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1948 to 2020

Michael Sorkin passes away after contracting coronavirus
Michael Sorkin, the architect, urbanist, theorist, author, and director emeritus of Graduate Urban Design Program of the City College of New York (CCNY), has passed away after contracting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). His death was confirmed by fellow CCNY staff and unfortunately marks what could be the first U.S. loss of life from the pandemic in the architecture world. Sorkin was born in 1948 in Washington, D.C., and went on to receive a bachelor’s from the University of Chicago in 1970 and a Master of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974. Michael Sorkin Studio was formed in the 1980s in New York City, and in 2005, Sorkin founded the nonprofit Terreform to further urban research. Other than the research and built projects Sorkin’s studios produced (most recently Michael Sorkin Studio was a finalist in the 2019 Big Ideas for Small Lots NYC competition), Sorkin was perhaps most known broadly for his prolific writing. Since the 1980s, when Sorkin was the architecture critic for the Village Voice, he contributed critiques, opinion pieces, urbanist musings, and more to numerous outlets including The Architectural Review, Architectural Record, The Nation, and AN, among others. His contributions as an editor are too numerous to list in full, and last year the AIA awarded Sorkin the 2019 Collaborative Achievement Award for his 40-plus years of helping to diversify the field of design. This is breaking news, and AN will follow this announcement with a full obituary in the coming days.
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Uncut Rems

OMA’s completed Galleria department store in South Korea certainly stands out
Rotterdam-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) has completed the newest outpost for upscale South Korean department store chain Galleria, in the fast-growing planned city of Gwanggyo. The Gwanggyo location, just south of Seoul, is the sixth and largest store overall for the venerable, nearly 50-year-old luxury retailer, and its first new location in a decade. Although other Galleria stores are distinctive from a design standpoint, this one takes the proverbial cake. Set against a backdrop of residential high-rises, the building takes the form of a monolithic slab of granite with a pixilated mosaic facade that’s meant to “evoke the nature of” the neighboring Suwon Gwanggyo Lake Park, per OMA. Protruding prism-like from the hulking structure is a meandering, multifaceted glass passageway, complete with a “series of cascading terraces,” that wraps itself around the entirety of the eight-story building twice. Beginning on the ground floor and concluding at an outdoor rooftop garden, the circuitous corridor serves as a public route where well-heeled shoppers—and also the general public—can pause and take in arts- and leisure-minded activities including exhibitions and live performances. “With a public loop deliberately designed for cultural offerings, Galleria in Gwanggyo is a place where visitors engage with architecture and culture as they shop,” said OMA partner Chris van Duijn in a statement. “They leave with a unique retail experience blended with pleasant surprises after each visit.” At first glance, this wildly idiosyncratic department store resembles a glistening, Paul Bunyan-sized mineral stone. Some critics, however, are reminded of other things: In total, the rubberneck-inducing department store, which OMA envisioned as a “a natural point of gravity for public life in Gwanggyo,” encompasses roughly 1.6 million square feet including a sizable, multi-level subterranean space complete with a market hall. The building’s upper floors are home to a movie theater, lounges, restaurants, and other amenities. According to the English-language daily The Korea Times, the Gwanggyo branch of Galleria was slated to open to the public in late February but was delayed to concerns over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Galleria, which is akin to Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom but perhaps a touch ritzier at some locations, is owned by South Korean mega-conglomerate Hanwha.
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Mountain Maintenance

Steven B. Smith captures the tireless, artificial quietude of suburban Utah
Your Mountain is Waiting By Steven B. Smith Radius Publishing MSRP $55.00 In his Homes for America photographic series (1966-1967), the New Jersey-raised conceptual artist Dan Graham revisited his home state to document the eerily tidy suburbs, with names like ‘Green Village’ and ‘Pleasantside,’ that appeared to have fallen from the sky during his absence. Entirely devoid of people and other personal effects, he drew attention instead to the pure seriality and geometric rigidity of post-war home developments to create a comparison between them and the then-current work of minimalist and rule-based artists. The accompanying text Graham provided is as cold and removed as the photos themselves, imagining New Jersey’s suburbs less as a place where people live and work than as an anthropological site to be examined with surveying tools. Others have since made a tradition of mining the suburbs of America with a similar intellectual distance, from architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in their exhibition Signs of Life (1976) at the Renwick Gallery of the National Collection of Fine Arts, to British architecture professor Jason Griffiths in his book Manifest Destiny (2011), for which he drove over 22,000 miles across the country to document the “placeless” character of the suburbs. Few in the creative fields, it seems, have reflected on the suburbs after having grown up in them. Born, raised, and trained as a photographer in the low-density sprawl of Utah, Steven B. Smith has made a career documenting the transition of the Western landscape into housing developments, of which he has an intimate knowledge. His latest book of photographs, Your Mountain is Waiting (2020), presents large-format images of recently completed and nearly complete housing developments to offer a study of the suburbs centered on those who build them and call them home. While he confirms the idiosyncrasies discovered by those who precede him, Smith comes across several of his own using the sensitivity and attention to detail of a resident observer. For Smith, the suburbs are far from “placeless.” With a focus on the new neighborhoods popping up throughout Utah, his photographs document how their developers had to contend with the state's famously picturesque land formations. Rooflines effortlessly mirror the mountain behind them, backyards encompass miniature topographies of their own (amateurishly fabricated with unironic admiration), and, in one photo, a boulder appears to violently intersect with the veranda of a hilltop home. Even the image on the book cover is a tangle of natural and built elements, from the mountain-shaped gate in the foreground to the textured blocks keeping the hills from losing form. Human and geologic histories are rolled into one through the restless production of artificial mountainscapes that tirelessly attempts to conceal its own labor. The routine maintenance necessary to compete with the beauty of the surrounding landscape—taking out the garbage, watering plants, raking leaves, installing organically-shaped swimming pools—that would otherwise wish to remain invisible is exposed here in heroic compositions. The mysteries of seemingly ancient lawn objects are similarly dispelled by the presence of tractors, backhoe loaders, bricklayers, and plastic wrap fresh from the factory that all appear to be permanent fixtures of the environment themselves. In an interview with Katie Lee-Koven near the end of the book, Smith asserts that the suburbs he photographed are particularly manicured because the majority of their residents are Mormon, a religious group with a unique pride for the American soil. “The yards in Utah,” he said, “have become a place where people are professing their love four country and also for landscape.” There is little doubt, however, that if one went to other suburbs across this country of seemingly every religious and cultural stripe, with a similar sensitivity and attention to detail as Smith demonstrates, a reverence for the American sublime through adoring imitation would be all too easy to find.
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Modular triage

CURA aims to retrofit shipping containers into COVID-19 treatment centers
The ongoing march of the COVID-19 pandemic is stretching the capabilities of hospital infrastructure and medical staff across the globe. Governments are forced to address a fundamental question: How can we expand triage facilities in a short period of time to address the exponentially growing number of patients? While some cities such as New York are converting once-trafficked convention centers and dorms into field hospitals, the answer developed by an international task force led by Carlo Ratti Associati, Huminatas Healthare and University, the World Economic Forum, amongst many others, is CURA, or Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments, shipping containers outfitted to function as biocontainment pods. The CURA prototype follows the standard length and width of shipping containers; 8 feet by 8.5 feet by 20 feet. Each pod is intended to function independently of the next, and will be retrofitted to include the medical equipment—beds, IV stands, and ventilators—necessary to treat two COVID-19 patients. Additionally, the compartmentalized structure of the pods allows for the straightforward installation of an air extractor to insure indoor negative pressure. While the CURA pods can function as stand-alone supplements to preexisting hospital ICU intakes, they are by there very nature modular and can be stitched together into an effective field hospital via an inflatable corridor. According to Carlo Ratti, the international task force has been collaborating for approximately a week and formed to apply their skills to the present crisis. "The first step has been to form a "task force" with engineers, doctors, military experts, NGOs, and many different consultants," said Ratti. "This week we will upload online all the technical specs so that anybody could reproduce and install the CURA pods where most needed." Currently, the nonprofit team is coordinating between New York and Turin, Italy, and constructing the prototype for testing at a hospital in Milan. If proven successful, the open-source model can be replicated across the world and easily shipped to particular hotspots.
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Enfin!

Steven Holl Architects-designed Loisium Alsace Hotel finally approved for construction
Over 11 years ago, AN unveiled Steven Holl Architects’ design for Loisium Alsace Hotel, a sprawling resort building on the edge of a vineyard in the eastern French town of Colmar. Following several years of awaiting local permit approval, construction on the project began this January and is expected to be complete in October of next year. Designed in collaboration with the Switzerland-based firm Rüssli Architekten, the project combines a 100-room hotel with a spa and wine center totaling over 105,000 square feet. The design team was inspired by the red cliff of a former stone quarry on the site, as well as a millennia-old road that crosses the site that was once part of the pilgrim path to Santiago de Compostela. The concrete frame structure will be clad in blackened wood siding to blend into its natural and ancient context. From above, the project resembles the branches of a tree that resemble the surrounding vineyards and, according to the architects in a press statement, “gives a unique order and space to this building as it gently merges with the landscape’s slope.” The arborescent site plan also establishes several enclosed outdoor spaces, while the single-loaded corridors provide framed views of the surrounding landscape. The red-weathered steel of the event center pavilion, reminiscent of the red stone cliff in the distance, is the most prominent feature of the design. Its windows are made of “wine-colored glass” that will glow in several shades of red over the course of the day. The pavilion’s ground level will contain a wine gallery with a direct connection to the hotel restaurant, and its top floor will hold a gathering space with chapel-like acoustics to host chamber music, yet that can also be used as a place of silence and reflection, with views of the nearby monastery and abbey. Watercolors produced by Holl indicate that the event center pavilion was inspired by the concept of a pointed flower sprouting from a branch.
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Singapore Slopes

Kengo Kuma & Associates chosen to design Founders’ Memorial in Singapore
A competition to design the Founders’ Memorial, a multi-acre gallery and garden complex commemorating Singapore’s path to independence and historic accomplishments in its nation-building process, first launched in January 2019 and received 193 submissions from around the world. This month, the Jury Panel of the Founders’ Memorial Committee unanimously selected the design proposed by Japanese firm Kengo Kuma & Associates, in collaboration with Singapore-based firm K2LD Architects. “The winning design is sensitive and functional,” said Lee Tzu Yang, chairman of the Founders’ Memorial Committee, in a press release, “and embodies the spirit and values of Singapore’s founding team of leaders. It is a unique design, incorporating landscape and architecture, that brings visitors on a journey of discovery.” The jury also felt that the design meaningfully connected the site to public transportation nodes and other sites of local significance. The memorial’s organic rooflines will intentionally frame Bay East Garden, an adjacent waterfront whose pavilions and green spaces have quickly become a point of civic pride. The design team sought to emphasize Singapore’s global standing as a "City in a Garden" by creating a grouping of buildings that appears to rise from the landscape. In the process, they created a memorial that would allow for future growth. “Our design concept for the Founders’ Memorial originates from the idea of a path—a journey tracing the legacy of Singapore’s founding leaders,” said Kengo Kuma in a statement. “It simultaneously honors the past, and inspires the present and future. The design aims to be a ‘living memorial’, to be owned by each new generation of Singaporeans. There will be ample spaces for the celebration of milestone events, all set against the changing skyline of Singapore.” Renderings show amphitheater spaces, landscaped rooftops, large shaded areas, and other open facilities intended to benefit the public.  Now in its second stage of development, the Founders’ Memorial will be reviewed and modified in a series of community workshops, through which a more refined set of programs can be established. Construction is expected to begin in 2022 and be completed by 2027.
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Not Passing the Buck

FreelandBuck builds practice through descriptive geometry
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course at Syracuse University School of Architecture taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller, and now an AN interview series. On September 19, 2019, Biyun Zhang and Hao Zhou, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Brennan Buck and David Freeland, principals of the bicoastal FreelandBuck. The following interview was edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. Biyun Zhang and Hao Zhou: Thank you for joining us today. A few of the practices we are interviewing are led by partners who live in different cities. We know that the two of you are split between Los Angeles and New York. How do the locations of your practice affect your work? David Freeland: My first impulse is to say it doesn't really affect anything, meaning that within the abstract geometric space of the digital model, there isn't an imbued context. Work in a virtual environment is not situated. But at the same time, it would be very short sighted for any architect to say that place or context is not a component of a project. There is a balance between the development of a project in abstract space and the way that context becomes inscribed into a model. We are always working on how to embed a physical context into a design developed in virtual space. With Stack House, for example, the complex topography of the site was incorporated into the digital model early on. We modeled critical contextual parameters that would constrain the project. Brennan Buck: Place or context as an idea has a long history within our discipline. Think of critical regionalism, an idea that Ken Frampton developed about the need for architecture to be specific to its geographic context. That is not an idea that we subscribe to. But cultural context is definitely important in our work. New York and Los Angeles have very different administrative and regulatory contexts for instance. You have to build differently in New York than Los Angeles. We are also a part of very different academic cultures at Yale and SCI-Arc. In that sense, we benefit from the distance between us. You’ve designed and built temporary installations, retail environments, restaurant interiors, and single-family residences. What do you think gives your work coherence? Is your approach to each project unique, or is there something that you bring to a project regardless of program or type? David: We constantly work between mediums. There are gaps that exist between two-dimensional mediums like drawings and images, and three-dimensional mediums like models, objects, and buildings. We’re really interested in interrogating the gaps and developing unique representational techniques that unpack two-dimensional and three-dimensional modes of communication. Artifacts we’ve made called “image-objects” are an example of this. Our critical approach to representation lends itself to multiple layers of engagement. We strive to produce work that can sustain the attention of a group of architects, as well as makes an appeal to a more diverse audience. There's accessibility at different levels and for different groups of people. The ambition to create visual and conceptual openness is something that guides our design strategies regardless of project type. Do you view models as simply representations of buildings during the development of your projects or do the models operate independently? David: In our recent projects, we’re really asking models to do many things for us. Models are sometimes representational and often times built at a particular scale. A model, by definition, points to something other than itself. But more recently, we’ve been creating models, or objects that point only to themselves. They have unique qualities and conceptual ambitions beyond scaled representation. We are intentionally undermining conventional categories of architectural representation to liberate drawings and models from mere reference. Many of our recent projects are conceptualized as built drawings, or three-dimensional drawings. These drawings fall into the category of conventional drawing with regards to the practice of architectural representation, but they are also full-scale constructions. Our ceiling installation, Parallax Gap, within the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is an example of this. Our work intentionally confounds categories of representation, and, in doing so, hopefully opens up other possibilities for architectural representation. In addition to your built works and the image-objects you just mentioned, you have completed many drawing projects. How does the work that’s constrained to two-dimensions relate to or inform your three-dimensional works? David: In our earlier conceptual projects we were interested in creating drawings that used abstraction to produce effects rather than simply serve as representations of other things. I’m thinking of our Slipstream drawing series. But where these drawing projects operated more autonomously—independent from cultural reference and engagement—our newer drawing projects try to do much more. This is related to my previous answer, where I described our interest in building drawings. In general, we are interested in moving away from complex digital techniques and transformations as a primary focus towards engaging a larger cultural audience. We are invested in geometry and form making as well as creating images, objects, and buildings that have broad appeal. Brennan: Almost all of our recent projects are attempts to do both; to operate through abstraction and elicit engagement through visual association and illusion. This duality is something that we struggle with. People engage architecture in states of distraction; architecture is rarely something the general public stops to think about, and it largely informs their activity through affect, and subtle things like color, temperature, and spatial relationships, rather than through direct attention. That said, there are a couple of reasons that we've looked beyond abstraction to association and reference. First, distraction has become our default state of mind in everyday life; focused attention now feels rare. We have also realized that narrative and association is a way of appealing to a broad audience. In the Renwick Gallery project, all of the elements in the installation reference relatively well-known Victorian-era ceilings. The installation both produces an abstract array of lines and colors and also reproduces familiar architectural elements, such as the ceilings in Cincinnati Union Terminal and the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. We now realize that we can produce work that is abstract and open to interpretation and also engaging for people who stumble into the gallery and are more interested in a narrative about the history of different buildings across the country. This is a powerful thing that some of our earlier work didn't tap into. You both pointed to an ambition to make your work accessible and engaging. Does a desire to be popular factor into this ambition? Brennan: It doesn’t. Popularity may be good for business, but being popular is not our primary motivation. Our goal to realize projects that are accessible and engaging is related to an ambition to have a positive effect on the world and to make spaces that are useful and stimulating. Let me go back to our Renwick Gallery project. The Renwick project was about a very old architectural tradition… about drawing and illusion. But it was also about capturing the visual effects of beloved buildings scattered across the country. There was a direct connection between the content of the installation and familiar architectural references. It wasn't just a narrative that people could read in the wall text. It was more of an optical puzzle. That's one way we talked about it—a visual riddle for people to solve. They might read the wall text and try to find all of the different projection points where the three-dimensional drawings are projected from. We tried to produce a narrative that would pull people into the space and allow them to experience the effects of the installation rather than just read about them. David: The desire to create work that is accessible and engaging is also another way to be inclusive. The disciplinary issues that fuel us are not necessarily accessible to most people. So, we believe we have a responsibility to explore the potential of these disciplinary issues to affect a broader audience and produce broader cultural effects. We have a question about the project we’ve been studying, Second House… and in relation to the idea about positive impact. Do you think that the clients of Second House experience the house as you intended them to?  Do you think that they acknowledge and appreciate the complex formal, spatial, and visual effects that you were pursuing in that project? Brennan: We are suspicious of anything universal or assumptions that anyone will experience something the same way we do. In Second House, we were exploring ideas about alternation and contrast. We had alternating spatial zones—a checkerboard pattern of interior spaces and exterior spaces, and corresponding floor materials. The ceiling heights move up and down to reinforce the idea of contrast or difference. As you move through the house—and it's a very small house—there's a constant alternation of very different conditions. Light, temperature, volume, etc.… there is continuous difference. So, in that sense, our interest in effect is probably more about variety and registering difference rather than prescribing a universal effect. David: Because this project is for private clients, it's more focused. The conversation about broader cultural engagement is curtailed in favor creating spaces tuned to the desire of the two people who will live in the house. Differently from other projects where we pursue particular, legible effects, this project seeks to work on bodies in spaces in a much more subtle manner. Many of the offices we are interviewing are currently completing their first built work… and they have spoken openly about the difficulties of getting things built. What has been your experience with having opportunities to realize your designs? Has it been pretty smooth, or has it been frustrating? David: The frustrations are myriad. I cannot recall who, but someone once said to me… “The happiness that you have as an architect is measured by the degree of grace that you can bring to the work every day.” There's an art to the balancing act, to managing different priorities and issues that come up in a project on a daily basis. Balancing of all these different pressures is the art of practice. One thing that people often think demands the most attention in practice is getting clients, and getting them to believe in whatever your vision is for a project. But that is merely the beginning of a much more delicate balancing act that moves from concept through completion over a great deal of time. What has been the most rewarding aspect of practicing architecture thus far? David: I'm interested to hear what you say, Brennan! You go first. Brennan: Last summer we were in Nashville to present a project proposal to a panel of jurors. I was speaking with one of the competition jurors after they awarded the project to someone else and she said as consolation, “you guys live interesting lives”. That hadn’t really occurred to me – there are a lot of frustrations as David described.  But to interact and collaborate with so many different people and work on very different problems, to think through different ideas through teaching… the variety in terms of daily life that we’ve been able to develop through the practice has been great. David: Architecture is a marathon, not a sprint. There are very high highs balanced by very low lows. Our model of practice puts us in the position of the endurance athlete. We have to pace ourselves. We're cautious about getting too excited about things, and also cautious about getting dragged down by things that don’t fall in our favor. We’re told “no” a lot, and we’ve worked on so many projects that we never completed, for reasons beyond our control. But we have to put these moments behind us and keep pushing forward. The fact that we always have things to keep us moving forward is very rewarding.
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Be Less Bored

Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore is a delightful distraction during troubled times
If there ever was a time to slip away from reality for a moment to feast your eyes on buildings that are exaggerated, extravagant, eccentric, exuberantly colored, overly embellished, unabashedly hodgepodge-y, and incorporate cartoon dwarves as supporting columns, now is the time. Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore, released late last month by Phaidon Press, is the perfect architectural tome for hunkering down with for an extended spell at home. Compiled and written by London-based curator and architectural historian Owen Hopkins, this is a photo-driven architectural survey that’s hefty in size, exhaustive in scope, and, most important, a lot of fun. Featuring over 200 globe-spanning projects of all types and sizes, Postmodern Architecture—a more rambunctious companion piece to previous Phaidon surveys of modernism and brutalism—includes multiple works by the usual suspects: Michael Graves, Philip Johnson, Denise Scott Brown, Stanley Tigerman, Aldo Rossi, and, of course, Robert Venturi, the so-called father of postmodernism himself who coined the Mies-ribbing, anti-minimalist adage that the book borrows as its subtitle. “It’s a celebration and a global survey,” Hopkins told AN of the book. “When creating a book like this there’s always the sense that you are establishing and promoting the canon. But at the same time, there’s an opportunity to broaden the canon, by including both the familiar projects and some unexpected stuff as well.” To achieve this, Hopkins includes lesser-known practitioners of postmodern architecture; obscure and overlooked buildings; and in some cases, nonconformist structures that met the wrecking ball long ago. Also featured are works by architects who dabbled in postmodernism during the movement’s mid-1970s through late-1980s heyday but who are generally known for being more restrained in their approach. What’s more, Hopkins also included numerous examples of more contemporary postmodern architecture, as well as a sizable assortment of buildings that are playful, iconoclastic, and distinctly Dutch. Hopkins noted to AN that when curating Postmodern Architecture, he was “instinctively drawn to the classic buildings of that moment” like Arquitectonica’s Atlantis Condominium, a 1982 Miami luxury apartment tower that’s “so very redolent of that era.” A personal fan of the radically altered big-box showrooms designed by SITE for now-defunct American retailer Best Products, Hopkins was also “really interested and very eager to point out” the lesser-known work of the late, great postmodernist architect Charles Moore. “Everyone knows the Piazza d’Italia, said Hopkins referring to Moore’s cheeky, column-heavy public plaza completed in downtown New Orleans in 1978. “But there’s much more to his work, and there’s a real kind of intellectual depth to it.” Hopkins pointed out Moore’s own home in Austin, Texas, as being “just this most extraordinary composition of ideas and forms and objects.” In addition to big photos of bold buildings, Postmodern Architecture is also peppered with quotes from a range of architects, critics, and cultural figures—Andy Warhol, David Byrne, Charles Jencks, Noam Chomsky, Jane Jacobs, and Venturi to name just a few—who are either associated with postmodernism or “whose work has provided some kinds of inspiration or backdrop to the movement,” as the book’s preface explains. “These quotations provide both context or counterpoint. Some are rather more condemnatory than complimentary. Yet this is wholly fitting for a movement that revels in provocation and very often defines itself against a moribund status quo.” “Postmodernism has been tainted with the brush of being a very kind of commercial architecture, and in many ways it is,” Hopkins told AN when asked why reactions—particularly contemporary reactions—to postmodern architecture are frequently disparaging. “And therefore it has been seen, partly at the time but particularly retrospectively, as kind of the embodiment of the worst aspects of 1980s individualism—so there’s that kind of more ideologically motivated prejudice against this moment.” “Also, aesthetically, postmodern buildings, for the most part, are designed to stand out,” Hopkins continued. “They are often very bold in the forms that they employ and their colors, and in their decorative languages. And buildings that stand out do polarize opinion. At the same time, there’s lots of contextual, kind of polite postmodern architecture—but maybe not that much of it is in the book.” “Maybe there’s a groundswell of architects who don’t like postmodernism,” Hopkins added. “But I think with the public, it’s always been popular.” Below are eight projects featured in Postmodern Architecture—some quite iconic and others more under-the-radar—that run the gamut from private homes to public spaces to municipal office buildings and beyond. These are strictly North American projects, but there’s obviously a lot more where they came from.

Blue House, New Buffalo, Michigan; Margaret McCurry (1993)

Best Products Showroom, Miami; James Wine/SITE (1979)

Franklin Court, Philadelphia; Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (1976)

James R. Thompson Center, Chicago; Helmut Jahn (1985)

Academic Center at Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, Georgia; John Portman Associates (2003)

Casa Wolf, Ridgeway Colorado; Sottsass Associati (1989)

Team Disney Building, Burbank, California; Michael Graves (1986)

The Charles Moore House, Austin, Texas; Charles Moore

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Building America Trump’s Way

What to make of the draft executive order to classicize federal architecture?
In early February, when Architectural Record broke the news that President Trump might force classicism on future federal architecture, the design industry erupted in anger. Despite the fact that the rule still hasn’t been enacted weeks later, the frustration remains for many. Jean Baker, professor and author of Building America: The Life of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, argued that Latrobe, who contributed to the design of some of America’s most important government buildings, including the White House and the United States Capitol, would be “aghast at any politicizing of his designs.” The process of designing federal structures in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the Capitol was built, was fairly informal, she said. President George Washington solicited designs for the Capitol through a competition advertised in various newspapers, and the resulting building was unfinished when the government moved there in 1800. Latrobe pushed for the Capitol to be a significant and permanent structure and worked on the north and south wings until the War of 1812 diverted funding. “Latrobe was very conscious of the connection of architecture to the political ideals of the United States,” Baker told AN. “He argued, in a famous oration that was three hours long, that architecture, along with other arts, served freedom, and in Greece and Rome had strengthened those governments and would do the same in the United States.” According to Baker, Latrobe’s vision for the Capitol was for it to be functional, rational, and understandable “without any need for expert explanation, as he believed some European buildings needed, or a connoisseur for appreciation.” Opponents of Trump’s draft order have argued that a return to neoclassical architecture would result in buildings inspired by another time that need some amount of translation for the present or elevate certain cultural traditions over others. The National Organization of Minority Architects, for one, wrote in a statement that such structures embody “cultural exclusivity” and “would signal the perceived superiority of a Eurocentric aesthetic.” The contemporary buildings cited in the draft order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” have “little aesthetic appeal” according to Trump, but have been lauded elsewhere. Both Arquitectonica’s Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami and the Morphosis-designed San Francisco Federal Building have won national design awards. Two weeks after the story broke, former presidents of the AIA added to the organization’s earlier, immediate reaction in a letter of dissension to the White House asking Trump to reconsider the proposed mandate. They argued that dictating a uniform style of architecture, whether neoclassical or modern, sets a precedent for suboptimal design. “The investment of federal funds into public buildings demands an appropriate return on investment to the American people—the taxpayers,” the former AIA presidents wrote. “That return is not guaranteed by stipulating a singular design style; it is achieved by engaging in a rigorous process that engages the most qualified and experienced design and construction professionals. In fact, it is well-known that neoclassical design often equates to higher construction costs and extended time schedules for project completion.” The issue extends beyond neoclassical aesthetics—material choices would be affected, as well, which would influence building performance and carbon footprints. If a certain style dictates the use of copious amounts of stone, then contractors have to seek out manufacturers and quarries that can deliver the quantities needed for a federal project with such a large square footage. Baker said that Latrobe, even in his time, sought out local materials for his buildings. The breccia marble found in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, for example, was quarried along the Potomac River. “Pure neoclassicists would demand marble,” she noted, which could complicate sustainable supply chains and material sourcing decisions. Federal projects located within the U.S. wouldn’t be the only built works affected by the order—it could affect the renovation and construction of embassies around the world. Many recently announced projects, like WEISS/MANFREDI’s update to the Edward Durell Stone–designed U.S. embassy in New Delhi, would have to reflect classical European values of architecture instead of a reinvented modernist aesthetic fit for India’s climate. Sources who spoke anonymously to AN said that design-excellence advocates have been fighting for high-design federal architecture at home and abroad for years in Washington, and it’s been an ongoing battle. Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the U.S. General Services Administration oversees the construction of overseas embassies, which is in fact managed by the State Department.
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Tall Timber in Tinseltown

Michael Maltzan Architecture designs affordable mass timber housing tower for Skid Row
The newest supportive housing development is in the works in the Skid Row neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles at the hand of one of the city’s most experienced designers of the typology. Local firm Michael Maltzan Architecture is currently in the design phase for The Alvidrez, a 14-story tower containing 150 studio apartments and “support spaces” on the ground floor, which will include case management, individual and group counseling, and group activities to improve the health and well-being of residents. The massing of The Alvidrez was determined in part by the construction logic of the mass timber frame system that the firm will employ to meet sustainability guidelines, while the units were designed using modular building blocks made of cross-laminated timber (CLT) column, beam, and deck members. The building’s overall appearance is described by the firm as a “collection of vertical bundles” that provide a series of rooftop terraces providing spaces for unprogrammed community spaces, though it may draw comparison to Kisho Kurokawa’s endangered Metabolist Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo. The 77,000-square-foot project will provide housing exclusively for the homeless community of Skid Row, with 30 percent of its units reserved for those with mental or physical disabilities. Each unit will come with all the features required for independent living, including a bathroom, kitchen, appliances and furnishings. “Individual apartments and on-site supportive services have proven, time and again, to be key to breaking the cycle of homelessness,” wrote the firm.  The Alvidrez was commissioned by the Skid Row Housing Trust, a local nonprofit group that has completed 26 buildings throughout Los Angeles County, to provide affordable, permanent supportive housing for nearly 2,000 people and was named in honor of the Trust’s former CEO Mike Alvidrez. Michael Maltzan Architecture has designed several other buildings for the nonprofit in the past, including Crest Apartments in Van Nuys and the Rainbow Apartments and New Carver Apartments in Downtown Los Angeles. The group has also employed other notable architecture firms, including Koning Eizenberg and Brooks + Scarpa.  Following the completion of an environmental impact report, construction is expected to begin early next year and be finished by early 2023.
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In Memorium

Peter Cook remembers Robert Maxwell
Robert Maxwell, former Princeton dean of architecture, passed away on January 2 of this year. Below, Peter Cook offers his remembrances of his late friend and colleague. Robert “Bob” Maxwell was one of the people you listened to. He was a survivor of the mythical “Liverpool syndrome” who came down to revitalize the self-satisfied London scene in the late 1950s (along with James Stirling, Colin Rowe, and Thomas “Sam” Stevens), working first for the London County Council (LCC) and then in both practice and academe. While at the LCC, Bob was the design architect for the revision of the north and south sides of the Royal Festival Hall—those most visible to the public. He joined the office of Douglas Stephen, which also included Kenneth Frampton, Elia Zenghelis, Panos Koulermos, Stephen Gage, and others. This became a pivotal spot in the territory between building and academe. Bob taught brilliantly at the Architectural Association (AA) and then at the Bartlett, becoming a beacon of discussion about design. We at the AA would regularly bring him over from the Bartlett to take part in reviews, with Cedric Price as his sparring partner. Bob always brought a rounded perspective to the discussion without being too soft. He was equally a friend and supporter of both Colin Rowe and Reyner Banham, which sometimes put him in a curious position of having to defend the reputation of the one against the other (for they could not stand each other). I was able to witness his obvious lightness of being when he married his second wife, Celia Scott, who had studied under him at the Bartlett—a wise and creative woman who has become a significant portrait sculptor. After being exposed to Princeton, his tastes in architecture did seem to shift in favor of postmodernism for a while, which threw us somewhat, since the AA had successfully resisted it in the 1980s. His return to the AA after Princeton as a guru and link to real architecture was appreciated by all. When I went to sort out the Bartlett, it was, in a sense, to reopen the breadth of conversation about design that had been forgotten there. He was a loveable man.
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Grafton For The Opportunity

Grafton Architects will design Anthony Timberlands Center for the University of Arkansas
Following a lengthy design review process, Irish architecture firm Grafton Architects was chosen by the University of Arkansas’ Board of Trustees to design the institution’s new Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The firm, which was also awarded this year’s Pritzker Prize earlier this month, won out against five other big-name practices, including Dorte Mandrup A/S, Shigeru Ban Architects, LEVER Architecture, Kennedy & Violich Architecture, and WT/GO Architecture. “This is fantastic news,” said Farrell and McNamara of Grafton Architects in a press statement. “We are very excited about building our first building in the United States in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This building helps us think about the future optimistically, where the use of timber with all its possibilities, becomes real, useful and hopefully loved.” The $16 million facility, in partnership with the local modus studio, will become the Fay Jones School of Architecture's design research center and will be built with a major emphasis on timber, a building material that has become increasingly popular in the past few years in North America for its structural properties and ability to sequester carbon. The department’s brand new graduate program in timber and wood design will be housed in the new building, along with existing and forthcoming design-build fabrication technologies laboratories. “We want people to experience the versatility of timber, both as the structural ‘bones’ and the enclosing ‘skin’ of this new building," said Farrell. "The building itself is a teaching tool, displaying the strength, color, grain, texture and beauty of the various timbers used.” Like most other projects designed by the firm, the building will have a civic quality with plenty of natural light throughout its interior spaces that, in turn, makes the innovative research visible to passersby. The board of trustees was impressed with Grafton Architect’s demonstration of timber’s potential, noting that their proposal "creates a memorable institutional landmark for the urban landscape of Fayetteville.” Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture, added that “this selection, in short, is a landmark day for our school, our university and our state [...] As an accomplished, recognized women-led practice, Grafton Architects confirms for all our students that the design professions are equally theirs in which to find their identities and to realize their potentials.” The project was funded in large part by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, both of which see great potential in the timber building industry. “The University of Arkansas has been a leader in showcasing all the benefits of mass timber architecture,” said Carlton Owen, CEO of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities., in a press statement “We are looking forward to the results of a leading architectural university working with this year’s Pritzker Prize winners to take wood-based architecture to new heights.” The comprehensive design phase for the Anthony Timberlands Center is scheduled to begin this summer.