This year’s Park City offerings at the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals ranged from portraits of architects, a mayor with architectural dreams, a victim of the foreclosure crisis, those trapped in physical and dreamed spaces, and individuals exploring the cultural landscape. Always a harbinger of what is coming up, look out for these films and media projects coming to a screen near you. https://vimeo.com/117273601 Concrete Love. Gottfried Böhm, the only German architect ever to be lauded with a Pritzker Prize (1986) is part of a long line of architects, from his grandfather, father, wife, and three of his four sons. The film’s title refers not only to the Brutalist architecture he favored, but also the love between husband and wife, father and children. Concrete is a shape shifter, a malleable liquid that takes the form of its mold—an apt metaphor. The filmmaking is a sensitive, knowing guide that is as reflective of the creative process as the architectural work itself. A model film which won this year’s Goethe Documentary Film Prize where the jury noted “the film tells a multi-layered tale of love, the passion for architecture and four generations of German history. With sensitive observations, intimate interviews and stirring filmic explorations of an extraordinary architectural legacy, the film creates a lasting impression of the buildings and the people.” Chinese Mayor. This is a rare look at the inner workings of a Chinese city that is remaking itself under an ambitious mayor, Geng Tanbo, who permitted a film crew to follow him around for three years. His goal is to transform China’s coal capital, Datong, population 3.4 million, into a city of culture by rebuilding the structures of its heyday 1,600 years ago including city walls with museums inside, and grottos with Buddhist sculpture and murals—all without residents. He states that Datong can be a new Paris or Rome. This necessitates tearing down much of the existing city and relocating 30 percent of the population or a half million residents, giving the mayor the nickname “Demolition Geng” or “Geng Smash-Smash.” There is not an architect or planner in sight. One of the more interesting meetings takes place with a large group of other Chinese mayors and party secretaries who are all rebuilding their cities into cultural meccas (it is worth noting that mayors are appointed, not elected). Geng deals with corruption (a shady developer made off with $12 million), incompetence (sewer pipes too narrow), shoddy work (paving without cement), delays (hospitals and roads are way behind schedule) until he is suddenly removed from office and transferred to another city, leaving 125 construction projects in Datong halted indefinitely. 99 Homes. Against the backdrop of the 2008 housing foreclosure crisis, a hard-working and honest man (Michael Shannon), cannot save his family home. A real estate shark throws him a lifeline—an offer to join his crew and put others through the same harrowing ordeal of throwing families onto the street that he experienced in order to earn back his home. A portrait of a man whose integrity has become ensnared in this recent American meltdown. The Wolfpack. Locked away from society in public housing on the Lower East Side, the Angulo brothers learn about the outside world through the films that they watch, which they re-enact with homemade props and costumes. Everything changes when one of the brothers escapes, and the power dynamics in the house are transformed. A claustrophobic environment explodes. Forbidden Room. Guy Maddin’s familiar art-house filmmaking takes the locales of “forbidden” spaces—bathrooms, submarines, volcano, caves, elevators and gets lost in non-linear, episodic, absurdist storylines. An ode to the silent movie era, the visuals, sound and story are layered, while color schemes morph into one another. The Nightmare. Following his exploration of the hotel that inspired Kubrick’s The Shining, director Rodney Ascher now investigates the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, the trap between the sleeping and waking worlds. Eerie dramatizations of what the subjects see are created in an architectural moodscape. New Frontier exhibition, Dérive. In this installation, in the distance, you see a city glistening in the dark. The closer you get to it, the larger the city grows until it engulfs you in its presence. This interactive projection is driven by the viewer’s body motions to explore 3-D reconstructions of urban and natural spaces that are being transformed according to live environmental data, including meteorological and astronomical phenomena. Station to Station. Visual artist Doug Aitken embarked on a nomadic experiment of art creation, exhibition and participation in summer 2013 (see AN coverage of its launch from Williamsburg). Station to Station chronicles a train that crossed North America over 24 days making 10 stops, with a rotating roster of artists, musicians, and curators, who collaborated in the creation of recordings, artworks, films, yurts and happenings, across the country. Comprised of 61 individual one-minute films that form a high-speed trip through today’s culture. Films/Media Directors: 99 Homes, Ramin Bahrani Chinese Mayor,Hao Zhou Concrete Love, Maurizius Staerkle Drux Dérive, François Quévillon Forbidden Room, Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson The Nightmare, Rodney Ascher Station to Station, Doug Aitken The Wolfpack, Crystal Moselle
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At the Aronson Galleries at the New School, a wall of pickle jars taped with black-and-white cutout portraits of twenty dictators lines the windowsill. A standard 8 ½ x 11 paper sign invites visitors to Pick Your Own Dick by placing a poker chip in a jar. Chairman Mao, a world-class “dick” whose Cultural Revolution starved and murdered millions of Chinese, and Turkish President Erdogan, an elected Muslim fundamentalist morphing into a military strongman, handily won opening night. Romancing True Power: D20, the mischievous exhibition designed by Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss of NAO and conceived by Nina Khrushcheva, associate dean and professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School, cheekily invites public debate about the nature of and difference between types of dictatorship, taking special glee in thumbing its nose at ostentatious symbols of power. The exhibit was accompanied by a journal compiled by Khrushcheva with Yiqing Wang-Holborn and by a book of graphic novellas designed as a result of Weiss’s seminar on new ideologies at Columbia GSAPP, both profiling selected dictators and their trappings. The co-curators selected twenty of the world’s biggest dictators—dicks for short, according to the lingua franca of the exhibition—considering them by various yardsticks and quantitative measures. It’s a pun that offers itself willingly and fluently throughout, and why not? Mark Halprin may have had to resign as an analyst at MSNBC in 2011 for disrespectfully characterizing President Obama’s as acting like “kind of a dick” after a press conference, but it’s good to know there’s still some humor left in academia. In the exhibition space, celebratory tchotchkes and representative “dick kitsch” adorns a roomful of stacked white cubes Scotch-taped with information about each leader. On the gallery walls, informational print-outs graph in three dimensions the greatness or infamy each of the selected dictators, and a video collects scenes of the symbolic displays of power—choreographed military parades, building-scale posters, salutes--that are the trappings of authoritarianism. In the hallway, a hall of dictators designed by NAO composed of photocopied black-and-white sheets invites you to compare each dick’s stature—with the exception of Margaret Thatcher all of the prime examples chosen are men—and each is crowned by his dick palace. Inflected by a distinctly Slavic black-humor, underlying Romancing True Power is an academically rigorous examination of the forms dictatorship takes relative to different systems of government. Most of the exemplars are conventionally accepted members of the group: President Vladimir Putin, a true dick by any standard, evinces a visible pleasure in flamboyant dissembling, willfully erratic behavior, and contempt for his opponents. Putin is joined as co-representative of Russia by his typological predecessor, Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Community Party of the Soviet Union, one of the great mass-murderers and political assassins of all time: another order of dick altogether. Vice President Dick Cheney, great fabricator of post 9-11 conspiracies and silencer of political opponents, is placed alongside another legendary Dick, President Nixon, known as Tricky Dick long before he was uncovered spying on Democratic opponents during the Watergate scandal and forced to resign. Khrushcheva and Weiss selected the twenty dicks in a lively debate while developing the book and exhibition, and created appendixes listing second and third tier adherents of the club. The European fascists of the WWII era fall into this latter category, along with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, currently a leading proponent of the genocidal category; possibly they’re too intellectually obvious and uncomplicated to make the first cut. Apart from academic credentials Nina Khrushcheva had special access to this field: she is the great-granddaughter of Soviet First Secretary of the Community Party Nikita Khrushchev, an honorary third-tier dick notorious for taking his shoe off and banging it on the table for emphasis at the UN. The twenty chosen “dicks,” the D20, are offered as a counterpoint to the G20, the leaders of the world’s 20 most industrialized countries who meet in Geneva each year to decide the fate of the international economy. The sole function of the twenty dicks, by contrast, seems to be to intimidate, harass, punish, dominate, silence, and display their true power. That is, their dickpower. The beauty of the show at the New School is the opposite. It constructs a public display about dictatorship that is itself an open public debate. The opening night panel discussion with Bobby Ghosh, a CNN Global Affairs analyst, exposed that debate to public scrutiny. Its exhibits are all paper monuments created samizdat style, in the manner of the Soviet dissidents of old, who secretly distributed photocopies of books and political pamphlets as handmade productions that were no less important because of their improvised character. Both the exhibition and the hardcover journal, available as an online journal, with informative chapters such as “Dicks and their Love of Sports” and “Dicks and their Music,” repudiates abuse of power by making it the subject of debate, play, and mockery. Nothing is as worthy of ridicule as the exercise of dickpower.
Sketch to Structure Heinz Architectural Center Carnegie Museum of Art Pittsburgh Through May 20, 2015 The concept and visual for Sketch to Structure, an exhibition that has just opened at Pittsburg's Heinz Architectural Center, is so cogent and well thought out it's a wonder no other museum hasn't already staged such a show. The exhibit is curated by Alyssum Skjeie of the Heinz Center and takes the architectural design process and divides it into four discrete sections—concept, collaboration, communication, case studies—each with drawings and renderings taken from the center's own collection. "Concept" begins with loose hand drawings like Richard Neutra's for the Los Angeles County Hall of Records and attempts to highlight how architects think through drawing implements—whether sketching, constructing a rough model, a quick watercolor, or increasingly, using computer models. Then, perhaps the most socially constructed section, "Collaboration," makes clear that architects work in office teams with other designers and with engineers, etc.—a process not recognized enough in exhibitions on architecture. This process is highlighted with drawings from Winold Reiss' four schemes for the Savarin Restaurant at Penn Station in New York City. The third part of the exhibit, "Communication," uses drawings, renderings, and models from the early 20th century to convey, as the curator claims, "a nearly final design." This is a large jump from Collaboration, but perhaps the final section, "Case Studies," clarifies, or brings together, what communication in an architectural practice means in a practical working condition. Case studies, the exhibit asserts, "pieces the parts of this process together, with groupings of models, renderings, drawings, and elevations on seven separate projects, illustrating how the other three exhibition sections work together in the larger design process." It might be argued that this chronological presentation is too linear and that architectural design moves back and forth across these sections, but the exhibition stakes a claim for this process and attempts to highlight it through strong visual examples. The exhibit will feature drawings by Lorcan O'Herlihy, James Wines, and the French firm Jakob + MacFarlane. If only this show were in New York, closer to my home! If your anywhere near the Steel City, go see this exhibition and let us know what you think of the sections.
Emanuele Piccardo and Amit Wolf's "Beyond Environment" explores American naturalism and European urbanity
The 1972 MOMA exhibition, The New Domestic Landscape, featured the unique voices and high designs coming from Italy (particularly Florence) during the period. It was a design interpretation of "Counter Culture" lifestyles coming from American college campuses and media interrupted by the young generation of Italian designers that called themselves radicals practicing "Superarchitettura." What comes through in the drawings, videos, and objects in the show is that while much of the work foregrounds a "hippie" return to nature how truly urban Italian design thinking was during the period. Now a new text, Beyond Environment, by Emanuele Piccardo and Amit Wolf, details the difference between the American Thoreau and Olmsted influenced belief in the redemptive power of nature and the Italian (or European) belief in the centrality of urban space as the basis of societal life. It does through the art and architecture experiments of Gianni Pettena, the only one of the Italian radicals to spend time working in the United States. In an interview Pettena conducted in Salt Lake City with Robert Smithson for Domus magazine in 1972 they discussed landscape and urbanism: Smithson began, "I would say mainly in Europe I would have to work in a quarry or in a mining area, because everything is so cultivated in terms of Church or aristocracy"…Pettena replied, "I think I understand why you prefer dismissed areas rather than untouched areas. But the fact is that for me those areas are still too natural." Smithson replied "I think you have to find a site that is free of scenic meaning. Scenery has too many built-in meanings." To which Pettena responded "I'm thinking that perhaps you are able to do something in a town in Europe…while you are not able to do something in a town here." Pettena defended his urban preference in a series of installation-like sculptures in Minneapolis and Utah where he brought this Italian urban sensibility to the very heart of America. His 1972 metal frame tower Tumbleweeds Catcher in Utah is an attempt to coalesce the disunity and incomprehensibly of the American landscape into a single urban tower.
Keith Krumwiede’s Freedomland, an exhibition of architectural misfits, suburban follies, and developer nightmares, that just closed at the Princeton University School of Architecture Gallery, defies easy categorization. The pulse of the work is strong, its intention clear: to satirize the cringe-worthy packaging and wholesaling of a particular strain of the American dream of mass-produced, individualized suburban living by Toll Brothers and others through a series of reconfigured catalogue house plans. Producing their own kind of suburban fantasy, these new, recombinant figures populate an expandable Jeffersonian grid, complete with estate names like “Neo-Palladian Acres” and “The Villas at Broad Acres.” Several scenes of Freedomland are rendered as oil paintings after well-known American pastoral tableaux (in the show, the images are projected, but they were actually “painted” in China, of course). Others are shown as meticulously drafted arrangements of estates into neighborhoods and townships, each following—in their imaginary histories—a strict narrative of “cyclical regeneration” aimed at ensuring the vision of Freedomland as the most superior settlement plan in the history of American town planning (so claims the “literature”). A third part of the project, called A Game of Homes, pushes the representational qualities of the work toward absurd ends in a series of compound plans and elevations derived from the banal graphics of the catalogue drawings. At the center of any satirical project, whether political or social in nature, is a question of the target and the audience. If there is no correlation between the intended subject of the criticism and those meant to understand the attack, little friction exists, and little progress can be made. In other words, when one preaches to the choir, he rarely faces resistance. In the case of Freedomland, it is doubtful that any of the presumed targets—Toll Brothers, David Weekley Homes, etc.—have much to do with the world comprising the audience, that is, a certain subset of students and academically-minded architects interested in testing the discursive limits of architecture and urbanism. If not in its satirical function, the value of Freedomland as a pedagogic exercise may be in its extensions out into the discipline, both its recent past and current provocations. The Stirlingesque aggregations of A Game of Homes (thus far only in its infancy as an experimental planning mechanism), for example, suggest preliminarily a different model of housing that is much more radical about its programmatic and spatial ambitions than most proposals today. Likewise, the gesturing of Freedomland toward the difficult typological and graphic expressions of firms like Dogma and KGDVS, in which the idea of absence is often more powerfully represented than presence, brings the work into poignant dialogue with contemporary architecture, narrative, and social function. Ultimately, perhaps the greatest value of Freedomland is that it forces us, however timidly, to reconsider not only the current state of housing and its political, economic, and social structures, but also the nature of planning proposals in general, ranging from the polemical to the possible.
Forget "home is where the heart is." Home is where the art is—or so argues the latest show from the El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA). HOME isn't your typical art exhibition, just as ESMoA isn't your typical art museum. (In fact, ESMoA prefers the terms "experience" and "laboratory," respectively. ) The experience, which runs through February 1, 2015, invites visitors to re-evaluate their personal definitions of art, the home, and—most especially—art in the home. On the one hand, HOME offers a tutorial in creative collection."It's a little bit about the home being the first place people take art, decide to live with art and look at it in daily life," said curator Bernhard Zuenkeler. On the other hand, the experience suggests that art has the power to transform the spaces it occupies, and the people who adopt it. HOME is constructed as a series of rooms, each correlated to an area of the home, and each furnished with fixtures, wall coverings, and flooring. "We of course love to play with stuff, a big museum couldn't do that," said Zuenkeler, pointing out the crocodile-green floor in the "living room." "We have things that are not, from an art-historical point of view, totally correct. But we show that when you put art in your home, pieces always talk to one another—it's impossible to have a vacuum." Juxtaposition—of, say, works by Golden Age artists and Los Angeles up-and-comers—is a theme of the show, intended to convey the productive power of difference. Most of the artwork featured in HOME deals with home, or architecture, on some level. Jan van Goyen's painting of a 17th-century tavern is accompanied by work by Bernd and Hilla Becher, also depicting houses. Other works, like a conceptual piece by Flora Kao, point to the collapse of the American dream. In the show's log-cabin room, its walls covered in rough timber, a painting by Max Liebermann suggests a desire to escape the confines of home. Home security (and, more broadly, homeland security) is another motif. Cole Sternberg's reclaimed shooting targets occupy the entrance, near which stands a Honda CB750 motorcycle. "It's now a total classic," remarked Zuenkeler of the bike first manufactured in 1969. "But visitors today forget that when it was introduced, this motorcycle was a threat to the entire American industry. People at that time were totally afraid of the Japanese. Sometimes you have to trust what you let into the home." ESMoA's HOME acknowledges what Zuenkeler said too many art-world denizens are unwilling to admit. "For a lot of people who are not used to art, the question is: 'do I want to live with this piece of art?'" he said. "Often it starts with, 'Does this piece of art match my sofa?'" HOME offers an alternative path to building a personal art collection, said Zuenkeler, one that challenges the conventions of both museum curation and DIY home decoration. "I would rather say, 'Get the sofa redone according to your art.'"
[Editor's Note: The Venice Architecture Biennale is still on through November 23 and it's still proving to be controversial. Professor Peter Lang shares his thoughts on Rem Koolhaas' event here.] A Tale about the Magician Koolhaas who plays Prospero, lives on an island in the Venetian Laguna, and brings a Tempest to the Venice Biennale. Miranda: O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't. —William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203–206 (Aldous Huxley quoted this line from the Tempest for the title of his dystopian novel Brave New World published in 1931) In choosing to take a different perspective on the 14th edition of the Architecture Biennale in Venice directed by Rem Koolhaas, I decided to skip the standard blow-by-blow critique, and instead confront what I believe is the greatest enigma behind this controversial event. Up till now, the majority of critics taking a look at this year’s exhibition find fault with Koolhaas’ method, not so much with his madness. But the key to the exhibition is not in its studied aloofness, but in its insubordination—Koolhaas is determined to shake up the Biennale institution by any means possible. In all likelihood it didn’t start out this way. Koolhaas went about his business to remake the Biennale as did any major curator in the past, but Koolhaas is ambitious, and he set the stakes very high. To remake the Biennale, Koolhaas would need to dismantle the entire institution in order to rid it of its nearly century old infrastructure, complete with archaic “nationalist” pavilions, an array of inflexible labyrinthine spaces and gigantean maritime buildings, and a legacy of incredibly dated architectural categories. Koolhaas must at some point hit a frustrating impasse, compelling him to look for alternative best practices. It might have been around then that he hit upon the Tempest. The Tempest has an incredible allure for the kind of intellectual figure who won’t be compromised. The Shakespearean play itself lives on and on: it morphs continuously through time into an incredibly wondrous amalgam of human drama and personal transcendence. The Tempest is a malleable condition, and can double as a playbook for utopian practices, a manual for post-colonial discourse, or a stage for feverish fantasies. Prospero, the ex-Duke of Milan was a man of great vision and curiosity. While his methods may not be commonly practiced today, he would be of great inspiration to someone like Koolhaas who also faced insurmountable odds. Prospero ruled by sorcery, commanded over an army of slaves, spirits, half humans and fairies. His supernatural powers were based on his immense intellect, drawn from his great library in Milan of which a portion accompanied him in his escape from the city. His strongest affections are reserved for his daughter, Miranda. But the most important cue Koolhaas probably takes from Prospero is dramaturgical, that all spectacle is one big illusion, and that the scenes and characters are but figments of one’s imagination. Prospero evokes the “stuff dreams are made on.” He reveals the insubstantial world of the theatrical craft, masking fiction from truth. Continue reading the rest of Peter Lang's essay here.
The recent 2014 Tribeca Film Festival screened a remarkable number of films on displacement. People were displaced from their homes—often forced but sometimes voluntary—for financial reasons, discrimination, landlord harassment (or irritation), and natural disasters. In the film Below Dreams, which takes place in New Orleans, a character says “Everybody needs a room.” Here are a few seekers. An arts colony of puppeteers, performers, acrobats, and magicians live in the Kathputli Colony in the Shadipur neighborhood of central New Delhi in a 50-year old shanty town built on government land. Tomorrow We Disappear follows Puran the Puppeteer, Rahman the Magician, and Maya the Acrobat as their way of life is threatened. The land they live on has been deeded to a developer who plant to build Raheja Phoenix, the city’s tallest skyscraper. What distinguishes this population is that they are working artists, not beggars. It’s a universal problem—think of the evicted residents of Carnegie Hall studios.The poignancy of their problem and the limited solutions offered are palpable. A true New York real estate and relationship story is Love is Strange (screenshot at top), where a long-time gay couple (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina) marry, promoting the firing of the main breadwinner by the Catholic school where he teaches music. Forced to sell their beloved apartment, which they bought when it went coop after decades of renting, they wind up with a mere $17,000 after the 25 percent flip tax, broker’s fee, and sales tax, so they wind up living separately, bunking in with friends and family, in very unhappy circumstances. They apply for subsidized housing, instructed to do so directly to developers for low-income apartments in mandated set-asides awarded by lottery (they qualify by making less than $20,000 between the two). By chance they score a rent-controlled $1,500/month apartment on Morton Street, but by then it’s too late for them. One Year Lease (winner Best Documentary Short) chronicles the short-lived stay of a gay couple in a Manhattan apartment they’ve lovingly fixed up. The building is owned by a persistent, unintentionally funny landlady who lives directly above, and who we only hear on the many voicemail messages she leaves. First friendly, if intrusive—she worries about their cat, wants their discards—she grows more irritated as they clearly ignore her requests/demands. They flee after one short year due to nudging. Filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski grew up at 70 Hester Street, a former Roumanian synagogue (Congregation Shaarey Shamoyim) cum illegal whisky still cum raincoat and plastic shower curtain factory that his artist parents, Thomas Nozkowski and Joyce Robins, rented in 1967. The 1860-1880 (date uncertain) building was sold in 2012 forcing his parents to vacate. The two-storied apartment, with the railed upper balcony floor for Jewish women worshipers and the lower floor for men, round stained glass star window and skylights, is filled with art, and is a loving reminder of a rich, happy life lived here. At least the building is slated to become gallery and cafe space. Of Many is the story of a rabbi and an imam, both at NYU, who work together to catalyze multi-faith collaborations between their student worshipers. The safe space they find is rebuilding homes after natural disasters in New Orleans and Joplin, Missouri: disaster knocks down the house, and then it breaks downing barriers. The Gaza strip, however, proves more difficult. Also of interest is Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary. In addition to Bjarke Ingels talking about his Lego Towers (exhibited at Storefront) and his upcoming Lego Museum, we also meet Adam Reid Tucker, a self-proclaimed “failed architect” who is now the firm’s architectural artist. On his own steam, he crafted a architectural landmarks in Legos that was noticed by the firm which decided to create sets for sale called Lego Architecture. They now include the Willis Tower, John Hancock Center, Empire State Building, Guggenheim Museum, Fallingwater, Sydney Opera House and more. Other Lego projects that focus on the built environment are the MIT City Scene Project which is “visioning” Cambridge, Mass, and Zoom, an educational mapping program being used in Brazil and elsewhere. A few films make use of interesting architectural settings: In Order of Disappearance features a Modernist cast-concrete and stone house in Norway as the home of a mob boss (what is it with Modernism as a symbol of villainy?) with armchairs of molded women’s faces pointing outward and a room filled with white hand sculptures, which is contrasted with another mob boss’s headquarters in a prop rental house full of chandeliers, wooden bureaus, vitrines, and tables. A nearby unnamed city has new skyscrapers with different building tops, some stepped, some sloped, set against a snowy white backdrop. Incident Urbain features two men talking about the Dominique Perrault Building, the Biblioteque Nacional, as they wander through it. There is much discussion about the use of glass and the cinema Perrault was forced to build under protest, while the film intercuts between architectural models and the built buildings. Back home, Match begins with Patrick Stewart’s dance teacher giving instruction at Diller, Scofidio + Renfro’s Juilliard rehearsal rooms at Lincoln Center. He goes home to Inwood with shots of an arched subway station entrance, a flight of pedestrian steps, and rooftops vistas of the George Washington Bridge.
Total Reset: Institute for Public Architecture Symposium Tackles Affordable Housing in New York City
The history of affordable housing in the United States has always centered on efforts—research, architectural prototypes, and creative financing—undertaken in New York City. From early philanthropic models like the late 19th century Cobble Hill Tower Homes, the 1911 Vanderbilt-sponsored Cherokee Model Apartments, and the 1930s Amalgamated Dwellings on the Lower East Side, virtually all early advancement in housing reform in this country began in New York City. Beyond philanthropic models, New York has also birthed the most important organizations advancing the cause of affordable housing—from the Phipps Houses to the Regional Planning Association and the Rockefeller-era Urban Development Corporation. These organizations not only realized models of affordable housing like Sunnyside Gardens in Queens and Via Verde in the Bronx but theorized creative options for affordable housing in capitalist economies like the United States. It is no mistake that New York alone of all American cities has a diverse array of housing options for low- and even moderate-income residents that is the envy of the rest of the country. In the tradition of these New York advocacy organizations there is a new group that promises to continue New York's leadership in the field of affordable housing. The organization—Institute for Public Architecture (IPA)—was founded in 2009 by architect Jonathan Kirschenfeld (for which he has just been honored by the New York State AIA with the inaugural Henry Hobson Richardson Award). Its mission is not focused simply on housing, but on the larger subject of promoting socially engaged architecture. In its first year of programming it organized an exhibition and discussion on Marcus Garvey Village in Brownsville, Brooklyn and an exhibition, Low Rise High Density, that highlighted an obvious but all-too-often overlooked condition of urban housing focused on scale and density. In an attempt to keep the spotlight on housing—specifically the crises of affordability affecting most American cities and New York in particular—the institute organized a symposium, Total Reset, based on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's recent promise to reset the city's public and affordable housing policies. Total Reset brought professional planners, scholars, architects, and housing organization directors together with housing and neighborhood activists. The symposium, held at Columbia's Studio X, began with three case studies: the "Vienna Model" on contemporary municipal housing in the Austrian capital (which I presented) and new New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Turnkey and Modernization programs by James McCullar; "Reimagining Brownsville" by Nadine Maleh; and finally Rick Gropper and Richard Weinstock of L+M Development Partners presented their firm’s facade restoration and refinancing of a 1,093-unit Mitchell-Lama residential complex in Far Rockaway, Queens. Then, more importantly, the symposium was opened up to activists from community organizations and leaders of various New York housing authorities to discuss the real, on-the-ground problems of maintaining and creating housing in the city. The discussion focused on issues of what to do with public housing in the face of drastic federal funding cuts amid enormous housing shortages and needs. Several panelists talked about the anchoring role that public housing has played in poor communities and how this is threatened by the lack of support and ongoing infrastructure improvements. One of the most controversial issues tackled by panelists was the role that the discourses on privatization would have on the city and that human needs should come before corporate profits. The afternoon was left for Peter Marcuse, the long-time Columbia planner who made the argument that for housing to really work there is a need today "for a fundamental rethinking and considering of all social benefits of housing not just having a focus on profits." Another panelist, Nicholas Bloom, suggested that the institute's next housing meeting should take place in a NYCHA facility. That's exactly what the organization plans to do next fall. There is no other city where the conversation on public housing is taking place at the level that the IPA intends and that's why New York will continue to lead the country in creative ideas and solutions to house that part of the population locked out of the private marketplace.
At this year’s SXSW Festival, engineering took center stage in the documentary DamNation (directors Travis Rummel & Ben Knight), which won the Documentary Spotlight Audience Award. It begins with America’s rash of dam-building under FDR when these mammoth structures were considered man-made wonders. Hoover and Grand Coulee are the large-scale examples, but there were about 80,000 smaller dams built across the country. That level of admiration has collapsed as we have come to understand that dam construction went overboard and the consequences were detrimental to wildlife and the environment—and may not have provided the energy, shipping, irrigation, drinking water, and flood control that was expected (who knew that high levels of methane gas are released from reservoir surfaces?). About a quarter of existing dams are considered highly hazardous, and only 2,540 actually produce hydropower, accounting for approximately nine percent of U.S. energy supply. Further, dams block salmon and other fish migration (if it stops the water, it stops the fish…and the entire ecosystem) and degrades water quality by blocking flow. The politics of “reclamation” is questioned. The argument for dam removal is eloquently and humorously made. Think of the definition of dam: “To obstruct or restrain the flow.” Also scaling an engineering feat, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, is the film Impossible Light (director Jeremy Ambers) which chronicles Leo Villeareal’s 25,000 LED lights Bay Lights project, the world’s largest light sculpture at 1.8 miles long and 500 feet high. The nightly dust-to-dawn light show is streamed online at thebaylights.org. Considered the ugly stepsister of the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge is actually complex of two bridges (one double-suspension, the other cantilever) comprising one of the longest spans of any in the States. The bridge has been enlivened by this installation which was a political and technical accomplishment as much as an artistic one, not unlike the erection of the bridge itself. Another determined artist who scales buildings is dancer Elizabeth Streb. Not just a choreographer, she has been called an “extreme action architect” for the gravity-defying movement she calls “Popaction.” In Born to Fly (director Catherine Gund), we not only follow her dancers in their Williamsburg studio but go to the London Olympics where they are suspended from Norman Foster’s Millennium Bridge, climb the spokes of the London Eye Ferris Wheel, leap in Trafalgar Square, and walk down the curved glass facade of Foster’s City Hall. Eleanor Ambos Interiors (director Andrew Michael Ellis) shows the eccentric 86-year old interior designer who has collected buildings as well as furnishings. She now rents out these spaces for events and photo shoots. The buildings were acquired to warehouse her ever-growing collection that she originally used to furnish her clients’ homes, but she just couldn’t stop. The Metropolitan Building in Long Island City is one, and others are in Hudson, NY. Losing her sight to macular degeneration has slowed but not stopped Eleanor. Print the Legend (directors Luis Lopez & Clay Tweel) on 3D printing, Font Men (director Dress Code) about typeface designers, and Pioneer Palace (director Andrew McAllister) about a town that was originally an Old West motion picture set built in the 1940s and the revived honky-tonk Pappy and Harriet’s, are among the other selections. Profiles of artists included Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace (director Jeff Dupre), David Hockney IN THE NOW (in six minutes) (director Lucy Walker), Obey the Artist (director Ondi Timoner) about Shepard Fairey, best known for the Obama "Hope" poster, and The Case of the Three Sided Dream (director Adam Kahan) about jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk which will be playing at the IFC Center on June 11 as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival.
If/Then Richard Rogers Theater 226 West 46th Street, New York Scheduled to play through October 12, 2014 THINK OF EACH PLAZA, PIER, AND PUBLIC PARK— HOW MANY SIT THERE EMPTY, LONELY, DARK— The Broadway musical If/Then starts in Madison Square Park with its unmistakable folding seats, tables, and umbrellas, a signature of Janette Sadik-Khan’s overhauling of public spaces during the Bloomberg administration. In this musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (the team behind Next to Normal) city planner Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) returns to New York from Arizona where she’s just gotten out of a failed marriage—and urban sprawl. YOU AND I, WE CAN DRAW A BRAND-NEW GRID. EVERYTHING THAT YOU DREAMED OF AS A KID. If New York is a place of infinite possibilities, then Elizabeth has choices, here pared down to two. Should she be called Beth or Liz; should she meet up with her daring new lesbian neighbor or her old college community organizer former boyfriend (who is now also gay); should she take a job in the city’s department of planning or teach the subject? ENDING THE NIGHT AT TWENTY-THIRD AND THIRD... LIZ AND HER DATE, WHO’S HANGING ON EACH WORD... Color coding helps us keep her two-track story choices straight (as well as eyeglasses for Liz, none for Beth). The metaphor of planning a city and planning a life are clear, but the frisson for New Yorkers who care about the built environment are the specific references. ON A GODFORSAKEN STREET OUT WHERE BUSHWICK TURNS TO QUEENS IS A HOME FOR A MAN OF EXTREMELY MEAGER MEANS There are songs called "A Map of New York" and "Ain’t No Man Manhattan," and references to current issues and locations in the five boroughs. WITH THE ARTIST DOWN IN RED HOOK WHO LOST THE PLACE HE WORKS IN SO YOU COULD BUILD SOME CONDOS ON THE WATER? There’s talk about the Harlem riverfront, Long Island City, Roosevelt Island, as well as design competitions, eliminating luxury towers in favor of (affordable) housing units, and reconfiguring plazas. In her Amanda Burden incarnation, Beth wins the American Planning Association’s Burnham Prize. WE NEVER WALK A STRAIGHT LINE. WE NEVER CHECK A STREET SIGN. The set features a mirrored overhang that reflect the action, a nice touch that emphasizes the theme, but also allows us to view the staged machinations like choreography and reflect on the double-sided nature of things. The rest of the set is trusses, scaffolds, frames, stairs and catwalks. If only New York City wondered about its Sliding Doors options the way that Elizabeth does hers. What if we didn’t have that zoning change that allowed air rights? Or we had saved Penn Station? Or if Robert Moses had built the Lower Manhattan Expressway across Soho? What might the city be like today? ON THE WEST SIDE A RAILYARD IS RECLAIMED... WAITING TO BE REBUILT AND THEN RENAMED... Menzel made her reputation in the original Rent 18 years ago, which explored the gentrification of the Lower East Side in the 1980s in the age of AIDS. Nearly 20 years later, the play ends with the rebuilding of the new Penn Station. LET’S MAKE A MAP OF NEW YORK, YOU AND ME. [ALL CAPS are lyrics by Brian Yorkey.]
With the plethora of contemporary art on view in New York during Armory Arts week, it has been instructive to note the contribution by architects to the design of these temporary exhibition spaces, and the use of interesting architectural spaces. The fairs are often held in structures originally used for other purposes — piers, parking facilities, drill halls — so the task has been to not only carve out space for display, but to move viewers (and buyers) with flexibility and ease and to provide an enticing environment. Fair organizers have turned to young architects for these interior layouts, or have chosen compelling venues. Piers 92 and 94, the site of the Armory Show, was designed by Bade Stageberg Cox (BSC), as they have since 2012. The theme this year is “Thresholds,” and the intention is to slow down the sprint through the seemingly endless rows of displays. The large ticket desk is a transitional space to cushion entry. On the floor is dark grey carpeting punctuated by light grey rectangles to demarcate lounges and areas of respite. Cut-throughs permit easier navigation, rather than having to hit the end of a long corridor before round the corner to the next row. Thankfully, a staircase has been reintroduced between the two piers (last year one was forced into the cold outside) which has been cloaked in translucent fabric. BSC also designed seating used throughout the lounge areas. The Independent, held in the old Dia Building on West 22nd Street, engaged architects Andrew Feuerstein and Bret Quagliara, who created a layout inspired by the tangram, a Chinese “dissection” puzzle that uses many triangles and is said to help develop spatial reasoning skills. Diagonal walls demarcate the 40 galleries on three floors, but there are no “booths” so the artwork bleeds together in flowing sight lines. The result is that the components feel part of a wider whole. The architects worked with gallerists to tailor the spaces based on the work they planned to exhibit. Each floor has large windows on the north and south sides which bathe the space with natural light. The site of Scope art is the Skylight at Moynihan Station. This would seem to indicate an upper aerie, but it is actually the working back-end of the McKim, Mead and White James A. Farley Post Office entered on West 33rd Street. The skylit postal dock and mail sorting rooms are now an open industrial shed subdivided into gallery booths and lounges. Natural light from above is perfect for showing art. The Moving Image Art Fair is at the Tunnel, 220 Twelfth Avenue, a former warehouse turned nightclub, where Grimshaw’s offices are located. And the Art Dealers Association’s The Art Show is held at the majestic Park Avenue Armory, which was just renovated by Herzog & de Meuron. Not a temporary art fair, but another contemporary art extravaganza opened this week—the Whitney Biennial (closes may May 25). It will be the last one to be held in the Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue. One of the three curators, Anthony Elms, kept returning to a question he found in the notes that Breuer made when designing the building: “What should a museum look like, a museum in Manhattan?” For Elms, “just as Breuer’s Whitney with its heavy walls and retreating facade — unapologetically sets its own material and temporal identity against the city’s quotidian business rhythms,” his installation features works central to this thinking, in particular Zoe Leonard’s camera obscura called 945 Madison Avenue, 2014, that uses the large, trapezoidal window on the 4th floor to bring the inverted image of the city inside. The museum itself become a frame for creative investigation. Artist Sergei Tcherepnin, chosen by another curator, Stuart Comer, attached transducers (devices that convert signals into vibrations) onto eight Breuer light fixtures in the lobby, which make the overhead lighting into synthesizer “speaker-instruments” channeling sounds from the building itself in Ambient Marcel (Waiting, Working, Erupting), 2014. Biennial artworks with architectural references of note include John Mason’s Vertical Torque, White, 1997; Joel Otterson’s 187 Bottoms Up, 2013, Sheila Hick’s Pillar of Inquiry/Supple Column, 2013-14; Ken Lum’s Midway Shopping Plaza, 2014; Martin Wong’s Closed, 1984-85; Lisa Anne Auerbach’s American Magazine #2, 2014; and Etel Adnan’s New York From the Triborough Bridge to South of Manhattan New York, May 21, 1990. At the fairs, architectural works included Yutaka Sone’s Little Manhattan, 2007-2009 (Armory, David Zwirner); Kim Jones’s Doll House, 1974-2013 (Armory, Pierogi), Ahmed Mater’s Metropolis, 2013 and Ground Zero I (Armory, Athr Gallery), Do Ho Suh’s Specimen Series: Berlin Apartment, 2011 (Armory, Lehmann Maupin); Paul Ramirez Jonas’s Admit one: Tishman Auditorium, 2012 (Armory, Nara Roesler); Chen Sai Hua Kuan’s Space Drawing No. 7, 2010 (Moving Image, Osage); Nicole Cohen’s Champagne Room, 2013 (Moving Image, Morgan Lehman); Charles LeDray’s Picnic, 2005-2013 (ADAA, Sperone Westwater); Gavin Turk’s Small Door (Yellow & Green), 2013 (ADAA, David Nolan); Roxy Paine’s Emulsion, 2012 (ADAA, Marianne Boesky); James Castle’s booth (ADAA, Peter Freeman); Vera Lutter’s Fulton Ferry Landing, Brooklyn, May 21, 1996 (ADAA, Weinstein); Kelly Reemtsen’s Eames Rust Side Chair Right View, 2007 (Scope, De Buck); and David Kramer’s Night Moves, 2014 (Scope, Long-Sharp) features the headline “I Should Have Bought Real Estate” over a nighttime skyline.