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Nah

Five fundamental problems with the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial
The second Chicago Architecture Biennial opened last week at the Chicago Cultural Center, one of the country’s grandest interior public spaces. Artistic Directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of Los Angeles–based Johnston Marklee gathered some 140 of the world’s top designers and thinkers to address the main show’s theme, “Make New History.” This theme had the potential to provoke designers to engage the rich history of architecture to innovate the field or imagine ways to inhabit the world at large. This biennial does not do that, and it is a serious problem for the very idea of “history” and thus contemporary architecture. What it does is offer is a strong case study for what we can do better. The following are five critiques in this vein. 1. The theme forced a generation of emerging architects into a narrow and deadening frame Young practitioners today are certainly interested in referencing and recycling ideas and forms, but it is not necessarily “history” and certainly not just “architectural history.” There is a fairly interesting group of designers who are exploring topics like pop culture, hoarding, textures, the everyday, and other reference points in interesting ways. For example, the best projects in this Biennial were about parts, not history. Tatiana Bilbao’s tower in the "Vertical City," as well as MAIO and Andrew Kovacs’s projects in "Horizontal City: Room of Plinths" were provocative and relevant because of their assemblage-like organization, not because they used a particular piece of history in a certain way. When the curators say, as Lee said in a recent Artforum interview, that this generation is bound by the idea that “history is a treasure trove," and "they don’t feel shame or guilt to retrieve from it,” it is an institutional-academic co-optation of a movement that cuts and pastes everything with a digitally-enhanced and inspired slickness. This show makes it seem like another staid disciplinary project, prematurely accelerating all of the participants into what Charles Jencks would call the “Late-Mellow” phase of their careers. This theme of “Make New History” made these nascent practices conform to a prompt. This is manifested formally in the arbitrary conceptual overlay for the mini-exhibition “Horizontal City: Room of Plinths” in GAR Hall, where, according to the exhibit text, “the overall plinth layout and sizes were based upon the 1947 IIT Plan by Mies van der Rohe, which we see as a sort of organizational 'afterimage' or a subtext in the room.” This formal move certainly did not add to the show, and no one would have known about it if it weren’t expressed in the curatorial brief. Instead, what this grid did manage to do was serve as a perfect metaphor for an empty, constricting conceptual framework in which the participants were forced to work. So why participate? It is hard for young practices—essentially all of the practices in this show—to go against the grain of these biennials or refuse to participate, because biennials have become a sort of shadow economy where deals are made and practices are “bought and sold” with institutional currency. There are always people scouting talent at these events, so it is hard to say no to participating. (See point 3) 2. The complexity of history was reduced to precedent Most of the historical references were weak and don't add anything substantive to the projects. They were often simply a pair of precedents, such as in the “Vertical City” mini-exhibition, where architects were challenged to rehash the famous 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower Competition. This competition is an iconic reference point in Chicago architecture history, but like most of the historical references in the show, it pretty much stopped there. Some projects were about “signs” or about “steel construction,” but that label was more or less the extent of it. There was not much criticality in each individual project, and the overall idea of history seemed to simply be about picking a precedent. Precedent and history are two different things: the former is about legal or argumentative justification, while the second is about all the interesting social, political, and formal ideas. Perhaps the exhibition should have simply been “Use Precedent (101).” In 1965, using historical forms such as ornament and classical language was a radical, innovative idea. But today, it looks more like a replay of Philip Johnson’s late version of post-modernism, where attitudes about image and form in architecture—pioneered by people like Charles Moore, Venturi Scott Brown, and Hans Hollein—were reduced to empty signifiers that enforced upper class institutional good taste. ‘Twas this reliance on architectural historicism—rather than the new language of postmodern society—that made pomo into a joke for the dustbin of history. In the past, it has often been clear why we are revisiting particular histories as architectural turns, but here it is not. 3. The biennial's market imperative warped the work that was shown  It is no coincidence that this Biennial is so closely related to the commercial art fair EXPO Chicago. It is in some ways the logical conclusion of the Biennial model: a gathering of celebrities who want to show off their recent work. Obviously the work in the Biennial is not being sold in the same way that the work in the art fair is being sold, but there is an economy at work in both places. And these two markets both influence the work in the exhibitions. Someone should make an artrank.com for architects. In the art fair, collectors speculatively invest in art that will hold value, including art that is produced by future stars, artists whose work is cheap now but will appreciate in years to come. This dictates what kind of work is displayed. In the Biennial, young designers are given a “platform” that will—at least in theory—lead to future work and opportunity. This marketplace, unfortunately, shapes the work. In a forthcoming essay entitled “Peripatetic Pettena" in the book The Curious Mr. Pettena (Humboldt Publishers, 2017), artist and architect James Wines reflects on the state of art fairs and the effects of the commoditized market upon art. In the following excerpt, it would work just as well if you replaced “art fair” with “2017 Chicago Biennial;” “Pop era” with “early postmodernism;” and “Abstract Expressionism” with “modernism.”

In today’s gallery world, where stock exchange voracity appears interchangeable with art fair commodity peddling, the anti-commercial and introspective dialogues of the environmental movement during the late 1960s and 70s were like apostolic meditations by comparison.  Even the merchandising excesses associated with Pop Art now seem like somber banking conventions, in contrast to the souk-like sales tactics of current international expos...to its historical credit, the Pop era contributed significantly to liberating the 1960s New York art scene from the fusty anti-figurative bias of third generation Abstract Expressionism.  By contrast, current events like Miami Basel and the Armory Show appear dominated by hyperbolic celebrations of conceptual vacuity, a disproportionate enthusiasm for transitory talent and a steadfast avoidance of original aesthetic values. There is a ubiquitous re-packaging of influences from the past, defended with such vaguely apologetic labels as ‘Appropriation, Pseudorealism, Post-postmodernism, Metamodernism and Neomimimalism.  Too much of the new work, endorsed as hot ticket progressivism is, in reality, a deferent version of ‘if-you-please’ avant-garde.

4. "History" was stale and familiar, and largely irrelevant today  In this Biennial, there were some interesting bits of lesser-known history and some amazing moments of drawing and architectural assemblage. But the curation was uneven, and swerved from heavy-handedness with no productive end to the usual suspects doing their usual things unrelated to the project at hand. In the "Vertical City" show, for example, the wall texts read like a presentation from a first-year design studio. Very little new information was introduced,  and the show took a boring typology—the tall tower—and didn’t even update it. Instead, we got a very personalized response from each designer. There wasn’t much that was “new” or historical in this room. While the 2015 version of the Biennial was simply “all the cool stuff we could find,” it was indeed, cool stuff, at the edge of knowledge both within and outside of the discipline. Biennials don’t have to solve all the world’s problems or solve inequality, but they can at least relate to the outside world in a coherent way. In the end, disciplinary knowledge is at its best when it has productive friction with issues outside the profession. The historical canon is being questioned today more aggressively than ever. There is a real need to probe what kinds of histories we are telling and where. On one of the biggest platforms in the world like the CAB, it was unfortunate that this exhibition only reinforced a Western ideal of architectural history. Almost all of the “history” here was from the Western canon. Now would be the time to really upend some of the stale narratives that have dominated architectural history in the past. 5. Its relationship to art was all wrong The art references made in this Biennial are mostly from the 1960s, such as Ed Ruscha, from whom the title was borrowed, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Claus Oldenburg. While certainly interesting, these antiquated modern art references keep the exhibition from engaging with the contemporary, adding another layer of alienation. Contemporary art biennials have moved so far past these modern art references that it makes this Biennial look completely out of date. The Berlin Biennale 9 (BB9) in 2016, curated by the New York collective DIS, was full of ultra-contemporary works that addressed all kinds of issues today like cryptocurrency, surveillance, wellness, migration, emerging technologies, new social norms, and radical shifts in how we consume media, among a host of topics. It was criticized for not being overtly political enough, but it did access some of the pertinent ideas that are affecting how we live today. There is really no way to compare the sheer horror and excitement that came from BB9 to the dusty 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial. So given these five issues, what do we take away from the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial? If this show is any indication, there is a real case to be made for abandoning the language of architectural history entirely and inventing something else. Some of the most interesting times for architecture occurred when we tried to move beyond something prior, or as Bertolt Brecht said, “Erase the traces!” If there is a role for architectural history outside of the academy, it is not obvious what that might be, based on what this show demonstrated. How history was deployed was problematic for the discipline, as it was too narrow in its purview, and made an exciting time in architecture (the re-orientation of the discipline in the age of digital space and ubiquitous digital production) into another worn-out historical trope.
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UV-Activated

Daniel Libeskind’s latest residence is clad in self-cleaning, air-purifying tiles
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This direct commission in Germany brought Daniel Libeskind back to Berlin for his first residential project in the city. The project, located on a busy corner in the Mitte neighborhood in central Berlin, presented a design challenge: How to carve out 73 desirable one- to four-bedroom apartments on a plot measuring a little less than half an acre?
  • Facade Manufacturer Casalgrande Padana (tile), Medicke Metallbau (windows)
  • Architects Architekt Daniel Libeskind AG (architect of record); Architekt Daniel Libeskind AG, Zurich, with Studio Libeskind (joint venture partner)
  • Facade Installer Medicke Metallbau (facade sub-contractor); PORR (general contractor)
  • Facade Consultants ARUP Berlin (facade planning); Ingenierburo Franke (facade planning); PORR (structural engineer)
  • Location Berlin, Germany
  • Date of Completion 2017
  • System ventilated facade on concrete structure
  • Products Fractile tiles finished in Bios Self-Cleaning Ceramics technology with HYDROTECT treatment; CP-VENTIL-KA ventilated facade system; Keil micro-anchors
The result is a faceted mid-rise building that negotiates Berlin’s zoning code with varied setbacks, angular windows, and canted walls. In select locations, the building envelope subtly pulls away from the primary facade, creating intimate outdoor balcony nooks. Stefan Blach, principal at Studio Libeskind, said the balconies not only give the facade more depth but also enhance the quality of the units. “There are 70 units, most of which are very small, and even those have a balcony that wraps from the living room to the bedroom. A lot of work went into developing these units—each plan is unique. The coordination between facade and plan was really special in this building.” The project is a showcase for Libeskind’s signature tile design, which wraps all of the street facades and as well as some key interior moments. Produced by manufacturer Casalgrande Padana, the three-dimensional geometric-patterned stoneware tiles, named Fractile, measure approximately two-feet by four-feet and feature unique advanced technology to self-clean and aid in air purification. This is achieved by the application of a specialized titanium dioxide coating that breaks down organic deposits when exposed to the Sun's UV light. The coating is the result of a master agreement signed between Casalgrande Padana and TOTO, a global leader in photocatalytic technology. Fractile is part of Casalgrande’s ongoing efforts to produce bioactive ceramic products capable of interacting with the environment. Of the 3,600 tiles supplied, only 500 were made in a standard production format. The remaining 3,100 tiles are custom shapes made using controlled linear and water jet cuts according to precise drawings. Additionally, every tile was specifically positioned to reflect the A or B sides of the pattern (the two positions of the tiles when rotated by 180 degrees). This specificity allowed the architects to control the overall patterning and reflective effects of the facade. The tiles were delivered in 15 different batches to the site and, due to the complexity of the order, each piece was identified with a unique number to ensure they were correctly positioned. The delivery of the tiles took nine months, with installation taking an additional four months—an outcome that the manufacturer called “high satisfactory, given the parametric complexity of the shapes that needed covering.” The ventilated facade was assembled utilizing a standard anchorage system from Casalgrande in combination with micro-anchors from KEIL. The facade has been built by general contractor PORR Germany and specialized facade consultant Medicke Metallbau. The building had to adhere to the 2013 EnEV energy code, one of the most stringent codes in the world. This limited the quantity of glazing in the project and, in response to the code, the project team specified high-performance triple-glazed units with external louvers. Operable units conform to a standard dimension, while fixed panels absorb irregular geometries of the facade. Studio Libeskind’s project team, led by architect Jochen Klein, encountered some zoning regulations as well, which affected massing strategy. The maximum height of the building was determined by zoning regulations. The required setback from the centerline of the street is minimum 0.4 times the building height, a rule that works to limit the height of the building. This introduced the need for a parapet configuration to allow for a primary street front volume and secondary taller penthouse volume. Blach said the overall height, which was taller than neighboring buildings, was successfully negotiated by the project team due to its prominent corner lot location. "There is a tradition in Berlin that the corner buildings are sometimes even a full story higher than their neighbors." Another regulation relates to the oriels, which are not allowed to consume more than one-third the overall length of the facade, and are limited to a projection of around five feet from the building. In the case of Sapphire, an agreement with the city allowed to the architects to cantilever a freeform volume of space over the sidewalk beyond the plane of the primary facade. With retail shops on the ground floor, underground parking, and a common outdoor area, this high-spirited, contemporary complex stands on land where the Wulffersche iron factory once operated, before being expropriated from its Jewish owners during World War II. Blach said the individuality of the plan and spatial layouts and the translation to the facade were the celebrated successes of this project. "Catering the building to all of the individual tenants who moved in was very special for us—each has inherited a unique apartment that's unlike their neighbors."
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Blowing Up

Inflatables are having another moment, thanks to the BSA Space in Boston
There was a moment in the late 1960s when architects (almost always working in groups) wanted to literally lift their projects off the ground and allow them to float over the everyday landscape. Groups like Haus-Rucker-Co, the French Utopie group, and Ant Farm were all inspired by earlier experiments of Archigram, Cedric Price, Buckminster Fuller, and engineers like Frei Otto. Though these experiments were almost always created for gallery exhibitions or one-off installations (Ant Farm placed a large inflatable bubble at UC Berkeley to warn students about the dangers of pollution in 1970) these works continue to inspire architects and every decade they seem to get rediscovered by a new generation. A current exhibition The New Inflatable Moment at the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) is bringing the work back yet again and even cites a previous show, the 1998 exhibition and book The Inflatable Moment: Pneumatics and Protest in '68 by Marc Dessauce and The Architectural League of New York, for inspiration and precedent. The French historian of modernism Caroline Maniaque also wrote about inflatables in 2004 for a different generation. The BSA exhibition also highlights recent projects by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Grimshaw, Anish Kapoor/Arata Isozaki, the late Otto Piene, and Norman Foster. But the exhibit also includes even newer projects by Graham Stevens, Chico MacMurtrie, and Berlin’s raumlabor. The idea of these projects also includes an element of idealistic utopianism and there is nothing wrong, at the moment, with idealism in architecture. The show still has a few weeks to run (through September 30th) so if you're in Boston visit the BSA Space (290 Congress Street, Boston, MA, 02210). Admission is free. Opening hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekdays, and 10:00 am to 5:00 pm on weekends and holidays.
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New Frontier

Saskia Sassen on how the powerless can “hack” global cities
The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’s “Modern design, pleasure, and media blur at “Playboy Architecture, 1953–1979.” The article below was authored by Saskia Sassen, is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and a Member of its Committee on Global Thought, which she chaired till 2015.
Cities are complex systems. But they are incomplete systems. These features take on urbanized formats that vary enormously across time and place. In this mix of complexity and incompleteness lies the capacity of cities to outlive far more powerful but formal and closed systems: many a city has outlived governments, kings, the leading corporation of an epoch. Herein also lies the possibility of making—making the urban, the political, the civic, a history. Thus, much of today’s dense built-up terrain, such as a vast stretch of high-rise housing or of office buildings, is not a city; it is simply dense built-up terrain. On the other hand, a working slum can have many of the features of a city, and indeed, some slums are a type of city—poor, but deeply urban. It is also in this mix of incompleteness and complexity that the possibility exists for the powerless to hack power in the city, in a way that they could not in a plantation, for example, and to hack particular features of the city. They are thereby able to make a history, a politics, even if they do not get empowered. Thus, current conditions in global cities, especially, are creating not only new structurations of power but also operational and rhetorical openings for new types of actors and their projects. In these cities those without power can make themselves present: in the richest neighborhoods where they are the indispensable household support, in the corporate center where they are indispensable service workers, and so on. Thus powerlessness can become complex in the city. And this is, in itself, a transversal type of hacking. One way of conceiving of some of this is as instances of urban capabilities. In this essay I am particularly interested in two features of the city. One is that the global city is a strategic frontier zone that enables those who lack power, those who are disadvantaged, outsiders, and minorities who are discriminated against—even though it decimates the modest middle classes. The disadvantaged and excluded can gain presence in such cities in a way they cannot in neat, homogenous provincial cities. In the global city, they become present to power and to each other, which may include learning to negotiate their multiple differences. They can hack power and they can hack their differences of origin, religion, phenotype. The second feature is the strategic importance of the city today for shaping new orders—or, if you will, hacking old orders. As a complex space, the city can bring together multiple, very diverse struggles and engender a larger, more encompassing push for a new normative order. It enables people with different passions and obsessions to work together—more precisely, to hack power together. Global Cities Are Today’s Frontier Zones The large complex city, especially if it’s a global city, is a new frontier zone. In frontiers, actors from different worlds meet, but there are no clear rules of engagement. Whereas historically the frontier lay in the far stretches of colonial empires, today’s frontier zone is in our large, messy global cities. Cities are now the places where actors from different spheres have an encounter for which there are no established rules. The historic frontier lay at the creeping and expanding edges of empires; but those edges of empires no longer exist today. Today that space of encounter with differences lies deep inside our large, messy cities. Thus, these cities are strategic for both global corporate capital and the powerless. Much of the work of forcing deregulation, privatization, and new fiscal and monetary policies on governments actually took place in the corporate sector of global cities rather than in legislatures and parliaments. In this sense, then, the corporates hacked the city because that making of new instruments was a way of constructing the equivalent of the old military “fort” of the historic frontier: the corporate zone in our cities is a protected, de facto private space. And corporate actors have been doing this since the late 1980s in city after city worldwide to ensure they have a global operational space that suits their interests. The global city is then also a frontier zone because it is where strategic spaces of power can be hacked— though they rarely are, which has always surprised me. But global cities are also strategic places for those without power. They signal the possibility of a new type of politics, centered in new types of political actors. That is one instance of what I seek to capture with the concept of urban capabilities. It is not simply a matter of having or not having power. For the powerless, the city is a strategic space because the political goes well beyond routinized voting and having to accept corporate utility logics, or the dominance of narratives that strengthen powerful actors. Urban space in powerful cities provides new hybrid bases from which to act. One outcome we are seeing in city after city is the making of new kinds of informal politics. For instance, there is a kind of public-making work that can produce disruptive narratives, and make legible the local and the silenced. Political work gets done this way: it becomes the work of making a new kind of contestatory public that uses urban space as a medium, a tool to hack power, even if it does not bring power down. The Occupy movements that rose in countries in very different parts of the world were momentarily disruptive but educational in the long term. They rhetoricized inequality and provided a narrative to large sectors of the impoverished middle classes, usually a rather conservative and prudent sector. It has evolved as a politics that is making headway at the level of political speech and mobilization, but not necessarily system change: Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, the rise of a seventy-year-old long-term socialist in the United States as a presidential candidate appealing to all ages, but especially the young. Deeper have been the changes in Bolivia and Venezuela, encompassing a whole new vocabulary and governmental logic; less radical but still significant are Peru and Quito. All of these, across their differences, and with varying levels of intensity, share a partial or full repudiation of politics as usual. It also signals the possibility of making a new type of subject, one abundant in cities across time and place, but always somewhat rare: the urban subject that results from hacking ethnicity, religion, phenotype, inequality, physical disability. Old Baghdad and Jerusalem, industrializing Chicago and New York, early-twentieth-century Berlin and Buenos Aires were such cities. This is not to deny the specific histories and geographies that generated what I like to call the “urban subject.” The urban subject is at home with enormous differences of religion, ethnicity, etc. A city’s sociality can bring out and underline the urbanity of subject and setting, and dilute more essentialist markers. The need for new solidarities (for instance, when cities confront major challenges) is often what can bring about this shift. Urban space, especially a city’s center, can hack our essentialisms, as it forces us into joint responses, into crowded public transport, into highly mixed work situations, into public hospitals and universities, and so on. From there it can move us on to the appreciation of an urban subject, rather than more specific individual or group identities that might rule in a neighborhood. The big, messy, slightly anarchic city enables such shifts. The corporatized city or the office park does not. There is yet another type of hacking of long-time orders that is taking place today. It is the hacking of well-established larger units, notably nation-states, that are beginning to lose their grip on domains where they once had considerable control. This is an important even if partial and not always desirable change. In Territory, Authority, Rights, I identified a vast proliferation of such partial disassemblings and reassemblings that arise from the remix of bits of territory, authority, and rights, once all ensconced in national institutional frames. In Europe, these novel assemblages include those resulting from the formation and ongoing development of the European Union, but also those resulting in a variety of cross-city alliances around protecting the environment, fighting racism, and other important causes. These generate a European subject for whom protecting the local or global environment matters more than nationality. And they also result from subnational struggles and the desire to make new regulations for self-governance at the level of the neighborhood and the city. Against the background of a partial disassembling of empires and nation-states, the city emerges as a strategic site for making elements of new partial orders. Where in the past national law might have been the law, today subsidiarity and the new strategic role of cities make it possible for us to imagine a return to urban law. We see a resurgence of urban law-making, a subject I discuss in depth elsewhere (see Territory, Authority, Rights, chapters 2 and 6). For instance, in the United States, a growing number of cities have passed local laws (ordinances) that make themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants; other cities have passed environmental laws that only hold for those particular cities because they are far more radical than national law, or have developed currencies for local transactions that only function in those cities. These are among the features that make cities a space of great complexity and diversity. But today, cities confront major conflicts that can reduce that complexity to mere built-up terrain or a cement jungle. The urban way of confronting extreme racism, governmental wars on terror, and the future crises of climate change is to make these challenges occasions to further expand diverse urban capabilities and to expand the meaning of membership. Yet much national government policy and the “needs” of powerful corporate actors go against this mode. In the next section, I discuss a range of issues that illustrate how the powerless can hack power in the city.
This article originally appeared as Can Cities Help Us Hack Formal Power Systems? on urbanNext. 1- I develop this argument in “Does the City Have Speech?,” Public Culture 25(2) (April 2013): 209–21; see also Expulsions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014; Dutch translation forthcoming with ACCO). 2- This is the process I describe at great length in The Global City, 2nd updated ed. (1991; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), and in Cities in a World Economy, 4th ed. (CITY: Sage, 2012). 3- The emergent landscape I am describing promotes a multiplication of diverse spatiotemporal framings and diverse normative mini-orders, where once the dominant logic was toward producing grand unitary national spatial, temporal, and normative framings. See Saskia Sassen, Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), chaps. 8 and 9. 4- One synthesizing image we might use to capture these dynamics is the movement from centripetal nation-state articulation to a centrifugal multiplication of specialized assemblages, where one of many examples might be the transborder networks of specific types of struggles, enactments, art, and so on.
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Instagram Eavesdrop

From Bjarke in Edinburgh to Adjaye in Mogadishu: Where top architects were this week
At The Architect's Newspaper, we're plain addicted to Instagram. Sure, we love seeing Brutalist concrete through "Inkwell" or "Ludwig" filters, but there's also no better place to see where architects are getting their inspiration, how they're documenting the built environment, and where they've traveled of late. Below, we bring you some of the best Instagrams of this past week! Like what you see? Let us know in the comments and we'll do another similar post next week! (Also, don't forget to check out our Instagram account here.) Iwan Baan stopped by Villarrica National Park in Chile; the park was designed by Chilean architect Germán del Sol. 

#thermasgeometricas morning #germandelsol #villarica #nationalpark #chile

A post shared by Iwan Baan (@iwanbaan) on

David Adjaye was in Mogadishu, Somalia, and snapping pics, including this one titled "the aesthetics of barricading."

The aesthetics of barricading .... #mogadishu #somalia #africancity

A post shared by David Adjaye (@adjaye_visual_sketchbook) on

  Both Bjarke Ingels and Sou Fujimoto were in Edinburgh, Scotland—perhaps because they're competing to design the Ross Pavilion, located the foot of the city's iconic castle?

Scottish window

A post shared by Bjarke ingels (@bjarkeingels) on

Edinburgh Castle

A post shared by Sou Fujimoto (@sou_fujimoto) on

Norman Foster documented his trip into Cupertino, California, where he was visiting his firm's design for the new Apple headquarters (dubbed Apple Park).
 

Flying over the Apple project and now driving to it .

A post shared by Norman Robert Foster (@officialnormanfoster) on

Meanwhile, Alexander Gorlin posted this picture of the Oscar-Niemeyer-Haus in Berlin.

#oscarniemeyer #berlin #hansaviertel #interbau #midcenturymodern

A post shared by AlexanderGorlin (@alexgorlin) on

Last but not least, Deborah Berke Partners gave a sneak peek of one its projects going up in Long Island, New York.

Footings for a project on Long Island • • • #workinprogress #longisland #sitevisit

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Architect and Educator

Architect Peter Pran passes away
Norweigan-born architect Peter Pran, FAIA, has passed away. He was a co-founder and partner of Peter Pran + H Architects in New York City, and had previously held positions at Ellerbe Becket, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), and NBBJ. He has also been an influential educator, having taught at schools across the country including the University of Kansas, Cornell University, and the University of Illinois-Chicago, as well as schools in Japan, Italy, and Denmark. He was the subject of the 1998 NA Monograph Peter Pran: An Architecture of Poetic Movement, with supporting essays by Christian Norberg-Schulz, Kenneth Frampton, Fumihiko Maki, Juhani Pallasmaa, and Daniel Libeskind. Pran worked with Mies van der Rohe as project designer on the Berlin National Gallery in Germany, the Chicago Federal Center, and the Toronto Dominion Center. He also worked with SOM as project designer on the Sears Tower (in schematic design) and the Jeddah International Airport in Saudi Arabia. A full obituary will follow.
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Rudolf Belling

Exhibition casts new light on remarkable and little-known German modernist
It is always exciting to discover the work of an architect whose name you know from history but whose buildings remain a mystery. This is what happened to me on a recent trip to Prague and my “discovery” of Jože Plečnik. His final 1929 building, the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of our Lord, and his small insertions in the Prague Castle were revelations and he is a new hero. But occasionally one discovers the work of an architect whose name does not even register as a footnote in traditional surveys. This is the case of the Rudolf Belling (1886-1972) who is the focus of a new exhibit at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. Belling, was, in fact, an artist, primarily a sculptor, who worked on the fringes of architecture yet produced several projects that are highly original and should be better known by architects. His work might best be described as modernist abstraction in the manner of contemporary movements of the period like Constructivism or Expressionism. He argued, like his contemporaries, for a fusion of the arts and he worked in multiple mediums including film, interior decoration, and architecture, in addition to sculpture (his principal medium). Belling was not unknown in his time and was a member of Arbeitsrat für Kunst, the 1918 Novembergruppe, and was featured in Le Corbusier's magazine L’Esprit Nouveau. The exhibit sets out to highlight his belief in a coming together of the arts and notion that culture and architecture were to be guided by tectonic forms rather than “natural” shapes; this was the focus of his practice and teaching. Belling, incidentally, spent several years in New York City, where he fled the Nazis and taught at the Annot Art School and Gallery in Rockefeller Center. I addition to his stunning design (at least in the grainy photographs in the exhibition) for The Scala restaurant in Berlin, he was able to model sculpture into architecture. As Alfred Kuhn pointed out in 1927, for the first time he created “sculpture from the outside in but from the Inside out.” His forms in space may not have been truly revolutionary for his time but he created powerful monuments that were more innovative as architecture than sculpture. His seven-meter-tall advertising sculpture (with Wassili Luckhardt in 1920/21) for the tire maker Pneumatik Harburg-Wien was a very example of how to create memorable roadside architecture and signage. His most powerful and unique architectural projects were a 1923 gas station (with Alfred Gellhorn and Martin Knauthe) for Olex and the two architectural sculptures he designed for Olex and the Villa Goldstein in 1923 (both destroyed). These brought all his influences from Constructivism to Futurism together as a single powerful work. In fact, it may be said that he brought architectural ideas back into sculpture. Finally, he produced beautiful small architecture renderings that seem decades in advance of the Pop style of architectural drawing methods. Rudolf Belling: Sculpture and Architecture runs through September 17 at the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin. (The video below on Rudolf Belling: Sculpture and Architecture is available only in German.)
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Where's Walter?

Costumes, capitalism, and poetry: new exhibit re-examines Walter Benjamin’s “Arcades Project”

For one delirious week, visitors to the Jewish Museum in New York could view the exhibit Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design downstairs, and go upstairs to see the exhibition The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin. Chareau—the architect of the famous Parisian Maison de Verre—escaped successfully from Nazi Paris to New York, while Benjamin did not. In all probability, Benjamin never visited Chareau’s super-deluxe, bourgeois home-office of Dr. Jean Dalsace (built 1928–32), despite Benjamin’s admiration for metal-and-glass building fabrication as a symbol of modern life—following the modernist architectural historian Siegfried Gideon.

Benjamin, like the Surrealist poet Louis Aragon, author of Paris Peasant (1927), preferred to enjoy the ruins of bourgeois life: the decaying 19th-century glass-covered Parisian shopping arcades. There, the Surrealists met in their favorite cafe and imagined assignations with prostitutes, posing as tailors, service personnel, photographers, card engravers, or launderers in the small shops of the arcade. Before his suicide at the Spanish border fleeing the Nazis in 1940, Benjamin wrote the short essay “Paris: Capital of the 19th Century” (1935). This outlined his intention, beginning with the arcades, to describe the history of Paris as a modern city through its detritus—its fragmentary waste and destruction. It was a part of his larger project for a negative history of the bourgeoisie.

In contrast to the clarity and precision of the Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed Chareau exhibition downstairs, with its historical documentation, imaginative recreations, virtual reality, and moving sectional projections, the Benjamin Arcades exhibition is perhaps appropriately a jumble of fragments. This impression seems strange at first, as Benjamin’s most famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), was a model of clarity, founding the discipline of modern media studies in mass societies. Here, Benjamin identified the handcraft aura of true artistic production as a still-humanist value in a modern, Marxist universe. Chareau’s handcrafted machine design downstairs might seem to successfully exemplify this desire for authenticity, yet nothing of this exemplary quality appears upstairs.

Benjamin’s unfinished Arcades Project consisted of 26 alphabetically ordered folders in capital letters—ten in lower case—with seemingly random titles containing photographs, research material, press cuttings, and pieces of his text that might be useful for the project. These are like word clouds surrounding a confusing and complex hidden virtual object of intellectual inquiry that would emerge in writing. Many scholars have investigated, prodded, and projected their thoughts into these word clouds, searching their meaning for several generations. The catalogue contains two worthy essays further contributing to this enormous scholarship, one explicitly exploring Benjamin’s idea of an urban, collective “optical unconscious.” Each exhibition piece is itself accompanied by a word cloud created by the contemporary American poet Kenneth Goldsmith. (There are also conventional wall texts.)

The idea of linking each of Benjamin’s alphabetical Parisian folders to a contemporary art piece drove the selection of the exhibition, which is entered through a ghostly and deliberately weak re-creation of a scaled-down Parisian arcade. Cindy Sherman, disguised as “a collector” in a huge framed photograph, confronts this tight entry in by far the most powerful correlation in the show. Sherman’s art of disguising her personal identity in other people’s apparatuses, clothes, styling, and cosmetics, ties directly to Benjamin’s reading of the modern city.

This selection highlights masks, alienation, and the “sandwich-board men” of Benjamin’s youth who carried advertisements on their fronts and backs on the Berlin sidewalks, hiding their humanity, like the Surrealists’ vision of the prostitutes marketing their beauty and bodies as products in the arcades. Other choices like an early Andy Warhol movie (in the “Boredom” folder!) echo this weakly. Still other choices, like Chris Burden’s miniature Tower of London Bridge model from a child’s construction kit, mock Benjamin’s enthusiastic predilection for the Positivist triumphs of bourgeois civil engineering (following Gideon), such as giant iron bridges and the Eiffel Tower.

The problem of the exhibition arises from the supposition that it is possible now to make a correct correlation back to Benjamin’s fragmentary notes that carries any real meaning. We live in a very different age of digital, not mechanical, reproduction. It is an age in which Sherman represents the new normal of what Benjamin would have called, following Marx, commodity fetishes and distractive phantasmagoria. As an architect and urbanist, I found Lee Friedlander’s 2011 photographs of New York shop windows reflecting the street, buildings, and sidewalks, and showing the clothing mannequins, to be the most evocative of Benjamin’s much-cited flâneur (whose leisurely gaze captured the working life of the city and its denizens). My other favorite item was only in the catalogue, a Benjamin’s Dream comic book (2016) by Vito Manola Roma. Here all of Benjamin’s fears and insecurities about capitalist monsters, women and sex, the city and infinite mazes, alienation and authenticity come alive in an evocative, furious, sometimes violent literary and visual fantasy world.

Benjamin’s unfinished project and fragmentary notes do remind us of just how fragile bourgeois life, freedoms, and culture are in times of economic distress and political extremism. Benjamin was a complicated character: a Marxist who resisted Communism having visited Moscow, a high bourgeois who sought social justice and a decent life for the majority following Bertolt Brecht, a secular, rational modernist who thought there were limits to our knowledge and believed in ancient myths, like the Jewish Kabbalah.

Leaving the aesthetics of the Arcades exhibition aside and its distractive phantasmagoria behind, and returning to the world outside, we enter the universe that drove him to suicide. The curators of this exhibition could not have foreseen this contemporary turn of American politics. So sadly, this exhibition reminds us powerfully of our own fragile situation and Benjamin’s horrible, confused, depressed, and weakened condition at the Spanish frontier in 1940. His companions crossed the frontier the next day; let us hope we will be so lucky.

The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin The Jewish Museum Through August 6

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KENSINGTON GARDENS

Kéré’s Serpentine Pavilion goes up in West London
The 2017 Serpentine Pavilion, in West London's Kensington Gardens, has been built. Designed by Diébédo Francis Kéré, the Burkina Faso–born and Berlin-based architect, it's the 17th pavilion to be commissioned. (A new pavilion is erected annually ever summer.) For the design, Kéré drew inspiration from a tree in Gando, Burkina Faso, where he designed a school. In Gando, the tree acts as a way to bring people together, and in Kensington, Kéré has emulated this aspect with a wooden canopy, supported by steel framework, that shelters a gathering area. Furthermore, the architect aims to encourage connectivity with nature, as was also the case in Gando.

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While there is no literal tree here, Kéré achieves its effects with a translucent polycarbonate sheet rainwater collection system that transforms the graveled center of the pavilion—where the steel framework stems from—into a waterfall. It's estimated roughly 2,400 gallons of water will be collected, all of which will be used to irrigate the gardens. (Though it may be summer in London, there is no danger of it not raining—knock on wood.)

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"I am fascinated by how this artificial landscape offered a new way for people in the city to experience nature. In Burkina Faso, I am accustomed to being confronted with climate and natural landscape as a harsh reality," Kéré said in a press release. "For this reason, I was interested in how my contribution to this Royal Park could not only enhance the visitor’s experience of nature, but also provoke a new way for people to connect with each other." The gathering area, which offers seating, is encased by a series of blue walls made up of tesselating wooden triangles that curve with and away from the roof's focal point. The triangles, like the canopy above, are arranged so that subtle apertures allow light to filter through and amplify the pattern of triangular motifs. The walls, while rising above head height, do not come into contact with the canopy, nor do they fully enclose the area. This allows air to flow easily through the structure and also frames views above into the gardens actual trees. "As an architect, it is an honor to work in such a grand park, especially knowing the history of how the gardens evolved and changed into what we see today. Every path and tree, even the Serpentine lake, were carefully designed," Kéré added. Serpentine Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist and CEO Yana Peel, along with advisors David Adjaye and Richard Rogers, chose Kéré, who works extensively across Europe, Africa, and his hometown of Gando. In the U.S., his work was most recently the focus of an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The pavilion will be on show and open to the public from June 23 through October 8 of this year.
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Gantry State Park

Steven Holl’s Hunters Point Community Library rises next to the East River

In the year 2010, Steven Holl was chosen to design a community branch of the Queens Library on a commanding site in Long Island City. It would be located opposite the United Nations Headquarters on the shore of the Queens side of the East River and on an angle with the Roosevelt Memorial. In this location bordering Gantry State Park, with a worthy communal purpose, Holl designed a kind of sparkling, bejeweled gate to the city. While the site's close proximity to the U.N. and the Roosevelt Island memorial creates an honorable pedigree, there is a spate of developers' towers around the library—well-built, but expediently designed. Because of the growth of Hunters Point, there was need for a communal branch library. New York City's Queens Library and New York City's Department of Design and Construction (DDC) co-sponsored this modernist design.

Long Island City, or, more specifically Hunters Point, has a rural history that extends back to the 17th century and only later became a cultural and commercial center that is now heavily residential. There are many galleries here, too. In Hunters Point, in the vicinity of the library, 10,000 residential units were built in the last decade and there is a projection of more in the near future.

This Queens Library makes its books available; while it welcomes digital technology, and sets apart a space for cyber activities and working computers, it spurns the notion of a 'bookless library.' In that sense, it is a humanist institution: embracing tradition while also focusing on up-to-date technology.

The architectural design activity for this library may have begun in 2010, but the initiating plans for the social presence of a library were begun about a decade earlier by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat. Van Bramer made it possible for Holl's building to reach above a single story, which was Holl's wish for a more monumental statement so that the 81-foot high building would not be dwarfed by the surrounding towers and have a presence on its own. As it turns out, the construction of the new library will cost the city $42 million.

Contemporary materials were de rigueur for Queens: steel and reinforced concrete and reinforced glass sheets were still industrial, while their functions were solved with the help of digital programs like Rhino. Robert Silman's structural engineering firm postulated that they needed many beams to stiffen the building around the huge windows, so that without any columns in the building, it could withstand any wind pressure. Nine major beams go straight across the narrow building—40-feet wide—in an east/west direction. This supports the suspension of the floors which often are not continuous from north to south. In other words, there is some tricky cantilevering of the floor levels. The walls are a meager 12 inches thick so the steel reinforcement is crucial.

In the beginning, Holl planned for the facing material to be a foamed aluminum, but it was substituted by a subtle, sustainable aluminum paint due to cost constraints. The paint will cover the oriented strand board texture of the reinforced concrete wall surfaces. This all-over texture from flat-surfaced random wooden bits for the formwork is opposed to the Brutalists' rough plywood surface formwork texture. This sustainable painted surface will achieve a glow or “subtle sparkle.”

This was not Holl's first experience designing libraries. In 1988 he won a competition for an extension to the venerable Berlin Amerika Gedenk Bibliothek, but it was not built, a lost commission that he sorely remembers.

Holl is very conscious of nature's intrinsic part in his designs. This Queens Library building is economical and sustainable, in accord with Holl's consciousness of our standing in this planet; it meets the LEED standards. Although the energy system is efficient, they could not use expensive geothermal wells. Another unfortunate budgetary constraint was the prohibition of a reflecting pool, a feature which often accompanies Holl's architecture. However, the project is surrounded by Gantry State Park, a fine imposing setting. There is planned transition between the park and the Library grounds in the form of steps leading towards it. Saved from the budgetary cuts to the building is the rooftop auditorium for which Queens Library recently okayed the funds.

Light coming into the library is profuse: it arrives from all sides. In order to filter the glare, Holl designed silvery, translucent motorized curtains to cover the large-scale windows and this sun screening helps to control the amount of air conditioning dispenced. The largest window on the western exposure has a slanted lower linear frame echoing the line of stairs. Its peculiar shape is vaguely reminiscent of the art of Keith Haring.

Circulation paths have been created around the library for processional movement: The main route leads to the adult section at the west where stairs climb parallel to the diagonal edge of the window frame. There is an elevator on the east side, but the pride of place is the ceremonial climb to different levels of open stacks of bookshelves for three age groups.

A major aesthetic notion of the building is its virtual sculptural carving out of the rectangular mass of a box until it arrives at divisions like the three main age areas. This effect, according to Olaf Schmidt, associate at Steven Holl Architects, might come from Holl's preoccupation with limestone carvings around 2010. Holl, himself, has described some of these buildings' sculptural formations as “subtractive.”

Holl's intuitive inclination can perhaps best be linked to a penchant for the sense-centered ideas of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) and his notion that the body and that which it perceives cannot be disentangled from each other.

Into this mix can be added a rationalizing element, the introduction of proportions. In all his work, Holl is guided by the Fibonacci series and the Golden Section (1.618 ratio) to bring equanimity to the visitor's mind.

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Anthropocene Art

MAK Center hosts exhibit on how materials lose their roots in an age of globalization

The MAK Center in Los Angeles will be showcasing the multi-locational exhibition Wasser by Berlin-based artist Mandla Reuter this spring.

The exhibition’s components will be on view simultaneously at the MAK Center’s Kings Road House and Fitzpatrick-Leland House in Los Angeles, and aboard a container ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean. A large marble block quarried on the island of Thasos, Greece, will move across the sea in the shipping container en route to the Port of Los Angeles. Parallel installations will take place at the two other sites: The Kings Road House will play host to a “sparse” installation meant to complement the block’s journey while the Fitzpatrick-Leland House—where Reuter, currently an artist-in-residence, has collected several other artists and their works—will be acting as a living museum-studio.

In all, Wasser is meant to reflect “on the perpetual movement of sited materials and delocalized resources across the world,” according to a statement. Wasser’s ephemeral, multi-locus nature is also meant as a commentary on globalization and the so-called Anthropocene, “an age where entire continents are no longer geologically shaped by nature but altered exclusively for reasons of trade and politics, until no part of the world remains unaffected by mankind.”

Mandla Reuter: Wasser The MAK Center 835 North Kings Road West Hollywood, California Through June 4, 2017

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Midwest Go Home

Brooklyn landlord to Oberlin grads: we don’t want you here
This may be one of the only buildings in Brooklyn turning hipsters away. A Brooklyn-based construction company with deep roots in a now-trendy neighborhood is planning to erect an office building with manufacturing space. On paper, it's a hipster honeypot, but in practice, the family-owned business wants little to do with the liberal arts grads, especially those from the Midwest, who flood the borough after each graduation cycle. Owners of Adams European Contracting want working-class Brooklynites to sign leases, not just "Oberlin students who have just moved to Brooklyn like an hour ago," according to the project's lawyer. Brooklyn's Marvel Architects is designing the nine-story building, at 79 Bogart Street in East Williamsburg, with commercial and manufacturing space. The owners are seeking a zoning variance for the building so they can add a video game room, wine bar, and showers, amenities to appeal to artists, ad agency employees, and "drone designers"—again, this building is not just for Midwest liberal arts transplants... "We're competing for talent," the lawyer, Ken Fisher, told DNAinfo. "We think that the density will create a community in the building and will give it a sense of destination." His client plans to move their offices to the new building once it's finished.