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Speaking Up

Innovation in Arkansas shouldn’t be overlooked
A powerful combination of natural resources and local initiative is pushing one southern state to the forefront of architectural innovation in the country. In Arkansas, a place that’s far from the profession’s traditional epicenters in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, big things are happening. In Bentonville, Wheeler Kearns Architects just repurposed a defunct Kraft cheese factory into The Momentary, the contemporary offshoot of the Moshe Safdie–designed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Over two hundred miles south in Little Rock, Studio Gang and SCAPE Landscape Architecture are working together to renovate and extend the Arkansas Arts Center, a 104-year-old cultural institution attached to MacArthur Park. Construction on the 127,000-square-foot project broke ground last fall. At the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a massive research complex, the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation is slated to come online in 2022 courtesy of Grafton Architects, and last year the school finished the country’s largest mass timber building, Adohi Hall, a 202,027-square-foot dormitory designed by a team led by Leers Weinzapfel Associates. Topographically, Arkansas varies widely from its forested and rocky northwest corner to the eastern wetlands that follow the Mississippi River. Fifty-six percent of the state is covered in forestland. From the mountainous Ozarks region in the northwest to the deep-soil Delta in the southeast, the state’s diverse wood basket supplies yield high-quality forest products, along with 27,000 jobs in paper production and wood-related manufacturing. According to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, some of the state’s largest employers include Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Weyerhaeuser, and WestRock Corporation, each owning at least two manufacturing facilities or more within the borders of Arkansas. The timber industry is one of the state’s biggest economic drivers. The Walton family, a.k.a. the founders of Walmart, Inc., is another. The Walton Family Foundation has made it its mission to develop high-design public buildings and community gathering spaces for the state’s Benton and Washington counties, home of Fayetteville, Springdale, and Bentonville. Since Walmart made the latter its home base in 1971, it’s required all collaborators and retailers to set up shop in the area as well, thereby forcefully growing the population of the city year after year. The ripple effects of Walmart’s investment are already being felt around the state. While Adohi Hall might hold the title of America’s biggest mass timber building now, Gensler’s design for Walmart’s new timber-structured Home Office in nearby Bentonville will surpass it with 2.5 million square feet of mid-rise office space and amenity buildings. Canadian manufacturer Structurlam announced in December that it had bought an existing building in Conway, Arkansas, for $90 million and will retrofit it into a mass timber facility so that it can, in part, supply Walmart with the 1.1 million cubic feet of timber products needed for the project. Hardy Wentzel, CEO of Structurlam, said that latching onto a large-scale construction project at the start of a new site investment is a dream come true. “It really helped solidify our desire to move to Arkansas in our first U.S. expansion. I wanted to anchor my investment with a large contract and Walmart was the perfect opportunity.” Structurlam isn’t the only timber manufacturer expanding into the state. Texas CLT recently reopened a defunct laminating mill in the southwest city of Magnolia where it produces CLT products from southern pine and Douglas fir. Walmart, however, doesn’t compete with hardly anyone—especially in Arkansas. For the last six years since 2015, the Foundation has utilized its burgeoning Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program to get major firms working to reshape the region such as Ross Barney Architects and de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop. Other firms slated to do future work include Architecture Research Office, Deborah Berke Partners, MASS Design Group, Trahan Architects, and Michael Van Valkenburgh Architects. Last summer, LTL Architects completed an early childhood education center in Bentonville and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects was chosen to create a 50-acre cultural arts corridor in Fayetteville. The latter project will thread through downtown near the city’s recently-opened performing arts center, TheatreSquared, designed by Marvel Architects. When asked about her first impression of Arkansas and the Design Excellence Program’s work to fabricate these places with consistent new construction, Lissa So, founding partner of Marvel, said the initiative, which “seeks to preserve a sense of place by encouraging quality design of public spaces,” according its website, doesn't feel contrived. “Arkansas feels like home to me,” So told AN. “I grew up in Upstate New York and I love the close-knit community and emphasis on connecting with nature.” So sees the 50,0000-square-foot TheatreSquared—which has attracted much buzz since opening in August—as part of a cultural renaissance in Northwest Arkansas. The project embodies Fayetteville’s desire to develop its arts-related offerings and get more people interested in downtown. In 2006, it adopted a citywide master plan with zoning updates and street enhancements that enabled these goals. “Arkansas thinks of itself as the epicenter of arts between Chicago and Miami and if you look around, it feels that way,” said Jonathan Marvel, principal of Marvel Architects. “When it comes to building the city of Fayetteville itself, there’s a significant amount of attention and pride devoted to craftsmanship and ownership here.” The local design community is also rife with regional pride and uses the state’s abundant resources like timber and stone to build structures that speak to local designers’ mission-driven ambition, according to Chris Baribeau. Baribeau is the design principal and cofounder of modus studio—one of the teams behind the $79 million Adohi Hall and the university’s new corrugated aluminum Sculpture Studio. Much of the firm’s work involves designing K-12 schools for Arkansas’ rural communities, which fulfills its bent toward helping underserved populations. “There’s a real opportunity here to do something that’s meaningful,” he said. “We can prove that our approach to design and construction is actually for the betterment of people, not just about making beautiful objects or celebrating ourselves. There’s certainly a strong contingent of architects in Arkansas that believe in that ethos and work hard to make a difference here.” To many young architects like Baribeau, Marlon Blackwell is at the heart of this approach to design. Blackwell has worked in Arkansas since 1992 and is the most recent recipient of the American Institute of Architect’s highest honor, the 2020 AIA Gold Medal. If anyone has observed and influenced the changes that Arkansas has experienced in the last 30 years, it’s him. His eponymous firm’s seminal projects, such as the Keenan TowerHouse, completed in 2000, and the St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church, finished just over a decade later, shaped what became a new vernacular in Arkansas, one that’s continually broken down preconceived notions of what buildings look like in the American South. To bridge the gap of recognition that the state deserves, Blackwell, like other area firms, promotes projects from other practices and preaches about the culture of working in the region. “Many of us are standing on the shoulders of great native architects like E. Fay Jones and Warren Dennis Segraves,” he said, “but the difference between our work and theirs is that we are now taking on the public realm. There are many younger firms out there willing to fight the good fight and push progressive thinking on major civic projects. It’s a continual battle, but much of our recent success has also come from an enlightened clientele.” Whether it’s the university or the Walton family providing opportunity in Northwest Arkansas or arts organizations, the public school system, or business development districts looking to invest in the state’s southern half, projects are aplenty. As part of the architectural profession, Blackwell said, it’s his responsibility to demonstrate that every one of those opportunities deserves good design. “Our mission is to provide alternative models that change the benchmark of reality for folks here,” he added. “The more examples you can point to, the more reality is improved.” Take the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation, the focus of a design competition facilitated by the University of Arkansas. Timber is a dominant focus of study at the university’s Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, where students get to work with a cast of high-profile professors like Blackwell, who shares his passion for sustainable materials, and Stephen Luoni, who directs the award-winning University of Arkansas Community Design Center. Since Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School, came to Fayetteville from St. Louis in 2014, he’s been working to deepen the school’s timber research program. A major part of this is the Timberlands Center, which will expand the university’s ability to undertake research projects, MacKeith said. The school already operates out of its longtime home Vol Walker Hall and the Marlon Blackwell Architects–designed Steven L. Anderson Design Center. “So much of what we’re doing across the school is emphasizing the relationship of thinking to making and the ambitions of our students have become larger in scale, tools, and techniques,” MacKeith said. “We’ve outgrown the capacities of what we can do in our existing building.” In mid-March, Grafton Architects, led by 2020 Pritzker Prize winners Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, won an international competition for the Timberlands Center, besting 68 other entries and five other shortlisted firms: WT/GO Architecture, Dorte Mandrup A/S, Shigeru Ban Architects, Kennedy & Violich Architecture, and Lever Architecture. The competition was partially funded by grants from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. To MacKeith, the momentum that the university has built over the last five years is due in part, because Arkansas is a small state and the school’s reach of influence extends all the way to the top. “We saw an opportunity where design education could be a benefit to the state’s greatest natural resource and my approach has been to make sure that the governor, the state legislature, as well as investors, and people at companies in Arkansas, understand that we can be part of the forest ecosystem,” he said. “Generally speaking, our students are quite concerned about the world they are going to be practicing in and living in and they want to be able to act responsibly. As a public land grant university, that’s why we work so much with people outside the corners of our campus.” It’s this open-minded ambition that is pushing a distinctive architectural agenda in the state. Chris Baribeau added that there’s an undertone of respect across Arkansas for the critical thinking and people-first attitude that local architects are bringing to projects, though he acknowledged that it’s taking some work to get that same respect on a national stage. Arkansas is speaking up.
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Terreform, Berke, Wines, and more remember the late Michael Sorkin
Michael Sorkin, inimitable scribe of the built environment and leading design mind, passed away in New York at age 71 last Thursday after contracting COVID-19. Survived by his wife Joan Copjec, Sorkin leaves behind an invaluable body of work, as the following tributes—from friends, colleagues, peers—readily acknowledge. This is the second of a two-part series; the first can be read here Jie Gu, director, lead urban designer, Michael Sorkin Studio “Jie, can you wiggle these buildings and make them sexy?” “Jie, can you let me have some fun?” “Jie, I had a dream last night. I think we need to try something new.” “Jie, I will be in on Saturday, leave me something not boring.” Michael, I miss the dynamic “creatures” you directed me to model. Michael, I miss the tremendous beauty of your red-colored sketches. Michael, I miss your utopian dreams for sustainable cities. Michael, I wish I could have spent more time with you. “Jie, if I go, you must use our legacy to keep going in the direction that seems best.” These were his last words to me, and they will resonate with me forever. Makoto Okazaki, former partner, Michael Sorkin Studio Like Matsuo Bashō, the most famous haiku poet of Edo-period Japan, Michael was inspired by his many journeys. The last email I received from him—on February 5th, 2020—was about a hospital in Wuhan built in just ten days to treat those infected with COVID-19. It was located within the area where we had, in 2010, designed a masterplan, what we called Houguan Lake Ecological City. In the same email, Michael expressed his disappointment over having to cancel a trip to China due to the spread of coronavirus. He was often on business trips, which took him all over the world. On one occasion, he joked to me that a secret of his happy marriage was traveling alone a lot. I took this as advice! Wherever he was, Michael would send his inspirations and sketches back to the studio in New York City. We would develop them into a design proposal—not without some miscommunication—then toss it over to him. Back and forth, until we landed on something both strange and fantastic. We were thrilled by the whole process. Michael, you’ve now left on another journey. We all miss you. Deen Sharp and Vyjayanthi Rao, co-directors, Terreform Center for Advanced Urban Research Michael fizzed with ideas, his energy always captivating and inspiring. You could walk into his office to talk about a book project that we at Terreform had underway and walk out with instructions to contact a dozen different people about three more. Somehow amid this frenzy of activity, Michael always managed to maintain a laser-like focus on the Terreform mission of producing research to achieve more just, beautiful, and equitable cities. Somehow in this flood of ideas and instructions, proposals and counterproposals, Michael would always get the project done and the book (it always ended in a book!) printed. Terreform was founded in 2005 as a place for connecting research, design, and critique on urgent urban questions and using that research in the public’s interest. UR (Urban Research), founded in 2015 as Terreform’s publishing imprint, was the vehicle to make ideas accessible and truly public. With Michael at the helm, both platforms produced an inordinate number of proposals, books, reports, articles, symposiums, and launches. All were self-initiated, and Michael, initiator that he was, has left all of us at Terreform with plenty more to do. Most urgent is completing his—and Terreform’s—flagship project, New York City (Steady) State. The project’s central proposition is that the city can take responsibility for its ecological footprint. With New York City as his laboratory, Michael led several designers and social scientists in formulating designs and policies that could catalyze metabolic changes to critical infrastructural systems. The aim was to achieve a “steady state” of self-sufficiency within the city’s political boundaries. Ever the contrarian, Michael turned to steady state economics—a radical approach in a world addicted to growth and wilfully blind to its toxic consequences—to fashion an equally radical political vision of cities as central units for ensuring social and ecological justice. NYC (Steady) State was conceived as a series of books focusing on food and waste systems, energy, and mobility as the four key systems drastically in need of redesigning. Just last month, Michael was making final edits to Homegrown, the first book in the series and one focusing on New York City’s food production, consumption cycles, and distribution systems. His devotion to the project was so fierce that even after being hospitalized he sent emails urging us to complete and publish the volume. Beyond New York, projects were incubating in and about practically every corner of the world, all guided by students, friends, and admirers of Michael's. Their ideas were seeded or sharpened in their encounters with Michael at Terreform's 180 Varick Street office, where practically every workday ended with a visitor dropping by to say hello, being introduced to the crew, and sharing ideas over drinks. Terreform’s research projects have taken us to many places and brokered many friendships. For instance, Terreform has a lively group of friends in Chicago hard at work on South Side Stories, a collective project that shines a light on activist groups in the South Side and their struggle to reposition the Obama Presidential Center from a magnet of gentrification to catalyst for equitable, evenly dispersed urban development. Set in another conflict zone, the Terreform/UR book Open Gaza will add to Michael’s already substantial contribution to the Palestinian struggle for social and spatial justice when it is published next month. Our research projects, along with UR’s many internationally focused book projects, are primarily vehicles for showing how critique and design can speak the same language. For Michael, Terreform’s unique mission lay in developing an interdisciplinary dialogue that could be embraced by theorists, practitioners, and activists alike, and enable them to share new ways of looking at and imagining the world. Even as it hewed close to the standards of the university, Terreform sought to democratize these forms of knowledge beyond it by creating an accessible platform to address urgent issues in a timely and nimble fashion. We know we can never fill the huge absence that Michael leaves us. We are nevertheless determined to carry on Michael’s enormous legacy, to complete the large number of projects that are already underway, and to continue the work of urban research for greater social justice, beauty, and equality in our cities. Click here to learn how you can support Terreform. UR books are available for purchase here. James Wines, artist and architect The tragic loss of Michael Sorkin, as both a dear friend and premier voice for urban design on the international architecture scene, is still impossible for me to accept. At 87, I thought I would have been long gone before this, and so never anticipated experiencing the shock and despair I am feeling right now. Michael’s work in design criticism, theory, history, and planning—particularly his efforts to shape the future of cityscapes—was inclusive and visionary; indeed, he was an indelible fixture in global thinking on these topics. He was one of those rare disciplinary figures whose voice was synonymous with the profession, so that it is impossible to think about the condition of architecture and urbanism today without Michael’s ideas as pivotal points of reference and beacons of wisdom. His absence is inconceivable. While the endless fruits of his creativity will remain in museum and university archives to nourish future generations, an enormous part of the communicative value of Michael’s work was his participation in public dialogues. In this sense, he was like a great musical performer who made wonderful recordings; but the full measure of his talents was best experienced in concert format. Michael played both the revolutionary thinker and the consummate public speaker, a performance unmatched in architecture. As friends, professional colleagues, and career-long skeptics concerning all manifestations of design orthodoxy, Michael and I had a bottomless reservoir of art and design issues to debate during our thirty-plus years of dialogue. In terms of primary emphasis, we were both committed to solutions for the public domain and how to best encourage interaction among people within cityscapes. I often used to comment, when introducing our appearances on symposia, that Michael took care of the larger issues in urban design while I followed up with solutions for the small stuff under people’s feet. As our discussions unfolded, this was invariably the scenario that played out: Michael would cover the master plans, civic strategies, economics, and infrastructure, and then I would insert ideas for the pedestrian amenities of walkways, seating, plazas, gardens, and play spaces. Whereas I could hold my own in the presentation of visual material, Michael’s verbal eloquence always stole the show. I can recall so many lectures and conferences where I would find myself so enthralled with Michael’s delivery that my own faculties failed when it came my turn to speak. He was the ultimate impossible-act-to-follow on any podium. Michael and I had that kind of nurturing friendship where we could meet in an explosion of discourse on some hot topic, or just sit quietly at dinner and experience the reinforcing comfort of saying nothing. Of all Michael’s many talents, the pinnacle was his acerbic wit, with which he skewered the pomposities of our profession and politics of the day. Not only was his trenchant humor invariably on target, it was always articulated in such a way that inspired the opposition to re-think an issue. It is especially ironic that Michael Sorkin—a major advocate of integrative cities and people interaction—passed away during a time of global pandemic, when millions of urban dwellers have retreated into protective isolation. For this reason, I want to end this tribute with a quote on his work from my 2000 book Green Architecture:
Michael Sorkin might appropriately be called a visionary with a heart. He has understood that, with the universal buzz about people living in cyberspace and communicating primarily through global wavelengths, this is already a reality and just another convenient set of tools that will soon be assimilated into the realm of routine. In this respect, computers are just like every other exotic technology that has nourished science fiction hyperbole and ended up as nostalgic curios in antique auctions. In designing for the future city, Sorkin has acknowledged that people are weary of looking at digital screens all day and sit-coms all night; so why on earth would they want their neighborhood to be another extension of virtual reality? The fact is that people need and value human interaction more than ever because of computer technology. In the Sorkin city, they walk, talk, sit on stoops, tend their gardens, and breathe cleaner air. Preserving this desirable reality is the basic goal of sustainability and the primary urban design challenge of the future.
Moshe Safdie, principal, Safdie Architects For several decades, Michael Sorkin has been a unique voice in architecture. In a period of competing schools of thoughts, transitioning from one “-ism” to another, his critical voice was clear and constant, unwavering, with a focus on the impact of architecture on peoples’ lives and well-being; on the principles that must sustain urban life. He spoke about morals, values and ethics as others reviewed architecture as an ongoing fashion parade. Michael’s commitment to the idea that architecture must be in the service of those for whom we build, led him to strip the discourse of architecture from jargon and private lingo; expressing ideas clearly and articulately to the general public. As a critic at The Village Voice, he reached many outside the profession. He became propagandist for architecture, both within the profession and to the public at large, expanding horizons of the impact of our built environment has on our planet. Michael was a great and passionate teacher. I vividly remember his attendance at design reviews at the GSD, where sometimes faculty comments verge on the esoteric. Michael responded with surgical precision, getting to the essence of a design, and doing so in plain-talk. In his practice, both in Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform, he was a prolific provocateur, embracing scales from small neighborhood parks to entire cities. The studio produced numerous proposals. Alas, not enough were realized, but the impact on the current generation is profound. It is not often that we find, in one person, an architect, urban designer, educator, theorist, critic and writer. I will miss his voice, cut-off suddenly and untimely, at a time when it is most needed. I hope that the coming generation will embrace the professional ethic his life represents. Deborah Berke, partner, Deborah Berke Partners, and dean of the Yale School of Architecture Michael Sorkin was a great critic, inspired teacher, and a brilliant thinker. And happily for me, he was my friend. We would have a drink together once or twice a year and talk about New York. From old New York to the New York we loved to the New York we missed to the New York we hoped for in the future. Michael was a searing and insightful critic, all the way back to his days at The Village Voice, as well as in his many books and in his more recent criticism for The Nation. He was also an insightful teacher—he taught at Yale twice, first in 1990 as the William B. and Charlotte Shepherd Davenport visiting professor, then in 1991 as the William Henry Bishop visiting professor. He brought these same teaching skills to his strong leadership as the director of the master of urban planning program at the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College (CCNY). He was also one of the most learned and well-read people I’ve ever met. His interests were diverse and his memory was expansive. Michael argued for the greater good in every aspect of the built environment—from the smallest detail of a building to the largest gesture of a regional plan. He will be missed. His convictions, his voice, and his heart are irreplaceable. Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University I can still rerun lines in my head verbatim from some of Michael’s Village Voice pieces—especially the ones I just couldn’t stop rereading while howling with laughter. His send-up of the Charlottesville Tapes was a true classic, a teddy bear to reach for in the most desperate moments of trying to survive postmodernism. Michael was an arsonist to be sure, yet he also wanted to rebuild something of value and commitment in the place of pretension and posturing. He held out hope for all engaged in architecture to his last moments—as the bright moral light on the horizon that he was—that architecture could still be an instrument for building community. When Reinhold Martin and I looked to launch our experimental Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream project in 2011, amid the ongoing foreclosure crisis, we turned to Michael, inviting him to participate in the opening panel discussion. He offered cogent analyses of our all-too vague brief as well as suggested lines of attack for making architecture that mattered. Along the way he also offered the audience gathered at MoMA PS1 and online a very moving description of his own upbringing in Hollin Hills, Northern Virginia. Hollin Hills was a place where Americans cultivated living together, Michael said, in language that starkly contrasts with the language of intolerance that has since invaded American life, virus-like. Ironically, I think he feared this virus more than the one that took him from us. Michael left us right when we needed him most. With his lucid intelligence, sense of purpose, and biting satirical way of writing, he could cut away the flack even as he focused us on the essential. Nothing he wrote is dated, even if much of it was provoked by immediate events. To reread his pieces is to be in conversation with one of the most truly original and free-thinking minds of architecture. I can’t imagine how anyone will fill the gap, but the texts will continue to delight us and offer refreshing insights. (Think how he knew, for instance, to appreciate Breuer’s Whitney at the moment when fashionable opinion was dead-set against it.) There are many ways to spend our evenings apart at the moment. I, for one, have found a superb tonic for these dark times: pour a glass of bourbon in Michael’s memory and prop open your favorite collection of his writings. We will miss you for years and years to come, Michael. Vanessa Keith, principal, StudioTEKA Design When I came to New York City as a young architect 20 years ago, I was in search of a mentor. Coming from a fine arts background, I wanted someone who I felt was a truly great mind, who I could learn from, and who would take me under their wing. So when I met Michael while I was working on a project for the Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY, I felt an immediate affinity. He reminded me in some ways of my academic parents and their radical lefty friends who dreamed of a better world while working on their PhD dissertations. From there, I started teaching studio at CCNY in 2002, and being invited to Michael’s UD juries was definitely a high point. He was so innovative, and he always had the backs of everyday people who don’t always get to have their voices heard. He made us think critically and differently, and he didn’t shut down ideas just because they were coming from someone younger or less “educated.” In 2007, Michael; Achva Stein, then head of CCNY’s landscape architecture program; David Leven, of LevenBetts and CCNY; and Ana Maria Duran, a good friend from grad school at Penn who was teaching at PUCE (Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador) in Quito, were doing a joint architecture, landscape, and urban design studio focused on a site in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Ana Maria invited me to lead a student charrette at the Quito Architecture Biennale, which I accepted. Once there, I received another invitation, this one to travel with the studio groups to Lago Agrio, taking Achva’s place. Again, I accepted, getting the yellow fever vaccine and some anti-malaria pills. Shivering and teeth chattering from a reaction to the injection, I jumped on the bus heading down the mountains. What a treat! We took trips up the river with local guides in canoes, avoided the areas marked “piranha,” and at a safer junction jumped into the muddy river water fully dressed in all our gear. The entire group stayed in the rainforest at a research station, saw butterflies in metamorphosis against the backdrop of oil installations, and had a jolly old time. Michael joked about making a calendar featuring scrappy Ecuadorian street dogs, the very antithesis of the Westminster Dog Show. He always rooted for the underdog, valuing the ingenuity and skills of local people and treating them with the utmost respect. Michael helped so many people, and he was so generous with his time. He was always up for coming to Studioteka and playing the role of critic for whatever we were working on in our annual summer research project. That’s how my book, 2100: A Dystopian Utopia — The City After Climate Change for Terreform’s UR imprint, came to be. Several years of in-office juries, occasionally zinging (but usually hilarious and on-point) critiques, and edits followed, and the book came out in 2017. Since then, Michael and the team at Terreform have offered incredible guidance, support and enthusiasm, helping us to get the word out, and cheering me on through each book event, lecture, publication, and milestone. More recently, we had our 2100 VR day at StudioTEKA and gave Michael, along with UR managing director Cecilia Fagel, their very first experience in virtual reality! They were dubious at first, but they were quickly among the converted. At one point in the VR tour, they were put on a plank changing a lightbulb hundreds of feet above the city, and in the end, they asked everyone to jump down. Michael demurred, Cecilia said yes, and we had to catch her! Michael was a brilliant mind, a champion of the dispossessed, and someone who fought valiantly for a just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable future. He believed in cities, in the power of collective action, and that doing better was always possible. Now we must strive to carry on without him, and push hard for the better world he laid out for us in his work. M. Christine Boyer, William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of architecture and urbanism, Princeton University School of Architecture It is too soon to bid farewell to my friend and colleague Michael Sorkin, whom I knew since we were students together at MIT. The last time we saw each other, in late January, we simply hugged each other goodbye: he was due to fly to China, I to Athens. It is indeed a silent spring now that he is gone! Yet his legacy lives on. He leaves a profound and lasting impact on public awareness, on architectural practice, on political commitment! His call to action remains. Michael Sorkin was the conscience of architecture, a visionary change-maker, dedicated educator, engaged author, and imaginative designer. He never backed down from opposing points of view. Rather, he called us all to live better in the world, to mend the city of inequity and injustice. He helped us build solid relationships through his edited books, a forum he built for voices to rise up together in solidarity. He was truly the root from which sprung our dedication to a socially responsible architecture. Michael’s pen brilliantly and humorously elevated the level of architectural and urban criticism into a new art. He was always writing for a better city yet to come. His concern was how to build a city of freedom, diversity, authenticity, participation, intimacy. Let his words speak!
“For me, writing has been the extension of architecture by other means both polemically and as fuel for my money pit of a studio. I write because I am an architect.” —Some Assembly Required (2001) “Architecture cries out for a reinfusion of some sense of responsibility to human program as a generative basis for both its ideology and its formal and technological practice, but gets it less and less.” —Some Assembly Required (2001) “[T]he new city is little more than a swarm of urban bits jettisoning a physical view of the whole; sacrificing the idea of the city as the site of community and human connection.”—Variations on a Theme Park (1991)
He pleaded for a return to a more authentic urbanity, “a city based on physical proximity and free movement and a sense that the city is our best expression of a desire for collectivity.” The goal was, and is, “to reclaim the city is the struggle of democracy itself.” And it is a struggle over contending voices!
“[T]he City is both a place where all sorts of arrangements are possible, and the apparatus for harmonizing autonomy and propinquity./ Freedom, pleasure, convenience, beauty, commerce, and production are the reasons for the City.” —Local Code: The Constitution of a City at 42° N Latitude (1993)
Michael’s critical writings on the politics of architecture live on, be they about the utopian schemes for the World Trade Center or the reconstruction of New Orleans, or the engagement of Palestinian and Israeli voices in the future of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He wrote about the battle for freedom, global and local responsibility, the environment, even as he addressed the milieu of architecture, making appeals for inclusion, for connectivity, for sharing, and more. In this silent spring of isolation that robs us of his voice, his pen, his friendship and humor, listen to the small murmurs arising, the tributes that come in from far and near. Witness his influence great and small. From the soil he has nourished with his commitment and action will spring forth—amid ongoing contestation—a better city. Listen to his call! This dear Michael, our Michael, is your enduring legacy.
Sharon Zukin, professor emerita of sociology, Brooklyn College and City University Graduate Center Michael Sorkin was an architect’s writer and a writer’s architect. He had a brilliant wit, a ready command of politics, history, and principles of design, and a passionate commitment to social justice. He wrote in plain English and published prolifically. He scorned hypocrisy, shunned opportunists, and acted to build a better world. Although he had peeves—venal real estate developers, corrupt politicians, celebrity architects, that tin-plated hustler Donald Trump—Michael wasn’t peevish. He could not tolerate intolerance. He was impatient with himself, but he was also a generous teacher, colleague, and friend. During all the years that I knew him (I want to write have known him), I never understood how he could travel so far, write so much, or launch so many projects with so many people and always bring them to completion. Yet his genius ranged most freely, and his rage was most keenly charged, when he wrote about ego and power in the city that he loved: New York. I admired Michael as a writer before I knew him as either an architect or a friend.  I had been a devoted reader of his architectural criticism in The Village Voice during the 1980s. At the time, New York was in transition, moving from widespread deprivation to Reaganite glamour, yuppie glitz, and localized gentrification, even as fiscal austerity penalized the Rust Belt of the outer boroughs and quarantined communities of color. Michael cut through the hype to the complicit collusion of the real estate industry and government agencies; I learned a lot from reading him. Although he and I walked the same streets—and lived in the same neighborhood, Greenwich Village—his streets were more layered than mine because he knew more, had a better eye, and directed his critiques with pinpoint clarity. Who could ever catch up with him? The elegant essays that make up the book Twenty Minutes in Manhattan—shaped by the walk from his home to his office—are my favorites in Michael’s considerable oeuvre. He starts with the stairs in the Old Law tenement where he and Joan, his wife and life-partner, lived for many years. He recounts the difficulties he has had climbing those stairs, especially on crutches after surgery, and then segues into a brief but exact description of their construction. This leads him to reflect on other, grander stairs. The long, straight flights of stairs in late-nineteenth-century industrial buildings that formed a “tectonic loft vocabulary” within the cultural syntax of New York. The elegant double staircases in the Château de Blois. The capacious stairs in the MIT dorm designed by Alvar Aalto, made wide so students would stop to talk to each other. Long before Prada stores and tech and other “creative” offices sprouted them, Michael had already taken the measure of a staircase’s possibilities. “Architecture,” Michael drops into his conversation with the reader, “is produced at the intersection of art and property.” He exhumes the grid plan from its origins in the fifth century BC and relates it to the well-known scheme for laying out potential profit-bearing plots of land throughout Manhattan. Adopted in 1811, the grid not only set New York’s major money machine in motion but also set the course for its buildings, their heights and morphologies, and, yes, the stairs inside them. Which naturally makes him consider the pitch of the treads at the pyramids in Chichen Itza, only to return, once more, to his New York brownstone. This is—was—typical of Michael in writing as in casual conversation: erudition wrapped in humor that didn’t allow pomposity. Like Jane Jacobs, whom he greatly admired, and in whose honor he founded a lecture series at the Spitzer School of Architecture, he was a citizen of both the Village and the world. Like Jacobs, too, he saw the world in the city—but he also saw the city in the world. Michael traveled constantly, giving lectures, pitching projects, taking his students on field trips to South Africa one year and to Cuba another. During his career, he wrote about many different cities. Wherever a community of architects, activists, and urban designers protested a plan, or struggled to turn back an egregious intrusion of monumentalism into a skyline or streetscape, Michael was there. You could count on him to fire broadsides, mobilize the troops, and persuade strangers to join him. A few years ago, he persuaded me and others to write a short essay for a collective book he was putting together with people in Helsinki. This group strongly opposed the city government’s plan to contract with the Guggenheim Museum, then still in its expansionist phase, to build an expensive branch on a stretch of waterfront better left for public use. With these collaborators, Michael organized an anti-competition for design ideas and made us scholars into a jury. This mobilization, echoed by the popular opposition within Helsinki, helped to sink the Guggenheim plan. (Or, at least, it forced the city council to reveal its lack of funds.) The last time I saw Michael, one month before he died, he asked me to come by his office. We talked about a Hungarian artist’s book project on luxury apartments for which we were both writing essays, dished some dirt about various cultural figures on the South Side of Chicago, and looked at the old photographs of Michael’s family on his shelves. We laughed about the double portrait of Joan and himself in front of the Taj Mahal that he had painted in Vietnam; Joan, considering it trashy, would not allow it in their home. Michael asked if I could recommend someone who could write about race and class in the neighborhoods near the University of Chicago for a book he was planning for his publishing house UR, and then asked if I would write something for yet another book he was planning, on smart cities. Although he was not in the best of health, a frailty that the virus would exploit, he still pushed forward.  He was only prevented from taking another trip—to Africa—by the emerging blockade of travel restrictions. My last email from Michael came one week later. He heard me talking about my new book on the radio and immediately sent me fan mail. This, too, was Michael: he acted on friendship. Almost twenty years ago, he and I edited a book of essays by New York urbanists where we tried to put together our abundant sorrows and critical thoughts about the World Trade Center. The words Michael wrote about the fallen Twin Towers surely apply to him. He was, in all respects, “the Everest of our urban Himalayas.”
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French Facsimile

Artificial Intelligence & Architecture at Paris’s Pavillon de l’Arsenal goes digital
The Pavillon de L’Arsenal (Arsenal Pavilion), an exhibition space dedicated to architecture and urbanism in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, is currently closed to the public to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. One of its current main exhibitions, however, seems to have been born for the internet in anticipation of the pandemic. Artificial Intelligence and Architecture, an exhibition that “showcases for the first time the minds who have initiated a dialogue between technology and discipline,” recently premiered online with a ‘walkthrough’ of a 3D-modeled, barrel-vaulted space resembling the interior of the Pavillon de l’Arsenal. The exhibition begins with a button that reads “Visit Start," at which visitors encounter a bilingual wall text introducing the four categories of the show: Modularity, computer-aided design (CAD), parametrics, and artificial intelligence (AI). One can then engage the infographics detailing those four categories in a long hallway before engaging with a series of archival videos highlighting the innovations of architectural computation over a 100-year period that includes interviews with Yona Friedman, Ivan Sutherland, Frank Gehry, Patrik Schumacher, and members of the Architecture Machine Group. The exhibition ends with recently executed experiments in the development of architectural plans, elevations, structures, and perspectives using AI software. The internet appears to be the ideal location for this exhibition, given the wealth of diagrams, texts, and video content on display that would be nearly impossible to absorb in a physical space. Yet, the virtual tour also becomes an effective fifth element of the exhibition, providing further proof that there is now an inseparable link between architecture and digital tools. The show offers yet another solution for gallery spaces to consider while they remain closed during stay-at-home orders that include the robot-assisted tours currently at Hastings Contemporary and the hundreds of virtual museum experiences offered by Google Arts & Culture. Designed by Stanislas Chaillou, a recent graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and data scientist for the Oslo- and Boston-based AI technology company Spacemaker, Artificial Intelligence & Architecture will be available online until May 5.
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Weekly Discussion

The Architect’s Newspaper introduces Trading Notes
In the past few weeks, we have all witnessed a dramatic shift in the way we work. Architects and designers transitioning to their living rooms, connected to each other via chat and webcam, while trade partners labor on building sites—where they remain open, that is. Who counts as “essential” and “nonessential” in this scenario? Have we been measuring productivity wrong? And what new techniques might emerge to bridge the gap? This Friday at 1:00 p.m., The Architect’s Newspaper launches Trading Notes, a weekly discussion series that will tackle questions such as these. The first in the series, Construction in the Age of COVID-19: How are Firms Keeping Projects Online?, will provide perspectives from the architecture, engineering, and construction professions on navigating the challenges facing construction right now. Speakers include Sasaki director of technical resources and associate partner Bradford J. Prestbo; Hatfield Group managing partner Erleen Hatfield, Moody Nolan CEO Jonathan Moody; and Sciame Construction president Joseph Mizzi. Registration is free and is linked here. Over the coming weeks, AN will continue the dialogue with an array of subjects pertaining to the AEC and design industries. The weekly topics are listed below, and the speakers will be announced closer to the air dates. (4/17) Supplying the Front Line: Tips for 3D Printing of Medical Components (4/24) System Disruption: Managing Project Logistics During the Pandemic (5/1) Shovels in the Ground: How Developers are Preparing for the Next Step
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Jagged Little Pill

Tom Wiscombe Architecture conceives sawtoothed chalet for Utah’s Summit Powder Mountain
A shadowy, sawtoothed home designed by the Los Angeles-based firm Tom Wiscombe Architecture is rising on the slopes of Eden, Utah, less than one hour north of Salt Lake City. The Dark Chalet’s interconnected masses follow the steep slope of the site and are contoured to allow skiers to pass underneath. With 5,500 square feet of interior space, enough room has been provided for a spacious private residence that, at a moment’s notice, can be repurposed as a venue for community events as Summit Powder Mountain sees fit. The home’s striking exterior cladding was designed to form a layer of secondary articulation distinct from the interior massing and was inspired by the multifaceted surfaces of bismuth crystals and a vision of a “black diamond nestled on the steep snowy mountain,” according to the firm’s website. Glossy solar panels are seamlessly integrated into its patterned rooftop to render the home nearly 400 percent energy-positive without drawing attention to its energy production. At the home’s center is a 28-foot wide fireplace—an essential element of any true chalet and an unmistakable symbol of community building. Wiscombe was inspired by the grand fireplaces of “grand ski chalets and castles” that are so large as to become characters in themselves. Conceived as a single object within the larger whole, the black steel fireplace organizes the home’s main spaces, provides structural stability, and is embedded with living elements including bookshelves, closets, walkways and a staircase. When the Dark Chalet is completed in October of this year, it will be one of the first elements of the 10,000-acre Summit Powder Mountain ski resort planned by Summit, a company that facilitates conversation between entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world. Some of the architects working on the “utopian” community including Marmol Radziner, MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, Olson Kundig, and Studio Ma, who have all designed other homes and related buildings for the unprecedented development, while OFFICEUNTITLED contributed the master plan.
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Spinagu builds practice through layering
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course at Syracuse University School of Architecture taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller, and now an AN interview series. On October 31, 2019, Maria Daniela Andino Donoso and Demitri Gadzios, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Jia Yi Gu and Maxi Spina, principals of Los Angeles-based architecture office, Spinagu. The following interview was edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. Maria Daniela Andino Donoso and Demitri Gadzios: Thank you for taking time to speak with us today. We’ll start with some general questions about your collaboration before asking about Piaggio House, the project that we’ve been studying. So, the first question deals with your collaboration. Prior to the establishment of your practice in 2016, what were your individual goals and what led to your collaboration? Jia Yi Gu: At the time, I was trying to figure out how to be involved in architecture across multiple modes of production. I had a desire to practice in the conventional sense and, at the same time, contribute to architectural culture more broadly, through scholarship and curatorial practice. Maxi Spina: Prior to Jia and I deciding to practice together, I was running my own architecture office and teaching. Across practice and teaching, I was engaged in advanced digital design, the organization and representation of complex form, and the production of meaning beyond the discipline of architecture. Some of these interests came from previous experience working for Neil Denari in Los Angeles and studying with Jesse Reiser at Princeton University. Some of the initial ambitions and interests that surrounded the formation of my own practice were extensions of what I encountered and participated in during these two experiences. In 2015, Jia and I began having discussions about practicing together and what would constitute the basis of our collaborative practice. We were both, and still are, very interested in working on the medium of exhibition and revisiting modes of display for architecture. Jia's background working on exhibitions provided a foundation for our first collaborative endeavors. How do your distinct backgrounds and interests inform your collaboration, and how do practicing, teaching, and conducting research either converge or remain independent? Jia: I like to think of practicing, teaching, and research not as separate activities, but as different modes of production that engage with similar sets of issues in architecture in distinct ways. So, some activities, like teaching, are more about introducing important ideas and issues to students in order for them to have foundational knowledge about architecture and understand that architecture itself is a form of knowledge production. Other activities, like curating, are about bringing architecture and public audiences closer together. Both are opportunities to re-frame what we think we know in architecture. Maxi: Exactly, and every endeavor has a different set of conceptual and logistical requirements. Our different backgrounds allow us to divide and share responsibilities in each of the unique contexts in which we seek to make contributions—be it in practice, research, or curation. Can you be more specific about how your academic research and teaching inform the way you practice? Jia: On my end, there is a broader interest in labor and in what architects “do.” This is related to the status of architectural education today, where there are quite a few discrepancies between what students do in an educational environment and what is being asked of them in professional and non-professional practice. My research into these issues informs the way that we, as a practice, understand the conditions and agency of architecture today, but also, for example, the conditions of financing that allow architecture to be produced. We’re trying to be reflective and proactive in the way we engage realities of professional practice, and we’re also trying to develop a new value set for teaching. I want students to understand their place in architecture both in terms of the content they produce, but also the container or conditions that allow for such production—and often can foreclose on other models of practice. What we do as educators does not always directly overlap with what we do as practitioners, but both are based on a series of questions about the status of architecture today and the crisis of education and practice. Maxi: The content of the classes we teach and the work we do in our office are separate. We don't believe in the apprenticeship model that asks students to replicate our techniques and adopt our aesthetic sensibilities. We prefer to teach in way that opens up questions about design, representation and, more specifically, the status of software with regards to representation. We prefer to give students agency in developing a trajectory for their projects that is more personal, but still within the scope of the broader topic that we introduce. We also do not want to pretend that practice and teaching are entirely separate. They intersect from time to time, but are unique in ways that allow for continuous exchange and evolution. Jia, can you expand on what you just said about architecture’s relation to finance? In your practice, how do you engage traditional models of producing architecture? Do you pursue alternatives? Jia: It’s a serious limitation for our field to think that what we do as architects is merely provide a service. Unfortunately, most architecture offices subscribe to this service model without giving it much thought. There's a long history about why the profession is operating this way, and its relation to capitalism. Today, I feel anxiety about hyper financialization. Let me elaborate on this for a moment…  95 percent of housing in the United States is financed and constructed by developers. So, unless architects are seriously wanting to rethink the financial system by which architecture comes into being, we are basically going to lose out to high-return developers who have very different, often problematic values. Our response to this dissatisfaction—and it’s a response shared by many of our peers—is to teach as a way to sustain ourselves and enable a form of practice that can operate slightly outside of the service model. I believe architects don’t think enough about generating new, more equitable economic models for practice. There are entire sectors of the economy, like the nonprofit world for example, that have access to funding that are also values-based. So, there are other ways to practice… other economic models for practice… these other ways of practicing are things we are more aggressively pursuing right now. We are interested in how architects can become developers, not as profit-driven entities, but in order to design a better system for the financing of buildings. Regarding some of your collaborative efforts, your installations investigate issues of perception through the manipulation of profiles. Where does this interest come from and how has it evolved from project to project? Maxi: The work on profiles was developed in installations and conceptual projects completed across a two-year period. It started when we were invited to participate in an exhibition at Jai & Jai Gallery in Los Angeles in 2015 that asked architects to produce objects inspired by chess pieces. This opened up an avenue of investigation for us that engaged ideas of perception and posture of an architectural object. And profile as a topic in architectural form is very different from the topics of surface and volume, which I had been working on previously. So, working on profiles enabled us to expand our engagement with form beyond more familiar topics of engagement. Jia: The invitation to produce artifacts for the chess exhibition also provided an opportunity to study physical production of chess pieces. And it turns out, chess pieces have strong profiles because a profile is the result of rotating the wood around the lathe which allows for carving of the piece—a figural condition that is distinct from a machine’s toolpath, let’s say. So, from the start, there was an interest in the relationship between profile manipulation in the digital, immaterial environment compared to profile creation in a physical, material environment. This relationship, along with issues of corners, offsets, and thickness, was explored in a variety of ways across two additional projects. We have a question about Piaggio House. How were issues of constructability and materiality folded into the design process on the front end? Maxi: One of the issues that played a critical role in the development of the design was security, and layers of defense. I’ll come back to this, but I mention it first because it inspired a conceptual investigation into registering thickness through movement. Because of issues of security and the need to incorporate certain features native to the typology of single-family homes in the neighborhood, things like thresholds between significant spaces became important as a series of checkpoints or layers in relation to physical access. So, the house has an incredible range of spaces from fully enclosed and private to open and very visually accessible. The urban condition of that particular neighborhood in Rosario also dictated certain qualities. For example, and again tied to security concerns, the house could not be freestanding, as a way to limit accessible perimeter. What could potentially have been a rather banal aspect—the threshold between interior and exterior—became the most interesting aspect of the design. Every house in Rosario has about five layers of security. It's not just a gate and a front door that separates public from private. Multiple layers need to be incorporated to properly address this issue. In this way, the practical and pragmatic aspects of this security issue became important to us in the overall conceptualization of the house, it’s form, interior organization, and even materiality. Last question… what are some of the most rewarding aspect of being architects and educators? Jia: For me, it’s teaching. Teaching is incredibly rewarding! I learn so much from students and I’m inspired by the ways in which they prepare for practice. By the time someone has entered the profession they are formed subjects, and it’s in working with students where I see formation in real time, and where change can occur as one prepares to practice and engage the world more critically. Maxi: I can point to two things. The first is that we’ve been given and have earned opportunities to create projects that make genuine contributions to contemporary discourse. We’re thankful to have peers with similar ambitions that we can talk to, exchange ideas with, be inspired by, and hopefully inspire. The second thing is very simple…  it's just an afternoon in the office, working on projects. That's probably the most rewarding time for me. We’re so busy, so I really try to appreciate the time I have in the office to work and be productive.
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Wishing the Best

Sarah Whiting, dean of Harvard GSD, will step back, citing illness
Students, faculty, and other community members of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design received the following letter in their inboxes this morning. Penned by the school’s dean Sarah Whiting, the note discloses a medical diagnosis that will force Whiting to relegate daily responsibilities to deputies. Dear GSD Community, While the singular focus of so much of our attention these past few weeks has been COVID-19 and the ways the coronavirus has so deeply affected and tested the resilience of our school, our friends, and our families, it can be easy to forget momentarily that there was and is life outside the pandemic. Which is precisely why Ron and I were so surprised to learn last week—and am now writing to share the news with you—that I have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Beginning this Thursday, I will be taking a partial step back from my daily dean-related responsibilities so that I can begin treatment. Fortunately, Harvard and the Boston area are home to some of the finest health care providers in the world, and so I am in good hands. As difficult as it will be, especially at this critical juncture in the school’s history, I will need to follow the advice of my physician team (as well as of Harvard’s President and Provost) and do my best to turn my energy toward my recovery. In the coming couple of months, you can be assured that the GSD will be in excellent hands as well. While I plan to still be engaged in steering the school forward through the next few months, I am very grateful that during this period Rahul Mehrotra and Niall Kirkwood have agreed to help shoulder day-to-day responsibilities that I won’t be able to attend to—Rahul, as my “Dean Designate,” will represent me in working with our senior leadership at the university and at the GSD to ensure that the school will continue to advance smoothly and intelligently. Niall, as the GSD’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, will continue to oversee faculty searches, promotions, reviews, benefits, and policies. But really what the last few weeks have shown again and again is that a dean’s success in leading a school forward depends so entirely on the strength of its community. Your collective willingness to jump into the fray, lend a hand, and help bring our school through the current moment—your generosity and your grit—have been endlessly inspiring to me personally, but also have ensured against all odds the uncompromising excellence and rigor that underpin the GSD’s legacy. I have complete and total confidence in our combined ability to navigate the school onward, and you should too. I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone to the extent that I can, and updating you on my progress. For any communication that you normally would send to the dean (or any questions whatsoever), please continue to [do so] and know that you will receive a prompt reply, either from the dean’s staff, Rahul, or me. For faculty-related issues (promotions, reviews, policies, and benefits, etc.), please contact […] Niall to address those issues […]. Kindly, Sarah
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1923 - 2020

Elizabeth Sverbeyeff Byron, prescient architectural talent scout, dies at 96
Elizabeth Sverbeyeff Byron, a longtime architecture editor at several home design magazines and renowned for her prescience in spotting undiscovered young architects, many of whom have gone on to major careers, died at her home in Manhattan on April 1 of natural causes after a brief illness unrelated to the coronavirus. She was 96. Despite her descent from the loftiest ranks of 19th-century Russian royalty and literature, Byron was justly proudest of her six-decade career in design journalism. It began at the Home Section of The New York Times in the 1960s (where she and another Times design reporter, Barbara Plumb, wrote The New York Times Guide to Home Furnishings,) and ended at Architectural Digest in 2016, when she was well into her nineties, after an unbroken run that also included long associations with House & Garden and Elle Décor. Her combination of a feverish work ethic, discriminating eye, extensive connections in international high society (she was a fixture in the Social Register), and endless curiosity made her a valued talent scout and interior stylist with a keen instinct for the next and best new thing. Byron was known as much for her resourcefulness as for her superb taste, demonstrated when she arrived at a Colorado ski lodge she was having shot and discovered that, contrary to the architect’s assurances, it was absolutely empty. With characteristic forcefulness, she quickly convinced the Denver showroom of Knoll International to deliver enough floor samples to fully furnish it almost overnight and got a gallery to provide suitable artworks. However, even the young architects she was always eager to promote found this perfectionist to be a demanding taskmaster. Tod Williams, whose work she championed early on, once confided to me what a harrowing experience it was to be dragooned by her when she published a house by him and Billie Tsien in House & Garden. It was there, from the time of my arrival as a senior editor in 1979 until her forced departure as architecture editor in 1988 (S.I. Newhouse, Jr. Condé Nast’s board chairman, had decreed “Architecture is death”—that is to say, not a moneymaker) that we forged a most unlikely but fruitful partnership, sometimes contentious but always rewarding. I had unflagging confidence in Elizabeth’s impeccable taste, left it to her to decide what should be published, and we very rarely disagreed. Our good cop/bad cop routine was an essential division of labor, since her role in acquiring projects gave me, as the critic, complete freedom to honestly assess a project, which was not at all typical of the adulatory tone of such magazines at that time, and quite the opposite of our principal rival, Architectural Digest. Well before my arrival at House & Garden, she had already run houses by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Charles Moore, Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, and Michael Graves, whose work she became familiar with from her diligent attendance at lectures and exhibitions at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, the period’s hothouse of innovative thought and practice. Among the major figures we introduced to a mass readership were Frank Gehry in 1980, Arata Isozaki and Steven Holl in 1983, and Thom Mayne and his then partner Michael Rotondi in 1984. I even concurred with some of her less-than-avant-garde enthusiasms, such as Hugh Newell Jacobsen. But although Jacobsen’s skillful amalgams of traditional and modernist forms were not to my personal taste, I always accepted that such expertly executed middle-of-the-road design was required in a periodical aimed at a broad national audience. Elizaveta Vladimirovna Sverbeeva (as her name was sometimes spelled in one of several variations of Cyrillic orthography) was born on August 28, 1923, in Berlin, where her paternal grandfather, Sergei Nikolaievich Sverbeyeff, had served as the last Russian Imperial ambassador to Germany and played an important but ultimately unsuccessful role in trying to avert the outbreak of World War I. Her father, Vladimir Sergeyevich Sverbeyeff, was a physician, and her mother, Countess Mariya Alexeievna Belevskaya-Zhukovskaya, descended from the most colorful, and some thought scandalous, branch of the Russian Imperial House of Romanov. Byron’s great-great-grandfather was Tsar Alexander II, who married his mistress just one month after the death of his wife, Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna. But because Alexander II’s adventurous son, Grand Duke Alexei-- who made a widely publicized tour of the US in 1871-1872 that included a buffalo hunt in Nebraska with General Custer and Buffalo Bill Cody-- married the daughter of the Romantic poet Vasily Zhukovsky (the era’s foremost Russian writer after Pushkin but nonetheless a commoner), the couple was barred from the line of succession. A new family name, Belevsky-Zhukovsky, was devised for their offspring. In 2006, the New York Public Library acquired a trove of Belevsky-Zhukovsky family memorabilia from Byron, whom I used to call Elizaveta Vladimirovna in traditional Russian patronymic fashion. However, that same year she refused an invitation to attend the State Funeral re-interment of the remains of her kinfolk Tsar Nicholas II and his family in St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Cathedral because of her opposition to Vladimir Putin. When the Russian Revolution abruptly ended her grandfather’s diplomatic career, Ambassador Sverbeyeff and his family fled to Berlin, which during the Weimar Republic became the largest White Russian expatriate community in Europe. The rise of Hitler spurred a second mass exodus of Russian aristocrats, this time to Paris, where Elizabeth Sverbeyeff was educated and lived until immigrating to the US. In New York in 1947 she married Alexandre Tarsaidze, the much-older scion of a noble Georgian family who wrote several books on Russian royal history. They divorced in 1953. Her second husband, whom she wed in 1965, was the Harvard-educated art dealer Charles Byron-Patrikiades. He died in 2013, and she leaves no immediate survivors. Remarkably, she was able to advocate the finest in new architecture for more than half a century to a general readership almost at the same time as it was being published initially in professional journals, rather than afterward in the typical trickle-down sequence of cultural accretion. Her eagerness even in the last days of her life to keep up with the latest developments in all the arts remained a constant inspiration to me. So was her unflagging joy in the douceur de vivre. As a friend who was with her at the very end told me, “She just went out like a candle,” an apt metaphor for the illumination she gave. Dosvedanya, Elizaveta Vladimirovna.
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In Memoriam

American arts and architecture commissioner Anne Bass dies at 78
On April 1, Anne Bass, influential investor and patron of the arts, died at the age of 78. Bass famously commissioned the Bass House, one of the most ambitious residential designs by the modernist architect Paul Rudolph, completed in Fort Worth in 1976. According to Paper City Magazine, Anne and her husband Sid Bass commissioned Rudolph to design with little constraints other than its need to house a complex spatial program with a contemporary-art gallery for the couple’s extensive art collection. Aerial drawings of the house suggest its layout and dynamic cantilevers were inspired by Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark residence constructed four decades prior. Like other projects within Rudolph’s body of work, the home is divided into a dizzying 12 levels with 14 distinct ceiling heights, one of which defines the home’s entrance beneath a 40-foot-long cantilever. “The ideal of weight and counterweight, similar to the movement of the human body, became the genesis of the house,” Rudolph reportedly said of the design. Anne became a well-known figure in landscape architecture circles as well after commissioning Russell Page, the British gardener famously responsible for the landscaping of the Frick Museum, to design the sprawling grounds of the home. The Basses moved into a Rosario Candela-designed apartment building in New York City in the 1980s, where the haute couture Anne commissioned from the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, and Karl Lagerfeld is a part of the Metropolitan Museum collection. Rather than updating the apartment with modernist aesthetics as she had requested from Rudolph a decade prior, Bass called on legendary interior designer Mark Hampton to subtly update its 1920s detailing. “The vocabulary is traditional,” Anne explained, according to Vogue, “and it would have been a sin to remove it and make it totally modern.” Splitting her time between New York City and Fort Worth, Texas, Bass became publicly known as a philanthropist and champion of arts institutions including the New York City Ballet, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
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Clear Your Calendar, Again

Here are the major design events that have moved to 2021
When AN first compiled our list of events, fairs, and shows that had been postponed at the end of February due to the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the situation on the ground was very different than at the time of writing. With much of the world practicing social distancing or under orders not to leave the house, and the possibility of a protracted battle to contain the disease’s spread looming, some of the world’s largest design events have now rescheduled even further out and will take place next year. Below is just a selection of what’s been rescheduled to 2021; we’ll update this list as more information becomes available. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo Although much fanfare was made over the eight new venues, including Kengo Kuma’s timber Olympic Stadium, originally slated to host activities throughout the summer games, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will now take place in summer of 2021. The regular games will now be held from July 23, 2021, through August 8. Similarly, the Paralympics will now take place from August 24, 2021, through September 5. As it’s been noted, this leaves only six months between the end of the summer games and the start of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on February 4, 2022. The Tokyo Olympics have already radically changed the city, and the reorganization went far beyond the construction of new stadiums. As Atelier Bow Wow documented at Manhattan’s Japan Society last year in Made in Tokyo: Architecture and Living, 1964/2020, the capital flowing into the city primed it for a mass redevelopment, much as it did during the 1964 Summer Olympics. Everything from housing to transportation has been affected, but for international travelers, it may be quite some time before you can see that shift firsthand. Salone del Mobile.Milano Salone del Mobile in Milan—the world’s largest furniture trade show—was originally pushed from April 2020 to June, but last week news broke that the show will take place in April of 2021 instead. Citing “medium-term uncertainties” at a time when Milan is still under lockdown (although Italy’s weekly death toll is reportedly dropping due to the strict distancing measures imposed by the government), Salone’s organizers emphasized that a 2021 show would be extra special, given that it would be the 60th anniversary. The show will now overlap with several other trade festivals, and, in a press statement, organizers said that they hoped this confluence would jumpstart Milan’s economy:
“This single, great sector-wide trade fair will represent a fresh opportunity to pull together to revitalise our businesses, the entire supply chain that works in synergy with the Salone, and Milan.”
Expo 2020 Dubai While the much-hyped Expo 2020 Dubai, a worldwide showcase for innovative design, is still technically scheduled to open on October 20, 2020, that may soon change. Three days ago, the festival’s organizers gathered for a conference call and recommended that the expo be delayed for a year. “The UAE and Expo 2020 Dubai have listened. And in the spirit of solidarity and unity, we supported the proposal to explore a one-year postponement at today's Steering Committee meeting,” said Reem al-Hashimy, director general for Expo 2020 Dubai. According to Aljazeera, the United Arab Emirates has already spent upwards of $8 billion on infrastructure projects related to the expo, but with international travel currently locked down, it’s looking increasingly unlikely the event can proceed as planned. Elements of the show have already been partially installed, such as Asif Khan’s 70-foot-tall trio of entrance gateways. The final decision of whether to postpone or not will come in June, at the behest of Paris’s Bureau International des Expositions, who administers the international expo.
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Full Steam Ahead

LACMA continues demolition of original buildings amid quarantine
While construction sites around the world have been paused in their tracks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has decided to move ahead with its plans to demolish its structures on the site to prepare for the addition designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, now estimated to cost a total of $750 million. “Los Angeles is counting on us, more than ever, to keep our construction going,” Michael Govan, the director of LACMA, wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times. “Thousands of workers will be part of the project over the coming few years. LACMA will be an engine of job creation and economic recovery.” Construction barriers have been erected along the site over the last several months, while the four buildings in question—three designed by William Pereira as part of the original campus from 1965, and one designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates in 1986 to would represent the facade of the museum along Wilshire—have slowly been emptied of their contents and internal walls. Hoping to not lose momentum, the team hopes to finish the process and begin demolition this month to meet its completion deadline in 2024. LACMA representative Jessica Youn has expressed that the construction team on site is following the necessary protective measures in keeping with an official statement from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) released on March 31 that reads: “Construction industry employers shall develop a comprehensive COVID-19 exposure control plan, which includes control measures such as social distancing; symptom checking; hygiene; decontamination procedures, and training. An exposure control plan and the following practices must be followed to prevent any onsite worker from contracting COVID-19, as many people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and can potentially spread disease.” Temporary hand-washing stations have recently been installed throughout the site for the benefit of its construction workers. Meanwhile, Twitter has been alight with opposition to the plan to proceed as scheduled. Residents have generally expressed discomfort with the thought of living near an active construction site, while the local nonprofit SAVE LACMA has regarded the decision as a misuse of funds in uncertain times. On the same block, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which announced December 14 as an official opening date only two months ago, has paused all construction until further notice.
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Stop Trying to Make Fetch Happen

This 3D-printed doghouse can hold up to 1,000 tennis balls
The doghouse, that ubiquitous shelter found in backyards across the globe, has seen little in the way of innovation—that is until now. The Fetch House, developed by CallisonRTKL’s Dallas team, is a 3D-printed abode for our canine companions that simultaneously functions as a storage device for at least 1,000 tennis balls. The prototype was awarded Best in Show at the AIA Dallas’s 2019 Texas Bark + Build Design/Build competition. Following the form of a traditional pentagonal post-and-beam structure, the Fetch House is composed of a floor plate, three perpendicular elevations, and a gabled roof. The pattern of the facade is largely based off of the standard dimension of tennis balls, 2.7" by 2.7", which are offset and held in compression by plastic armatures. Once inserted, the tennis balls provide the canine inhabitants shade and ventilation by virtue of the structure’s cellular layout. No two dogs are the same, and the parametric design of the Fetch House allows for owners to customize the dimensions of the doghouse—the digital script used by CallisonRTKL includes plugins for height, weight, and breed. The customizability of the prototype is made simple through the modular fabrication of components, which can be easily snapped together without the aid of any tools or further equipment. For the design team, materiality was one of the greatest challenges of the prototype and they limited the total number to three types of plastic. “Trying to reduce the amount of print material used without compromising the structural integrity of the design was a challenge as the plastic would react differently depending on the print orientation and final orientation within the grid,” said CallisonRTKL vice president Brendan O'Grady. “We also had to make sure the individual pieces didn’t take too long to print so a number of prototypes were made throughout the design process to optimize the design and fine-tune the print settings.”