Londoners will see the Thames in a whole new light beginning this summer. In a collaboration between British architecture firm Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands (LDS) and U.S. artist Leo Villareal, up to 15 London bridges—including UNESCO World Heritage sites—will be outfitted with an array of new lighting for at least the next decade. The project, called Illuminated River, will highlight the bridges' unique sculptural and environmental qualities, breathe new life into urban spaces, and connect communities all along the waterway. This summer, Illuminated River will begin with four bridges—Southwark, Cannon Street, London and Millennium bridges—getting lit up. The massive installation will continue to be built over the next few years, with a further section to be completed in 2020, and an aimed completion date of 2022. The collaboration between artist and architect was natural, said LDS’s Alex Lifschutz in a statement. “Architects collaborate with many different species of being. Indeed, architects are many species of being,” he said. Villareal, who has previously illuminated bridges like San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, felt similarly. “We rely on each other’s views to achieve this great ambition," Villareal said. "The collaboration is so far a success because it is based on trust and the respect of one another’s expertise and unique vision.” The architects and artist worked together to use the latest in LED technology, along with custom software, to outfit the bridges to produce an effect that is, according to Villarreal, “gently kinetic.” While, Lifschutz pointed out, there's been a “huge revolution” in LED technology—in terms of efficiency, scalability, cost, color, control, and other attributes—in the wrong hands LED fittings are “a very potent destructive mechanism.” Lifschutz explained: “LED fittings are maybe five times more efficient than standard fittings. People have thought, ‘Well, that's fantastic. We'll save a lot of energy and the world will be all the better for it. And climate change will be that much further away.’ The unintended consequence of this high efficiency is that people use more of them. And the world has become brighter and jazzier as a result, which is a great shame." LDS and Villareal's answer is to use light “very judicially.” The architects and artist did a huge number of studies using the latest laser techniques. While the top surfaces of bridges are “straightforward,” the undersides—with all their supports and trusses—are “incredibly interesting and abstract,” said Lifschutz. “Each bridge has its own character,” he said. "It's like having 15 children—not that I do—but each one has a different character and each one deserve a different way of talking about it, of dealing with it.” They considered how to light the bridge as both a piece of art and architecture, working where the two intersected to manage the relationship between structure, form, and function in order find the best places to provide light and fix fittings, all while not affecting the structure, especially on the “very precious bridges.” “Both [Villareal and I] have a technical background in the color of light, the spread of light, the way in which light falls on surfaces, and the kinds of fittings or kinds of technical fittings that are available to make the magic happen,” explained Lifschutz. “And light is very magical, obviously.” Additionally, the river is not only a site of architectural life and preservation, but also of ecological vibrancy and conservation. The team had to do a number of ecological studies, some reportedly more thorough and substantive than those that had been done before, and research the effect of light on the creatures living in the Thames. “If you have a line of light that lies across the water, fish generally don't like to cross that,” explained Lifschutz. “It may affect spawning patterns in the shoreline and so on.” In their research, they discovered much of the existing lighting on London’s bridges was already detrimental to wildlife. “[The lighting] is spraying light everywhere; it’s the wrong color.” Many naturally uncommon colors and color temperatures—many of which are currently in use before the team’s intervention—negatively affect the wildlife swimming below. The competition to develop the river project was supported by the office of Mayor Sadiq Khan, received over 105 entries, and was done in collaboration with over 100 local organizations on and around the river. It required numerous approvals to work with listed structures. The local groups have "mostly been hugely enthusiastic,” reported Lifschutz. And it is apt that the project is titled Illuminated River—working at a scale Lifschutz calls “epic,” there will be integration across all 15 bridges to create a cohesive, unified effect and artwork “painting with light,” as Villareal put it, across the whole of London’s main waterway. “We hope Illuminated River will open up the riverside public realm spaces for people to linger, appreciate the enhanced architecture of the bridges, cultivate new opportunities, and encourage tourists to come to London and enjoy nightlife activities,” said Villareal. “It will celebrate the unique character and the amazing landmarks of the city through art.”
Into the Wildernesse
Morris+Company designs a timber vaulted restaurant in southeastern England
British architecture studio Morris+Company has designed Wildernesse, a timber-vaulted restaurant in Sevenoaks in the southeast of England. The restaurant boasts a metal skin that features a series of arches—a nod to the adjacent landmarked Dorton House, also known as Wildernesse, which dates back to 1669. The restaurant is part of a wider development serving the public with eight new mews houses containing 53 apartments set within five free-standing villas. Grade levels differ across the site and so a plinth clad in ragstone was created to bring the restaurant up to ground level and connect it to the house, the rest of the site, and the new coterie of housing, as well as to nestle the building into an area steeped in history. "It needed to be simple, sensitive to the historic context, and act as a focal point within the landscape that you can look out from," Harriet Saddington, associate at Morris+Company and project architect, told The Architect's Newspaper. This approach has resulted in a relatively simple structure that manages to achieve a lot on a tight budget ($2.5 million, much of which was dedicated to a basement to house plants for the Wildernesse estate). To keep costs down, the building made use of off-site construction and repeating elements. Previously on site was a 19th-century glass conservatory. The architects wanted to bring the pavilion typology back to the area and create a modern take with a perforated metal–skinned glass house. "Unlike many sterile air-conditioned restaurants we wanted to use natural ventilation," added Saddington. In addition to the perforated facade elements, operable panels negate the necessity for air conditioning. The delicate skin, meanwhile, contrasts with the restaurant's interior where unfinished timber has been used extensively to create a warm, tactile environment. A structural timber frame, composed of spruce glulam and CLT has been used, but more notably, an array of timber vaults define the facade's glazing elements. Covered in birch-faced ply, the vaults are arranged in a grid formation measuring 13 feet square, mimicking the archways of the exterior. The archway motif continues at a smaller scale too, with fluted timber lining employed on interior walls, in patterned floor tiles, and in applied machined timber moldings and beads. Despite this, Saddington stressed the detailing on the project was minimal—a decision taken to make the restaurant all about views onto the rolling landscape it looks out onto.
All Black, Of Course
Prada teams with three architects for its latest nylon collection
Just in time for Prada’s Spring/Summer 2019 womenswear rollout is the latest iteration of Prada Invites, a collaboration between the fashion house and leading designers, focused on Prada nylon. This year, Prada has teamed up with three architects to design clothing or an accessory for women using black nylon. Elizabeth Diller, Kazuyo Sejima, and Italian architect Cini Boeri were all tapped to put their unique spin on the ubiquitous material. Diller presented the Yoke Bag, a strap-and-pouch bag that can fold down to be carried with one hand or can be expanded and worn much like a life preserver. The Envelope, another example of transformable fashion, was also designed by Diller; what appears at first as a garment bag can also be worn as a raincoat. Boeri contributed a more typical bag, with a long leather strap that can be slung over the shoulder but can be expanded or made smaller based on the user’s storage needs. Sejima’s bags are more playful and modular than the others—the curved black bag with blue and pink handles, dubbed “Yooo,” can be draped over the shoulders like the Yoke Bag or carried by the handles. Additionally, blue, pink, white, and yellow pouches in irregular shapes and sizes can be attached for extra storage space and visual flair and adorn the longer “Daln” bag. The Spring/Summer 2019 iteration of Prada Invites follows the program’s launch during the Fall/Winter 2018 show in Milan, where Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron, French designers Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, and German industrial designer Konstantin Grcic all debuted pieces.
Indonesia’s megacity capital has been sinking and snarled by traffic by years, and newly-elected President Joko Widodo has proposed a solution: moving capital operations to another city. It’s important to clarify that Widodo didn’t mean physically moving Jakarta to another location, such as what happened with the town of Kiruna in Sweden, but rather crowning another capital city, or building one from scratch. "We have to find a location that is really minimal in terms of disaster risks," National Development Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro told the Jakarta Globe. "Also, because Indonesia is a maritime nation, the new capital city should be located near the coast, but not necessarily by the sea." Although Jakarta is a booming city of nearly 10 million, it’s also one of the fastest sinking cities in the world, according to the BBC. Groundwater pumping has caused the city to sink by 8 feet in the last 10 years, and some parts of the city are sinking at a rate of nearly 10 inches per year. Half of the city currently sits below sea level, and the rise of the neighboring Java Sea puts the city further at risk of flooding. In 2016, Jakarta was also rated the most traffic-congested city in the world, and it’s estimated that these traffic jams cost up to $7 billion a year in lost productivity. Bambang told the Jakarta Globe that the financial services industry would remain in Jakarta, while Indonesia would implement best practices found in other capital cities, such as Washington, D.C., Canberra in Australia, and Sejong in South Korea, in the new capital. A final location hasn’t been chosen yet, but according to the BBC, three options are on the table. The first is moving the country’s administrative functions to an area just outside of Jakarta, while the second is to rezone a portion of Jakarta and concentrate the government’s offices there. Finally, the option favored by President Widodo is that of building an entirely new capital on a different island. The frontrunner is reportedly Palangkaraya, the current capital of Central Kalimantan, located close to the geographical center of the country. Bambang expects that moving the capital could take up to 10 years, but President Widodo must first pass the legislation through the House of Representatives before the project can begin.
Taking a cue from environmentally-conscious legislators in the nation’s capital, Los Angeles–area municipal entities are making plans to transform and repackage the region’s existing sustainability goals under the mantle of the Green New Deal with the aim of eliminating carbon emissions and boosting social equity. This week, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled a wide-ranging “Green New Deal” plan for the city that calls for eliminating carbon emissions in the city entirely by 2045. Like the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez– and Ed Markey–backed Green New Deal initiative, Garcetti’s vision for the future of L.A. aims to unify environmental and social policy to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Under the vision, Los Angeles would reduce building energy use by 44 percent by 2050, reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita by 45 percent by 2045, and ensure that 75 percent of the new housing units built in the city would be less than 1,500 feet from a transit stop, among other goals. These efforts would be guided by new job training initiatives that would help deliver economic promise to the city’s residents. Under the plan, the city hopes to shore up its chronic water issues, as well, and plans to source up to 70 percent of L.A.’s water locally while capturing 150,000 acre-feet per year and recycling 100 percent of the water used within city limits by 2035. Simultaneously, Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country, is crafting a long-term regional sustainability plan with the help of BuroHappold, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and social justice nonprofit Liberty Hill Foundation. The initiative will deploy a “set of strategies and actions for creating a resilient, inclusive, equitable, and sustainable county,” according to a press release, and calls for eliminating on-road diesel particulate emissions by 100 percent by 2035, sourcing 80 percent of water locally by 2045, and achieving carbon neutrality countywide by 2050. The team behind the plan recently unveiled a draft proposal, available at OurCountyLA.org, that is being workshopped with the help of community members and over 630 stakeholders from 292 regional organizations. If the plans are successful, they would signal a major shift in how the county’s 10 million inhabitants live their lives and could reshape the county’s built environment and transportation infrastructure. Mayor Garcetti’s plan, however, has come under fire for not going far enough from environmental groups like the local chapter of the Sunrise Movement, the youth-driven organization that helped develop Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal legislation. Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, told Curbed that because the mayor’s plan only posits a reduction in VMT and relies heavily on the use of electric vehicles, “nothing that’s listed here will produce more than a 5 percent reduction,” adding, “It probably won’t bring them anything.”
URBAN-X startups pitch free electric shuttles, modern HVAC, and digitized construction equipment
Yesterday at A/D/O, a MINI-sponsored creative space in Brooklyn, New York, seven start-ups pitched their companies to an audience of investors and public sector agencies as part of URBAN-X's Demo Day. URBAN-X is an accelerator for urban tech companies that was launched in 2016 by BMW-owned car brand MINI, one of its many forays into rethinking shelter, fashion, and design. The seven start-ups are members of URBAN-X's fifth cohort, bringing the total number of companies that URBAN-X has fostered to 39. URBAN-X selects up to 10 start-ups twice a year for its program, which includes a $150,000 investment and five months of support in engineering, design, and business development. Urban mobility and access to electric vehicles featured prominently in this cohort, not a surprising theme for an incubator with roots in the automotive sector. But other strong trends, like construction site productivity and emissions efficiency, pointed to a focus on the built environment and its relationship with ecological concerns. If this cohort is any indication of the trends in urban mobility, then the two startups dedicated to transit hinted at a very electric future. Borrow offers short-term, flexible leasing of electric vehicles, making them more available to those who can't purchase the pricey cars, while Circuit, formerly The Free Ride, offers free electric shuttle transportation in five-passenger vehicles for short distances. The latter is already rolled out in 17 cities around the United States, with more than 20 cars on the streets of San Diego. With funding from advertisers, private developers, and transit agencies, the free shuttle is specially designed for first- and last-mile conditions to supplement other forms of transit, and also offers hail and on-demand services. Brooklyn residents and visitors can experience Circuit for themselves, with the company extending its Williamsburg run this summer. Buildstream and Toggle both address construction site safety and other challenges. Buildstream (formerly GearBuddy) utilizes IoT-based software and machine learning to digitize data collection on heavy construction equipment like bulldozers and trucks to monitor and assess construction sites in real time, allowing someone at an office desk and not just the construction manager on site to monitor what is happening. The technology is currently in use in the U.K. on one of Europe's largest infrastructure projects, according to David Polanski, co-founder and COO of the company. Toggle, on the other hand, combines software and industrial robotics to help automate the construction site and reduce costs in the building process. Energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions are also a central concern of this year's cohort. Treau develops technology to improve energy efficiency in cooling and heating systems, essentially bringing HVAC and refrigerants into the modern age with lighter, more inexpensive polymers and other material innovations. The overarching promise of Treau is to reduce energy consumption in the U.S. by 10 percent. Another vital but less glamorous aspect of city life is waste management infrastructure. Israel-based GreenQ's technology attaches to existing truck-based garbage collection systems to collect data and offer analytics to help meet demand and cut costs where needed. For example, in its applications across Israel cities, towns, and villages, GreenQ has identified areas that need one less collection day a week, or data on what homes or users need larger trash receptacles. The data from the garbage also delivers demographic data for those companies it partners with. Consumption and waste were also addressed by Thrilling, the first e-commerce platform for second-hand and vintage stores, with a goal of reducing carbon, waste, and water footprints in garment production. From transit to garbage, the technology-driven platforms of these start-ups hints an increasingly wired, mobile urban future to come.
The fallout over Junya Ishigami’s use of unpaid intern labor continues, as the Japanese architect canceled a lecture originally scheduled for April 18 at MIT over the issue. In March, it came out that Ishigami, who had been chosen to design this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, was recruiting unpaid interns to work 13 hour days, 6 days a week. On Instagram, Adam Nathaniel Furman revealed that prospective interns were also expected to supply their own computers and software, and that the firm would be unable to help prospective interns relocate to Tokyo for the 8-to-12-week internship.
After facing harsh blowback online, the Serpentine Gallery stepped in to announce that it was unaware of the practice at the time of Ishigami’s selection and would require Junya Ishigami + Associates to pay anyone working on the pavilion. The news quickly sparked a discussion over unpaid labor, and a number of other studios defended their decision not to pay interns, or to admit their culpability. Ishigami + Associates has stayed silent on the matter and refused a request for comment when the news originally broke. According to Archinect, students and faculty at MIT had viewed the lecture on April 18 as a chance to ask the firm about the controversy and wanted to schedule a separate event to discuss the issue. The studio demanded that there be no Q&A session at the original talk, which was to have been an account of its work, and declined to participate in a secondary discussion. Ishigami + Associates ultimately canceled the original event. On April 25, the Architecture Lobby released a statement on unpaid internships to Archinect. “Meanwhile,” the open letter reads, “as recently reported by Dezeen, Karim Rashid insists that unpaid internships are a ‘fork of furthering education.’ Rashid offers a four-month unpaid internship in his office, justified by his claim that ‘an intern can learn in three months more than a year or two of education, and education in USA is costing that student $60,000 to $100,000 a year,’ making universities, in his view, ‘far more’ exploitative. “There is no lesser evil in worker exploitation and a prohibitively expensive education system, and there is plenty of work to be done in fighting to change both.” The full statement can be read here.
George Homsey, one of the founding members of San Francisco–based firm Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis (EHDD), has passed away. Widely considered a giant of California architecture, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, Homsey practiced architecture with EHDD for nearly 50 years before parting ways with the firm in 2000 to run his own practice. During Homsey’s storied career, he worked with some of the greats of late-20th-century Northern California architecture, including business partner Joseph Esherick, and collaborators Charles Moore and William Turnbull. Together with these architects, Homsey helped bring to life Sea Ranch, the iconic shingled housing development situated on the rugged California coast north of San Francisco, as well as many delightful and contemplative private residences, schools, and public buildings. Homsey was regarded as the diligent and strong-willed counterpart to Esherick at EHDD, and helped to animate Esherick’s conceptually-driven works with a sensitivity to light, composition, and pragmatic materiality that made Homsey one of the fathers of what some called the “Third Bay Tradition,” a vernacular style of architecture that channeled and updated the Bay Area’s woodsy architectural and environmental influences for a new generation. Homsey, for example, was one of the chief designers of the hedgerow homes at Sea Ranch, a series of shed-roofed and wood-clad abodes that simultaneously struck out from and blended into the site’s scrubby terrain. Born in 1926 in San Francisco’s Western Addition, Homsey grew up in a typical San Francisco duplex where the modest units were separated by a pragmatic light well. The son of an auto mechanic, Homsey trained to become a naval aviator to serve in the military, but the war ended before he could take flight. With this training in hand, Homsey set out to study architecture at the City College of San Francisco and at the University of California, Berkeley. He joined Esherick’s fledgling firm in 1952 and made partner 20 years later. Homsey would go on to create the design guidelines for Yosemite National Park as well as comprehensive designs for San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit stations. He was awarded the Maybeck Award for lifetime achievement in architectural design by the American Institute of Architects, California Council in 2006 for his work.
No BBQ-ing Allowed
Rockwell Group plants an indoor lawn in the National Building Museum
The 2019 Summer Block Party installation at the National Building Museum has been revealed, and the LAB at Rockwell Group will install a faux indoor “lawn” in the great hall of the Washington, D.C., museum. Lawn will run from July 4 through September 2, and visitors can expect to find a facsimile of a park within. Rockwell Group has attempted to recreate an all-American summer inside the museum via a series of high-tech interventions, and the installation of an elevated (artificial) lawn that gradually rises on scaffolding. Visitors to Lawn can scale an inclined slope to the lawn, which will feature a number of communal areas and hammocks suspended from the 100-foot-tall ceiling. From that elevated vantage point, guests can gaze down at the pixelated sky pattern made of tile on the floor of the reception area below. At the very top of the lawn will be a scaffolding tower that will rise to the museum’s third floor and will offer views of the sculptural busts on the roof. Every hammock will be embedded with hidden speakers and that will play summertime stories from “prominent American storytellers,” according to Rockwell Group. Instead of catching real fireflies, LAB has designed an augmented reality experience where guests can chase and “catch” fireflies across the lawn using their phones. Rockwell Group appears to have taken a cue from last year’s Fun House installation from Snarkitecture, as the entire experience seems eminently Instagrammable. Bold colors, a stark delineation of programming, and the commodification of a shared, common experience have been successfully deployed across a number of pop-up museums and experience spaces. The titular lawn itself, while fake, was produced by SynLawn and will be totally recycled after the exhibition is taken down. The faux-grass is made from sugarcane, while the backing comes from soybeans. The scaffolding will be disassembled and used elsewhere as well. Admission to Lawn is included in the price of a National Building Museum ticket, and the museum will be activating the space at night to host movie screenings, yoga, and meditation classes, among other events.
The scramble is on to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral before the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, but a concerned coalition of curators, architects, art historians, preservationists, and more have told French president Emmanuel Macron to slow down. In a petition published by the newspaper Le Figaro on April 28, 1,170 signers spoke out against hastily reconstructing Notre Dame. Macron has taken steps since the April 15 fire to speed up the cathedral’s repair, first announcing an international design competition to replace the downed spire, and then the formation of a draft law that would appoint a citizen’s group to oversee the reconstruction. According to The Art Newspaper, the body would have the authority to forgo preservation regulations in the name of meeting the 2024 deadline. Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of the painting department at the Getty Museum, Louvre chief curators Nicolas Milovanovic and Cécile Scailliérez, and a number of prominent French preservationists put their names on the Le Figaro petition. Complicating the issue is that the exact status of Notre Dame is unknown at this point. While the forest of 12th-century wooden support trusses and Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th-century spire were brought down by the fire, the limestone vaults and thick walls remain standing. The cathedral’s three majestic rose windows also remain intact, but experts cautioned that the fire, and subsequent attempt to put it out, could have caused unseen damage to the structure. “Limestone can lose about 75 percent of its strength when it’s exposed to heat over 600 degrees Celsius,” stone conservationist George Wheeler told The Art Newspaper. “And that fire certainly exceeded 600 degrees Celsius in many locations.” Microscopic cracks in the stone and glass caused by rapid heating and cooling will only become apparent once a full survey of the cathedral has been completed. At the time of writing, experts have not yet determined whether the loss of the roof struts have endangered how the building’s weight is distributed, either. The water used to put out the fire still needs to be removed from the church’s interior as well, and much of the mortar will need to be replaced to prevent the growth of mold. Overall, conservationists have estimated that rebuilding Notre Dame to its pre-fire status could take at least a decade; as such, it remains to be seen whether Macron’s timetable is achievable. In the meantime, a number of architects have already jumped at the chance to design a contemporary update to the cathedral.
It Might Take a Miracle
Governor Cuomo trying to jump-start stalled Calatrava World Trade Center church
A year and a half after progress was halted at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in Lower Manhattan after the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) defaulted on its construction payments, Governor Andrew Cuomo is reportedly stepping in to get the church finished. Santiago Calatrava’s design for the church, an $80 million replacement for the 1916 building at 155 Cedar that was destroyed in the September 11th attacks, was first unveiled in 2013. That capped years of negotiations between the GOA and the city, which agreed to lease the land beneath the church to the Archdiocese for $1 a year, for 198 years. Construction on the ribbed, glowing church—Calatrava drew inspiration from the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Istanbul—began in 2014, and the building topped out in 2016. While St. Nicholas was originally on track to open in 2018, Skanska USA, the church’s head construction firm, terminated its contract with the Archdiocese in December 2017 over the GOA’s failure to pay. As first reported by The Pappas Post, the Archdiocese had tapped a restricted pool of construction funds to pay off a mounting deficit, leaving it shorthanded when payment was due. The church has sat vacant and unfinished ever since. In a statement released last year, the Archdiocese installed a new board of trustees to oversee St. Nicholas, and formed the nonprofit Friends of St. Nicholas to fundraise for the church's completion. At the time, the Archdiocese called these "significant steps" towards resuming construction. The formation of the board follows recommendations stemming from an earlier internal investigation, with work from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Now, according to the New York Post, Governor Cuomo is reaching out to potential backers to make up the $40 million shortfall. Cuomo has reportedly been reaching out to donors with deep pockets to join Friends of St. Nicholas and fundraise to finish the church. John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of the Gristedes Foods supermarket chain, Democratic donor Dennis Mehiel, and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas have all been contacted by Cuomo, according to the Post. According to a spokesperson for the governor’s office, Cuomo has also made overtures to the Port Authority as well.
Before the Deluge
AIANY misses the mark with its photography show of Syrian architecture
Last month, I attended the opening of an exhibition by the American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter (AIANY) at the Center for Architecture, showcasing photographs of ancient Syrian architecture and civilization. The exhibition, titled Syria Before the Deluge, was by far the most disappointing and superficial work I’ve seen displayed at AIANY. At first, I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was bothering me so much about this elegant display of black and white photographs of ancient Syrian landmarks. After all, I’m a Syrian architect and I should be thrilled for an event that is calling attention to Syria’s ancient civilization and architecture, especially when delivered by a renowned architectural photographer, Peter Aaron. But the truth of the matter is that this exhibition failed to inform the audience of anything of value about the history of present of Syria, a country whose history, like its architecture, has been shaped and reshaped by the rule of a totalitarian barbaric regime that systematically plundered and reduced Syria’s history over the past six decades to what we see today, and what Aaron photographed in his 2009 visit. The photographs showcase Aleppo and Palmyra, two of Syria’s most iconic jewels. Yet nowhere on the walls of the exhibition is there a mention of the residents of Aleppo, or Palmyra, or Damascus, whose ancestors built these ruins. All that is shown are pictures of ancient structures with sympathy-provoking captions like “this structure was destroyed during the civil war in 2015.” Nowhere does it say who bombed the iconic Umayyad Mosque’s minaret in Aleppo, burned the city’s historic Souk, turned the Citadel of Aleppo into a military barrack, and caused the displacement of half of Syria’s population. These issues were simply left out of the exhibit narrative. The exhibit also fails to mention those who systematically looted Palmyra’s treasures since the 1950s and turned the very name of Palmyra into a symbol of terror for millions of Syrians due to the infamous Palmyra prison. A high-security prison in the middle of the desert that allegedly witnessed the most gruesome massacres against political activists among countless other violations of human rights during the Assad ruling. None of that was in the exhibit. Just an orientalist, romanticized narrative about a beautiful civilization that once was but is no more. Occasionally, Isis is cited as the force of evil that ruined what is portrayed as ancient oriental heaven of architecture and civilization. In the abstract introduction to the event, Aaron writes: “[Syria’s] tolerant atmosphere has quickly disintegrated due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism,” a statement that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Syrian society was ravaged by the Ba’ath regime's tactics of planting fear and mistrust between minorities and the Muslim majority over decades of an authoritarian ruling. In one corner of the exhibit, the curators reach peak tone-deafness with a picture that shows a young man riding a horse with a massive picture of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator, in the background, with the caption reading: “Portrait of President Bashar al-Assad at a private riding club in the Damascus suburbs.” No mention of the 500,000 that this president is accused of killing over the past eight years. Throughout the event, the war is referred to as the “Syrian Civil War.” I personally find that term lacking in nuance and indicative of ignorance in the Syrian cause. Anyone who’s done any amount of reading about Syria would know that this naming is both factually and morally wrong. Factually, because when Russian air fighters are bombing rebelling neighborhoods with the support of Iranian ground troops, it’s not so much of a civil war as a proxy war involving two of the world’s most notorious armies spending billions of dollars to preserve the ruling of their puppet in Damascus. It’s also morally wrong to equal a rebelling people, that was bombarded, displaced, and starved for eight years after demanding freedom and democracy, with a regime that unapologetically used chemical weapons against that same people. When I raised these issues to a Syrian friend, she wondered about why I would raise political issues in an architectural event. A few months back, I attended an event at AIANY where my former Columbia professor, Michael Murphy, talked with Michael Sorkin about the political aspect of architecture. The event was titled Architecture is Never Neutral and it portrayed a very different narrative from the one I saw last week. That event explored in depth how being “apolitical” is the most political act anyone can take in situations of injustice. Syria is far from being an exception to that rule. This exhibit not only failed Syrians by failing to tell the true story of their country, but also failed the visitors who will leave knowing little about the current status of a 4,000-year-old civilization, and the ancestors who built that civilization. AIANY can take steps to make the remainder of this exhibit a more nuanced representation of Syria’s recent history by recaptioning the photographs to be more reflective of Syria’s current state, starting with the picture of Syria’s ruthless tyrant, Bashar al-Assad.