The Grass House—a LEED Platinum carriage house located across from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C.—is the first building on the East Coast realized using a panelized bamboo-based structural system called BamCore. The strength of the interior and exterior panels allows for the elimination of double studs that characterize conventional construction today. The Grass House’s hollow wall cavities have been filled with Havelock sheep’s wool insulation, the highest performing building insulation available. Once framed and stuffed, the house was clad in charred Atlantic cedar, and the interior fitted out with willow and walnut details. The result is a series of spaces as comfortable and familiar as they are economical and sustainable.Resources: Collaborators: JZ Engineering, Steven Winter Associates, Fabio Designs Structural System: BamCore Insulation: Havelock Wool Timber: reSAWN TIMBER charred wood, Basket Farmer willow Lighting: Danielle Trofe Honorable Mention Walking Assembly Matter Design & CEMEX Global R&D
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Between the Black and White
Diana Agrest explores geology through representation in Architecture of Nature: Nature of Architecture
“Representation, theater of life or mirror of the world.” Michel Foucault, The Order of Things
Presented as a 9-by-11-inch hardbound volume of full-color drawings, this sumptuously produced book includes interviews and writings alongside Diana Agrest’s design research as demonstrated by the work of her M.Arch II students at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union in New York City over a period of nine years.
Agrest is known for work that spans theoretical discourses in architecture, urbanism, semiotics, and gender. Her approach to semiotics has been neither purist nor essentialist; rather she takes a mediated view that argues that shifts in textual meaning are based on shifts in cultural context. In the 1970s and ’80s her view was also a kind of mediation between the Whites and the Grays, treating representation as a form of artifice, reflexively commenting on architecture’s inability to do more than this.
The Architecture of Nature exhibits (at first blush) a big pivot, with a new arena of investigation, if not perspectival view and methodology. The focus on nature, seen through geologic data (point clouds and weather data), is new to Agrest, yet the representations it produces are familiar as the aura and language of Cooper Union through multiple eras (under the leadership of Hejduk, Vidler, et al.).
If there’s a through line between Agrest’s early and late career, it rests here, in the primacy of (a particular type of) representation as the number one tool of architectural practice, with theory and building coming in a distant second and third. Less easy to appreciate is how this new territory relates to Agrest’s intellectual foundations in language, architecture, and urbanism.
The drawings make geologic space seductive, in an ambient way. The works are more diagrammatic than spatial, more planetary and notational than human. They work through abstraction; delamination of layers; and schematic, atmospheric sections producing geometrically complex artifacts that are difficult to apprehend, yet in their finest moments, verge on the mystical. In their elusive effects, they seem cultivated like an endangered species to demonstrate the Cooper design imaginary and unique skill of the architect in re-presenting (in this case) science to the world.
In an interview with Agrest, which forms some of the finest content of the book, art historian Caroline Jones and science historian Peter Galison suggest that the work exemplifies “an embrace of the constructed nature of the image and how it comes into being.” Jones then offers the following critique: “It’s a sort of nature without us, except that the drawing is completely human in the way it is conceived.” The paradox Jones points out is this: Whatever “nature” is, we’re part of it, made of it, embedded in it. “Yet we can only ‘get to it’—that is, produce it as some kind of object for contemplation—by modeling, by presenting, by analogy, by metaphor, by externalization. We are of course a part of it all. But we have to pretend we aren’t, just to be able to think about it.”
Agrest’s stated ambition is not to be metaphorical but rather to visualize space-time. Jones suggests that avoiding metaphor is not possible (and possibly not desirable), suggesting Donna Haraway’s notion of “witness” as a more apt concept to engender complex ideas of entanglement. Agrest responds by invoking the transdiscursive and then “the process by which knowledge builds at the boundary.” In ecology we call this ecotone, but here it seems like getting caught in the dialectic of Jones’s caution.
In his interview with Agrest, science historian D. Graham Burnett suggests the work is “best understood as a kind of cataloging of contemporary gestures in the direction of a program—call it the ‘neo-sublime.’ This new program trades heavily on the aesthetics of information. In these cases, what we stand before that occasions a moment of negatory vertigo is not a big cliff or a deep cave but a colossal mass of data.” Burnett’s point is a salient one that this reader wishes had been further explored by Agrest. It’s part of a discussion that’s been percolating.
The material would also be enriched had Agrest made connections between the work she’s known for and this more recent design research less tacit—for example, the ongoing investment in notational design. Or to articulate ideas of gender and nature (if they are indeed still important) in her pivot to investigations of nature. She presents a too-simple discussion of “nature-gendered-female” in the introduction, and there’s no evidence of this thread in the design research.
Is it too far a reach to suggest that for Agrest, nature is the new object of the gaze, the so-called “scene of history” that in her previous work referred to the city? It’s one way to interpret an interest in the geologic past. Shifting focus from urbanism, Agrest has set her gaze away from the city and toward nature, and geology in particular. So it might follow that her previous articulations of a street—“Street: A scene in movement. The street is the scene of struggle, of consumption, the scene of scenes; it is infinitely continuous, unlimited in the motion of objects, of gazes, of gestures. It is the scene of history”—are now being transmuted to the immersive experience of geologic, or deep time. However, this is pure conjecture, so the reader is left to wonder if Agrest intends reinvention, recalibration, or promotion. The decision to include the 1991 essay The Return of the Repressed: Nature seems designed to place a golden spike in the calendar, a moment at which she began investigating nature. The essay, however, adds little to the more nuanced discourses with Jones, Galison, and Burnett in the book.
Given Agrest’s commitment to the transdiscursive, especially in the context of a body of work premised on an engagement with nature, it’s curious that the discipline of landscape architecture bears no mention, and in particular, the topological work coming out of the ETH in Zurich under Christophe Girot, as well as the work of Bradley Cantrell at Harvard and more recently the University of Virginia. Or the burgeoning interest in geology over the last 10 years or so in architecture, including Stan Allen’s Landform Building and the work of Design Earth, to name a few. This absence of peer context suggests that the real context for the book is not so much contemporary discussions about nature, but rather the legacy of representational virtuosity associated with Cooper Union’s School of Architecture.
Cathryn Dwyre-Perry is a landscape architect, adjunct associate professor at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture, and coprincipal of experimental design practice pneumastudio.
Landscapes of the Mind
AN rounds up the best landscape architecture lectures nationwide
Design + Practice Exchange
New York and New Orleans women will tackle design leadership in a new conference
Joel Pominville and Aran Donovan of AIA New Orleans are helping prepare for the event this week. As a smaller organization compared to the AIA NY, they are thrilled to start the conversation surrounding the Design + Practice Exchange in their home city. “It’s critical that architects from cities of different scales, social, and political makeups come together around key issues in the field,” said Pominville, executive director of the AIA New Orleans and the New Orleans Foundation. “These types of discussions aren’t happening in New Orleans as much as they are in New York.” During the conference, there will be a series of roundtable discussions spearheaded by leaders from Studio West, FXCollaborative, Perez, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, Trapolin Peer Architects, and Fogarty Finger Architecture. These conversations will be less project-focused and more centered on workplace culture and leadership. “It’s good for women to know how other women are being perceived in other cities,” said Cassidy Rosen, a designer at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple who will be moderating the event. “We want to know that we’re on the same page as women in New York and know how to be engaged not just in professional development, but in community, social and networking aspects as well.” In addition, a session on advocacy and activism, two growing topics that architects today are more and more challenged by, will be lead by Colloqate’s Sue Mobley and Arielle Weiss of Urbhan. Whether it’s learning ways to uplift other women, bolster entrepreneurship, or combat gender discrimination and equal pay issues in the practice, the ideas exchange will give women from all backgrounds the support they need to do even better work. “We want greater collaboration,” said Rosen, “which is something that’s lacking between states.” The Design + Practice Exchange will take place Friday, September 27 at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, with an evening reception at the Center for Architecture and Design New Orleans. There will be a tour of women-led projects and organizations along Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. on Saturday morning, September 28. The morning presentations and morning tour are free and open to the public, while the roundtable discussions and reception are limited with a registration fee. AN is an official media sponsor.View this post on Instagram
Pratt-ice Makes Perfect
AN interviews Frances Bronet, the Pratt Institute’s new president
Such sad news. Phil Freelon was a visionary genius who gave us so many artistic gifts. Prayers for @OfficialNnenna and his family. I remember this pic from the media walkthrru at @Nmaahc while still under construction. Just look at his pride. Rest in Power pic.twitter.com/i3fFj7VM8H— Michele Norris (@michele_norris) July 9, 2019
My father-in-law, Phil Freelon, made his transition today. ALS may have cut his time here short, but we are so grateful for everything he gave as a father, grandfather, architect and humanitarian. He lives on in his buildings and his legacy: https://t.co/4IJUXGl44n— Kate Sheppard (@kate_sheppard) July 9, 2019
Phil Freelon, the architect of the African-American History Museum (and many others as well), has died.I profiled him for @ourstatemag in 2017. "History is a funny thing. There can be poignant moments embedded in these objects.” https://t.co/ZDlUc0w8N4 — David A. Graham (@GrahamDavidA) July 9, 2019
Most recently, Freelon and his wife, Nnenna, a Grammy-nominated jazz singer, unveiled their renovation of the NorthStar Church of the Arts, a house of worship and space for creative activities in Durham. In a message on NorthStar's website, the Freelon family requested the bereaved donate to the church in lieu of buying flowers.
A brilliant mind. Incredible architect and esteemed designer. One of my biggest influences. I am grateful for the many opportunities I had to meet you and discuss your inspirational buildings and moving projects. Rest Well Mr. Phil Freelon. pic.twitter.com/siVUER57a4— Cheryl Dixon (@CherylDDesign) July 9, 2019
Putting on a Public Face
Check out 2018's best facade products for enclosure performance and design
2018 Best of Design Awards winners for Digital Fabrication
Slated to be the tallest tower in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 260 Kent by COOKFOX Architects was designed using an innovative precast exterior concept inspired by the molecular structure of sugar crystals. In a unique collaboration between the architect, developer, and Gate Precast, the same BIM model that was used to design the facade and create early scaled 3D-printed models was utilized to print molds for the precast panels. When complete, the facade is intended to act as a shading element. Opening in fall 2019, the 42-story tower will join the already open 325 Kent and Domino Park as the latest edition to the Domino Sugar waterfront redevelopment project.
MANGROVE REEF WALLS KVdR Design with Jessene Aquino-Thomas
Approximately half the world population lives in urban areas near coastlines, with coastal armoring reducing native habitats and enabling invasive species to thrive. Mangrove Reef Walls are integrally cast within seawalls to recreate tidal habitats along urbanized waterfronts. The digitally developed mangrove and oyster geometry maximizes surface area and texture variety promoting adherence, growth, and hiding areas for numerous species. Ultimately, these eco-friendly seawall panels may be tuned for a variety of local species.HVAC
WHISPERRECESSED LED Panasonic
The WhisperRecessed LED is an 80 CFM exhaust fan that hides abaft an LED Recessed Light and disappears behind the ceiling. It is an attractive way to remove moist, polluted air from the home, and it helps to prevent mold and mildew. The architectural-grade recessed light fixture provides powerful yet quiet ventilation.OPENINGS
PORTAPIVOT 6530 XL Portapivot
With their discreet joinery, these unique room dividers are designed to be mounted on an already finished floor and under a solid or reinforced ceiling surface, without any preinstalled mounting systems. The minimal aluminum frame is designed to be fitted with 6- or 8-millimeter-thick safety glass and is available in three anodized colors: silver, black, and bronze. The axis can be positioned at one-third or in the center, with a configurable swing capacity of 90, 180, or 360 degrees.TECHNOLOGY & INNOVATION MAKERARM Makerarm A beautifully designed robotic arm that’s infinitely customizable, Makerarm is a factory on a desktop. It offers interchangeable tool heads that easily snap on and off, allowing instant conversion from a 3-D printer to a CNC mill to a laser engraver to a pick-and-place machine, among countless other functions, in a matter of seconds. Makerarm rotates 360 degrees and, at over 700 square inches, its work area is one of the largest of any 3-D printer or fabricator on the consumer market. BATH
FONTANE BIANCHE Salvatori + Fantini
A dialogue between circle and square runs through this entire collection from Fantini, created in collaboration with Italian stone company Salvatori. The washbasin is carved from a square marble block, from which a circular hemisphere is extracted. The Fontane Bianche line also includes faucets, showers, and handles.FACADES
CORSO Innova Tile
This long-format brick presents a new emphasis on the horizontal lines of fine brick installations with its 19.70-inch unit length. The extended shape, the colors, the variations of textures, and the size and position of mortar joints work together to express the modernity of terra-cotta. The architectural ceramic method of production broadens the range of available colors.RESIDENTIAL INTERIOR FURNISHINGS
MUSHROOM TABLE Yabu Pushelberg for Henge
Designed as complementary pairs, the Mushroom Tables have an unexpected lightness given their all-metal construction with softened, refined edges and rounded corners. The tables’ differences in height and scale are precisely considered, while the process of sand-casting is reflected in both form and finish, exhibiting a handwrought fluidity. The base of each table is more substantial than its top but is mirrored in its form; slender posts change in profile, from circular to square.
Some of the residents include
The architecture firm investigated new framing systems for mass timber.
The engineering company explored inflatable shading devices.
MIT students have created self-deploying fabric canopies that can be dropped via aircraft.
This construction manufacturer is developing a system for robotically constructing masonry walls.