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Even if you’ve been to every Renzo Piano–designed museum of the last ten years, you may be surprised at how much there is to admire in his new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago. Though not without flaws, the addition is Piano’s best museum in America since the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas of 2003, and the best building in downtown Chicago since the John Hancock opened in 1970.
The Modern Wing, like the soaring Hancock, shows Chicago’s ambition. Conceived more than ten years ago, it ended up costing $294 million, and is likely to be the last great museum addition of its kind in America for some time. Its 264,000 square feet enlarge the Art Institute by a third and make it the second largest art museum in the United States. Chicago, no longer really even the “Second City,” is competing with New York again—at least in its mind, and that’s a good thing.
Charles G. Young/Interactive Design Architects
Charles G. Young/Interactive Design Architects
The addition allows the Art Institute to show off its encyclopedic collection, which includes its modern and contemporary art, such pieces as a suite of color panels by Gerhard Richter; two rooms for the gown, tissue box, and other odd objects and wallpapers by Robert Gober; and a gallery for the newly-acquired Hinoki by Charles Ray, a trunk of an oak tree on its side, hand-carved out of cypress. You can no longer think of the institute as a limestone building full of French Impressionist works. The wing is a game-changer.
Ten years ago, the Art Institute hired Pritzker Prize–winner Renzo Piano to design a smaller addition on the south side of the building. When Mayor Daley’s plans for Millennium Park, which was to cover over rail yards and parking lots downtown, grew to become Chicago’s most important project since the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, the Art Institute shifted its new addition to the north to face it. Accordingly, the Modern Wing grew in scope and cost.
Millennium Park, of course, features Frank Gehry’s band shell, waves of undulating stainless steel that reflect light and give the city pure joy. Piano said at the time that his building would engage in a “dialogue” with Gehry’s work, and it has. Gehry’s curving pavilion is directly framed by Piano’s rectilinear gallery windows; outside, Gehry’s steel reflects in the Modern Wing’s glass.
At the wing’s inception, an Art Institute trustee told me, “We’ll have to spend a lot of money on details; but if we spend the money, I know we’ll get a masterwork.” And so they did. The economic downturn after 9/11 didn’t stop the project. Having been called upon to fund Millennium Park, wealthy Chicagoans then ponied up for the museum so that for the first time in far too long, a grand civic monument could be properly conceived and executed in their city.
The detailing throughout the wing is at the highest level. From handrails to wooden floors to ventilation systems, the master architect got much of what he asked for.
The main sensation in the Modern Wing is its light. Piano’s system of louvers on the roof block the harsh southern light, admitting the calmer northern light, filtering it and diffusing it through vellum. The effect comes as close to perfection here as he has ever achieved, creating spaces that are alive yet serene. Looking up, the white aluminum blades are elegant and less fussy than Piano’s recent work in Los Angeles.
Moving the wing to the north side also allowed Piano to open that entire facade with floor-to-ceiling glass. This gives stunningly sensuous views of Millennium Park across the street, while the double-layer glass blocks the noise of the city. When you see people walking in the gardens across the way, it’s as if Piano has taken a masterpiece of the Art Institute—say, Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—and brought it to life.
Other works like Matisse’s large Bathers by a River gain in juxtaposition with the colorful gardens and water elements of the park outside. Constantin Brancusi’s reflective forms by the window engage with Anish Kapoor’s shiny, bean-shaped Cloud Gate outside, one of the great crowd-pleasing pieces of public art in the park. The south wall overlooking a new garden is also glass, covered with integrated thin scrims when it’s not overcast.
All Renzo Piano museum wings are similar but are not created equal. One may wonder why Chicago did so well. Years ago, I walked through the New National Gallery in Berlin with Piano. He was in awe of the place. It has minimal amounts of glass, steel, and stone, but is elegant, refined, and uplifting to the spirit. It was designed, of course, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German living in Chicago.
Piano brings some of that back to the Windy City. His exterior is boxy, glassy, and symmetrical like a temple, in the same way that Mies’ was. His slender, white-steel, tapering columns hold up a wafer-like flat white roof that extends out over the galleries; Piano calls it a “flying carpet,” and it’s part of his renowned system of getting natural light into galleries. The roof is Miesian, yet its horizontal thrust also recalls local hero Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style. The platonic cube of the main galleries, with ornament on the side, reminds one of Louis Sullivan’s Midwest banks. Like those, this is a jewel box that contains great treasure.
Piano deftly wove his building into Chicago’s history: He added parallel planes of Indiana limestone walls to complement the Art Institute’s beloved 1893 Beaux Arts building. Piano’s flat facade contains Millennium Park, and his transparent walls allow the grand urban square to transition gracefully from nature and pleasure to city and culture.
Yet not all is right at the Modern Wing. While the main building has a satisfying cube shape, other volumes have been messily added to the east side. First comes the nave-like entrance court, and then another is tacked onto that for more galleries and the restaurant. These feel arbitrary.
Moreover, Piano’s museum gives almost no views of Lake Michigan. Windows or a terrace on the east side would have offered spectacular views of Grant Park and the lake. The Modern Wing is a large intrusion into the “sacred” lakefront parks of Chicago; all the more reason to give back new lake views.
A 620-foot-long pedestrian bridge designed by Piano also mars the project. It blocks the facade, also seems tacked on, and is not well resolved where it meets the adjacent park. The bridge would not be necessary if city authorities had seen the wisdom of closing Monroe Street between the park and the museum, which would also help usher families into the museum.
Piano’s bridge again engages in a dialogue with Gehry, whose bridge in Millennium Park winds left and right like a river. Piano’s is a straight shot up from the park to a third floor sculpture terrace, free to the public, another stroke of civic generosity.
The Art Institute still straddles working train tracks. Part of Piano’s design was to open windows in the existing hall connecting the two parts. He wanted even larger windows, which would have been an improvement.
The museum is rightfully proud of its dignified yet intimate Beaux Arts entrance on Michigan Avenue, which makes Chicagoans feel like they’re going home when they go in, and that makes them feel like part-owners of the collection. Still, many will take Piano’s entrance to the north, which has a more commercial feel. It’s a large space: light-filled, double height, mall-like. Will this change the connection that the next generation feels to the place? Thankfully, the gift shop and cafe in this arcade are not front and foremost.
The Art Institute is seeking LEED Silver certification for the Modern Wing. For a city and a mayor that crow about being the “greenest” in America, a higher level of sustainability could have been achieved.
In the main, though, the Modern Wing is a triumph, with a civilizing presence. Piano has resolved the tension between what he calls a “beautiful fragility” and the need for strength. Power brokers in Chicago felt the city deserved an example of the world’s best contemporary architecture, and they got one.
Lifson and Piano discuss the new museum in an exclusive interview.
The secrets behind the museum can be found just below the surface.
The World Trade Center site is one of the most technically complicated modern construction projects ever undertaken: the building of five high rise towers, concomitantly, on a sixteen acre site over two train lines; issues of unprecedented toxicities and missing human remains; all in the middle of a bustling residential and business district. The architects, engineers and workers on the ground deserve credit for the performance of a difficult task, and interruptions, unexpected technical problems and delays should have been anticipated from its inception.Gerson said that with the economy faltering, some might want to scale back or delay the project further, but he sees it as a WPA-style infrastructure opportunity, which can create jobs and infrastructure, which will be crucial once the economy rebounds. Gerson finished by asking Mayor Bloomberg, the Port Authority, and the LMDC to come together to finish the project on-time and in-line with Gerson's recommendations. An LMDC spokesperson said that the agency welcomed the advice but had the various projects under control. "It doesn't really look like anything new," the spokesperson said. And, according to today's Times, the disparate parties overseeing Ground Zero have come up with a new plan to finish the memorial and much of the site by the tenth anniversary. Update: Bloomberg spokesperson Jason Post responds: "We have different views. Council member Gerson thinks we need to add another layer of bureaucracy, the administration thinks we need to remove one." A list of Gerson's recommendations and a link to the full statement after the jump.
1. Appoint an auditor general to monitor all Lower Manhattan redevelopment projects 2. Reaffirm the 9/11/11 deadline for permanently opening the Memorial Plaza 3. Modify PATH train mezzanine to achieve simple elegance with columns 4. Within 90 days, the MTA must re-issue bid specifications for the Fulton Street Transit Hub with specification changes aimed at lowering costs by at least $200 million 5. Fully fund Fiterman Hall’s reconstruction 6. Reaffirm the Performing Arts Center (PAC) at the proposed location, with the 1,000-seat theater in a Gehry designed building, with the Joyce Theater as the anchor tenant 7. The Port Authority must issue a timeline for the turnover of Tower 2 to Silverstein Properties immediately and issue a status report and timetable, with benchmarks for the completion of any outstanding infrastructure work on the sites for Towers 2, 3 and 4 8. Immediately convene a Memorial access planning group 9. The LMDC must release design specifications 10. NYPD and FDNY must conduct and release a full security and fire safety audit of plans for the underground museum 11. Produce a Lower Manhattan bus plan within nine months 12. The LMDC must immediately issue a detailed status report and timetable on 130 Liberty Street and provide regular updates 13. Close Vesey Street between Church Street and West Broadway, but only if the Port Authority meets the burden of demonstrating that to do so would materially save time or provide for greater safety 14. Continue the Steering Committee recently established by Port Authority Executive Director Ward 15. Continue the Port Authority briefings for Family Members and Community Leaders in Lower Manhattan 16. Integrate the Tribute Center permanently into the Museum Entrance Building 17. Create a mechanism to strengthen construction site safety and Lower Manhattan’s livabilityRead the eight-page statement, with details on all 17 points, here.
The World Trade Center site is one of the most technically complicated modern construction projects ever undertaken: the building of five high rise towers, concomitantly, on a sixteen acre site over two train lines; issues of unprecedented toxicities and missing human remains; all in the middle of a bustling residential and business district. The architects, engineers and workers on the ground deserve credit for the performance of a difficult task, and interruptions, unexpected technical problems and delays should have been anticipated from its inception.
What remains inexcusable is needless political exacerbation of the difficulties rather than public sector facilitation of the complexities. This process has been plagued by: false expectations generated by political grandstanding; delays in providing necessary funding to critical job components; the failure to create reasonable and responsible budgets for project components; the avoidance or postponement of difficult but necessary political decisions; and a lack of full transparency and accountability in all government agencies and activities.
Governor Paterson and the new Port Authority Executive Director, Christopher Ward deserve great credit for restoring governmental efficacy in the rebuilding process. The Governor’s demand for a top-to-bottom reassessment, and the preliminary report issued by the Executive Director provide desperately needed doses of reality, transparency and accountability. Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit for his partnership and involvement in this new expeditious and efficient approach.
The extraordinary economic conditions faced by Lower Manhattan, our city and the nation should accelerate work at Ground Zero. The history of recovery in past times of economic distress has involved large-scale public works projects. Ground Zero is a great public works project, a statement of confidence and moral uplift. It is also a desperately needed economic stimulus, more important now than ever since 9/11.
The Lower Manhattan Redevelopment projects on and off the World Trade Center site must also position Lower Manhattan to be ready with adequate transportation and infrastructure as well as sufficient space to meet the future demands of the inevitable upturn in the economy as it occurs. We owe it to the 2800 innocent people who lost their lives as they went about their work, sustaining and building our economy; to the heroes who risked or sacrificed their lives to save others; and to the community residents who rallied and remained to support each other and to rebuild their neighborhoods. We must tell each of their stories and complete the rest of the job safely, efficiently, democratically and without delay.
Now is the time to demonstrate Lower Manhattan’s most visionary and effective public sector. I have set forth, below, seventeen specific next steps necessary to move the World Trade Center site and Lower Manhattan redevelopment projects forward. These recommendations, which should be implemented immediately, follow from the series of hearings of the City Council’s Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, which I chair, and from numerous conversations I have had with community members and leaders, including community board members, and the entities involved in the projects. I call on the Governor and the Mayor to provide the leadership necessary to implement these next steps. I call on Chris Ward of the Port Authority of NY/NJ to incorporate these next steps into his plan of action, recognizing that even on those measures over which the Port does not exercise direct control, the Executive Director’s recommendations will carry great weight.
On October 6, 2008, the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee will conduct its next oversight hearing. At that time we will expect the Port Authority, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and other relevant agencies to report on their response to these recommendations, as well as to the full report issued by Christopher Ward and the ensuing timetable for Ground Zero, Fiterman Hall, and the Fulton Street Station.
17 Steps for Getting the World Trade Center Site Project Back on Track
1. APPOINT AN AUDITOR GENERAL TO MONITOR ALL LOWER MANHATTAN REDEVELOPMENT PROJECTS. We need one auditor general to monitor the World Trade Center site, 130 Liberty Street, Fiterman Hall and the Fulton Street Transit Hub. All of these projects involve state agencies. An auditor general will monitor progress and spending, keep an eye out for delays and cost overruns and present options for synergies and cost-saving measures, including cross-project efficiencies. What has been missing from the governance of Lower Manhattan redevelopment has been one accountable official with access to all relevant information and monitoring and reporting responsibilities.
Our governmental system is founded on checks and balances, which have been entirely missing from the Lower Manhattan redevelopment process. The independent authorities carrying out these projects are exempt from normal auditing by the State Comptroller or City Comptroller and from normal oversight by the State Legislature or City Council. This was a mistake from the start. It is too late to totally recreate the governance structure of the rebuilding efforts. But the appointment of an auditor general will provide the needed check and balance moving forward.
The auditor general should serve at the governor’s pleasure, report directly to the governor and mayor, issue periodic public progress reports and appear regularly before the City Council and State Legislature. The Port Authority, the MTA, the LMDC, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC) and all agencies involved in any projects must be required to open their books and plans to the auditor general. Christopher Ward, no matter how capable, serves the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and thus could not be in the position to audit it and the other authorities. Many of us thought that this was part of what the LMDC was supposed to do in the first place. The LMDC should, however, now provide funds to support the auditor general.
2. REAFFIRM THE 9/11/11 DEADLINE FOR PERMANENTLY OPENING THE MEMORIAL PLAZA. Past unrealistic timetables should not be taken as an excuse for establishing no timetable. Deadlines serve an important purpose. We would not have reached the moon when we did if President Kennedy had not set that ten-year deadline. By all accounts, there exist no technical or physical reasons why the Memorial Plaza cannot be completed by the tenth anniversary. The governor and mayor must direct all agencies to work together to make this happen.
3. MODIFY PATH TRAIN MEZZANINE TO ACHIEVE SIMPLE ELEGANCE WITH COLUMNS. Utilizing columns to support the #1 train, rather than the more complex suspension system under consideration, would save money and time. We estimate the savings in the millions of dollars. The columns will also expedite utility work under Greenwich Street and thus assure timely progress. This will save money and help assure progress on the memorial and other ground zero sectors. It will also allow for the setting of a timetable for the rebuilding and remapping of Greenwich Street, which will be critical for access to the Memorial. Grandiosity has its place, including within this site, but the PATH station achieves sufficient grandiosity in the Eagle structure and the main hall. What is essentially a passageway for commuters rushing to and from their trains and pedestrians rushing between the World Financial Center and Church Street can be built elegantly with columns and with less expense
4. WITHIN 90 DAYS THE MTA MUST RE-ISSUE BID SPECIFICATIONS FOR THE FULTON STREET TRANSIT HUB—WITH SPECIFICATION CHANGES AIMED AT LOWERING COSTS BY AT LEAST $200 MILLION. At a hearing of the City Council’s committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment held in April, 2008, the MTA pledged to reissue bid specifications within 30 days. This has not happened. Further delay is inexcusable. The MTA testified that it planned to divide the work and issue separate bid requests for each of the major discrete parts of the project in order to optimize efficiency and expertise and to minimize costs. That still makes sense, as the best subterranean contractor is not necessarily the best aboveground structural contractor.
The Fulton Street Transit Hub is a critical component of Lower Manhattan’s future. Its transit connections are needed to optimize downtown’s accessibility. Its retail and street level presence, including the promised replacement of the scores of retail cleared out for this project, will anchor the future of a thriving Fulton Street corridor.
The longer we wait, the more expensive this project will get. The basic contours of the project, including the design for the transit hub, should remain the same. It is clear however, that fewer internal flourishes and excesses, with the aim of simple elegance in method and outcome, could save the project millions of dollars.
In addition, the Corbin building’s restoration can be deferred without detracting from the train station or the main entrance. Indeed, the Corbin building should not be part of the transit hub. It should be sold, restored and turned into office space. To integrate a historic building into a transit center is overly complex. To remove the Corbin building from the site could save hundreds of millions of dollars.
5. FULLY FUND FITERMAN HALL’S RECONSTRUCTION IMMEDIATELY. Fiterman Hall provided critical classroom space for the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). Over 21,000 degree students from all over the City are enrolled at BMCC this semester, making it by far the largest community college in all of New York City. The necessary funds must be allocated now in order to avoid another hole in the ground in Lower Manhattan and to mitigate spiraling costs. New York’s Dormitory Authority will not allow City University of New York (CUNY) to contract for reconstruction until full funding is allocated. CUNY officials anticipate that the remediation process (the cleaning of Fiterman Hall) will be completed by the end of January 2009 and that demolition will be completed by summer 2009. The contracting process is such that it needs to begin imminently, requiring full funding, in order for construction to begin immediately upon deconstruction.
Delay in Fiterman Hall’s reconstruction will retard overall downtown development, including the ability of Silverstein Properties to rent office space at 7 World Trade Center, which is opposite Fiterman Hall. Eventually, Fiterman Hall will have to be rebuilt. The longer we wait, the more it will cost taxpayers.
With classes scheduled in the daytime, evening and weekends, and additional adult and continuing education programs in high demand from the community, we must do everything within our power to expedite the process of demolishing and building a new Fiterman Hall.
6. REAFFIRM THE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (PAC) AT THE PROPOSED LOCATION, WITH THE 1,000-SEAT THEATER IN A GEHRY DESIGNED BUILDING, WITH THE JOYCE THEATER AS THE ANCHOR TENANT. Specifically the LMDC must do the following: establish the 501(c)(3) entity that will raise funds for the project, along with a strong board of directors and dynamic leadership and allow fundraising to begin. The LMDC must reaffirm the previous commitment of $50 million to the site. There must be a recommitment to building a Gehry-designed, 1000-seat theater. There must also be a reaffirming of the Joyce Theater as the anchor tenant of the PAC.
The LMDC and Port Authority must jointly make it clear to the world that the Performing Arts Center will be built. The 1,000-seat theater remains important to serve a gap of that theater size in our city’s cultural infrastructure. The Joyce remains the most viable and appropriate anchor tenant. The center is important to the community’s future, as well as to the spirit of the site. All governmental entities involved in reconstructing the World Trade Center site must remain faithful to the entire original concept for the site: the Memorial, to commemorate the infinite worth and stories of the lives lost; the commercial to carry on the work of those lives; and the cultural, to celebrate life itself.
7. THE PORT AUTHORITY MUST ISSUE A TIMELINE FOR THE TURNOVER OF TOWER 2 TO SILVERSTEIN PROPERTIES IMMEDIATELY AND ISSUE A STATUS REPORT AND TIMETABLE, WITH BENCHMARKS FOR THE COMPLETION OF ANY OUTSTANDING INFRASTRUCTURE WORK ON THE SITES FOR TOWERS 2, 3 AND 4 The timetable must project when site 2 will be turned over to Silverstein Properties and when all infrastructure work on sites 3 and 4 (which have already been turned over) will be completed. Until then, the Port must issue periodic reports on the status of the timeline, with explanations of any extensions. Obviously, unfolding economic events may impact the programming of the site, but the infrastructure will be required for any future development to take place.
8. IMMEDIATELY CONVENE A MEMORIAL ACCESS PLANNING GROUP. This group should combine site designers, architects, the NYPD, and other security agencies on the site and community representatives, with the goal of achieving the most open and easy access that prudent security will allow. The group should develop plans for interim access to the Memorial for the tenth anniversary and permanent access upon completion of the entire site. Important security and design details need to be addressed now because of their relevance to infrastructure construction. Delaying this process could delay or impede the Memorial’s opening. It makes no sense to open the Memorial Plaza if it cannot be accessed.
9. THE LMDC MUST RELEASE DESIGN SPECIFICATIONS. A number of years ago, the LMDC drafted design specifications for the World Trade Center site that were never released. These site design specifications cover criteria for planting, pavement type, street and sidewalk furniture, lighting and light poles, curb cuts, and façade appearance and other material pertaining to the streetscape, grounds, and building fronts of the site. These design specifications could affect infrastructure now under construction as well as security measures. Finalizing the specifications forthwith could avoid needless costs and extra work. The LMDC should release its draft specifications and then proceed swiftly to a public hearing and ultimate adoption of the specifications.
10. NYPD AND FDNY MUST CONDUCT AND RELEASE A FULL SECURITY AND FIRE SAFETY AUDIT OF PLANS FOR THE UNDERGROUND MUSEUM. A full, joint security review by NYPD and FDNY, based on all applicable New York City codes, as well as other governmental regulations and state-of-the-art measures, should be completed and certified by the agencies. We cannot once more complete plans only to have security agencies send them back to the drawing board. Several family groups have raised questions about security measures, entrances, exits, ramps, and other aspects of security precautions planned for the underground museum. They may be right or wrong, in whole or in part, but these family groups and the public deserve to know definitively.
11. PRODUCE A LOWER MANHATTAN BUS PLAN WITHIN NINE MONTHS. This could be done in-house or by retained experts in consultation with the community. The Memorial tour buses are coming, but no one knows where they will lay over, where they will drop off and pick up passengers and what routes they will take. Lower Manhattan already faces a bus invasion, with more long-distance bus passengers than the midtown Port Authority bus terminal, according to police statistics. Combine this with tour buses, commuter buses, casino buses and all manner of charter buses. We need a plan to protect the area’s quality of life and the ambience of the Memorial, which will be a major destination. The different buses share many of the same streets, routes, stops, and might most efficiently share the same parking facilities. The report must therefore lay out options for all bus categories for all of downtown from at least south of Ninth Street. Again, this needs to be worked out now because it could have an impact on the underground parking facility and related infrastructure presently under construction at the World Trade Center site.
12. THE LMDC MUST IMMEDIATELY ISSUE A DETAILED STATUS REPORT AND TIMETABLE ON 130 LIBERTY STREET AND PROVIDE REGULAR UPDATES. The LMCCC should continue to play an active oversight role at 130 Liberty Street. However, we are reluctant to recommend a governance overhaul for fear that this could only generate further delay. This project’s delay stems from past mistakes, including ignoring sound practices demanded by community groups and elected officials. However, the LMDC’s current administration has it right with the decoupling of decontamination and demolition, and ongoing safety measures. In order to prevent further delay, the LMDC must provide a timetable and detailed monthly progress reports, including explanations for any failures to meet the timetable. Much of this is now being done verbally at periodic task force meetings. Given the past history of this project, these reports need to be formalized in writing, with as much detail as possible.
13. CLOSE VESEY STREET BETWEEN CHURCH STREET AND WEST BROADWAY, BUT ONLY IF THE PORT AUTHORITY MEETS THE BURDEN OF DEMONSTRATING THAT TO DO SO WOULD MATERIALLY SAVE TIME OR PROVIDE FOR GREATER SAFETY The imperative to avoid delay at the World Trade Center site appears to far outweigh the inconvenience of the temporary street closure. The Vesey Street block that would be closed does not have residences or businesses needing to access the street. However, the Port Authority must put in place means to compensate for the closure, such as widened sidewalks on adjoining streets, additional signage, additional traffic enforcement agents, and shuttle buses, including a shuttle bus connection with Battery Park City. Vesey Street should not be closed any longer than is absolutely necessary. The Port Authority should regularly update the community as to the progress of the work performed and whether there is a continuing need to keep that section of Vesey Street closed. Local Law 24 must be followed in letter and spirit, to ensure proper community input and notification.
14. CONTINUE THE STEERING COMMITTEE RECENTLY ESTABLISHED BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR WARD. By all accounts, the steering committee established by Chris Ward has provided improved coordination among the public and private entities working on or regulating the World Trade Center site. Representation by the Mayor’s office on the steering committee should include the NYPD in order to assure full interagency coordination and to avoid the delays due to lack of such coordination, which have occurred in the past.
15. CONTINUE THE PORT AUTHORITY BRIEFINGS FOR FAMILY MEMBERS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS IN LOWER MANHATTAN. By all accounts, the direct meetings between high-ranking Port Authority figures and representatives of family groups and local community representatives have not only reduced tensions but provided valuable input. These briefings should take place on a regular basis. They should be expanded to include the Memorial Museum and the MTA. In addition, we urge the Port Authority to continue to hold monthly open meetings of its board of directors focused exclusively on the World Trade Center. These board meetings must be held at a location in Lower Manhattan to maximize the number of community members who may wish to attend. We suggest the Conference Center of the New York Academy of Sciences at 7 World Trade Center, overlooking the site, reminding us all of the progress that can be made.
16. INTEGRATE THE TRIBUTE CENTER PERMANENTLY INTO THE MUSEUM ENTRANCE BUILDING. This building is supposed to provide orientation exhibitions as well as security and ticketing functions. The Tribute Center has provided orientation admirably since it opened. Lee Ielpi and his team stepped up to provide this critical service when no one else did. They have done a remarkable job. The Tribute Center they created has received approximately 715,000 visitors to date. It exists in temporary leased space, but it deserves to become permanent in order to continue to enhance the education for site visitors. The entrance building of the museum would be the logical place and would avoid redundancy and waste in resources. At the very least, a discussion between the Tribute Center and the Memorial Museum should take place, and take place now so that the entrance building’s layout and size could still be adjusted to accommodate the Center. In the past we have questioned the need for a separate entrance building at all. The Museum’s entrance could be created through the oversized Calatrava building. However, if we are going to have an additional building, it should be as meaningful as possible. We cannot imagine anything more meaningful than the Tribute Center.
17. CREATE A MECHANISM TO STRENGTHEN CONSTRUCTION SITE SAFETY AND LOWER MANHATTAN’S LIVABILITY. Situations will undoubtedly increase as work at or above ground level accelerates and authorities charged with the work seek variances, or the equivalent, to meet or exceed schedules. We cannot sacrifice the health, well-being or livability of area workers or residents to get the work done. That would fly in the face of the value of upholding the importance and sanctity of every human being, which the site and downtown’s rebirth are supposed to reflect. Next month, this office will release a follow-up report and series of recommendations to improve construction site safety and construction area livability for Lower Manhattan and the city at large. We call on all levels and leaders of government to work together to achieve the goal of reconstruction within the timeframe, but not at the expense of safety and livability.
COURTESY GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM
Last month, Thomas Krens, the man who defined the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for two decades, announced he will no longer be running the place.
Like much of what Krens and the Guggenheim have proposed over that time, his public resignation was vague and tentative. Krens will stay on as an international adviser, and he will coordinate the construction of the planned Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a cultural complex of buildings designed by Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, with smaller structures by such younger architects as Greg Lynn, Ben van Berkel, and Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture. The Guggenheim shares its site with the Louvre’s grand Persian Gulf outpost.
As Krens gives up his day-to-day duties, he leaves a Guggenheim molded in his image and an indelible imprint on museums internationally. Krens pioneered the creation of international museum outposts with the high-profile Guggenheim Museum Bilbao that made Frank Gehry a mainstream celebrity. The Guggenheim now has some half-dozen outposts, depending on how you count them, and the practice has been copied by the State Hermitage Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and more recently, by the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou.
DAVID HEALD/COURTESY GUGGENHEIM FOUNDATION
Krens gave the Guggenheim over to unlikely objects, like motorcycles and clothes, both in shows funded by interested manufacturers like BMW and Armani; cars by Cai Guo-Qiang are now in the 5th Avenue atrium. He also took art and high-profile architecture to gambling casinos in Las Vegas (with another project planned for a casino in Singapore, initiated without telling his trustees) and he transported art from under-funded Russian museums to western audiences that were eager to pay to see it.
Yet the man who sought “positions” in regions all over the world left some flops in his wake—in Rio de Janeiro, where public outcry over construction costs stymied a Guggenheim by Jean Nouvel; in Taiwan, where a Guggenheim master plan with buildings by Gehry and Hadid never got past the models; in downtown Manhattan, where a Gehry mega-museum died after 9/11; and in Guadalajara, Mexico, where a Guggenheim skyscraper by Enrique Norten hasn’t been mentioned again since its trumpeted announcement almost three years ago.
Sources close to the museum say that before Krens stepped down, the Guggenheim struggled to find a replacement for the museum’s director, Lisa Dennison, who left last summer for a job at Sotheby’s. Her job is still not filled. Now the Guggenheim may have to search for two executives, just as the Metropolitan Museum of Art is seeking to hire a replacement for outgoing director Philippe de Montebello.
Insiders say that the Guggenheim Board and any future director will refocus the museum away from expensive architectural globalism and toward its New York site and its neglected collection. The rhetoric echoes an approach suggested by Peter Lewis, the insurance tycoon and former board chairman, who left the board in 2005 after Krens refused to abandon plans for more expansion. Lewis was the Guggenheim’s most important donor since the death of its founder. After leaving, he kept his promise to fund the conservation of the Frank Lloyd Wright pavilion’s exterior on 5th Avenue. To date, the combined Guggenheim board has failed to match Lewis’ generosity.
Krens’ new role will free him to make deals and leverage real estate gambits with Guggenheim art, forgoing the administrative duties that were never his strength. It could also free him to work on behalf of other museums, and Krens could turn out to be an even bigger global brand than the institution he ran for 20 years. The architects, artists, and oligarchs in his circle are his personal capital, not the Guggenheim’s.
To believe Krens, cities are still lining up to build and run a Guggenheim, or something that looks like one. Yet back on 5th Avenue, the over-extended and under-endowed institution that Krens leaves behind is already scaring off potential successors.
The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) unveiled its first U.S. project since its New York office broke away last summer to form the firm REX, taking many of OMA’s stateside projects with it. On February 26, Rem Koolhaas unveiled a 52-story mixed-use tower that will rise in Jersey City’s fast-gentrifying Powerhouse Arts District on a site that once housed an artists’ commune. He gave a lecture-style presentation complete with slides to press, politicians, and developers assembled at the Jersey City Museum.
The 1.2 million-square-foot development for BLDG Management and the Athena Group features two slabs set at 90-degree angles to each other, which will house apartments, a hotel, and a restaurant. These cantilever over an immense cube set upon a full-block plinth. The lower levels contain additional housing, live-work spaces for artists, and gallery and retail space.
Koolhaas explained that OMA had taken the typical towers so prevalent in Jersey City and literally turned them on their side. “In current architecture, there is an incredible adoration of the computer, of flowing forms,” he said. “We felt in the generic shapes, there is still a lot not yet explored.” He also repeatedly emphasized the integral role structural engineers WSP Cantor Seinuk played in creating the “super-structure” that keeps the Jenga-like pieces aloft.
The building will have an unusual appearance from Manhattan, where its profile will resemble a square popsicle. According to Shohei Shigematsu, head of OMA New York, the top section will be sheathed in glass while the bottom slab and cube will be outfitted in “something precast, probably concrete or plastic, whichever is more economical.” The budget is currently set at $400 million, and BLDG expects that construction will be finished within three to four years.
Koolhaas talked about how PATH and 9/11 made Jersey City “almost a part of Manhattan” and went on to discuss how the roofs would function as open spaces for public interaction, much like Rockefeller Center. Anticipating a wall of high-rises along the Hudson, Koolhaas pointed out that the tower would maintain its profile. “Basically, our building is trying to respond to a future situation,” he said.
Five and a half years after 9/11, the WTC site and its surrounding streets are rumbling nonstop, with armies of workers laboring to finish site preparation and complex below-grade work. It will be more than a year before most of the key projects begin rising above grade. While the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, MTA, NYC Department ofTransportation, and private interests such as Silverstein Properties and Brookfield Properties coordinate underground work involving tunneling, linking pedestrian passageways, and threading utilities through the catacombs beneath the site and the cityys streets, the architects behind the iconic projects continue to refine their designs.
The process of design development and establishing construction schedules seems much clearer now that the LMDC is essentially out of the picture and the Port Authority has assumed control of the major WTC construction projectssa role it announced it would take last June and that was finalized on December 14. The Port Authority is overseeing the construction of the Memorial and Memorial Museum, the Freedom Tower, and the Transportation Hub. The agency is also producing Commercial Design Guidelines for private developments around the site, which should be released in the next few months. These guidelinesswhich are being produced with the help of Studio Daniel Libeskind and can be seen as a continuation of his work on the WTC Master Plannwill address issues such as massing, building heights, and street interface for commercial developments. The Port Authority is also in the process of contracting a consultant for streetscape design, following an RFP issued in December. The timing for these initiatives seems belated, given that the designs of the areaas most notable projectssincluding Silversteinns towers by Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Fumihiko Makii are well underway. With most of the projects looking at completion dates well beyond 2009, however, hopefully latee will prove better than never..
CATHY LANG HO
Courtesy WTC Memorial Foundation
The WTC Memorialls beleaguered design process is close to clearing another obstacle: resolving the treatment of victimss names. In Michael Aradds original design, the victimss names were randomly arranged in a ribbon surrounding the twin pools, viewed from contemplative below-ground galleries that encircled the pools. Following Frank Sciamees June 2006 cost-saving recommendations that eliminated underground components of the memorial, designers were asked to propose ways of integrating the names with the above-ground pools. Another new design requirement, which was ratified by the WTC Memorial Foundation in early December, is the grouping of victimss names according to where and with whom they might have been during the attack.
The designers are now exploring ways of integrating the names with the parapet surrounding the twin pools. Weere concerned with how to treat [the parapet] as not just a utilitarian object but as a contemplative one,,said Arad. Weere thinking about how a visitor approaches the edge of an enormous void, and how we can create an area of quiet reflection around it.. While he couldnnt offer specifics, Arad pointed out his desire for a parapet height that induces visitors to bow their heads, and a treatment of the inscriptions that allows visitors direct contact with names while discouraging behavior that might undermine the sacredness of the space.
With the memorial raised to the plaza level, consulting landscape architect Peter Walker has been called upon to revise his park design..Now therees pressure on the areas around the pool to have a more spiritual quality,, he said. Hees reexamining the space behind the parapets, considering densifying the canopy of trees or other measures that will give people a greater sense of a private space,, he said.
Walker is also studying the northeast corner of the plaza. The original design of the cultural center [by Snnhetta] provided an archway, which acted as a natural gateway into the park,, said Walker. Now the plaza itself must serve as a gateway, and our dilemma is how to create a meaningful sequence into a space thatts hallowed and quiet..
The Port Authority and Memorial Foundation expect to have design options for these memorial elements in the first quarter of this year. Also expected to be unveiled in the coming months is a revised design of the much smaller Snnhetta facility, which will now function only as the Memorial Museum and visitors center.
WTC Transportation Hub
Courtesy Port Authority
When Santiago Calatrava unveiled his design of the birdlike Transportation Hub in January 2004, the $2.2 billion project was heralded as an optimistic symbol for the rebirth of the WTC site. Located kitty-corner to the memorial plaza, the sculptural building has taken on new importance since the Snnhetta project was reprogrammed and no longer spans the northeast corner of the memorial plaza, anticipated to be the memorialls busiest entrance point.
This change in plans opens the station to more space and sky, but has also presented a new dilemma: The northeast corner of the plaza will now serve as the prime gateway to the memorial, and must be designed to convey a dignified approach. The problem is, the plaza is also the roof of the underground stationns mezzanine area, which Calatrava designed to be lit with skylights. At present, he and landscape architect Peter Walker are working intently on a solution that will preserve the capacity for light to descend into the mezzanine while also ensuring that the space shapes an appropriate procession to the memorial itself. The Port Authority anticipates that design options will be presented in the next few months.
Meanwhile, this month construction crews began work on a pedestrian concourse that will link the hub to the Winter Garden across West Street.
Couretsy Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
The Freedom Tower has been a magnet for skepticism, since its first vague envisioning by masterplanner Daniel Libeskind as a soaring symbol for freedom, through its bumpy process, which included a complete design overhaul in 2005 due to 11th-hour security concerns raised by the New York Police Department. Many still question whether or not the project, by David Childs of SOM, will really materialize, with detractors persistently vocalizing alternative plans for the site. (As recently as January 18, at a Downtown Alliance event, Rafael Viioly issued a call to scrap the tower and divert its funding subsidies to the WTC Memorial, which is still shy of its fundraising goals, and cultural facilities, which have all but disappeared from the site.)
Itts time for skeptics to put away their doubts. The 82- story, 2.6-million-squarefoot tower is indeed rising: Foundation work is essentially complete and on December 19, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg showed up to watch the first three 25-ton steel columns installed on the site. Theyyre the first of 27 extra-large steel columns that will line the perimeter of the tower base, to be in place by May. By the end of the year, more columns will brace the lower level and a second tier will bring steelwork to grade.
Of course, design goes on until the last day because field conditions change,, said Childs, but basically the building will look like how we showed it in June.. At that time, the designers revealed that the 186-foot-tall, 200-by- 200-foot base would be clad in 13-foot-tall glass prisms. I wanted to make sure the facade would be as lively as possible,, he explained. At present, the designers are working with three different glass manufacturers to test a range of options. The glass might be cast, or rolled, or milled,, he said. We want an interesting texture and a reflectivity that will cast a multicolored spectrum of light..
Childs has brought on top collaborators, including Washington, D.C..based lighting designer Claude Engel, who worked with Norman Foster on the Reichstag project, and New Yorkkbased sculptor Kenneth Snelson, an innovator in tensegrity structures, who will advise on the design of the towerrs broadcast antenna. (The Port Authority is in the midst of negotiations with the Metropolitan Television Alliance over the antenna.) Childs is also working closely with landscape architect PeterWalker on the design of the towerrs surrounding grounds (terraced plaza at Vesey and West streets, pictured). The choice of Walker, who is also working on the memorial, was especially sensitive given that itts been left to individual designers to addresshoweach project relates to one another.
Fulton Street Transit Center
Courtesy Grimshaw Architects
As recently reported by William Neuman and David Dunlap in The New York Times ((Planners Clash Over Transit Hub, and Riders Win,, January 8, 2007), the Fulton Street Transit Center has overcome its latest hurdle, with theMTAagreeing to fund the difference between the $847 million in federal funds committed to the project and the current estimated cost of $888million.The funds secure the future of a passageway beneath Dey Street, leading to the WTC Transportation Hub one block west.
The project, which will serve as a headhouse for a multitude of linessthe A, C, E, J,M,Z, R,W, 2, 3, 4, and 55 has had its share of hairy moments since it was commissioned to Grimshaw Architects in 2003. The initial design, a bulbous, glasssheathed steel cone, unveiled in May 2004 and budgeted at $750 million, had to be modified one year later due to budget problems: To build the center, the MTA had to acquire all the real estate on Broadway between Fulton and John streets, and no one anticipated real estate prices would skyrocket as they did.
Courtesy Grimshaw Architects
Courtesy Grimshaw Architects
In spring 2006, the architects offered a scaled-back design that included the elimination of a sub-basement, the relocation of MTA offices to a ring around the domed atriummoccupying what principal Vincent Chang described as found spacee?and a reconceived dome. It was a different program, so we had to design a different building,, said Chang. Importantly, the new design preserves the architectss essential concepts: providing a strong civic icon as a response to the previously hidden, building-embedded subway entrances scattered in the area; bringing natural light and some of New Yorkks vibrant street quality to the stationns subterranean depths; and clarifying views within the station to aid in wayfinding. Performance and light were the conceptual drivers,, said Chang, explaining how their terms of analysis applied equally well to the new design. For the dome, which is not only slightly shorter but has lost its outward bulge, designers have decided on an elegant diamond cable-net (left, below) suspended from a steel ring that will form an oculus, outfitted with glass blades that will filter incoming light (left, above). From the projectts outset, the firm, in collaboration with James Carpenter, has been conducting extensive studies to predict the angle and nature of lightts reflection inside the cone and how it is redirected to the spaces below.
The team is still finalizing the design of the facade of the rectangular glass pavilion, following requests last August from the NYPD for a more beefed-up perimeter to withstand blasts. (Chang assured that the amount of glass and transparency would remain the same.) Construction drawings will be finished in March, and a completion date is set for 2009.
Courtesy Grimshaw Architects
A couple of weeks ago, several hundred well-wishers, including San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and 2007 AIA national president R. K. Stewart, poured into the sixth floor of San Francisco’s historic Hallidie Building to fête the local AIA chapter’s newly renovated home. More than improved digs, the renovation also inaugurates the Center for Architecture + Design, a gallery, lecture, and multipurpose space. This is the first West Coast forum for professional dialogue about and public appreciation for architecture as well as design.
A week and a half earlier, members of the Portland, Oregon, component were looking forward to their own celebration: Participants selected to design its new center in a 5,000-square-foot former horse stable gathered on site to check out office furniture and systems. The test drive was part of a two-day-long charrette to devise big-idea concepts that would define the large-scale redo to come. And throughout the fall, four Texas chapters of the AIA will be opening their own centers for architecture.
Beyond these six snapshots, centers for architecture are sprouting up across the country. The phenomenon reflects architecture’s popularization as much as it responds to current events. Sally Ann Fly, executive director of AIA Austin, said, “You can’t avoid TV programming on everything from small space design to a complete home construction. With the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, the more basic issues of urban planning have become cocktail-party conversation.”
AIA New York executive director Rick Bell traces the impetus further back, noting, “After 9/11, people were increasingly aware that good design impacts the livability of a community. Public interest in architecture was probably mounting even before that, as a result of greater awareness of branding and the rise of star architects.” Portland AIA president Nancy Merryman also acknowledged, “We’ve been a victim of our own success. Combine our growing internship and continuing education programs with our aspiration to attract the public to our gallery, and we’ve outgrown our current office.”
AIA-shepherded centers for architecture date to 1991, when the Seattle chapter renovated its 2,000-square-foot downtown office to face the street and, correspondingly, launched the Resource Center for Architecture. According to Marga Rose Hancock, interim executive vice president of the Seattle AIA, the storefront reorientation “immediately transformed the operation. Not only did it pique people’s curiosity but they could actually walk in and put their hands on architects’ stuff. We started seminars about how to select an architect, which we’ve been giving once a month basically ever since. We’ve educated thousands of people.”
The Seattle chapter renovated its space again, in 2004. This time, AIA Seattle Young Architects Forum radically transformed the interior, but the mission remained the same. Most centers in this current crop, though, are taking programmatic cues from the Center for Architecture in New York. Hancock described the different approaches: “I very much admire the New York Center for Architecture; their general credo is ‘Architecture as Public Policy,’ which dovetails well with how they operate their space. [It’s also the official theme of this year’s AIA president Mark Strauss.] The philosophy that has guided us since 1991 was ‘Architect as a Resource,’ which tries to convey a sense of accessibility. It’s a different dialogue from that promulgated by the New York center, and I think they’re complementary.”
Indeed, Fly remembers attending a conference in which Bell described the development of the Center for Architecture, and thinking, “By golly, it was just what we had imagined!” Bell later visited the Austin strategic planning committee, and Fly said the component is actively emulating many elements of the New York predecessor. The center, which will operate under a five-year lease in an Art Deco service station, will take occupancy in late November with an official grand opening shortly thereafter.
AIA national president Kate Schwennsen noted, “The success of the New York center has not gone unnoticed by those considering starting their own centers.” However, “centers are specific not only to the profession of architecture but to their respective locales,” she observed.
So while Seattle continues to reach out to potential clients and the year-old Virginia Center for Architecture, located in a restored John Russell Pope mansion in Richmond, functions more like a museum, other centers are choosing a path somewhere in the middle.
“I think we’re a hybrid,” said Margie O’Driscoll, executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the AIA. “We are a very active chapter in terms of public outreach, but we’re also about our members having the most up-to-date information about products, services, and techniques.”
Echoes of New York will resonate to visitors of the San Francisco center, who will immediately notice that the AIA is sharing its space with other related associations, including the California chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and local chapter of the AIGA. While O’Driscoll noted that many Bay Area designers cross disciplines, the move is similar to Bell’s signing on what he calls “partner organizations” in New York—groups he has invited to use the space for events ranging from book launches to continuing education classes to public lectures. He reasoned that such a strategy is “effective in public policy and engaging civic life—you don’t isolate yourself.” O’Driscoll further hopes to link exhibitions with those that appear in centers like New York’s.
O’Driscoll, like many other AIA leaders, also see the new centers as a chance to lead by example. As in Seattle, the San Francisco center, designed by local architect Alfred Quezada, Jr., is aiming for a minimum LEED-Silver rating. (The New York center employed many sustainable measures, notably, a geothermal heating system, and is considering getting a LEED rating retroactively.) “Clients say green costs too much money or they question the look. They don’t understand the rich variety of products and services available that meet a very high aesthetic as well as meet sustainable criteria,” said O’Driscoll. “Here our members can take potential clients and clients into the space and say, ‘Look, this is the best of modern design and it’s highly sustainable.’”
Bell emphasized that while New York’s Center for Architecture established a precedent, other chapters are forging their own paths. He also acknowledged that New York’s isn’t perfect. Given their heavy exhibition load, the building has become tight for the New York chapter’s growing staff. Bell added that a bookstore and bar/café would be nice.
Despite any latent faults, New York’s and other cities’ new AIA centers are reflecting a sea change not only for a public curious about architecture but for the AIA itself. “The AIA has stopped looking so fat and gray,” Bell said. “Any organization that wants to be self-perpetuating after 149 years has to bring in young people.”
While the proliferation of new convergence points for the architecture community and the public proves that the centers’ movement has gone mainstream, two new efforts hint at its future evolution. At this year’s AIA national convention, members learned that a new committee, which includes Bell, is planning a center for architecture at its Washington, D.C., headquarters—a literal “American Institute of Architecture,” he noted. Also, in Seattle, Hancock has begun work on a project called “the de-center for architecture,” in which she makes long-term visits at members’ offices, which she hopes will yield new initiatives. “What’s the future of the organization in our changing world when people go to chat rooms rather than meetings? Maybe we want an AIA-mobile. It’s been kind of a joke, but I have begun to take it more seriously.”
Ironically, Hancock’s project couldn’t have been inspired without a center for architecture. “During the 2004 remodel, we relocated for eight or nine months while the construction was going on. We lived with [local architecture firm] Arai Jackson Ellison Murakami, and it was wonderful. We’ve all been around, but we hadn’t really spent all that much time directly in architects’ offices. We really got insights into how what we do and what they do are related. It was fascinating.”
A couple of weeks ago, several hundred well-wishers, including San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and 2007 AIA national president R. K. Stewart, poured into the sixth floor of San Francisco`s historic Hallidie Building to ffte the local AIA chapter`s newly renovated home. More than improved digs, the renovation also inaugurates the Center for Architecture + Design, a gallery, lecture, and multipurpose space. This is the first West Coast forum for professional dialogue about and public appreciation for architecture as well as design.
A week and a half earlier, members of the Portland, Oregon, component were looking forward to their own celebration: Participants selected to design its new center in a 5,000-square-foot former horse stable gathered on site to check out office furniture and systems. The test drive was part of a two-day-long charrette to devise big-idea concepts that would define the large-scale redo to come. And throughout the fall, four Texas chapters of the AIA will be opening their own centers for architecture.
Beyond these six snapshots, centers for architecture are sprouting up across the country. The phenomenon reflects architecture`s popularization as much as it responds to current events. Sally Ann Fly, executive director of AIA Austin, said, You can`t avoid TV programming on everything from small space design to a complete home construction. With the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, the more basic issues of urban planning have become cocktail-party conversation..
AIA New York executive director Rick Bell traces the impetus further back, noting, After 9/11, people were increasingly aware that good design impacts the livability of a community. Public interest in architecture was probably mounting even before that, as a result of greater awareness of branding and the rise of star architects.. Portland AIA president Nancy Merryman also acknowledged, We`ve been a victim of our own success. Combine our growing internship and continuing education programs with our aspiration to attract the public to our gallery, and we`ve outgrown our current office..
AIA-shepherded centers for architecture date to 1991, when the Seattle chapter renovated its 2,000-square-foot downtown office to face the street and, correspondingly, launched the Resource Center for Architecture. According to Marga Rose Hancock, interim executive vice president of the Seattle AIA, the storefront reorientation immediately transformed the operation. Not only did it pique people`s curiosity but they could actually walk in and put their hands on architects` stuff. We started seminars about how to select an architect, which we`ve been giving once a month basically ever since. We`ve educated thousands of people..
The Seattle chapter renovated its space again, in 2004. This time, AIA Seattle Young Architects Forum radically transformed the interior, but the mission remained the same. Most centers in this current crop, though, are taking programmatic cues from the Center for Architecture in New York. Hancock described the different approaches: I very much admire the New York Center for Architecture; their general credo is Architecture as Public Policy,` which dovetails well with how they operate their space. [It`s also the official theme of this year`s AIA president Mark Strauss.] The philosophy that has guided us since 1991 was Architect as a Resource,` which tries to convey a sense of accessibility. It`s a different dialogue from that promulgated by the New York center, and I think they`re complementary..
Indeed, Fly remembers attending a conference in which Bell described the development of the Center for Architecture, and thinking, By golly, it was just what we had imagined!! Bell later visited the Austin strategic planning committee, and Fly said the component is actively emulating many elements of the New York predecessor. The center, which will operate under a five-year lease in an Art Deco service station, will take occupancy in late November with an official grand opening shortly thereafter.
AIA national president Kate Schwennsen noted, The success of the New York center has not gone unnoticed by those considering starting their own centers.. However, centers are specific not only to the profession of architecture but to their respective locales,, she observed.
So while Seattle continues to reach out to potential clients and the year-old Virginia Center for Architecture, located in a restored John Russell Pope mansion in Richmond, functions more like a museum, other centers are choosing a path somewhere in the middle.
I think we`re a hybrid,, said Margie O`Driscoll, executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the AIA. We are a very active chapter in terms of public outreach, but we`re also about our members having the most up-to-date information about products, services, and techniques..
Echoes of New York will resonate to visitors of the San Francisco center, who will immediately notice that the AIA is sharing its space with other related associations, including the California chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and local chapter of the AIGA. While O`Driscoll noted that many Bay Area designers cross disciplines, the move is similar to Bell`s signing on what he calls partner organizationss in New Yorkkgroups he has invited to use the space for events ranging from book launches to continuing education classes to public lectures. He reasoned that such a strategy is effective in public policy and engaging civic lifeeyou don`t isolate yourself.. O`Driscoll further hopes to link exhibitions with those that appear in centers like New York`s.
O`Driscoll, like many other AIA leaders, also see the new centers as a chance to lead by example. As in Seattle, the San Francisco center, designed by local architect Alfred Quezada, Jr., is aiming for a minimum LEED-Silver rating. (The New York center employed many sustainable measures, notably, a geothermal heating system, and is considering getting a LEED rating retroactively.) Clients say green costs too much money or they question the look. They don`t understand the rich variety of products and services available that meet a very high aesthetic as well as meet sustainable criteria,, said O`Driscoll. Here our members can take potential clients and clients into the space and say, Look, this is the best of modern design and it`s highly sustainable.``
Bell emphasized that while New York`s Center for Architecture established a precedent, other chapters are forging their own paths. He also acknowledged that New York`s isn`t perfect. Given their heavy exhibition load, the building has become tight for the New York chapter`s growing staff. Bell added that a bookstore and bar/caff would be nice.
Despite any latent faults, New York`s and other cities` new AIA centers are reflecting a sea change not only for a public curious about architecture but for the AIA itself. The AIA has stopped looking so fat and gray,, Bell said. Any organization that wants to be self-perpetuating after 149 years has to bring in young people..
While the proliferation of new convergence points for the architecture community and the public proves that the centers` movement has gone mainstream, two new efforts hint at its future evolution. At this year`s AIA national convention, members learned that a new committee, which includes Bell, is planning a center for architecture at its Washington, D.C., headquarterssa literal American Institute of Architecture,, he noted. Also, in Seattle, Hancock has begun work on a project called the de-center for architecture,, in which she makes long-term visits at members` offices, which she hopes will yield new initiatives. What`s the future of the organization in our changing world when people go to chat rooms rather than meetings? Maybe we want an AIA-mobile. It`s been kind of a joke, but I have begun to take it more seriously..
Ironically, Hancock`s project couldn`t have been inspired without a center for architecture. During the 2004 remodel, we relocated for eight or nine months while the construction was going on. We lived with [local architecture firm] Arai Jackson Ellison Murakami, and it was wonderful. We`ve all been around, but we hadn`t really spent all that much time directly in architects` offices. We really got insights into how what we do and what they do are related. It was fascinating..
David Sokol is a New Yorkkbased writer and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.
The Biennale featured, in the Arsenale and various national pavilions, the works of many photographers known for their urban documentation, including Armin Linke, Gabriele Basilico, Edward Burtynksky, Antoni Muntadas, Bas Princen, and Sze-Tsung Leong. Italian photographer Olivo Barbieri's site specific_SHANGHAI 04 (2004), above, and Spanish photographer Dionisio Gonzalez Heliolopolis (2006), below, both appear in the mini-exhibition C on Cities, curated by the magazine C International Photo Magazine.
Courtesy Galerra Max Estrella
Cities Without Architecture
Architecture critic and author; professor at Syracuse University in Florence
Behind this year's Venice Architecture Biennale lurks a daunting moral imperative: Something must be done before the planet is overrun by urbanization. But whether architecture is the problem or the solution remains a serious doubt. The title of the show, Cities, Architecture, and Society, is peculiarly inaccurate in that the content of the major exhibition in the stadium-length Corderie of the Venice Arsenal is devoted to 16 urban regions of a size and complexity that can no longer be called cities. Any of them—London, Tokyo, New York, Mexico City, Mumbai, Shanghai—are made of a fusion of several cities around a historic core city, each comprising a sprawling megalopolis of millions of inhabitants in areas that are usually more than 50 kilometers in diameter. Aside from this linguistic anomaly, the main exhibition suffers from a more egregious absence: There is no architecture: that is, there are no memorable projects presented meaningfully through drawings, models, or photographs. The buildings and projects that are visible in an impressive series of films and photographs used in the show are furtive—always incidental to some greater reality. At first this lack of architecture strikes one as a pleasant surprise in an exhibition known for its incestuous relationships to star architects and its tendentious promotion of formal trends. But after 300 meters of being hounded by statistics and zenith views of cities, one starts to miss the company of celebrity authors and their trademark works, or at least some sense of a project for architecture.
This year's director, Richard Burdett, professor at the London School of Economics and architectural advisor to the Mayor of London, aside from delegating the Golden Lion career award to his close friend Richard Rogers, has studiously avoided giving any notion of a criterion for architecture. Good intentions, however, are blazoned on the walls—sustainability and social justice—but they are not given any particular aesthetic agenda. Nor do the few specific examples, such as the transport system in Bogota, offer any notion of what can be done. An exemplary project for urban regeneration, for instance, Barcelona's 22@, a 200-hectare new town, is thrown in with hundreds of images and completely lost. Burdett's vision of the megalopolis, as he states, is of promising challenges, providing the opportunity to re-design the meanings, the functions, the aptitudes and the positive features of the various urban structures and strategies. But the display remains primarily analytical.
The alarm over uncontrollable urban growth has been sounded frequently since the end of the 19th century, when Ebenezer Howard, reacting to the inhumane densities of London, the world's first boundless megalopolis, proposed the Garden City as a means of restoring the balance between city and nature. Two generations later Jose Lluis Sert published the modernist notions of decentralized urbanism in his 1942 tract Can Our Cities Survive? And more than 50 years back the most influential urban historian, Lewis Mumford, was constantly engaged in battles against sprawl and urban growth. The Dutch Pavilion directed by Aaron Betsky recuperates some of the bird's-eye-views of how Dutch architects confronted the question of urban crowding, using archival materials, such as H. P. Berlage's 1910 plan of South Amsterdam and the 1960s beehive scheme of Bijlmemeer. The Austrian Pavilion, curated by Wolf Prix, also recuperated historic exhibitions of urban utopias, including a recreation of Fredrick Kiesler's 1925 City in Space and Hans Hollein's 1964 malaprop collages of aircraft carriers in wheat fields. These historic works were in fact the closest thing to an architectural agenda in the Biennale. The only other truly inspiring exhibit from a formal point of view was Metro-polis, curated by Benedetto Gravagnuolo and Alessandro Mendini, devoted to the new subway system in Naples, a series of art-stations designed by well-known international architects and artists as varied as Dominique Perrault and Anish Kapoor.
If the question of rampant urbanization is by now rather old, what's new about Burdett's analysis? Nothing, really, except the consideration of the ever-increasing dimensions of scale and the influence of digital technologies, which have resulted in the concept of flows. He promises that 75 percent of the world will live in urban situations by 2050, but since most of Europe and developed nations have already surpassed this measure, this fact does not seem so controversial. Uncontrollable urban growth is a vexing problem in terms of its environmental consequences, but this has not really yielded a show that provides convincing solutions; rather, it is a bit like walking through a geography textbook. There have been other recent exhibitions, such as MVRDV's traveling installation Metacity/Datatown (1999) and Rem Koolhaas and Stefano Boeri's Mutations: Harvard Project on the City at the Arc en Reve in Bordeaux (2000) that were more successful in creating a graphic method for appreciating the quantitative difference of the contemporary megalopolis.
A surprising number of the national pavilions were devoted to what can be called everyday urbanism. The Australian Pavilion in fact uses the term specifically, the Belgian is devoted to the beauty of the ordinary, and those of the U.K., Hungary, Korea, and many others worked on the pervasiveness of vernacular and commercial landscapes, which in general excludes the work of architects. The Japanese eccentric Terunobu Fujimori was featured in his country's pavilion, offering a movement called ROJO (Roadway Observation Society). One had to remove their shoes to walk through the charred wooden walls into a room paved in tatami mats to look at the weird collection of things found on the roadside and the architect's arcane additions to these landscapes.
The U.S. Pavilion was typically out of step. While the choice of the theme of Hurricane Katrina was a good one considering that most large urban agglomerations contend with a considerable degree of risk from disaster—a subject that has been beautifully investigated by Paul Virilio—the curatorial team of Architectural Record and Tulane University completely avoided the international scandal of the disaster in New Orleans, and the continuing scandal of governmental indifference. They simply offer some student project–like solutions on stilts that will never be built.
The Spanish Pavilion was one of the most formally satisfying, and while it includes many fine urban projects, the focus is exclusively on the presence of women. It presents three dozen white boxes, each with a vertical video screen showing a woman from the waist up, speaking about urban questions. The curator, Manuel Blanco, somewhat like the filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, has produced an exclusively feminine version of a world dominated by men, presenting women who work as planners, politicians, artists, developers, taxi drivers, street vendors, and, of course, architects. Architect Carme Pinos commented, "Everyone says how great I look in the video, but no one seems to have noticed my tower," referring to her recently finished the 20-floor Torre Cube in Guadalajara, Mexico. Her comment captures the spirit of this year's Biennale, which downplays the role of architecture.
The French Pavilion is by far the most exuberant and popular, and perhaps best captures the overall atmosphere of this year's Biennale as cities without architecture.. Directed by architect Patrick Bouchain, it sprawls outside and over the top of its neoclassical porch, with deck chairs and card tables scattered about. Inside one finds scaffolds that shelter a bar, kitchen, and a workshop for artisans to make tee-shirts and other take-home items. The structure also supports a stair for ascending to a roof terrace where visitors can enjoy a sauna, sundecks, and hammocks. A frolicking, hedonistic, and purposely messy affair, much in the spirit of Lucien Kroll, who was involved in its planning, this invasion of the existing structure makes a serious case for participatory design by adaptation rather than settling for the imposed formal order of architects.
Digital Globe / Telespazio
QuickBird satellite views of (from left to right) Milan, Barcelona, and Bogota. Similar views of all the cities under examination appear in the Corderie of the Arsenale.
The Big Reconciliation
Chair of architectural history and theory at the Applied Arts Academy; research fellow in the urbanism department of the Technical University of Delft
For over five hundred years, since Leon Battista Alberti, architects and urbanists formed a whole, working together in the making of cities. That is until the early 1970s, when architecture and planning went through The Big Divorce in American architecture schools. Among the reasons for the break-up was the drying up of publicly-funded support for urban revitalization programs. Urban issues were, largely, thrown out of architecture schools. Key figures left for schools of government and policy, geography departments, and such. As a result, for the past 30 years, architects and urban professionals stopped speaking to one another almost entirely.
Now, Richard Burdett, director of the Cities Program at the London School of Economics and head of the itinerant Urban Age conference series, has, at the request of the Venice Architecture Biennale organizers, kick-started a dialogue between the two disciplines. In order to do so, he presented some of the grubbiest, grittiest, and dynamic cities in the world, including among others Istanbul, Shanghai, Caracas, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo.
The concept behind the exhibition is exciting, with greater implications for the health of the planet and humanity than the latest architectural trends. No one has attempted a comparative study of the world's megacities on this scale before. The exhibition itself won't likely wow the general public, however. Panels of text, images, and charts filled with unprocessed information about the lower depths of urban reality is not the stuff of blockbusters. Among the show's shortcomings is the fact that issues like density and society are raised but are left hanging in the air. In the age of Google Earth, one might also wonder why more interactive media was not used. But what the show lacks in depth of coverage will presumably be supplemented by other activities throughout the next two months while the Biennale acts as a forum for debate and an incubator for policy brainstorming with a planned series of high-level workshops. Here, one supposes that issues like democratic rights, sustainable growth, local government versus World Bank–dictated rules of governance, and Hernando de Soto's brand of neoliberalism will be addressed.
The theme of cities had a galvanizing, almost psychoanalytic effect on many national pavilions. At the U.S. Pavilion, Robert Ivy's team at Architectural Record along with Reed Kroloff of Tulane University grappled with the profound dysfunctionality of post-Katrina New Orleans and wound up with a statement of the inability of architecture alone, in spite of endless good will, to overcome certain political and social realities. The French Pavilion, perhaps as a form of expiation for the race riots that marked the nation's suburbs last year, was turned into one big pop-anarchist Rabelaisian bistro, celebrating togetherness in the midst of delicious food smells and plentiful wine. Austria fell back on two of its bluest chips, venerable masterpieces by once rebellious artists, one by Friedrich Kiesler of 1925 and one of 1964 by Hans Hollein. By contrast, the Hungarian Pavilion took a chance on an independently minded, youthful approach—examining the reach of Chinese-made goods in the world—and came up with a relevant contemporary statement on a specific urban reality. At the Russian Pavilion, the work of Alexander Brodsky, with his hilariously Gogolian black humor, offered a commentary on urban life in Russia today. The Spanish Pavilion was devoted to 52 of the most important women involved with architecture and urbanism in Spain. The overwhelmingly encouraged feminine presence goes a long way in explaining why this country has such great architecture and cities.
Of all the countries, Great Britain was the most active in organizing real discussions. Paul Finch, the editor of Architectural Review, together with Odile Decq, Peter Cook, and Robert White of White Partners should be commended for presenting a series of public debates called The Dark Side Club, which took place every night during the vernissage from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., after all the other parties had ended. And the British Council assembled a panel called My Kind of Town: Architecture and Urban Identity, featuring Rem Koolhaas, David Chipperfield, author Alain de Botton, Nick Johnson of visionary development firm Urban Splash, critic Alice Rawsthorn, and Sudhev Sandhu, author of London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City. Judging by the international attendance, these lively events might set a trend in future Biennales.
Richard Rogers used the high-profile moment of winning this year's Biennale Golden Lion Award for Life Achievement to stress the need for strict government regulations, citing Portland, Oregon, as the most popular city in the U.S. because it is the best at regulating and containing sprawl and encouraging inner-city densification. Of all the speakers I heard, he was the one who got the most enthusiastic response. In the same vein, this Biennale brought the work of a generation of designers in their 40s to the fore, including James Corner of Field Operations in New York, Rahul Mehrotra of Mumbai, Yung Ho Chang of MIT and Beijing, and Jeremy Till from Sheffield, England, to whom architectural issues are not antithetical to urban, political, social, or ecological concerns.
Giorgio Zucciatti / Courtesy Venice Biennale
Courtesy Institute for Japanese Culture
Top: The Austrian Pavilion, directed by Wolf D. Prix, features Hans Hollein's 1964 Flugzeugtrrger (aircraft carrier). The piece suggested how to install a complex urban structure in a rural setting, and also served as ironic commentary on the relationship between the city and nature. Middle: With the opening of the Italian Pavilion in the Tese delle Vergini (near the Arsenale), the old Italian Pavilion in the Giardini was given over to dozens of smaller exhibitions organized by various schools, countries, and research groups. The facade of the pavilion is wrapped in Olivo Barbieri's photograph of the Gonehexin Road overpass in Shanghai. Bottom: The Japanese Pavilion is devoted to the work of Terunobu Fujimori, whose naturalist architecture features the use of charred wood, planted roofs, and rough stone and earth. Within this woven hut, installed in the pavilion, visitors could watch a slideshow of images taken by ROJO, the Roadway Observation Society, founded in 1986 by a group of artists, including Fujimori, dedicated to documenting extraordinary roadside phenomena.
Architecture Between the Cracks
Principal, Toshiko Mori Architect
The Biennale is basically a provocation from director Ricky Burdett to architects and planners. Why do architects not have a role in the forming of cities, why are we not involved more, or voicing opinions more? Why do we have such a lame role in civic discourse? Planners always seem to have good ideas, but they do not follow through. If they did we would not witness the degree of dystopia displayed at this Biennale. Planners do not have power, they are disengaged with physical reality; instead they seem to be buried in paper statistics. With the war in Iraq, the threat of terrorism, poverty, starvation, and genocide erupting around us, how do we answer the questions posed by the exhibition's organizers: Can planning promote social cohesion? Can good governance improve things? Do we all answer "yes" and go and have a Bellini? This is when the 1970s come to mind: Back then, we went into action more directly and architecture's sense of purpose ran deeper.
How did architecture become perceived to be surface-deep? It's an apt question to ask in a city like Venice, where the tourist-pleasing Serenissima facade comprises less than one-third of the city. Going around on the vaporetto (ferry) #82, one sees the blue-collar industrial and working gut of Venice. Author Alain de Botton asked me if I liked the decoration on the building facades. I recommended the vaporetto commute so he could see beyond the place's surface happiness. Architect Patrick Bouchain, organizer of the French Pavilion Metacity/Metaville, where two dozen architects, graphic designers, and media artists set up house and every day go about domestic chores like cooking and sweeping, told me that in Paris, street sweepers are called technicians du surface. The traditional French respect for the worker stands in contrast to the country's recent crisis over the lack of assimilation of immigrants. Intolerance and antagonism are causing riots and lawlessness because people are unable to share discourse and civic values. The message is simply to go back to what we all have in common, and try to establish direct communication among lives in the cities. (The irony is that the pavilion encourages both a sense of community and anarchy, breaking the decorum of exhibition halls by making it an inhabited space, a fragment of a city, with all the transgressions they encompass.)
The Spanish Pavilion, curated, designed, and organized by the perfectionist super-phenom Manuel Blanco, is the individuated and collective voice of women in Spain from all walks of life: female vox populi. It is a very clear, powerful, and credible message. Women are animated, beautiful, sympathetic, and most of all humane. Manuel says his approach was obvious since Spain has a feminine prefix, yet female voices have been suppressed by strong male dominance in politics and culture.
The Irish have the most to show in terms of their efforts to balance Ireland's fast economic growth, ecology, large planning efforts, and sustainability. It is unfortunate that their room, in the old Italian Pavilion, is painted black, since their projects are realistic and send a positive message about the robust engagement of politicians, planners, and architects to make the semblance of utopian future possible.
The relationship and balance between the obvious and visible architectural quotient of a city versus the support fabric of its infrastructure is the point of this Biennale. I was not so worried that there was not enough architecture. A lack of buildings does not mean architecture is absent. There is a territory where architects can take over creatively, as is demonstrated by the Irish group show, which is filled with strong case studies.
There was a lot of dialogue and discussion going on during the vernissage, but one looming question was: Where were the Americans? The U.S. Pavilion sent a strong impression of the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The intricate moving model of cubes suspended by fragile strings is a metaphor for New Orleans housing as a puppet of mechanized bureaucracy. Once these strings are cut, the cubes float aimlessly without life support (full disclosure: this is the work of GSD students). And yet Americans had a weak (if any) presence in the public discussions organized by the Biennale. It made me realize that not only is the U.S. isolating itself in foreign policy, but we may be in danger of isolating ourselves in the area of urbanism too. What can we learn from others, what can we share? Are we engaged in this global discourse? If so, we should certainly be able to have several alternatives and viable models other than New Urbanism.
Cyrille Weiner ( top); Stefan Jonot (bottom)
The French Pavilion has become temporary home to two dozen artists and designers, who have outfitted the neoclassical building with bunk beds, a kitchen, bar, DJ stand, rooftop sauna, and sundeck.
Stefan Jonot (top and middle); Danish Architecture Center (bottom)
Top: The Austrian Pavilion, directed by Wolf D. Prix, features Hans Hollein's 1964 Flugzeugtrager (aircraft carrier). The piece suggested how to install a complex urban structure in a rural setting, and also served as ironic commentary on the relationship between the city and nature. Middle: Their Tiles Garden is made over 60,000 tiles recycled from demolished structures in Hangzhou. Bottom: The Hungarian Pavilion made use of cheap, Chinese-made plastic goods to create animated canopies, wall-hangings, and other installations. The Danish Pavilion proposed various projects for sustainable development in China, including Magic Mountains, a green business district.
The End of the Line for the Biennale?
Architecture critic, London Sunday Times; editor, RIBA Journal
Despite the importance of the subject matter and the high seri- ousness with which it has been approached, this Biennale, for me, does not work as an exhibition. The long, long gloomy columnar promenade of the Corderie in the Arsenal complex—in recent years the heart of the show, crammed with goodies—has never been sparser. You feel you are attending a stern lecture. Only the lecturer is absent, and has sent along his notes instead.
The rest of the show, over in the pocket garden suburb of national pavilions and scattered here and there throughout the city, is as patchy as ever though one finds intermittent flashes of joy. But it is difficult to imagine where this exhibition can go from here. The last good one with a strong theme was curated six years ago by Massimiliano Fuksas, Less Aesthetics, More Ethics. That allowed plenty of provocative architecture, but it also required an analysis of the social dimension.
And now? The architecture biennales are always rather touch-and-go. The go button is always pushed late: It is always a scrabble to get it together in time. This one feels like the end of an era. If the series is to continue, it must be comprehensively re-thought. It must have a reason to exist.
The Laser-Print Biennale
Director, Netherlands Architecture Institute; Incoming Director, Cincinnati Art Museum
As far as I am concerned, the best room was the central space at the Italian Pavilion, where the imaginative power proper to art and architecture were used to confront, criticize, and speculate on the city as a reality, rather than reduce it to facts and figures. For sheer scale, the AMO layout, an aerial panorama of the whole Gulf coast, from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia, could not be matched. And of course in our historical exhibition [at the Dutch pavilion] we tried to bring up the issue of the city as a real place for which we have to take responsibility as architects, not just as concerned citizens. For the same reason I appreciated the attempts by the Russians, the French, and the Hungarians to make this point in an imaginative way. And that would lead to my major gripe: Just as architects should not pretend to be graphic designers or landscape architects, nor should they claim to be sociologists or politicians. Positioning your work within a social and political field is one thing; claiming to be Al Gore is another. The imagination was buried too deep beneath the pavement of Venice this year to be unearthed by any statistical tools.
Highs and Lows
Acting Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art
The Venice Biennale is, as always, worth it, even though the overall lack of normall architectural scale—meaning models, drawings, reference to neighborhoods—made this year for a rollercoaster between the elegantly cold and the sometimes overdone touchy-feely. The show at the Arsenale belongs in the former category. Director Richard Burdett's momentous analysis of 16 great cities was impeccably presented in an installation designed by Aldo Cibic and his partners. The installation had some beautiful moments, some planned—the room comparing densities, for instance, filled with self-explanatory beautiful styrofoam stalagmites, or the views of the cities flowing under your feet in small connecting bridges—and some serendipitous: in the Caracas corner, an oil stain in the floor that ghostly mimicked the shape of the city hung on the wall just above. The deeper you went into the Arsenale, the more you could get lost in data, comparative studies, and gorgeous satellite pictures, but somehow you longed for people and buildings.
The pavilions were very uneven. One wonders why some nations don't just stay home, or rent out their pavilions to the other countries that might really have something to say. Among the interesting ones: the Spanish, curated by Manuel Blanco, my favorite, with women of all walks of life talking about their cities, with architecture a part of their soundtrack. The British, taking the city of Sheffield as a case study and exploring it at different scales, from sheep to satellite view. The Japanese were a bit out of theme, but soothing and beautiful. The Slovenian: at last some innovative architecture. The French overshared—do we really need to see guys cooking in a pareo?—but were a hit because they were very hospitable, to the point where otherwise respectable architects were hopping the fence to join their late-night parties and the police were called nightly to kill the fun.
Personally, I learned to blog. Together with London's Architecture Foundation, MoMA launched a wild beast of a blog that became quite the recipient of everybody's rants and raves (www.venicesuperblog.net).
Principal, Odile Decq Benoit Cornette
When we try to describe a city, we often start by quantifying its inhabitants, expressing through its size what typology of city we are speaking about: small, middle, large, or extra-large. The presentations of the 16 megalopolises in the Arsenale strive to analyze the phenomena of how they came to be. But never could a collection of quantified facts express what a city is.
Architects are dedicated to thinking about and organizing people and life; architecture exhibitions are dedicated to vicarious representations that are free of the noise and smell of flesh-and-blood cities. This Biennial takes a non-risky position, avoiding experiments on concrete strategies. It is a pity for the general public and the thousand of young future architects, desperate for inspiration for visions of tomorrow.
Director, Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development
Richard Burdett's exhibition begins with a description of cities in a changing world and ends with an invitation to cities to change the world. At critical junctures, displays focus on issues such as income disparity, density, mobility, and information flows. Implied throughout are the issues of class and race, which underlie many of the disparities the exhibition highlights.
The individual city presentations varied in quality. New York's presentation (coordinated by Pamela Puchalski of the Center for Architecture) successfully captured several of the city's innovative planning and development initiatives such as the High Line park and the effort to build more housing along the city's waterfront. Given the city's penchant to diminish its mandated participatory planning processes by surrendering its decision-making role to the state, as they have in the case of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards proposal, I was surprised to read in the exhibition text that New York has decided to accommodate growth by capitalizing on its edges along the water, investing heavily in new housing projects in the outer boroughs, and involving its citizens in the debate on the future of the city. One wishes it were really so. Too little investment and far too little debate. Perhaps New York City should borrow from the Norwegian city of Tromss, which decided to call a time-out on large-scale development and engage its citizens in what is truly a public debate.
Painting by Numbers
After the painful, but visually enticing, onslaught of Burdettian data, statistics, and images of cities on the verge, perhaps the upcoming Venice Art Biennale will follow suit by filling the Corderie and Giardini Pavilions with the financial statements of artists, galleries, and museums (leaving out the art). Now that could actually be interesting!
Chair, Department of Art History, Columbia University; Incoming Philip C. Johnson Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art
In 1933 CIAM studied 34 world cities in aerial overviews and statistical analyses aboard the S.S. Patris while cruising between Marseille and Athens. The result, the Athens Charter, published in 1943, was the lingua franca of postwar modernism's bid to take charge of the city through functionalist and universalist criteria. It was hard not to think how far we are from this venture of over 70 years ago, arriving by air in one of Europe's prime museum cities, Venice, to take in Richard Burdett's ambitious marshalling of aerial views and statistics comparing 16 cities on five continents. If the pious list of five recommendations at the show's conclusion had more to do with issues of city governance—even in a display largely devoid of analysis of the vastly different historical and political forces at play—the results displayed could not have been further from CIAM's taking hold of the reins through design. The Biennale was filled with small-scale interventions in the impoverished quarters of the Third World and landscape re-workings of the detritus of the industrial past in the cities of the First World. The shrinking city of Berlin, where capitalism and democratic political process has eclipsed Europe's communist past, were lumped together with Shanghai and with Mumbai, the latter earmarked soon to overtake Tokyo as the largest city in the history of civilization. Caracas, presented neutrally as yet another booming metropolis, with little acknowledgment of the distinct political and economic situation of the petroleum capital with its populist anti-imperialist leader (a not so subtle protest is registered in the Venezuela Pavilion where the sole exhibition objects are a grainy aerial photograph and a broadsheet declaring a complete lack of interest in any Westernn-imposed urban solutions). As the exhibition embraces the notion of a globalized crisis—with many of the virtues and problems of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth—the particularity of each city begs for attention. Projects were modest and isolated, except for large-scale planning sponsored by developers, who increasingly have turned to star architects.
What could have underscored how omnipresent a very different urban condition in 2006 is than the looming mass of the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship, whose towering 15 decks threw the national pavilions at the Giardini in shadow during much of the preview. None of the tourists disgorged was clamoring for entry to the Biennale, even if the morning Gazettino di Venezia featured both the influx of international architects and a photo reportage on the visible erosion everywhere of Venice's fragile brick and stone fabric caused by the ever-increasing traffic of super tourist liners in the lagoon.
The No-Stop City
Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi
The Italian Pavilion curated by Franco Purini presents the design of Vema, a theoretical city for 30,000 residents located between Verona and Mantua. Contained within an area measuring 3,720 by 2,300 meters, the city is divided into sectors designed by 20 groups of architects under 40, chosen from among the most promising young practices in Italy. The immense model of Vema, which dominates the exhibition space, can be appreciated on two levels. For the general public, Purini's project will seem to go against the grain: The creation of a newly founded city in a Western country, so similar to the Renaissance examples of Sabbioneta and Palmanova, is in clear opposition to the dominant urban model of sprawling metropolis or the Koolhaasian Generic City. What makes Vema contemporary are the projects designed by young architects. The result is thus a strange hybrid in which the ideal cities of Filarete and Vignola coexist with deconstructivist, super-modern, and neo-organic projects.
For insiders, Purini's project is an attempt, as brilliant as it is unconvincing, to reduce the tension between young, experimental architects and the old guard, of which Purini himself is a leading exponent. The video that accompanies the exhibition thus presents a picture of Italian architecture as a continuum, where the old and new coexist without conflict, and wherein we are able to overcome the violent clashes that have historically occurred, for example, between figures such as Manfredo Tafuri and Bruno Zevi, and gain inspiration from models as diverse as the baroque Paolo Portoghesi and the radical Archizoom.
Women on the Verge
Below is an excerpt of architectural theorist Beatriz Colomina's video observation included in the exhibition Espana [f.] nosotros, las ciudades (Spain [f.] we, the cities) at the Spanish pavilion, curated by Manuel Blanco. Hers was one of 52 recordings of Spanish women—clients, architects, citizens—speaking about their experiences of particular buildings or of urban life in general.
What interests me most about cities is how they are so radically transformed with each new technology, from gas lamps to trains to electricity to video cameras. Lately I have become interested in cell phones. No technology has transformed the city more than cell phones in a long time. They have completely revolutionized the relationship between public and private. To be in a city you no longer have to be in the street—you can join a friend in a cafe simply by calling—and if you are in the streets you may not be in the city, as when you are so immersed in a conversation that you are somewhere else and the streets you are walking become a kind of mirage. In fact, in almost any city today there are more people on the phone than in the streets. Every aspect of our experience has changed.
This became evident on September 11 when any traditional sense of public and private space became obsolete. In the heart of the spectacular nightmare, covered continuously by every single television channel, the most intimate exchanges were taking place. For the first time in the history of a catastrophe, the families and loved ones of many of the victims were among the first to know when they received cell-phone calls made from hijacked airplanes and from inside the World Trade Center towers. These calls carved out a whole new sense of space, a last vestige of domesticity.
In the aftermath of the events, the desperate attempts on the part of cell-phone companies to deliver the last messages that had not gone through attested to the importance of this form of communication. In a situation in which there were very few human remains recovered, those messages were all that was left, the very thing that is always missing in tragic accidents. No longer simply a fragile substitute for real people, the digital record became the most solid reality.
There was a new sense of space constructed by the unrelenting bombardment of repetitive images through TV and the Internet and the simultaneous exchange of the most intimate and unique, one-on-one communications via cell phones.
If 9/11 in New York revealed the cell-phone as the last vestige of domesticity, 3/11 in Madrid revealed the cell-phone as a weapon, triggering the train bombs. Personal defense became public attack.
Painting By Numbers
Principal, Coop Himmelb(l)au
The theme of the 10th International Architecture Biennale is key for the architecture of the next decades. Thus I find that though the main exhibition at the Arsenale displays a striking collection of different factors and important data, it fails in developing a theory or visions out of this information. On the other hand, the shows at the national pavilions in the Giardini present, with a few exceptions, the helplessness of architects in association with strategic city models.
I Heart New York
Principal, Alexander Gorlin Architects
Maybe Richard Burdett, the curator of the Architecture Biennale's Cities theme, should have first listened to Madonna's latest song, I Love New York, before putting together a mind-numbing, statistic-fest that completely fails to understand the essential experiential differences among cities around the world:
I don't like cities, but I like New York / Other places make me feel like a dork / Los Angeles is for people who sleep / Paris and London, baby you can keep
Other cities always make me mad / Other places always make me sad / No other city ever made me glad / Except New York, I love New York
Walking through the Arsenale, one would hardly know there was a difference between Bogota and New York. In fact it seems that Cairo is denser than New York, therefore...exactly—so what? The quality of the characteristics that make a difference between cities is leveled in this show by categories that have nothing to do with living in each place, such as stock market capitalization or the ranking of their commodity exchanges. Most of the cities appear to have been selected for politically correct purposes: one from continent A, one from continent B, and who knows why so many from South America? The show also suffers from extreme Google Earth–mania, an obsessive fascination with those satellite maps that are now available to everyone. But who experiences a city at 250 miles up in outer space?
In the end, the whole show should have been about New York—Manhattan, to be precise—in an attempt to understand why it is clearly the most exciting city on earth and the present-day capital of the world—I love New York!
If you don't like my attitude than you can F-off / Just go to Texas, isn't that where they golf / New York is not for little pussies who scream / If you can't stand the heat, then get off my street
The China Syndrome
Cathy Lang Ho
Editor, The Architect's Newspaper
China crops up often in the Biennale, which perhaps should not be surprising given its dizzying rate of urbanization and the extent to which its rapid development has affected global architectural and construction practices, not to mention the world's ecological balance. The Danish Pavilion followed curator Henrik Valeur's prompt: How can we improve people's living conditions without exhausting the very resources needed to sustain a better life? The display presents the sort of dramatic statistics that Rem Koolhaas first introduced with his Pearl River research almost a decade ago, alongside theoretical projects by teams of Danish architects and Chinese architecture schools. Their fantastical gestures—business centers that resemble picturesque mountains, a peaking infrastructure-laden mega-wall circling a city—betray the sense that the country is still perceived, by too many in the world (including the Chinese themselves) as a tabula rasa.
Hungary had a quirkier approach to the topic of China as both a consequence and protagonist of globalization: Its pavilion was filled with artful installations made of cheap China-made toys: a canopy of chirping plastic penguins, a wall of plastic resin with repulsive furry toys imbedded within. The installation was part of a larger project, documented in a fine catalogue, investigating the impact of Chinese immigrants on the world's cities and of Chinese-made goods on life everywhere. It was one of the few projects that conveyed what I wish the Biennale accomplished more: how globalization and urbanization has affected people's lives. This was poignantly communicated in Hu Yang's Shanghai Living (2005), a photographic series displayed in the Italian Pavilion, showing a factory worker, shop-girl, office manager, and dozens of other Shanghai residents in their homes. Each is presented with a statement from the subject, personalizing the effects of the phenomena measured elsewhere in the Biennale.
Hu Yang's images are on display in C on Cities, a special photography exhibition in the Italian Pavilion, curated by the London-based publication C International Photo Magazine. Issue 3 is dedicated to its Biennale presentation, and is available through www.ivorypress.com.
Shanghai Living (2005) by Hu Yang
(Shanghainese general manager)
Up to now I am satisfied with my life, and I like photographing and collecting western art works during my leisure time. I have pressures, mainly from competition within the circle and requirement from inside. I want to do everything I can to promote Shanghai's photographing industry.
Shanghai Living (2005) by Hu Yang
We are leading a hard life and eat battercakes, pickles and a glass of water for all three meals. When our kids want meat dishes, we cook them an egg. We work more than 15 hours a day if it doesn't rain. We want our kids to be educated and not to live like us. I will risk anything for our kids to go to university. My eldest son is excellent and wins prizes every semester. I suffer being teased by local ruffians.
Architecture in Japan
Architecture in the Netherlands
Architecture in Switzerland
Architecture in the United Kingdom
Taschen, $24.95 each
Following the success of the first three titles of its Architecture Now! series, Taschen is introducing a fourth installment this summer, as well as a new collection of books that survey contemporary architecture organized by country. The new series, written by the publishing house's go-to architectural historian Philip Jodidio (who, besides authoring the Architecture Now! books, has written several monographs for Taschen), is kicking off with books on Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Each volume opens with a brief essay summarizing the national architecture culture (all texts are offered in English, French, and German), followed by presentations of recent work by 15 to 20 architects, organized alphabetically by firm. Though the selection of firms and projects might seem obvious to those who follow the international design scene closely, they accurately reflect the mixture of regional and international influences that pervade architecture today. While Jodidio looks to an international array of architects working in each countryyArchitecture in Switzerland in particular has a number of non-native architectssin general, he privileges local talent. For example, the Japan volume includes stores in Tokyo by Toyo Ito and Jun Aoki, while the famous Prada Store by Herzog & de Meuron is left out. This focus allows the character of each country to emerge and makes the idea of national surveys feel worthwhile.
jaffer kolb is an editor at AN.
EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
Here is Tiajuana!
Fiamma Montezemolo, Rene Peralta, Heriberto Yepez
Black Dog Publishing, $29.95
In the days following 9/11, a spontaneous, self-curated show called Here Is New York appeared in a SoHo storefront. A collection of photographs related to the World Trade Center tragedy taken by anyone who wanted to submit their work, the show was included in its entirety in the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition Life of the City, nine months later. The show borrowed its name from E. B. White's essay, a title that has levitated over Manhattan's literary world since the original was published in 1949. It is the perpetual present tense of White's title that the exhibition revised and that captured the instant change in life in New York at 9/11. The most startling thing about the exhibition was how it cast a state of crisis as a continual present tense.
Here Is Tijuana! offers another perpetual present-tense emergency, though one that has persisted for a far longer period of time. Written and edited by anthropologist Fiamma Montezemolo, architect Rene Peralta, and philosopher Heriberto Yepez, who all teach and practice in Tijuana and San Diego, Here Is Tijuana! fits in the genre of books that in the last 20 years have embarked on a urban reconnaissance mission. Mixing images, texts, data, and interviews from a range of sources, the book maps everyday life in Tijuana against a broad backdrop of social and economic data. As a form of urban theory, its referent is most clearly Mike Davis' City of Quartz (Vintage, 1992) and Albert Pope's Ladders (Princeton Architectural Press, 1997), but its graphic design and visual content place it closer to The Contemporary City (Zone Books, 1987) and The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping (Taschen, 2002).
All these books invented new forms of urban research but are by and large set in a somber lull, unable to harness indignation or fear to overcome outright predation. Here is Tijuana! is not as carefully constructed as any of these books, though its urgency is more vivid, documenting a daily reality that's of direct concern to the book's authors. After emergingg for the last 50 years, Tijuana is still perceived as what the authors describe as a transaction without another transaction,, a place that operates on the continual verge of something. But this is not the same Tijuana of 30 years agoothen understood as a kind of urban dam of people pressed against the U.S. border. Tijuana is inequity, defined to a large degree by its proximity to the U.S., but it is also now a teaming and centerless milieu that expands east and south, as much as it presses north.
Here Is Tijuana! captures the city's present but also shows its future potentials. It is no longer defined as a failed transaction with San Diego; it is also the largest zone of electronics-assembly plants in Mexico, for example, and has many self-sustaining industries.
Here Is Tijuana! presents a place and a condition, both begging to be understood. The book is filled with latent questions: How do we constitute the depiction of social emergencies today? How do we see them and respond to them, and what is the recourse for those who live under crisis conditions when the processes that would allow change are perpetually out of reach? It's obvious the book's authors love the city, and are not demonstrating social need as much as human potential.
Michael Bell is a New Yorkkbased architect and associate professor at Columbia University's GSAPP.
Get Off My Cloud: Wolf D. Prix,
Coop Himmelb(l)au, Texts 196882005
Edited by Martina Kandelerf-Fritsch
and Thomas Kramer Hatje Cantz, $50.00
Courtesy hatje cantz
A rendering of the BMW Welt, the automaker's distribution center by Coop Himmelb(l)au, which began construction in 2004.
Wolf Prix, who cofounded Coop Himmelb(l)au with Helmut Swiczinsky in 1968, is one of the few to come out of the experimental architecture groups of the 1960s still designing at a very high level. In fact, unlike other radicall survivors of the 1960s (Peter Cook of Archigram is another), Prix has moved from paper architecture to important built works. Get Off My Cloud, a compilation of Prix's writings, spans his career, from 1968 to 2005. In the book's foreword, Christian Reder, an author and art professor, notes that Prix confronts an almost compulsively paralyzed public and its leading exponents with a staccato tempo of model-like solutions, only his are expanded by the freedom of no longer having to believe in a revolution.. His writings show that he is still a believer.
Over the 26 years covered in the book, Prix's writings have gone from poetic manifesto to drier, academic-speak, but he remains critical of consumerism, ephemeral e-commerce, conceptual minimalism, and media hyped renderings.. To his credit, he maintains that architects must confront background contexts, programs, and new technologiess and recognize that architecture is a social portrait..
Prix argues, Only star architects, who have developed a potential for resistance, are able to influence what's happening in building..Coop Himmelb(l)au's recent commissions like the BMW project in Munich have moved Prix into the celebrity stratosphere, but can he translate his visionary thoughts into visionary construction? It will take more than words, but he appears to be well on his way.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
Cedric Price: Retriever: Annotations 7
Edited by Eleanor Bron and Samantha Hardingham
Institute of International Visual Arts Publishers, 9.99
Cedric Price was a wonderfully iconoclastic public figure, a left-wing radical until he died in 2003. Though many famous anecdotes about his antics are in circulationnlike the time he refused to give a lecture at the Architectural Association until Alvin Boyarksy, then head of the school, brought a snifter of cognac to the lecternnstill very little is known about him. A definitive biography of Price has yet to be written. But this loose-leaf catalogue offers a beginning toward understanding the man, by providing a look into his private library.
The publication is a list of every book, magazine, newspaper, bulletin, and map in Price's library, along with a key describing the personal inscriptions and enigmatic markings littered throughout them. Samantha Hardingham, a research fellow at the University of Westminster, and Price's long-time partner, actress Eleanor Bron, began cataloguing his library in 2004.
One example of something that appears in the key is an ink stamp of a pig with hoofs draped over the edge of a page, which shows up repeatedly. In one instance, it comes with Price's obscure note, Bath chaps + cooked pig cheeks.. The editors add the helpful annotation, reference to Bath, Somerset. CP loathed the place, like the chaps..
Price's books range from childhood mementos to scholarly tomes on architecture and city planning. A 1943 book Narrow Streets was given to him as a school prize and the editors remark, At the age of 9 CP was invited to choose his own prize. He chose this book. Having spotted it in the window of the local bookshop, he assumed it had to do with town planning. Are you sure this is what you want?' his teacher asked. It turned out to be a novel about a blue-blooded East End girl adopted by a wealthy society woman, set during the war in London.. We also learn that in 1960 Buckminister Fuller gave Price a copy of his unpublished text How Little I Know and it is inscribed with uncharacteristic modesty to Cedric & Liz who is well aware of how little I know. With affectionate regard Bucky Fuller..
The catalogue is a quick read and a cryptic introduction to Price. It also reminds us how much more we want to know about him. WM
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
Nearest Thing to Heaven:
The Empire State Building and American Dreams,
Yale University Press, $26.00
For architects, the Empire State Building seems somewhat beyond the pale, its very perfection or essential embodiment of a categoryy the skyscraperrmakes it, strangely, uninteresting. As the Mona Lisa must be to art historians, or Casablanca to cinnastes, there's something vaguely embarrassing about the topic, despite or because of its popular acclaim. Compounding the matter for a provincial architectural profession enamored with narratives about the power of individual architects and the grace of individual clients, the Empire State Building, like Casablanca, was a strange and deeply fortuitous convergence: a perfect storm of narrow talents and experienced hacks who together made the best thing any of them ever did. They aimed for pic- turesque and got sublime. Even Rem Koolhaas, expert in recycling local color into pedigreed architectural rhetoric, focuses in Delirious New York not on the Empire State but on the building it replaced when it began construction in 1929, the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
But architects aren't the only ones with this blind spot. The Empire State Building's uncanny visible invisiblity is the main and best theme developed in Nearest Thing to Heaven by Mark Kingwell, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. One dramatic feature of the Empire State Building,, he observes, is its tendency to disappearrthat is, as Wittgenstein said of language, to lie hidden in its obviousness.'' Elsewhere, Kingwell aptly applies Hegel's comment, The known, just because it is known, is the unknown.. At their best, Kingwell's diverse musings about movies, landscapes, and keepsakes accumulate into a new way of knowing and unknowing the familiar building. These culminate in an entertaining episode of visibility, mechanical reproduction, and anxiety in which the author is detained, lining up to visit the Empire State observation deck, because x-rays of his bag reveal the weapon-like profile of a miniature souvenir of the building itself. Much of the book is similarly sharp, only occasionally veering into the anodyne assertions ((Though we long to scrape it, the sky always retreats from our touchh) we might fear from an author whose other titles include Catch and Release Trout Fishing and the Meaning of Life (Penguin, 2005).
More alarming is to see an accredited philosopher so easily bamboozled by the quasi-philosophizing of architects. This is not theoretical fancy,, Kingwell solemnly concludes after a long quote from Koolhaas, which was of course just that. This crudeness of his architectural understanding begins to seem willful when Kingwell blurs Antonio Sant'Elia with Le Corbusier, Mies with Loos, and Walter Gropius with Bruno Taut, in ways that serve his argument but not the historical record. The latter's name is spelled Tout,, perhaps to better rhyme with trout..
It's tempting to excuse Kingwell as he excuses the muddle-headed scholarship in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead: Rand's concern wasn't really with architecture, of course. It was a practice she did not really understand.. But the stakes are too high. Any new book about a New York skyscraper is tacitly about those other disappearing skyscrapers, the late, great Twin Towers. Kingwell doesn't flinch from the reference: Since the last days of 2001, the [Empire State] building has assumed a new brightness, a more resonant luster. [I]f such a thing is possible, it has somehow become more visible than before. That mysterious dynamic between longing and visibility is the subject of this book,, throughout which we get sideways glances downtown, sentences like the one that begins Skyscrapers, like airplaness? and continuous retroactive foreshadowing.
But Kingwell's trivial treatment of the World Trade Center's architecture diminishes, or is diminished by, his rhetorical use of its destruction. In contrast to his polymorphous readings of Empire State, his interpretation of the Trade Center is direly narrow. He writes, The aesthetics of the World Trade Centerrrather, the lack of themmare again significant here. Yamasaki was afraid of heights, and perhaps as a result the twin towers exhibited none of the soaring quality found even in the earliest skyscrapers.. Forgiving the odd use of soaring,, that breezy clause between the dashes requires an entire book. Elsewhere, Kingwell describes its absolute refusal not only of decoration [ but of any suggestion of grace or style.. And yet what Yamasaki brought to International Style modernism with the Twin Towers was precisely a stylish new interest in decoration and the fussily graceful detail, all the way down to those gothic arches decorating their base. Kingwell's assertion that New York without the Empire State Building is unimaginable, far more so than without the World Trade Centerr suggests an alarming relativism of unimaginabilities, and prompts one to wonder whose New York he's imagining.
At best, Kingwell is merely mistaking his own impressions for architectural intentions, and in philosophical terms, hypothetical imperatives for categorical ones. At worst, one worries that he's looking to find in the World Trade Center the solemnity that would give some grounding to this otherwise pleasantly airy book. But because all the spooky hints and feints don't add up with the same care Kingwell elsewhere applies, he veers into the bathetic. An early description of Empire State concludes, There was, inevitably, another facet, or shard of meaning [: a thought of fatal conjunction, airplane and skyscraper surfaces touching farther downtown, destruction of the still missing towers.. The problem is that word inevitably.. The destruction of the Twin Towers is an easy point of reference, reliably adding depth or resonance or borrowed poignancy to arguments that haven't necessarily earned it. The very ease with which 9/11 can, and has been, deployed in critical and political discourse, demands that it be engaged with ever more precision and accuracyylest that day's own causes and consequences suffer the same fate Kingwell suggests has befallen the Empire State Building: knownn and thus unknown, invisible behind apparent visibility.
Thomas de Monchaux is a New Yorkkbased writer and architect.
Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America
Giles Slade, Harvard University Press, $27.95
With the Al Goreenarrated An Inconvenient Truth in movie theaters and Brad Pittt voice-overed series Design:e22The Economies of Being Environmentally Conscious now airing on PBS, the specter of environmental disaster is on everybody's mind (as if you needed to be reminded). But despite the rise in public consciousness, there appears to be a growing, even frenzied, consumer interest in the next new thinggthe new cell phone, computer, car, and iPoddall destined for an ever-shortening product life and the inevitable landfill.
In Made to Break, Giles Slade, an independent scholar, charts the history of this essentially American phenomenon and, some might say, the country's greatest cultural export. Architects and designers concerned about their own contributions to this trend should pay attention to the story he tells, if only to see what they're up against.
Slade's highly readable book is not an academic history but a collection of revealing and deftly organized anecdotes. For instance, we learn in the span of just a few pages how single men and women, recently transplanted to the country's growing metropolises, first spurred the demand for disposable products in the late 19th century. Without the time (or mothers nearby) to do laundry regularly, single men, Slade tells us, began to buy throw-away paper collars and cuffs en masse. Soon after, disposable razors were invented and then cheaply made wristwatches and so on. For women, the invention of a new absorbent material made from celluloiddoriginally used in military bandages in World War IIled to the creation of sanitary napkinss in 1920; this was followed by disposable kerchiefss (named Kleenex) and, later, nylon tights.
Slade's ability to tell an entertaining story, however, does not prevent him from supporting it with meaningful analysis. For instance, it's not lost on him that these early, revolutionary products mostly had to do with hygiene. Personal hygiene has always had deep moral associations, so it should come as no surprise that advertisers and social progressives alike began to vilify what they called thriftt and economyy as miserly and morally dirty.. These campaigns were decisive, Slade argues, in shaping early consumer habits and value judgments, acclimating the public to a culture of repetitive consumption and paving the way for the manufacturing practice known as planned obsolescence.
This brings us to the focus of the book. Slade carefully distinguishes between different categories of obsolescence and builds up to a powerful critique of the practice by, among other things, recounting the many dubious arguments made on its behalf. An early proponent was the mid-century industrial designer Brooks Stevens, famous for his Edmilton Petipoint clothes iron and car designs for Alfa Romeo. We make good products,, he wrote in 1958, induce people to buy them, and then next year deliberately introduce something that will make those products old-fashioned, out of date, obsolete. We do that for the soundest reason: to make money.. What Stevens is really describing is psychological obsolescence, or the feeling that what one owns is hopelessly old-fashioneddnot broken, mind you, or even inefficient, just out of date. Psychological obsolescence is one kind of planned obsolescence; another is sometimes called death-datingg and is usually achieved through product manipulation. General Electric has been accused of doing the latter with their light bulbs, and General Motors, according to Slade, pioneered the former in 1927 when it began to introduce new models on a yearly basis. It would surprise more than a few to discover that Henry Ford was an early champion of products that will last foreverr and that it was he, not those he dominated in the market, who lost this fight.
It is harder these days to get away with death-dating but clearly, psychological obsolescence through annual (even biannual) design modification is ubiquitous. Many in the 1950s, like industrial designer George Nelson, saw it as a prodigious tool for social betterment,, stimulating economic growth, generating new technologies, and steadily reducing prices to the advantage of the less fortunate. This is still a deeply engrained way of thinking, but most of us today are aware of its limitations. We are less likely now than we once were to take the increasing number of households with large screen TVs (to pick a common example in the economic literature) as evidence of social progress, as if it implied that such people were benefiting meaningfully from an apparent increase in purchasing power. These days we're careful to weigh more heavily the value of the environment, healthcare, and education.
The book that Made to Break brings most immediately to mind is Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). Like that book, Slade's is a page-turner with a purpose, but it is also less a revelation than a mine of useful information. Like all good histories, it makes the obvious facts seem a little less pre-determined, like they might just be something we have the power to change. David Giles is an editorial intern at AN.
Ecological Architecture: A Critical History
James Steele, Thames & Hudson, $55.00
Ten Shades of Green:
Architecture and the Natural World
Architectural League of New York (distributed by W.W. Norton), $24.95
christian richters / courtesy architectural league
Renzo Piano's Fondation Beyeler (Riehen, 1997) combines stone walls and steel panels to achieve low-cost heating and cooling and to fit in with its surroundings.
With an oilman in the White House who only reluctantly acknowledges that global warming is a threat, the environmental movement clearly needs all the protagonists it can get. Two lavishly illustrated new books offer architects tips for building a more sustainable future. Peter Buchanan's Ten Shades of Green, based on an exhibition he curated at the Architectural League of New York in 2000, identifies ten green principles or attributes from a range of contemporary work that, according to the author, any design can embody. Meanwhile, James Steele's Ecological Architecture: A Critical History showcases two centuries of exemplary green architecture from around the world. While Steele guides us through evolving ecological thought, Buchanan provides a vocabulary for scoring a design's greenness. Both books show how insightful design has always respected local tradition and responded to its settings, taking advantage of natural light and wind.
Of the two books, Steele's offers a clearer prescription for dealing with future challenges. Steele presents capsule portraits of influential architects, from Ebenezer Howard through Buckminster Fuller to Paolo Soleri and Tadao Ando, and maintains an intellectual thread that thematically links chapters on subjects from new urbanism to digital design. With carefully chosen drawings and photos, and a dose of purple prose, he captures the heady ambition that propels innovation. In addressing postmodernism's interest in history, Steele writes that designers like Robert Venturi and Michael Graves began to suggest that all platonic solids had subliminal linguistic meaning.. Steele's portraits remind us that great green architecture can be transporting as well as comfortable.
London-based author and architect Buchanan relies on categories, or shades,, that make design sustainable, followed by concise analyses of nine large-scale projects and four houses. One shade is Embedded in Place,, which acknowledges the need for continuity with local conditions and traditions. He cites Clare Design's Cotton Tree Pilot Housing in South Queensland, Australia, as an example that preserves local trees and taps into local vernacular for forms that will enhance energy efficiency. Another category, Health and Happiness,, addresses not only physical issues (like the threat of exposure to toxic materials) but psychological ones as well: Providing access to natural light and air and bringing nature indoors is not just good for the planet, he argues, but also beneficial to people's emotional health.
The categories are comprehensive and offer a generous framework to consider green strategies. Still, the terms' grammatical awkwardness sometimes makes their application seem off or stretched. We can admire Sir Norman Foster's Commerzbank for wrapping around a vertical garden that keeps tenants cool. But do we appreciate its lessons more because it matches five of ten shades,, compared to projects that meet only one or two? Architects might come away from the book still fuzzy about the materials and technologies that would earn similar results in different context. Moreover, he uses terms we would never hear in conversation, making projects hard to latch onto. Foster's Commerzbank, he argues, achieves a whole hierarchy of foci.. What to do with this knowledge? Reject a partial hierarchy of foci?
Steele, who teaches in Los Angeles, also succumbs to hyperbole. He closes with a look at a masterplan of a two-square mile patch of open space along the Los Angeles River called Baldwin Hills. Designed by Mia Lehrer, Conservancy International, and Hood Design, the project earns Steele's praise for delivering natural amenity to all ethnic groups,, thus relating ecological benefits to social justice. The designers' choices changed the entire concept of an urban park.. Big words and claims gain credence when we see their individual components as well as their intellectual heritage.
Alec Appelbaum is a New Yorkkbased writer specializing in urban issues.
NEW DESIGN CITIES
Edited by Marie-Josse Lacroix
Editions Infopresse, $32.00
This book is the result of a colloquium that took place during the 2002 International Design Biennial in Saint-Etienne, France, which debated cities' different strategies for positioning and growth through design.. While the book does not actually engage in any debate regarding strategies, the authors describe various design projects that contribute to the competitiveness of cities..
The book considers seven different cities: Antwerp, Glasgow, Lisbon, Montreal, Saint-Etienne, Stockholm, and New York. The New York case study focuses on Times Square and there is nothing new here for New York readers. The Glasgow section, on the other hand, has a great deal to offer. Stuart Macdonald, director the city's famous Lighthouse Center for Architecture, Design and the City, offers a concise telling of Glasgow's postindustrial transformation out of the gloom of its industrial pastt through design and cultural regeneration starting in 1990 when it was a European City of Culture. But he is able to sift hype from reality: He notes that the City of Culture design initiatives in fact had little effectt on the city, generating only temporary work and attention for the city; more influential in his mind is the raised consciousness and participation of designers and artists in an increasingly open urban regeneration process.
Many of the essayists, including Stockholm's Claes Britton and American sociologist Saskia Sassen, emphasizes the importance of integrating design initiatives in urban policy. In many respects, this book should be read by politicians more than designers. William Menking
BLUEPRINT OF AN EDEN
Michele Oka Doner
and Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.
Feierabend Unique Books, $95.00
Past times on Miami Beach are for me vague images at best. How little I recognize, how much I want to revisit it all. Sometimes I hardly feel I was really there,, writes Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., founder of the Wolfsonian Museum, in a letter to his old friend, artist Michele Oka Doner. The letter opens this sumptuous book and is the first of many to appear, along with photographs, blueprints, maps, news clippings, and other ephemera, all drawn from each's family archives. Wolfson's and Oka Doner's archives are unique, however; most people don't have snapshots of their parents with Ava Gardner and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. The two are Miami blueblooddhis father was the city's mayor in the 1930s and hers in the 1950s and 60s. Their memoir of Miami Beach is intensely personal while offering unique perspectives on the place's cultural formation.
Cathy Lang ho
ARCHITECTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT
Oliver Herwig and Florian Holzherr
Prestel Verlag, $60.00
In Dream Worlds, Munich-based journalist Oliver Herwig examines theme parks, shopping malls, housing developments, and other highly controlled environments that use architecture in the service of mass entertainment. Herwig sees these removed fantasy spaces as the heirs of ideal cities and ancient coliseums. From the Mall of America to the island developments of Dubai, he argues that each reflects the fantasies and desires of their respective societies. The author's critical voice is strong throughout; the book reads not as a history or social study but as highly personal observation. With a case like the Munich Oktoberfest, the effect is comparable to having a family road trip ruined by the sarcastic teenager in the backseat. However, in locations like Las Vegas and Disneyworld, Herwig's commentary transcends cynicism and provides meaningful insight into the cultural forces that created these artificial environments. Herwig is conscious of previous analyses of his case studies, and his comparison between the Las Vegas of today with the one studied by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown is particularly enlightening. The accompanying photographs by Florian Holzherr capture the uncanny atmosphere of these dream worlds.
Le Corbusier's Hands
MIT Press, $14.95
Published in France in the 1980s but only recently translated, this short volume is a Proustian remembrance of Le Corbusier written by Andrr Wogenscky, who had a close relationship with Corb for 30 years as his draftsman, assistant, and later, colleague and friend. The book is a collection of brief observations, statements, and anecdotes that together reveal an intimate picture of the modernist master. No matter how close a friendship he had with anyone, even during the course of a conversation or at a work meeting, Corbusier seemed to leave,, writes Wogenscky. He would retreat into his inner life, more populated than the world of men.. The author touchingly captures Corbusier's solitary nature, politesse, candidness, literary taste, and more, and in doing so, illuminates the many sources of influence on his works. Andrew Yang
The Stirling Prize
Ten Years of Architecture and Innovation
Merrell/RIBA Trust, $59.95
When the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) conceived of the Stirling Prize in 1996, the U.K. was in the middle of what author Tony Chapman calls architectural dark ages.. He and the other contributors to the bookka monograph commemorating the 10th anniversary of the prize, which recognizes the building that has contributed most to British architectureeargue that it has encouraged the creation of good architecture in the U.K. and beyond. Organized chronologically, the book presents each year's winner, runners-up, and an accompanying essay by critics including Hugh Pearman, Deyan Sudjic, and Tom Dyckhoff.Jaffer kolb
Source Books On
Michael Van Valkenburgh
Associates: Allegheny Park
Ken Smith Landscape
Architecture: URBAN PROJECTS
Edited by Jane Amidon,
Princeton Architectural Press, $29.95 each
Princeton Architectural Press' new Source Book in Landscape Architecture Series is meant to parallel the publisher's architectural series edited by Jeffrey Kipnis and Robert Livesey. According to the new series' editor Jane Amidon, its goal is to provide a glimpse into the processes of emerging and established designers as they mature from tentative trial to definitive technique..
The first volume focuses on Michael van Valkenburgh's designs for Pittsburgh's Allegheny Riverfront Park. Detailed images are complemented by an interview and various essays that probe van Valkenburgh's design process for this specific project and his overall design philosophy.
Volume two, on Ken Smith, is identical in format, but includes several projects, including his design of MoMA's roof garden, East River Landing, and P.S. 19 in Queens. Like the first volume, the compact paperback includes an interview, critical essay, chronology of projects, as well as exhaustive project documentation, including photographs, plans, sections, and models.
A third volume, due out later this summer, will focus on Peter Walker's plans for the Nasher Sculpture Garden in Dallas, Texas. Future books planned for the series will be devoted to the work of Grant Jones and Paoli Burgess. DG
The Donnell and Eckbo Gardens: Modern California Masterworks
William Stout Publishers, $45.00
Modernism reached its apogee in landscape architecture in California, emblematized by two works: Thomas Church's Donnell Garden (Sonoma County, 1948) and Garrett Eckbo's Alcoa Forecast Garden (Los Angeles, 1959). Historian and U.C. Berkeley professor Marc Treib offers a deep analyses of these iconic projects, sharing almost every piece of documentation that exists (Church's and Eckbo's archives are housed at Berkeley). He places the gardens in the context of their designers' broader careers, detailing their collaboration with clients and colleagues, and painting a picture of cultural life in mid-century California. CLH
Landscape Urbanism Reader
Edited by Charles Waldheim
Princeton Architectural Press, $29.95
New York's High Line is hard to categorizeeit will be a landscaped park but it is also a highly programmed architectural space, while its origins as infrastructure are still a huge part of its appeal. The emerging field of landscape urbanism is one way to define such a project and the growing numbers of likeminded proposals around the country. After a 1997 conference of the same name held at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the school formally launched the discipline with a degree program, which in this book has its its first theorists. Contributors including James Corner, Alan Berger, and Linda Pollak argue that we should understand landscape as a crucial part of urban infrastructure.Anne Guiney
Lexicon of Landscape Architecture
Meto J. Vroom
Birkhauser (distributed by
Princeton Architectural Press), $50.00
One of the great pleasures of dictionaries is getting distracted by a strange new word while looking up another. For those curious about the history of gardens and landscapes, Lexicon will prove full of interesting diversions. The landscape architect Meto Vroom defines more than 250 words, from abstractt to wind,, as it figures in landscape history and practice. Each entry begins with a traditional dictionary definition, and then turns into a short essay full of examples and citations for further reading. Vroom is catholic in his tastes, and sources range from Simon Schama to Richard Neutra and Charles Darwin.AG
Norman Foster: Reflections
Louis I Kahn
Kevin Kennon: Architecture Tailored
DAMDI Design Document Series, $67.95
Koning Eizenberg Architecture:
Architecture Isn't Just for Special Occasions
Monacelli Press, $50.00
Fresh Morphosis 199882004
Essays by Peter Cook, Steven Holl,
Jeffrey Kipnis, Sylvia Lavin, et al. Rizzoli, $75.00
KM3: Excursions on Capacities
Essay by Kenneth Frampton
Monacelli Press, $50.00
Complete Works Volume 3
Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa SANAA
Electa Architecture, $69.95
|Philippe Million's Barrier Bench, 2002, turns a steel barricade into a place for sitting. Cameron McNall and Damon Seeley of Electroland designed an inflatable homeless shelter (below) that can be deployed in parking lots and open spaces. Matthias Megyeri's 2004 Heart to Heart chain (below) adds a sweeter side to security.|
|Daniel Besikian / Courtesy MoMA|
SAFE: Design Takes on Risk is the Museum of Modern Art's first major design exhibition since its return to Manhattan last November. Curated by Paola Antonelli, the exhibition features more than 300 contemporary design objects and prototypes from all over the world that have been created in response to dangers, risks, and stresses that range in severity from the displacement of whole populations from genocide or natural catastrophes all the way to protections from the humble paper cut and blister. The objects are presented without passing judgment,, as the show's curator Paola Antonelli put it. We just show how designers can offer grace in emergency situations and times of revolution and turmoillboth historic and domestic. Design can make a difference in how people manage the situation of emergency,, she said.
With characteristic acuity, Antonelli has chosen for her first big show since Workspheres (2001) a poignant themeeone that is bound to resonate with the public, especially in the current climate of fear and anxiety. Interestingly, the show was conceived well before 9/11. At that time the exhibition was framed around the idea of emergencyy and consisted of ambulances and emergency- response equipment and tools. Focusing on such prosaic expressions of design is part of Antonelli's larger mission as a design curator to open people's eyes to the beauty in the everyday and to the things they hadn't previously considered as being part of the design canon. Medical instruments are to designers and people who love design what radio towers are to architects,, said Antonelli. There's this bare-bones beauty, where the function and the engineering skeleton are exposed, that is very meaningful and arresting..
When a very real national emergency struck in the shape of 9/11, Antonelli shelved her exhibition. It was only to resurface when she, Hella Jongerius, and Gregg Pasquarelli chose the theme of safety for the 2003 edition of the Aspen conference that they were charged with organizing. Considering the subject of emergency from the new perspective of safety, and looking at design's role in providing comfort and a sense of security, made the exhibition's premise viable again for the curator.
|Matthias Megyeri / Courtesy MoMA|
The objects are organized into thematic groupings that reference either the reason for their creation or the type of solace and protection they are meant to provide. The section titled Shelter,, for example, features temporary housing for refugees and disaster victims along with examples of psychological protection against anxiety and stress. Among the exhibits, for example, is Shigeru Ban's shelter designed on the occasion of the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and made out of easily found cardboard tubes, beer crates (or in the case of Muslim countries milk or soda crates), and plastic tarps. The tarp is the beginning of a shelter,, said Antonelli, but the addition of a door can give a displaced person a sense of home and not simply a roof over their head.. This is the difference that design can make. Michael Rakowitz's paraSITE homeless shelter is made from Polyethylene and designed to plug into the outtake ducts of a building's HVAC system. The warm air leaving the building simultaneously inflates and heats the double membrane structure, protecting a homeless person from heat in the summer and cold in the winter. Also included in this section are psychological shelters such as a felt cocoon called Cries and Whispers created by Scottish designer Hill Jephson Robb when his sister died of cancer leaving behind a seven-month- old daughter in need of a womb- or nest-like structure in which to seek refuge.
Another grouping in the show, titled Armor,, features objects designed to protect the body and mind. Included here is Suited for Subversion, the ingenious invention of South African interactive designer Ralph Borland. It's a suit for a protester to wear that inflates when he or she is threatened. The suit is fitted with a camera to document any encounters with the police and a speaker that amplifies the heartbeat to remind the police of their humanity. When gathered in a crowd with other suits, the simultaneous beating creates a dramatic and powerful rhythm. Such innovative and quirky interpretations of the idea of armor enliven more prosaic examples of the genre such as earplugs, welding helmets, and other examples of industrial protective gear, that receive short shrift in the exhibition's press materials. Despite this apparent predilection for the poetic, Antonelli asserted that, Beauty and usefulness alone were not enough to justify inclusion in this exhibition.. Her criteria stipulated that each object had to transcend the outcome of the equation of its form and function by displaying meaninggto an individual, to a community, to the world at large and, last but not least, ingenious beauty..
|Cameron McNall / Courtesy MoMA|
Safeguarding property is another issue that many designers and architects have addressed through their products and prototypes.
The KOL/MAC Studio has created INVERSAbrane, a concept for an invertible membrane that protects buildings from the elements and other forms of attack. The membrane, made from vacuum-formed DuPont Corian and Sentry impact-resistant glass, is designed with excess surface area that acts as a defensive yet proactive barrier between the elements and the structure it defends. The membrane circulates air, filtering out pollutants and other allergens. Its bladders collect rainwater for daily use as well as for sprinkler action; the surfaces use solar energy to regulate humidity and temperature both inside and out, and it incorporates fire-resistant and thermoactive textiles.
In the domestic sphere is Sweet Dreams Security, Matthias Megyeri's series of safety products that wryly comment both on heightened fears associated with home security and the cult of cute. His barbed wire is woven with fierce butterflies and fish, his iron railings have bunny rabbit shaped posts, and his heart-shaped ring chains are fastened with teddy bear padlocks. The work, which was undertaken while Megyeri was a student at the Royal College of Art in London, addresses the often-contradictory needs for protection and beauty.
|Left: Drr Wapenaar's Treetent, 1998, can be fastened to a tree.|
|Robbert R. Roos/ Courtesy MoMA|
The public realm, too, is addressed with the inclusion of Help Point Intercom, recently created by Antenna Design for the New York City Subway. Part of the section called Awareness,, which examines how clarity of information can provide a measure of safety, the intercom system is intended to aid in relaying travel and emergency information between riders and security personnel, while being resistant to vandalism.
A design exhibition at MoMA is clearly going to be about objects. Designers like Bruce Mau have argued, however, that design is increasingly being understood in a wider and more fundamental sense as the capacity to plan and produce desired outcomes. There are some important aspects to the story of safety that, while they are not always easily expressed through tangible forms, would have added an interesting extra dimension to the exhibition. In addition to creating the kinds of beautiful and useful band-aids that this exhibition documents, design is also putting its brains and brawn to the task of changing the policies and attitudes that engender fear and disaster in the first place.
|Blue LEDs in Antenna Design's subway intercom convey security without intruding on one's commute.|
|Bruce Pringle / Antenna Design|
Design and design thinking can be used to persuade government, industry, and the consuming public to claim responsibility for and to begin to redress global ailments such as climate change, health crises, violence, terrorism. Such dialogue between policymakers and designers would at the very least prevent such false assurances as the inept color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System. Design can also be used to create powerful but invisible things like networks, infrastructures, and systems that are all instrumental in the prevention of and recovery from disaster. In addition to the many potent objects in the exhibition, evidence of these new directions and applications would have provided a welcome supplement.
Alice Twemlow is a design writer based in New York City.