Search results for "Alvar Aalto"
Specsheet > Even more architecture gifts for the holidays
Layers of History
New V&A exhibit explores the little-known history of plywood
Ethics Demonstrated in Geometrical Order
In new exhibition, Erwin Wurm uses midcentury furniture to subvert your free will
It’s usually not a good idea to put your feet through a vintage wooden bench, but, in his latest show, artist Erwin Wurm is asking visitors to do just that.
In Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures series, which began in 1997, members of the public follow the artist’s written directions to realize a sculpture—moving around a low plinth to engage (or subvert) the everyday function of fruit, cleaning supplies, and here, midcentury modern furniture.
The latest iteration of these short sculptures references Ethics, Spinzoa's seminal philosophic work that questioned the existence of free will. The success of the art, Wurm says, is directly correlated with how well the person follows his instructions.
Today, at Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order, visitors to Lehmann Maupin will realize the sculptures of the Austrian artist via famous furniture he has enhanced with embroidered and carved directions. The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) sat down with Wurm to discuss Alvar Aalto, the strangeness of everyday objects, and the stubborn persistence of midcentury design:
AN: Why did you turn to Spinoza for this exhibition?
Erwin Wurm: Spinoza, especially in [Ethics], he said free will doesn't exist, it's God's will. Scientists now have determined that free will really doesn't exist. Now, 500 years later, I'm asking the same questions. This I find exciting and interesting. When people accept my invitation to follow my instructions, they give up their free will.
Do people ever try to exert their own free will and not follow the directions?
Sure, they can, they're allowed to. But then it's not a piece of mine. Actually, when you Google "one minute sculptures," you see many one minute sculptures, people use the idea. It's nice, it's interesting, but it's no longer a piece of mine.
Why did you decide to use midcentury modern furniture in these latest One Minute Sculptures?
Since 15 years ago, midcentury furniture came back in a big way. When you open a magazine about housing or interior design, these midcentury furnishings are there. They became such a big thing. I found it exciting, and it raised questions for me. People start to define themselves through furniture. When you see the buildings and apartments of famous and successful people, you don't see the people. You see the furniture.
Why did you select the pieces that you did?
I used Alvar Aalto because I always found him exciting. He’s from Finland, and he has this specific relationship to American design. We got the furniture at an auction in Chicago.
Some of the furniture in the series are very expensive, and because of that, there's a meaning people assign to the pieces beyond the design. How do you hope to question the relationship people have with high-value objects?
Every material around is the basis for a new art piece. Recently, in Austria, I had a big show that included three artworks from very famous artists, including Robert Rauschenberg. I added a Rauschenberg to a piece of mine, so I started a discussion that not only every object, or mood, or thought could be the start of a new piece, but also already-finished art can be the start of a new work.
You use humor in your work to draw people in, but that humor can mask as much as it reveals. What do you hope people get out of their engagement with your sculptures?
It's not so much the humor I'm interested in, it's the paradox. What I like in humor is part of the paradox.
For me, to be in this world, to connect with the world, to be able to look from another perspective of reality. We all live in the same world, but we all live in different realities—your reality is very different from mine, or from a person in the wilderness, still hunting with bow and arrows, but we all live in the same time. I find it exciting to change perspective, to look at the world from a different angle, that's what my work is about, I think.
What's the relationship between the melting buildings' organic excess (pictured, left) and the furniture's precise geometry?
They are both objects of our world, created by human beings. The furniture and the architecture, or the telephone, all these things. I always try to transfer or deform them, so the beginning is the same but the form is different. I changed the meaning of the object. One is an object with which you can relate specifically by following the instructions I give, and the other one is not an open piece, so you just can look.
In past iterations of the Organization of Love you used bottles to create a particular relationship between people. Why use an ottoman this time?
It's exciting to use larger objects. At the beginning, the objects were small. Our interfering in the world uses a specific language which is related to a specific time. This inhabits a certain understanding of reality, certain political and social constructions. The 1950s were different than the 90s, or now. In the 50s the midcentury furniture related to this postwar society. This created a totally different aesthetic than nowadays. I'm interested in all these things that interfere in between.
Many midcentury designers wanted their furniture to be beautiful, functional, and available to the masses. But now that ottoman retails for like, $4,000.
How does that change people's attitudes towards the objects?
The icon was one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. An icon needs mass media to exist, and all this furniture are kind of icons now. And that interests me. That's one of the reasons I use these objects.
This big company in Austria, it built these wooden banded structures—chairs for the working class—that very quickly became chairs for the upper class. That was not only because of the aesthetics but also an [evolving] understanding of early industrial design. Prouvé was the same, early on, Royère, Jeanneret—these French designers, they're extremely expensive now.
Do you have midcentury furniture in your home?
Yes, I have Prouvé and all these things. But I caught myself, I stepped into the same trap that everyone did, because I got attracted all of a sudden by a certain understanding of quality which is only dealing in an interest of time, meaning that contemporary design is less valuable under certain circumstances than an older design. This relays a very specific understanding of how societies function, how the market functions, and how desire functions.
All of a sudden, we desire something that is rarer than what is produced now. Look at cars. We love [these] big new cars, but the old cars—with their much more extraordinary form—attract so many people. But those cars were not extraordinary in the past—they look extraordinary now in relation to mass design of the present. That discrepancy is exciting.
When you realized you were attracted to the value the furniture represents—when did you start to question that?
I started to question it when I came to my house and realized that it looked like one of those interiors magazines, because they all have Prouvé and Perriand, and whatever they're called, and Aalto, and all the American designers. It was no longer a specific taste, it turned into a common taste. So I wound up doing my own furniture by deconstructing old furniture from the 30s.
You're from an architecture publication, right?
There are so many great designers now but they don't get the same attention. Maybe Magnusson and others, but they don't get the same prices. It's always interesting how things grow old, get out of the normal interest, disappear, and come back and become exciting. The same happens with art.
(This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.)
Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order runs through May 26. Check Lehmann Maupin's website for more information.
Despite its recent designation, Philadelphia has had a decidedly uneven record and reputation for historic preservation. Architects who come to the AIA convention will find Center City relatively intact. But other areas of the city are losing historically and architecturally significant buildings at a steady rate, largely due to development pressures and lack of landmark protection.Saving the Columbus Occupational Health Association Columbus, Indiana is a small Midwestern city filled with buildings designed by a who’s who of American architecture including Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Kevin Roche, Richard Meier, Harry Weese, César Pelli, Gunnar Birkerts, Robert Venturi, Robert Stern, and many others. Now, its 1973 health center, designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, (HHPA) is for sale. Despite its wealth of modern architecture and a forthcoming biennale, the town has no formal preservation laws, so a sale could mean the destruction or thoughtless modification of this important building. Yale's Beinecke Library is now open The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library reopened its iconic building in September following a 16-month renovation led by Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge Architects with Newman Architects of New Haven. Completed in 1963, Beinecke is considered Gordon Bunshaft’s masterpiece. One of the largest libraries in the world dedicated to rare books, its exterior grid of granite and Vermont marble panels are one of the most recognizable designs of that era and remains both inspiring and inimitable. The renovations restored the architectural landmark to its illuminated glory by refurbishing the six-story glass stack tower, preserving the sculpture garden by Isamu Noguchi, upgrading the library’s climate-control system, and expanding classroom space. Developer wants to put glass cubes on landmarked SOM plaza Fosun International, the Shanghai-based owner of Manhattan’s 28 Liberty Street (formerly One Chase Manhattan Plaza), has commissioned SOM to revamp their own classic International Style building and 2.5-acre plaza design. Among its planned changes to the site, Fosun received LPC approval to build three glass pavilions on the plaza that will serve as entrances to below-ground retail. To do this, Fosun needs to make changes to the site's deed, a move that many preservationists say will disrupt the integrity of Gordon Bunshaft's original vision. Both the International Style building and plaza were designated a New York City landmark in 2009. SOM is updating the tower’s office space and plaza and reintroducing original details lost in prior renovations while transforming approximately 290,000 square feet (four floors) of basement space into retail. (AN first covered the design proposal, and ensuing controversy, in July.) With new rules regarding deed changes now in effect, it remains to be seen how—or if—these glass pavilions will be built. Stop the Pop "After the rollout of #StopThePop campaign last June, what actually popped to the surface was less a discussion about preserving architectural landmarks, and more a social media–facilitated debate regarding what constitutes good taste."
Alvar Aalto’s U.N. interiors are in limbo—again
The Jackie Robinson YMCA Youth Center, a vernacular-style townhouse on East 85th Street, Bergdorf Goodman, the Loew's 175th Street Theater, the Excelsior Steam Power Company Building (Manhattan), Brougham Cottage, the Lakeman-Cortelyou-Taylor House (Staten Island), St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic Church, and an Italianate building on Broadway (Brooklyn), as well as the Protestant Reform Dutch Church of Flushing (Queens) were all upgraded from backlog properties to landmarks.
AN is following the fate of Aalto's rooms closely; readers should check back soon for updates.
Genealogy of Modern Architecture
Kenneth Frampton tracks the evolution of modern architecture in his new book
In 1995, as Mario Botta’s brand new San Francisco Museum of Art debuted, critic Pilar Viladas wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times, “San Francisco’s MOMA Moment: Mario Botta designed an interior that is sublime. But what happened to the rest of the new museum?” A similar question has been on architecture critics’ minds since Snøhetta’s $305 million expansion to Botta’s original opened to the press on April 28.
The original building was designed as an outpost for culture in a downtrodden area, a muscle man for the artistically curious. Now, billions are pouring into the area with a regional transit center, 5.4-acre elevated park, and new highrise neighborhood planned adjacent to the museum. And so, SFMOMA is evolving to reflect downtown San Francisco’s new inflection point. Interestingly, SFMOMA’s board of directors has done what those of other major national museums like New York City’s Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, and Los Angeles’s LACMA have not: Drastically expand and reorganize gallery space without demolishing their existing museum or having to relocate to an entirely new building. Snøhetta was tasked with constructing a real building, whereas OMA and Michael Graves Architecture merely proposed similar ideas in their respective Whitney proposals decades ago. But if Viladas’s assertion that Botta’s original was ugly on the outside was proven ultimately false—San Franciscans seem to love the original SFMOMA through and through—Snøhetta’s expansion begs a new, complicated question: What happened to the rest of the old museum?
Snøhetta’s point of view in that regard is a standard one: Emphasize the existing through opposition. The 235,000-square-foot expansion grows out of the original structure’s backside and then rises ten stories above. By filling the narrow site to capacity and adding a new entrance along Howard Street, the architects greatly expanded the program’s public areas. Like in the original museum, the first three floors will be free to the public, a group that now includes all San Franciscans aged 18 and under.
This new entry features a maze of interlocking double height spaces, including a wood-clad amphitheater overlooking a pair of Richard Serra’s Sequence sculptures. The new amphitheater and Botta’s existing monumental rotunda meet at the second floor, creating “a living room for San Francisco,” as Craig Dykers, principal of Snøhetta, relayed during a guided tour. The proportions of this new “living room” are more intimate in nature than Botta’s proud entry. Snøhetta has retooled that existing entry by replacing the original oversize white switchback stairway with a low-slung wood one. Drawing comparisons to the firm’s prior Oslo Operahuset where the plane of the roof is sloped to allow pedestrian access from surrounding streets, Dykers said, “You feel ownership over a space when you can walk on the roof.” That’s a funny way to describe being on the second floor of a ten-story building, but what Snøhetta really did is bring the street indoors by luring up pedestrians from a variety of approaches.
The third floor contains dedicated photography galleries as well as a buzzing coffee shop. A large grow wall and outdoor Calder plaza flank this floor’s entry landing, creating a cool and shaded space teeming with growing things and art objects that grants museumgoers their first real glance at the museum’s icy east facade. From there up, gallery spaces stack neatly and predictably, joined for two floors by existing galleries in the Botta building.
The remaining floors above are accessed by a maze of single-run and increasingly narrow blonde wood staircases Dykers likens to those in a private home. The simultaneously jagged and swoopy perimeters of the staircases are offset by minimalist detailing. Treads, framed by Alvar Aalto-inspired hand rails, are embedded in the wall at the curved side only to pull away from it again in a reveal along the angular boundary. At your feet, singular lengths of stained planks mark the beginning and end of each stair run. “Everything your body touches is made of wood,” Lara Kaufman, project architect for the expansion, explained of the “floating,” ergonomic design of the galleries’ wood floors.
The galleries themselves are obsessive in their minimalist articulation. Dykers said outlets, return air grilles, and lighting subconsciously distract the art viewer and that the firm’s goal was to disappear these components in the gallery spaces. The team was also careful to position overhead lighting in specially calibrated vaulting that complements the galleries’ eastward-facing glazing.
The “contemporary” gallery on the seventh floor showcases recent work in a space with exposed ductwork and framing above the exhibition walls. The three floors above it are dedicated to staff offices.
Ultimately, Snøhetta’s team has made an unambiguous and honest effort to address the complicated calculus involved in adding onto a beloved art institution in a dense urban environment. As with the original structure, only time will tell how San Francisco takes to its new modern art museum.