. In January, the school announced plans to buy the Newseum in Washington, D. C., and convert it into a new home for its academic programs there. An architect for that project has not been announced. For its medical campus, Hopkins has hired William Rawn Associates of Boston and Hord Coplan Macht of Baltimore to design an addition to its school of nursing.
if i am reading the dean's letter properly, @JohnsHopkins is planning to demolish the fine tod williams billie tsien designed mattin arts complex to build a new student center. NOT HAPPY. pic.twitter.com/VzrGdd9Wkp— mark lamster (@marklamster) March 6, 2019
Bigger is Better
Bernard Tschumi Architects’ Exploratorium Museum bulges with cones of perforated aluminum panels
Brought to you with support fromWith an imposing set of towers rising from a tabula rasa-like setting, one could at first mistake Bernard Tschumi Architects (BTA)'s Tianjin Binhai Exploratorium as a contemporary take on medieval fortifications. Designed between 2013 and 2014, and completed in the fall of 2019, the museum houses artifacts from Tianjin's heavy industrial past and displays of large-scale contemporary technology. The formidable complex is clad in thousands of perforated copper-colored aluminum panels studded with oculi for interior lighting. The 355,200-square-foot museum is located on the former site of a sprawling industrial park; the towers of the design are intended by the firm to evoke the smokestacks that formerly blanketed that landscape, with the copper-like panels standing in for rusted pipes and machinery.
In a recent review titled “The Case Against Hudson Yards Dining” on Eater, the inimitable food critic Ryan Sutton examined the food and beverage options at the mirage-like, instant Hudson Yards (henceforth Little Dubai), New York City’s newest neighborhood. The dining scene is not a pretty picture, and the food options are just part of the bigger picture, dovetailing with the urbanism to expose the ugliness of 21st-century development culture. As Sutton notes, Little Dubai “is a taxpayer-subsidized development that solidifies Manhattan’s slow transformation from one of the world’s most distinctive urban centers into a nondescript international mall for the wealthy.” His biggest gripe? Rather than representing the wonderful melange of cultures that thrive in New York, the food and beverage programming is a cynical commercialized selection that has no roots in the place it resides. “The only place for pizza—New York’s quintessentially affordable street food—will be a D.C.-based chain where a lunchtime Margherita starts at $11.50. The only Chinese-leaning restaurant will be an ‘East meets West’ spot run by a Dutch guy known for his competent Continental spots in airports, concert halls, and museums,” he laments. The condition Sutton describes could easily be in a number of cities around the world, where international flavors are imported wholesale and in no particular fashion or relationship to the place they now inhabit. This cultural importation is a new ideology: In an era where financial markets and soft power makes national borders less and less important, it makes sense that a new type of immigrant cultural exchange would begin to take hold—one that no longer even requires physical, transnational immigration. Cultural exchange can now take place on airplanes, waves of capital, and wires of data in an age of nearly frictionless globalization. That is how New York’s newest neighborhood, Little Dubai, got its character. As much as Little Dubai’s food selections should shock us, so should the art and architecture. The art follows a similar path as the food with superstar curators—ubercurator Hans Ulrich Obrist is a senior advisor—brought in to inject the place with some kind of pop-up world-class culture, much like what the UAE did at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, where the name and collection were rubber-clone-stamped from the old world of Europe to the open expanses of the 21st-century Gulf, where anything goes. Or consider Rain Room, the phenomenon that had lines around the block at MoMA in 2013. The Sharjah Art Foundation has not only acquired Rain Room for its permanent collection, but they built an entire new building to house it. This kind of cultural exchange—that of international consultants—relies on enormous amounts of capital to lubricate its mechanisms. No longer does it require, however, actual immigration or imperialism to carry culture from one place to the next, as was the case in the 19th and 20th centuries when neighborhoods like Little Italy’s, Chinatowns, Koreatowns, and Little Ethiopias naturally popped up around the world. Rather than streets of mom-and-pop shops, entire campus-like neighborhoods are instantly animated as breathing lungs of cultural import-export, with nothing to stop them. Which brings us to the architecture of Little Dubai. There are several similarities to Dubai at Hudson Yards. The most obvious is that the towers themselves look like those non-descript condos and offices that make up most of the building stock in Dubai. Moreover, the neighborhood was master planned by KPF, who also crank out towers in the Gulf and Asia more generally. The similarities run deeper, from the food to the development patterns to the urban experience. Like any good enclave, the mechanisms that have produced Little Dubai look a lot like those that produced the original Dubai and its urban environment. This is not to say that Little Dubai necessarily comes from Dubai itself. It is not that simple. In fact, New York and developing nations such as the UAE and China are in a constant feedback loop, where the West exports ideas about managerial production systems such as large architecture firms and the corresponding banal corporate aesthetics. As Michel Foucault once noted,
that while colonization, with its techniques and its political and juridical weapons, obviously transported European models to other continents, it also had a considerable boomerang effect on the mechanisms of power in the West, and on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself.“Firms like KPF and Foster take on these projects overseas where they can grow and practice working as larger firms,” said Todd Reisz, assistant professor at Yale, “Once they get big and good enough, they can bring these ideas about—how to make a city from the ground up—back home.” This is how New York’s Little Dubai came to be. The original Dubai was opened up to private land ownership in 2002 in an attempt to become a stable place post-9/11 for foreigners—especially Middle Easterners, Africans, and South Asians—to park their money. Special economic zones were established that allowed business and development to operate without the strict controls of Shariah that governed the rest of the UAE. In these economic zones, international trade was encouraged by specially crafted civil legal code geared specifically toward port businesses (foreign investment.) For example, a team of international consultants from mega-firm McKinsey advised the Dubai government in 2002 to draft a set of UK-style regulations for the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) free zone, a “state within a state” that would operate with a different official currency—the U.S. dollar— and a different official language—English—than the rest of the UAE. It was designed by none other than architectural behemoth Gensler. This international managerial complex was the logical conclusion of some 300 years of colonial urbanization of developing nations around the world, perfected by the UAE government. Companies like Emaar and Dubai Holdings buy and develop enormous plots of land that serve as self-sustaining neighborhoods that don’t need to have much connection to their surroundings. Because of their sheer size, and the scale of the projects they oversee, these massive companies also obscure the relationship between public and private. In New York’s Little Dubai, a similar situation exists. The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) acts a bit like the real estate state of the UAE, doing large rezonings and tax incentives to foster these big developments. Nearly 1 billion dollars in tax abatements were given to Related Cos., Little Dubai’s developer, in addition to nearly 4.6 million in infrastructure improvements and other incentives. And often, because of the private nature, DCP has little authority to begin with. Because the development is on state-owned land, there was no oversight from community boards. The parcel became part of a larger economic development strategy that usurps local regulation, leaving the citizens of New York City more-or-less out of the conversation. Little Dubai is regulated by a network of rules and capital that transcends physical territory, just like the “Old World” Dubai in UAE (this model is also being pursued by ultimate cloud-based dark-power-mongers Google in Toronto). This has led to a sort of Free Economic Zone, where Stephen M. Ross, Related’s chairman, is a sort of urban autocrat, pushing through what he wants when he wants. For example, in Little Dubai, Thomas Heatherwick’s 154-staircase monument Vessel was simply ordered for $200 million, shipped from Italy, and fastened together in about 18 months, with little in the way of design review or public process. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it raises important questions. At 28 acres (0.042 sq miles, or 11 hectares), Little Dubai has the characteristics of an entire neighborhood, with its own circulation paths, central public space, and complete set of programmatic functions from retail, residential, commercial, “cultural,” and leisure/hospitality spaces carefully orchestrated in both plan and section. Dubai is a place where these large private developments have happened so fast that they do not relate to one another on the street-level. The piecemeal nature leaves hotels and malls and gated communities difficult to access because nothing was planned to connect at the street. While Dubai’s infrastructure haphazardly connects these megadevelopments with curls of spaghetti-like roads and onramps, Hudson Yards has similarly managed to bend New York’s infrastructure to its will—the 7 subway line was extended to the northern entrance to Little Dubai’s main plaza. Vessel and its counterpart, The Shed, occupy an important niche in the rich culture of Little Dubai: they serve as the attractors to get tourists to come and play, and thus spend money at retail options. Like the spectacular Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Frame, and man-made islands such as Palm Jumeirah, Vessel acts to bring attention to the place. The High Line is already doing this, but these new spectacles will bring in tourists en masse, possibly so much that this area will be like a cleaner and even less exciting Times Square. This centralization of power—via a marriage of government and private interests—gives power to consultants to plan whole districts, as well as ties together Little Dubai and its namesake (and the other countless cities like it). It should not come as a surprise that this is taking place in New York. In fact, it is a very New York phenomenon, as much of this type of culture was shipped from New York’s office towers (literally and metaphorically.) The process of globalization and the complete control of technocratic consultants has crystallized in spectacular fashion before our eyes in New York’s newest neighborhood, Little Dubai. What remains to be seen is how the local context will absorb this pseudo-neighborhood. What is scary for New Yorkers is that it seems like it is going to fit right into its place at the apex of the Highline.
High Desert Test Sites
Another arts festival returns to the Southern California desert
It’s getting rather busy in California’s High Desert these days. With an ever-expanding set of art-related events, programs, and biennials taking place across the region, High Desert Test Sites (HDTS), a long-running artist showcase in the area, has announced its 2020 return. The event, titled HDTS2020 and conceived of as a “free-roving” art exposition, aims to revisit a 1972 slideshow lecture given by American land artist Robert Smithson titled Hotel Palenque via a series of new public artworks and events. The lecture, given by Smithson to his students at the University of Utah after a trip through Mexico in 1969, centers on an “eccentrically built hotel…simultaneously undergoing decay and renovation” that Smithson encountered while on his travels. Smithson considered the hotel a “de-architecturalized” space that existed both as a ruin and a site of reconstruction in keeping with the artist’s interests in fragmented landscapes and simultaneous states of being. The work, according to the Guggenheim website, was developed in tandem with a photographic series titled Yucatan Mirror Displacements (1–9) that Smithson created by photographing dispersed sites that had been augmented with the installation of 12-inch, square-shaped mirrors. For the 2020 run, HDTS has brought on guest curator Iwona Blazwick from the Whitechapel Gallery in London. The series will feature the work of eight artists, including Alice Channer, Gerald Clarke, Jr., Dineo Seshee Bopape, Erkan Özgen, Dana Sherwood, Paloma Varga Weisz, and Rachel Whiteread. Smithson will also be included in the showcase, which will focus on creating “a poetic narrative on the geometry of ruin, the entropic play of nature, and the ghosts of cultures both ancient and modern.” The artists are slated to create or place their works across the High Desert region, both in urbanized areas and within the desert landscapes. HDTS, a non-profit organization founded by artist Andrea Zittel, Los Angeles gallerist Shaun Caley Regen, and others in 2003, aims to “support immersive experiences and exchanges between artists, critical thinkers, and general audiences—challenging all to expand their definition of art to take on new areas of relevancy,” according to Zittel’s website. HDTS2020 will include a public discussion titled Desert as Situation on April 7 hosted by the Palm Springs Art Museum (PSAM) and moderated by Brooke Hodge, director of architecture and design at PSAM. The exhibition series itself runs from April 18 through May 9, 2020.
While curmudgeonly critics lament the return of pomo styling in architecture schools, it can be easy to forget that in Los Angeles, few architectural modes ever go fully out of style. A case in point is the Birch Residence, designed by Griffin Enright Architects (GEA), which was not specifically conceived as a deconstructivist work, but bears the movement’s expansive and explosive feel. From the street, the home’s erupting components—smooth white stucco boxes, projecting and frameless windows, and a central light well—stand out amid the surrounding suburban tract houses. Though situated on a mostly flat site, the main level, containing entertainment-focused kitchen and living areas, is elevated several steps above grade due to an underground garage. As a result, the home spreads from setback to setback, allowing for inventive uses of the tight urban lot. The home’s boxy volumes push and pull against a jagged two-story skylight that runs through the center of the building and divides its constituent parts with glass, steel, and freeform refractive panels. The slinking, canted skylight is topped with an angular shade designed to track the sun from east to west on its daily journey. A clear glass bridge bisects the light well, providing access between the two bedroom wings on the second floor. Below, splayed living spaces and a sculptural stair further accentuate the light well’s vertical orientation. According to Margaret Griffin, principal at GEA, the skylight “brings a seasonal component to the house” while also creating a promontory from which to catch views of the nearby Hollywood sign. The skylight, a tour de force of structural engineering, construction detailing, and exacting handiwork, folds down over the back facade of the house, where a single sheet of canted glass meets a polished travertine floor that spills out onto a backyard patio and reflecting pool. “We try to bring particular innovations that transform the way people live,” said Griffin, explaining the dark-colored paneling that wraps the living room ceiling as well as the main kitchen areas. “We realized that a dark ceiling makes space feel bigger than it really is, so one plane is darker to give a greater depth of space as well as a more expansive feeling to the home.”