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."
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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.
EXCLUSIVE: Phyllis Lambert responds to the planned auction of the Four Seasons Restaurant furniture and décor
In his new book, Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury, author Larry Millett reminds readers: “Midcentury modernism was more than just a style. At its heart, it offered the prospect of a world unchained from the past. Behind the movement lay a whole way of thinking about how to live, work, and play in the new suburban communities that sprang up after World War II.”
Perhaps never more so than in Minnesota, where a burgeoning, postwar population in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul began to sprawl beyond city boundaries across the fields and prairies, in large part because of the tract houses built quickly and inexpensively by Orrin Thompson Homes. Young couples could afford to marry and raise families in the new ramblers and drive their new cars on new highways connecting their cookie-cutter suburbs with new shopping malls and office buildings.
In fact, Millett opens his book with a 1953 image of Minnesota’s first cloverleaf highway interchange, built in 1937 just outside of Minneapolis in a soon-to-be first-ring suburb. There’s an argument to be made here: that midcentury modern—the good, the bad, and the ugly—is suburban. In his book, however, he covers not only modest suburban ramblers, but also how the reach of midcentury modern encompassed a remarkable array of architectural typologies in locations (rural, suburban, and urban) throughout the state—consider Marcel Breuer’s church at Saint John’s Abbey and University (Collegeville); Eliel Saarinen’s Christ Church Lutheran (Minneapolis); Eero Saarinen’s IBM Building (Rochester); the Northwestern National Life Insurance Building by Minoru Yamasaki (Minneapolis); and Victor Gruen’s Southdale Center (Edina), the first enclosed shopping mall in the United States. Midcentury modern also encompasses Ralph Rapson’s Guthrie Theater (razed), along with such no-less-venerated venues as the Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale (mothballed), the now-iconic Dairy Queen in Roseville (still dishing up soft serve), and St. Paul’s Porky’s Drive-In (razed).
In addition to the square, affordable rambler, midcentury modern birthed other housing types, from the long, one-level ranch house, to compact metal Lustron homes, to the flat-roofed, glass-walled, open-plan, architect-designed residence. Millett includes 12 such “high-style” homes throughout Minnesota—by Frank Lloyd Wright and Twin Cities’ architects Elizabeth Close, Ralph Rapson, and Gerald Buetow, among others. But his investigation goes even deeper.
As Millett also points out, midcentury modern, which dominated architecture and design from about 1945 to the late-1960s, “penetrated like oil into the social, political, and cultural machinery of the times.” So while delving into these projects and more in a nearly 400-page book rich with photography and illustration, Millett also places Minnesota’s love of midcentury modernism in a broader context.
He traces Minnesota’s development and practice of midcentury modernism to three sources or “strains.” One was the work of such European architects like Adolf Loos, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, the Saarinens, Alvar Aalto, and Le Corbusier (“who was very fond of American concrete grain elevators, a building type invented in Minnesota in 1989”). Millett describes how these architects’ work and influences, combined with elements of art deco and art moderne, produced such Minnesota architects as Rapson—a proponent and practitioner of the International Style.
California’s ranch houses (even though their emphasis on outdoor living didn’t translate well in Minnesota’s tough winter climate) and the corresponding commercial version (affectionately named Googie) were the second source of influence. A third strain apparent in Minnesota’s midcentury modernism was the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly his Usonian houses. Millett goes on to add that materials developed during World War II—laminated wood trusses that were used instead of steel, as well as prefabricated structures and prestressed concrete—also influenced the design and construction in midcentury modernism in Minnesota and elsewhere.
Despite these influences, Millett stresses that, “midcentury architecture in Minnesota was mostly a homegrown product.” Today, many of buildings designed by local and regional architects are sorely in need of preservation. The former architecture critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Millett is an architectural historian whose previous books include Lost Twin Cities and Once There Were Castles: Lost Mansions and Estates of the Twin Cities. Both books, as their titles suggest, discuss the architectural treasures Minnesota has lost to the wrecking ball.
Millett’s new book concludes with a call to action. Though the “architectural legacy of the midcentury era in Minnesota is decidedly mixed,” he writes, citing instances of “drably utilitarian” public buildings, “excesses of urban renewal” in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and ill-planned suburbs, “the time has come to look at ways to protect significant works of the period.” Many of these works are now eligible for National Register of Historic Places designation.
What need to be saved, Millett continues, are not just individual “high-style homes” and the churches that have become “masterpieces of American architecture,” but entire neighborhoods of midcentury residences. The problem, he continues, is that “architectural modernism, especially in its high-style manifestations, has always had an elitist aura, and the general public has never really warmed to it.”
Minnesotans, with their no-nonsense approach, nonetheless cultivated a singular midcentury sensibility worth saving.
Humanity has been inventing deities from earliest times; indeed our species seems hard-wired to crave transcendental authority. The religions that grew up around these varied beliefs brought uplift and destruction, cruelty and succor, but most will be remembered for their buildings, from ancient temples to the contemporary sacred spaces that this book chronicles. James Pallister, an English architectural journalist and teacher, has chosen 30 examples from the past decade, grouping them into five thematic sections.
His selection is eclectic and ecumenical, a mix of the celebrated and obscure, ranging over the world and several faiths. Here are churches and pilgrimage chapels for Christian denominations, synagogues and mosques, cemeteries and crematoria, even a Japanese wedding chapel. Inevitably, there are many more he might have chosen, including the luminous Finnish churches of Juha Leiviska, Niall McLaughlin’s ethereal chapel for an English seminary, and the tiny gem that Rafael Moneo created for a new community in San Sebastian. I would have liked to see Hugo Dworzak’s tiny chapel on wheels, which is parked outside a football stadium in Lustenau, Austria. The sides tilt up like those of Paul Rudolph’s Walker Island Beach House, and it’s become a favorite place to say a prayer for the home team. Everyone will miss a few favorites, while making many discoveries, for sacred spaces are enjoying a creative revival, even as congregations dwindle and organized religion feels increasingly irrelevant (or repellent) in the developed world.
The daring architectural advances in ages of faith—from Periclean Athens to medieval to Counter-Reformation Europe—subsided into historical pastiche for more than a century, only to be revived by freethinking moderns. Other building types are tightly programmed; religious commissions allow architects to abstract their art and reach for the sublime. They offer license to reflect upon the entire legacy of construction, playing inventive variations on traditional themes of mass and void, light and shadow, exuberance and restraint. Like a house, a worship space can be a laboratory for testing new ideas. Massimiliano Fuksas forgot to include a cross in his church for earthquake-ravaged Foligno, but the spatial daring of the interior almost persuades one to be a Christian (as art critic Roger Fry said of Bach). In the increasingly secular countries of northern Europe, sacred spaces confer identity on mundane new developments and serve as social centers for the community. Architecture was once in the service of religion; now it’s often the other way around.
The great strength of this anthology is the detailed coverage of every project. In his succinct notes, Pallister sets each in its physical and historical context, explaining why the architects made the choices they did. The drawings and photographs are exemplary and well captioned. Brief biographies of each firm, a bibliography and index combine with lucid layouts and high production values to make this a covetable volume.
It could have been even better. Pallister is erudite, sometimes self-consciously so, but his longer texts are awkwardly phrased. An opportunity was missed to illustrate the best 20th-century religious buildings that anticipate the ones featured here, rather than the random selection of Hagia Sophia, Durham Cathedral, and Palladio’s Redentore, which belong in a historical survey. Auguste Perret, Alvar Aalto, and Rudolph Schwartz led the way in bringing church architecture into the modern age and they deserve acknowledgment.
The thematic groupings—Congregation, Clarity, Mass, Reflection, and Revelation—are vague and several projects seem to have strayed under the wrong heading. The Liberal synagogue in Amsterdam is all about openness and light, not mass. The Buddhist Meditation Center in the Dutch countryside is a frugal riff on the rural vernacular, and it sits oddly beside minimalist white interiors by John Pawson, Toyo Ito, and Jun Aoki. But these are minor objections—buildings of such distinction cannot be neatly labeled. Best of all, these spaces are uncluttered with the bondieuseries that detract from one’s enjoyment of so many religious spaces (notably Moneo’s Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles).
1. The feel of cool marble under bare feet.
2. How to live in a small room with five strangers for six months.
3. With the same strangers in a lifeboat for one week.
4. The modulus of rupture.
5. The distance a shout carries in the city.
6. The distance of a whisper.
7. Everything possible about Hatshepsut’s temple (try not to see it as ‘modernist’ avant la lettre).
8. The number of people with rent subsidies in New York City.
9. In your town (include the rich).
10. The flowering season for azaleas.
11. The insulating properties of glass.
12. The history of its production and use.
13. And of its meaning.
14. How to lay bricks.
15. What Victor Hugo really meant by ‘this will kill that.’
16. The rate at which the seas are rising.
17. Building information modeling (BIM).
18. How to unclog a rapidograph.
19. The Gini coefficient.
20. A comfortable tread-to-riser ratio for a six-year-old.
21. In a wheelchair.
22. The energy embodied in aluminum.
23. How to turn a corner.
24. How to design a corner.
25. How to sit in a corner.
26. How Antoni Gaudí modeled the Sagrada Família and calculated its structure.
27. The proportioning system for the Villa Rotonda.
28. The rate at which that carpet you specified off-gasses.
29. The relevant sections of the Code of Hammurabi.
30. The migratory patterns of warblers and other seasonal travellers.
31. The basics of mud construction.
32. The direction of prevailing winds.
33. Hydrology is destiny.
34. Jane Jacobs in and out.
35. Something about feng shui.
36. Something about Vastu Shilpa.
37. Elementary ergonomics.
38. The color wheel.
39. What the client wants.
40. What the client thinks it wants.
41. What the client needs.
42. What the client can afford.
43. What the planet can afford.
44. The theoretical bases for modernity and a great deal about its factions and inflections.
45. What post-Fordism means for the mode of production of building.
46. Another language.
47. What the brick really wants.
48. The difference between Winchester Cathedral and a bicycle shed.
49. What went wrong in Fatehpur Sikri.
50. What went wrong in Pruitt-Igoe.
51. What went wrong with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
52. Where the CCTV cameras are.
53. Why Mies really left Germany.
54. How people lived in Çatal Hüyük.
55. The structural properties of tufa.
56. How to calculate the dimensions of brise-soleil.
57. The kilowatt costs of photovoltaic cells.
59. Walter Benjamin.
60. Marshall Berman.
61. The secrets of the success of Robert Moses.
62. How the dome on the Duomo in Florence was built.
63. The reciprocal influences of Chinese and Japanese building.
64. The cycle of the Ise Shrine.
66. The history of Soweto.
67. What it’s like to walk down the Ramblas.
69. The proper proportions of a gin martini.
70. Shear and moment.
71. Shakespeare, etc.
72. How the crow flies.
73. The difference between a ghetto and a neighborhood.
74. How the pyramids were built.
76. The pleasures of the suburbs.
77. The horrors.
78. The quality of light passing through ice.
79. The meaninglessness of borders.
80. The reasons for their tenacity.
81. The creativity of the ecotone.
82. The need for freaks.
83. Accidents must happen.
84. It is possible to begin designing anywhere.
85. The smell of concrete after rain.
86. The angle of the sun at the equinox.
87. How to ride a bicycle.
88. The depth of the aquifer beneath you.
89. The slope of a handicapped ramp.
90. The wages of construction workers.
91. Perspective by hand.
92. Sentence structure.
93. The pleasure of a spritz at sunset at a table by the Grand Canal.
94. The thrill of the ride.
95. Where materials come from.
96. How to get lost.
97. The pattern of artificial light at night, seen from space.
98. What human differences are defensible in practice.
99. Creation is a patient search.
100. The debate between Otto Wagner and Camillo Sitte.
101. The reasons for the split between architecture and engineering.
102. Many ideas about what constitutes utopia.
103. The social and formal organization of the villages of the Dogon.
104. Brutalism, Bowellism, and the Baroque.
105. How to derive.
106. Woodshop safety.
107. A great deal about the Gothic.
108. The architectural impact of colonialism on the cities of North Africa.
109. A distaste for imperialism.
110. The history of Beijing.
111. Dutch domestic architecture in the 17th century.
112. Aristotle’s Politics.
113. His Poetics.
114. The basics of wattle and daub.
115. The origins of the balloon frame.
116. The rate at which copper acquires its patina.
117. The levels of particulates in the air of Tianjin.
118. The capacity of white pine trees to sequester carbon.
119. Where else to sink it.
120. The fire code.
121. The seismic code.
122. The health code.
123. The Romantics, throughout the arts and philosophy.
124. How to listen closely.
125. That there is a big danger in working in a single medium. The logjam you don’t even know you’re stuck in will be broken by a shift in representation.
126. The exquisite corpse.
127. Scissors, stone, paper.
128. Good Bordeaux.
129. Good beer.
130. How to escape a maze.
133. Finding your way around Prague, Fez, Shanghai, Johannesburg, Kyoto, Rio, Mexico, Solo, Benares, Bangkok, Leningrad, Isfahan.
134. The proper way to behave with interns.
135. Maya, Revit, Catia, whatever.
136. The history of big machines, including those that can fly.
137. How to calculate ecological footprints.
138. Three good lunch spots within walking distance.
139. The value of human life.
140. Who pays.
141. Who profits.
142. The Venturi effect.
143. How people pee.
144. What to refuse to do, even for the money.
145. The fine print in the contract.
146. A smattering of naval architecture.
147. The idea of too far.
148. The idea of too close.
149. Burial practices in a wide range of cultures.
150. The density needed to support a pharmacy.
151. The density needed to support a subway.
152. The effect of the design of your city on food miles for fresh produce.
153. Lewis Mumford and Patrick Geddes.
154. Capability Brown, André Le Nôtre, Frederick Law Olmsted, Muso Soseki, Ji Cheng, and Roberto Burle Marx.
155. Constructivism, in and out.
157. Squatter settlements via visits and conversations with residents.
158. The history and techniques of architectural representation across cultures.
159. Several other artistic media.
160. A bit of chemistry and physics.
165. The Law of the Andes.
166. Cappadocia first-hand.
167. The importance of the Amazon.
168. How to patch leaks.
169. What makes you happy.
170. The components of a comfortable environment for sleep.
171. The view from the Acropolis.
172. The way to Santa Fe.
173. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
174. Where to eat in Brooklyn.
175. Half as much as a London cabbie.
176. The Nolli Plan.
177. The Cerdà Plan.
178. The Haussmann Plan.
179. Slope analysis.
180. Darkroom procedures and Photoshop.
181. Dawn breaking after a bender.
182. Styles of genealogy and taxonomy.
183. Betty Friedan.
184. Guy Debord.
185. Ant Farm.
187. Club Med.
188. Crepuscule in Dharamshala.
189. Solid geometry.
190. Strengths of materials (if only intuitively).
191. Ha Long Bay.
192. What’s been accomplished in Medellín.
193. In Rio.
194. In Calcutta.
195. In Curitiba.
196. In Mumbai.
197. Who practices? (It is your duty to secure this space for all who want to.)
198. Why you think architecture does any good.
199. The depreciation cycle.
200. What rusts.
201. Good model-making techniques in wood and cardboard.
202. How to play a musical instrument.
203. Which way the wind blows.
204. The acoustical properties of trees and shrubs.
205. How to guard a house from floods.
206. The connection between the Suprematists and Zaha.
207. The connection between Oscar Niemeyer and Zaha.
208. Where north (or south) is.
209. How to give directions, efficiently and courteously.
210. Stadtluft macht frei.
211. Underneath the pavement the beach.
212. Underneath the beach the pavement.
213. The germ theory of disease.
214. The importance of vitamin D.
215. How close is too close.
216. The capacity of a bioswale to recharge the aquifer.
217. The draught of ferries.
218. Bicycle safety and etiquette.
219. The difference between gabions and riprap.
220. The acoustic performance of Boston Symphony Hall.
221. How to open the window.
222. The diameter of the earth.
223. The number of gallons of water used in a shower.
224. The distance at which you can recognize faces.
225. How and when to bribe public officials (for the greater good).
226. Concrete finishes.
227. Brick bonds.
228. The Housing Question by Friedrich Engels.
229. The prismatic charms of Greek island towns.
230. The energy potential of the wind.
231. The cooling potential of the wind, including the use of chimneys and the stack effect.
233. Straw-bale building technology.
234. Rachel Carson.
236. The excellence of Michel de Klerk.
237. Of Alvar Aalto.
238. Of Lina Bo Bardi.
239. The non-pharmacological components of a good club.
240. Mesa Verde National Park.
241. Chichen Itza.
242. Your neighbors.
243. The dimensions and proper orientation of sports fields.
244. The remediation capacity of wetlands.
245. The capacity of wetlands to attenuate storm surges.
246. How to cut a truly elegant section.
247. The depths of desire.
248. The heights of folly.
249. Low tide.
250. The Golden and other ratios.
In a biennale that emphasized “research” and presented scores of graphs on the walls, beauty seemed nowhere to be seen. While many countries presented catalogues of buildings but forgot about the need to create compelling installations for the public, the Belgians made a pavilion that was a joy to enter and absorb. This pavilion managed to accomplish both thoughtful research and the most beautiful installation. The Belgians did not think of the pavilion as a research project, but they smartly put the research into a catalogue and created an abstract interior of string. The pavilion argues that the interior is fundamental in architectural design but has been little studied, and if it had it would become clear, “counter to the notion of modernity as an all-consuming phenomenon, interior research would reveal that vernacular architecture is instead absorbing and consuming modernity.”
The curators of the Finnish Pavilion (Ole Bouman and Julia Kauste) took the Koolhaas directive that it describe if and how national traditions and habits still matter in todays globalized world. In fact they presented a compelling argument that national traditions still do matter in architecture. Bouman, who curated the recent Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (China and Hong Kong), presented a “primitive hut” by a Finnish architect in China, Anssi Lassila, and then re-presented it in Venice. In front of the Alvar Aalto–designed pavilion the curators placed one version of the Lassila piece constructed by a Finnish master carpenter for Venice and then in back the one designed for Shenzen. The one made for Venice was built of cedar logs while the Shenzen one was made for economic reasons of local bamboo. With the doors open in the pavilion, a large table displayed the drawings for each structure and clearly and concisely showed the variations in the two national constructions as they moved from Chinese bamboo to Finnish cedar.
This intensely research-based installation, Instant Past, was not the easiest to absorb, as it featured multiple small tear sheets on the wall and photographic snap shots inside glass vitrines, but it was worth the extra effort. Modestly curated by Seyed Reza Hashemi and Azadeh Mashayekhi, it is an example of how to do a Venice installation on a minuscule budget. Rather than focus first on national identity, this exhibit showed how architecture itself can help form national identity. It argues that “if modernization is viewed as a force where ‘all that is solid melts into air,’ history presents itself as a tactic to find meaning and solace within these changes.” It wants to argue that the past is closely tied to visionary ideas of the future. Finally, a video highlights the dialogue between the two formal languages: Persian and modern. It starts from the biennale’s premise, Absorbing Modernity, but turns this notion on its head.
This was a very modest installation befitting an emerging country like Mozambique. Further it was at the very end of the exhibition in a room with two other small installations, so many biennale goers may have overlooked it and missed one of the most well meaning and powerful attempts to come to terms with Absorbing Modernity. The exhibit, Architecture Between Two Worlds, curated by Jose Forjaz, Vincent, Joaquim, and Joel Mathias Limbombo, focused on the building projects and legacy of the colonial Portuguese building program. It took the research mandate seriously and featured iconic modern buildings from around the world and then showed how they were influential in Portuguese-designed buildings in the their country. A three level display on a wooden wall featured various historical realities of the country: The first section displayed a series of images and audio-visual media giving the visitor an idea of the country’s reality—natural systems, the people, infrastructure, human settlements and economic activities, illustrating the human, geographical, and cultural context of a young country, little known due to its recent history and geopolitical importance. It also highlighted contemporary gaps in urban development, making the point that they “should be understood, in themselves, as unavoidable steps in the creation of an endogenous architectural culture.” Like other developing countries, they took the theme of modernism and its cultural, social, and political baggage seriously and without anger into a future they are still creating.
Three of the last four British pavilions in the Venice Architecture Biennale have featured public housing, as if the country has nothing else to celebrate on an intentional level. For this year’s biennale, the British curatorial team of A Clockwork Jerusalem (taken from William Blake), Sam Jacob and Wouter Vanstiphout, did not focus exclusively on public housing but used it as examples of how the “British form of modernity emerged from the aftermath of the industrial revolution.” We heard from several national pavilion curators in Venice that uber-curator Rem Koolhaas contacted them about staying on point with their research approach to presenting material on their country. But the British curators seemed to not focus on encyclopedic research and instead created a thoroughly idiosyncratic and unique view of regionalism in architecture. In the end it made a convincing and really brilliant installation (though I did not understand the totemic dirt mound in the entry space) on how responses to the industrial city combined “with traditions of the romantic, sublime, and pastoral to create new visions of British society. It was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable installations in the biennale, particularly when it focused on images of past utopian (and dystopian) visions of the future city ranging from Stonehenge to council estates, Ebenezer Howard to Cliff Richards, ruins and destruction to back to the land rural fantasies.
The economics of curating a national pavilion at the Venice Biennale are daunting with the costs approaching a million dollars for the temporary installations. The traditional western European pavilions get huge financial support or subsidies from their central governments and this can truly be seen in this year’s German pavilion. The curators created a 1:1 partial replica of the Kanzlerbungalow, which was built for the German chancellor in Bonn in 1964 by the architect Sep Ruf. The bungalow was a pure representation of a type of Southern California case study project that was widely featured in the German media as a symbol of progress for the country and served as the nation’s “living room.” When the capital moved to Berlin in 1999, the Kanzlerbungalow lost its usefulness and apparently “vanished into oblivion.” The curators claim this wonderful scale model is supposed to be in dialogue with the German Pavilion, which I don’t really get as meaningful, but as an image the model powerfully sums up how architecture can represent the wishes and political goals of a country. When it was finished, the German chancellor said, “You will find out more about me if you look at this house than if you watch me deliver a political speech.” The chancellor’s Grand Mercedes Benz was brought to Venice and parked in front of the German pavilion, adding an exclamation point to this built symbol of German democratic hopes for the future.
Think Finnish design and Alvar Aalto comes to mind. Right? But what about Angry Birds? In addition to being home to some of the world’s most important designers of furnishings, buildings, and textiles, Finland also has a thriving industry in game design. Rovio Entertainment’s popular online game is just one of the surprises in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ exhibition Finland: Designed Environments, on view through August 17.
Assembled by associate curator Jennifer Komar Olivarez, the exhibition includes 60 objects and photos of 16 architecture projects that portray how design and design thinking are an integral part of everyday life in Finland—from birth, actually. A remarkable entry from a social-safety net perspective is the Finnish government’s Sukupuu (Family Tree) maternity package issued to new babies. Originated in 1938, the 2012 version in the show by Johanna Öst Häggblom is a whimsically designed box (which doubles as a bassinet) stuffed with sleepers, blankets, diapers, and even a snowsuit.
Courtesy www.studio-eero-aarnio.com; Tapio Anttila
A childlike curiosity and playfulness permeate many of the objects on display—along with a keen attention to functionality, natural forms, and sustainability. Hannu Kähönen’s chairs constructed of wood fruit crates, Tapio Antilla’s stool/table fashioned out of wood scraps bound with a ratchet strap, Samuli Naamanka’s lobby chair of steel, biodegradable linen, and corn, and Heikki Ruoho’s cardboard furniture can be used, then burned or recycled.
Of course, beauty born of simplicity is evident in the furnishings as well. Birch is bent into the simplest of forms for lamps and chairs. Eero Aarnio’s cast-plastic light-therapy lamps juxtapose squares or bulbous shapes in minimalist yet evocative ways. Distilling form and function to its essence is also evident in Karin Widnäs’ 75th-anniversary, stoneware dinner service for the Savoy Restaurant in Helsinki and Pentagon Design’s sleek “Five Senses” series of multisensory objects.
The exhibition is divided into five thematic areas, with arguably the most sensual objects located in the “Design and the Body” area. Here Marita Huurinainen’s ethereal wood-nymph sheath dress of wool and peat; her Wave shoes of birch, rosewood, and leather; and her clamshell-like Laine handbag of beech wood beg to be touched, held, experienced, worn.
The unbreakable relationship between Finns and nature is also reflected in the “Relax, Recharge, and Reflect” section, which includes images of artfully designed saunas and cabins, as well as a Fiskars axe, Rapala fishing lures, and Alexander Lervik’s remarkable “Sense Light Swing.”
Finnish design is applied on a different scale in the infrastructure and planning of cities, from such micro initiatives as customizing trams to accommodate bulky winter clothing and creating a bicycle almost anyone can easily ride, to linking the city of Kuopio to an adjacent archipelago via a parkway accessible by foot, bicycle, or transit.
Courtesy Kuvio.com; Olavi Koponen
Photographs of such iconic Finnish architecture as the proposed public and urban Hernesaari Saunas (Avanto Architects), and Kamppi Chapel of Silence (K2S Architects)—with their clean, yet sumptuously curving wood forms—enticingly reinforce what we’ve come to expect from the best in Finnish buildings. And yet the Finns are ever evolving in their approaches to design, as evidenced by the Hollmén Reuter Sandman’s Women’s Center in Rufisque, Senegal, which hybridizes traditional African architecture and Finnish design innovations.
Finland: Designed Environments is part of FinnFest USA, a celebration August 7 to 10 marking the 150th anniversary of Finnish immigration to the United States, which originated with the 1864 arrival of Finnish settlers in Red Wing, Minnesota.
So while Helsinki was named World Design Capital in 2012—and the exhibition marks that occasion with commemorative objects and photos of the city’s celebratory light-filled pavilion—Minnesota’s own singular Finnish-American architect is included in the show as well. The Bagley Nature Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, designed by David Salmela, demonstrates the architect’s keen attention to form, nature, and sustainability. The crossover is complete.
When the credits roll at the end of a film it frequently blows my mind that so many different people in so many wide-ranging roles are involved in making a movie. Dozens (or even hundreds) of foley artists, along with gaffers and “best boys” and dressers (whatever all those terms really mean) join the more familiar costume designers, production designers, make-up artists, musicians, composers, screenwriters, producers, directors, and cast members to accomplish these rich, complex creative acts.
I love the idea that everyone’s name and position is listed there in black and white. Even if some of the titles roll past too fast to fully absorb, it is important to the movie industry that they acknowledge that it took all of these people working together to produce this amazing feat. I am jealous. Why don’t we have some way of similarly describing to the world the enormous and complex web of capabilities that goes into making a building?
Just as a $100 million film involves hoards of professionals and workers with an incredible range of talents and skills, so a $100 million building draws on thousands of contributors whose specialized capabilities are essential to the success of the end result. A very similar breadth of blue collar, white collar, and no collar workers in building and in film making contribute their business savvy, creativity, discipline, visual sophistication, brains, brawn, gross motor skills, fine motor skill, organizational talent, wisdom, hard work, and much more to the collective enterprise.
Could we, as architects, do a better job of realistically portraying how buildings come about and what our role is in the process? Absolutely! But we often seem so self-absorbed and so obsessed with getting our due credit that we fail to even see how much our success depends on working together. I am afraid we are increasingly victims of a propensity to isolate and compartmentalize what we do—to get defensive, draw boundaries, and live in silos.
A colleague I respect immensely recently told a group of architecture students at UT Austin that architects do not make buildings; they make drawings. That describes a role for us that is very tidy and contained, but it seems to me the polar opposite of the way we should see ourselves. We make buildings! At our best, we do it as part of large and complex teams where we are indispensable. We make buildings with our wits, our intelligence, our passion, our creativity, our imagination, our vision, our powers of persuasion, our collaborative skills, our work ethic, (and, yes, our ability to make drawings). We are not a tidy, self-contained club with a simple, clear role. We are part of an ever changing industry that has a lot of moving parts. We are one of those parts—a very essential one.
I have never been a fan of the sub-culture of architecture that revels in its own lingo, its self-aggrandizing name dropping (like Corb and Rem were our best friends) and its pathetic sense of always being alienated and misunderstood by those outside the club. In a world that increasingly worships cross-fertilization and the kind of creativity that comes from interdisciplinary thinking and in a marketplace that has a growing hunger for design/build and P3 delivery, this clubbiness seems particularly unproductive.
Historically, a great deal of the real power of architecture (as well as a lot of the creative and intellectual stimulus) has come from working closely with people outside the club—from artists and engineers to masons and carpenters. Vitruvius, Alberti, Viollet-le-Duc, etc. all portray architecture as a team sport closely linked to both building production and art. The most innovative end of what we do today is not so different, with design tightly bound to materials science, product fabrication, and construction. But, even when that collaboration happens effectively, the reporting and discussion of the projects that result are generally purged of any presence of the other players. The architect stands alone. We have a very strange tendency to personalize what is intrinsically a collective effort even among ourselves as architects.
Except in the case of very small buildings done by the rare sole practitioner, we do architecture together. And yet we have this weird practice of referring to that “Frank Gehry building” or that “Zaha Hadid building.” The strangest of all is the fairly common reference to a “Norman Foster building” when the firm wearing Foster’s name (now appropriately called Foster + Partners) is enormous, and there is no possible way the person Norman Foster could have any meaningful role in all those buildings they produce around the world. Yet we persist in trying to attach a single architect to a building.
Did Ayn Rand do this to us? Has Howard Roark left such a deep psychological scar on our profession that we just have to see ourselves as tortured loners? Or was it Banister Fletcher, Sigfried Giedion, and all the others who professionalized architectural history as a field and realizedthat the storytelling about buildings might be stronger if populated by larger than life figures who got sole credit? (It is, of course, also much easier to remember just one name per building for those slide identification questions on an architectural history exam.)
I certainly do not mean to diminish the critical importance of leadership and outstanding achievement. Gehry, Hadid, and Foster each deserve a lot of credit for their seminal roles. It is just strange to personalize the architectural effort in such a deceptive way that diminishes the role of so many others. Can’t we write articles on and acknowledge with some detail the role of multiple players per building?
Lately there has been rightful furor over the fact that Le Corbusier is given credit for work done with (or by) his female collaborator, Charlotte Perriand; that Alvar Aalto is given credit for work done with (or by) his collaborators and wives, Aino Aalto and Elissa Aalto; and that Louis Kahn is given credit for work done with (or by) his female collaborator, Anne Tyng. Most recently and vociferously, there has been outrage at the fact that Robert Venturi has been given credit for work done with (or by) his collaborator and wife, Denise Scott Brown. All of this is patently unfair! But isn’t it also unfair that dozens of men who also collaborated with Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Louis Kahn, and Robert Venturi also get diminished in our bizarre propensity to see the role of the architect as a highly individualized thing?
Maybe things are changing just a little. Earlier this year, the national AIA Board of Directors voted that the AIA Gold Medal could go to very close collaborators and not just individuals as has always been the case in the past. High time! The Nobel Prize has been given to groups of people for ages. If physics, chemistry, and medicine can be acknowledged as fields that rely on collective efforts, then why not architecture?
In medical schools these days there is a clear consciousness that doctors need to work together to solve patient problems, and there is a realization that the training of doctors has not encouraged that collaboration as it should have. They are focusing more on team-based learning where students constantly work in groups. They are also very keen on what they call IPE—inter-professional education. That means doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, physical therapists, etc. take classes together and learn to work as a unit rather than as isolated disciplines.
Might we imagine architecture schools that consistently emphasized team projects in studios rather than the me-focused individual projects? Might we even consider classes that had students in engineering, real estate, architecture, landscape architecture, planning, etc. all working on projects together? These kinds of educational experiences occur in small doses in architecture schools, but they are the rare exception rather than the prevailing rule.
We have recently been through a period where the visible expression of our discipline to the public has been starchitects and a worship of the myth of the individual. In that same period we have seen the power of our profession wane. Maybe it is time to drop the dramatic cape and beret and portray our field in a much more honest way that emphasizes our collective strengths—our ability to work together as strong professionals locked arm in arm with our fellow professionals in other disciplines to create extraordinary cultural artifacts.
Then we should let the credits roll!
I’d like to thank Harvey Weinstein, Sue Mengers, our truly incredible cast and crew…..oops. A paraphrased platitude: knowledge is everywhere and we meld productively with the minds of giants, dwarves, and those of average size. Among those to whom I am indebted: Kallikrates and Iktinos. Sinan. My mother, for giving me a copy of Lewis Mumford when I was fourteen. My father, for agreeing with my mother to buy that modernist house with no basement. My long-suffering, severely underpaid, amazingly supportive collaborators. Michael De Klerk. Alvar Aalto. Bruce Goff, the more so for putting up with all that bullshit from Frank Lloyd Wright. Lawrence Sterne for the funniest book ever written. Guarino Guarini. James Wines, for nominating me 28 times for this. Michelle Obama, for the fabulous lunch. My dear wife Joan, for her loving dissatisfaction, uncompromising mind and spirit, and inspirational good looks. But, I’d like to dedicate this award to two authentic mental titans we’ve lost this year, comrades in arms, dear friends, great teachers, more deserving than I of this tribute: Lebbeus Woods and Marshall Berman. Leb taught me the true reality of genius, creative fearlessness, the leagues-long distance form can go, and the way in which ideas of the deepest profundity can live in architecture. He inspired me with design’s power of resistance to constraint and with an ever unfolding and questioning dream of what building might be in both mind and place. Marshall taught me about the bottomless meaning that inhabits the city, the infinitely nuanced relations of thought and passion, the way in which politics can be a conduit for kindness and joy, and the pleasure and the contiguity of the astonishing urban poetries to be found from Aristotle’s agora to hip-hop’s Bronx. My great gratitude to the Cooper Hewitt and the NDA jury for conducing the sweetness and duty of thinking about what it means to have been alive among such minds as these.