The presentations and activities at this year’s ACADIA (Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture) conference gave attendees a glimpse of potentially disruptive technologies and workflows for computational architectural production. The conference was held this year in Austin from October 24 through 26 and was organized by The University of Texas School of Architecture faculty members Kory Bieg, Danelle Briscoe, and Clay Odom. The organizers collected papers, workshops, and projects addressing the theme of “Ubiquity and Autonomy” in computation. Contributors reflected on the state of architectural production, in which digital tools and methodologies developed in the boutique, specialized settings at the fringes of the profession a generation ago have now become commonplace in architectural offices—while at the same time, new forms of specialist computational practices are emerging which may themselves soon become mainstream. While each participant grappled to position themselves in the cyclical and ever-advancing framework of technological inheritance and transference, the most encouraging efforts can be described in three categories: Expansions, subversions, and wholesale disruptions of the computational status quo. The expansionists claimed new technological territories, enlisting emerging and peripheral technologies to their purposes. The subvertors sampled the work and scrambled the workflows of their predecessors, configuring novel material applications in the process. Disruptors actively sought to break the techno-positivist cycle, questioning the assumptions, ethics, and values of previous generations to leverage computational design and digital processes to advance pressing and prescient political, economic, and ecological agendas. Expansionists appropriated bleeding-edge technologies, or those newly introduced to the discipline, to stake new terrain in design and construction. The conference was the first of its kind to host a dedicated session on the use of Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) in design. This machine-learning system pits two forms of artificial intelligence against each other—one AI acts as the creative “artist,” generating all the possible solutions to a given task, while the other acts as the “critic,” selectively editing and curating the most appropriate responses. After training the networks on archives of architectural imagery, panelists put the GANs to work on evaluative and generative design tasks, alternately generating passably authentic floor plans, building envelopes, and reconstructed streetscapes. The workshop sessions, hosted by a suite of computational research teams from several architectural offices, demonstrated possibilities for adopting emerging technologies with familiar platforms, adopting and adapting tools like Fologram and Hololens to more familiar software platforms and fabrication methods. The subvertors, familiar with the expected uses and applications of given tools, would offer intentionally contradictory alternatives, short-circuiting established workflows and celebrating the unintended consequences of digitally enhanced platforms. A project from MIT researchers Lavender Tessmer, Yijiang Huang, and Caitlin Mueller entitled “Additive Casting of Mass-Customizable Brick” is a good example of the subvertors’ approach to interrogating workflows, enlisting precision-equipment for low-fidelity effect. As the current state-of-the-art in custom concrete formwork employs costly and time-consuming workflows to task CNC routers or robotic arms with milling, the MIT project is a critical alternative. Instead of shaping the mold, the project mobilizes the mold, achieving a wide variety of sculptural concrete “bricks” using standard cylindrical forms wielded by a robotic arm, while leveraging the ability of liquid concrete to self-level. The molds are shifted to preset positions while the concrete sets, allowing the sequential states of self-leveled concrete to intersect in complex geometries. The process is surprisingly delightful to watch, as the robot controls seven molds simultaneously like a drummer with a drumkit. The unexpected combination of high- and low-tech recalibrates possibilities for the robotic craft. Other researchers swapped out expected materials to produce unexpected results. Vasily Sitnikov (KTH) and Peter Eigenraam (TU Delft) teamed with BuroHappold to produce IceFormwork, a project that uses milled blocks of ice as the unlikely forms for casting high-performance fiber-reinforced concrete. Ice, the team argued, is a preferred, environmentally neutral alternative to industry-standard EPS foam molds, which produce a vast amount of waste. Ice molds, the team demonstrated, are easy enough to make (with some help from a reliable water source and a repurposed refrigerated ISO container). Airborne particles suspended by the ice-milling process are harmless water vapor, unlike the dangerous foam dust requiring ventilation equipment and other protective measures. When it comes to de-molding, the ice can simply be left outside to melt. While these investigations showcased new ways to hack the assembly process of cast building elements, their choice of concrete as a material contradicted a growing consensus in the panels; that designers should actively seek alternatives to the glut of concrete in the building industry, given the high ecological cost and high carbon footprint of concrete manufacturing in the context of an accelerating global sand shortage. Daniela Mitterberger and Tiziano Derme (MAEID/University of Innsbruck) offered one of the more radical alternatives with their project “Soil 3D Printing.” The team is using hydrogels—non-toxic, biodegradable adhesives—as binding agents injected into loose soil, to form alien landscapes of networked, earthen structures that portend a near-future where biocompatible, organic additive manufacturing processes restructure geotechnical landscapes and planetary geology. The provocations of the disruptors—who radically repurpose computational tools beyond perceived disciplinary constraints—raised profound questions about the potential for design technologies to enable and enact larger societal transformations by lining up global supply chains, material economies, and non-human constituencies squarely in their sights. Jose Sanchez (Plethora Project/Bloom Games/USC), in the presentation he gave while accepting the Innovative Research Award, presented his work leveraging computation and game design to critically examine and transform economic and ecologic realities. Sanchez has developed a series of game environments which force players to navigate wicked problems in contemporary cities, to confront the complexities, contradictions, and paradoxes of urbanization, logistics, and manufacturing. Sanchez described the continued focus in his work on efforts to "optimize for the many"—as opposed to the few—in a period of increased economic inequality, re-assessing the predominant use of digital technologies over the past few decades to enable complex mass-customized assemblies. Sanchez, in his own work, and in projects like Bloom with Alisa Andrasek (Biothing/Bloom Games/RMIT), has been exploring the potential of digital technologies to disrupt mass-production models through high-volume production of serialized and standardized “discrete” architectural components. In a similar vein, Gilles Retsin (UCL/Bartlett) argued for a reconsideration of the labor practices and digital economies enmeshed in, and implicitly supported by, a building industry that has not yet come to terms with automation. By focusing on the ability of digital tools to combat material waste, Retsin argued, a generation of digitally savvy architects have ignored the potential of automation to address wasted labor. Through speculative research and small projects, Retsin is hoping to disrupt the building industry, increasing the capacity of architects to design and implement new platforms for project delivery which can combat exploitative practices. As expansionists pointed out where to look for the next big advancement, subvertors demonstrated how existing tools could be used differently. Disruptors were some of the few to ask—and answer—why. Stephen Mueller is a founding partner of AGENCY and a Research Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University College of Architecture in El Paso.
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“We are in pursuits of an idea, a new vernacular, something to stand alongside the space capsules, computers and throw-away packages of an atomic/electronic age,” Warren Chalk, member of former British architecture studio Archigram once said. Chalk's quote epitomized Archigram's outlook and approach—daring, brave, looking firmly into the future, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Archigram and its contemporaries of similarly brilliant names (Ant Farm, Superstudio and Archizoom) have since been canonized as being part of an elite group of supposedly Avant-Garde architects. But if that was the crème-de-la-crème of 50 years ago, what is the equivalent today? Re-imagining the Avant-Garde, on show at Betts Project in East London, might have the answer. If you want to see some good drawings, this is the place to go—not surprising given the star-studded exhibitor list: Ant Farm, Pablo Bronstein, Peter Eisenman, Sam Jacob, OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Jimenez Lai/Bureau Spectacular, and Aldo Rossi, to name a few, are all on show and none disappoint. Neither do the smaller studios: UrbanLab, WAI Think Tank, Warehouse of Architecture and Research (WAR), and Office Kovacs. Those exhibited are either mentioned in or have contributed to a special edition of AD Magazine which takes the same name as the exhibition at Betts Project. British duo Matthew Butcher and Luke Pearson, both academics, writers, and designers guest co-edited the magazine and co-curated this exhibition. "Avant-Garde" used in relation to architecture today brings to mind the work of Archigram et al., all of who sprouted from the fervent experimental ground of the 1960s and ’70s. It's through this moment in architectural history which Re-Imagining the Avant-Garde attempts to frame contemporary architectural practice and thought. So how does the historical and contemporary sit next to each other? Rather comfortably, it turns out. As images and models, all arguably fall under the umbrella of Pop Architecture; British critic Reyner Banham's definition holding true. Take Belgium firm Office Kersten Geers' Border Wall, for example. The studio helped popularize the collage style of architectural representation a few years ago and it's a useful medium for Border Wall. Here it is employed to highlight tensions between territories—in this case, a walled forest in the middle of a desert divided by a fence. The desert landscape is a blurry image, while the tree trunks are conveniently hidden, all of which consequently obfuscates any sense of scale, adding a layer of ambiguity to the piece. Other exhibitors reference the Avant-Garde architectural canon explicitly, like WAR for example, who projects its architecture through a comic strip akin to the drawings of Archigram. L.A.-based Office Kovacs, run by Andrew Kovacs, meanwhile provides a palimpsest of readymade architectural artifacts in Miniature maze, a work that draws on the archive of affinities found in Kovacs' blog of architectural b-sides. As these works are displayed next to photos of Ant Farm's famous touring truck, and with other ’60s radicals in mind, it's evident that the contemporary practices on show are producing work that is just as visually arresting as their predecessors. But what's the difference between then and now? "Yes, ’70s utopian groups have influenced us—it's obvious, no? The difference is that we work out there in reality," Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius of the Berlin-based raumlabor told AN editor-in-chief William Menking in his article for the issue of AD Magazine. Like all good exhibitions, Re-imagining the Avant-Garde provokes more questions. Is this the Avant-Garde reimagined? Why are we being asked to re-imagine the Avant-Garde in the first place, is it the hope of stumbling upon another wave of Avant-Garde architects? Very few, if any, realize they are part of an Avant-Garde, even if they have Avant-Gardist ambitions (see Chalk's quote). The term is, for the most part, applied through a historical lens. We only realize there was an Avant-Garde once it has been and, sadly, gone. We might even find that the more we search for an Avant-Garde, the more it will evade us. When Abbot Suger worked with his Master Masons on the Basilica of Saint-Denis in 12th-Century France, he probably didn't expect the Gothic-style church he commissioned to end up defining the built landscape of Medieval Europe. Far less did Suger realize that he was part of an architectural Avant-Garde (or equivalent seeing as the phrase emerged some 700 years after). Defining a historical Avant-Garde imposes restrictions on a supposed contemporary Avant-Garde. Also writing in the same issue of AD Magazine, critic Mimi Zeiger argues that "The work of Italian radicals Superstudio [and others] provides endless fodder for appropriation," which is the case with much the work on show at Betts Project. Furthermore, the elite Avant-Garde club which Butcher and Pearson refer to is essentially an all-white gentleman's club. "Re-imagining the avant-garde might seem celebratory at first but unless radically re-contextualized and critiqued, it can be a trap. Old biases and omissions are reinforced: canons crystallized, hierarchies hardened, patriarchal practices protected," adds Zeiger. In light of this, instead of aspiring to be part of an Avant-Garde, today's architects should forget about the term altogether and strive to make a more sustainable planet. Much as how Chalk imagined building for an "atomic/electronic age," a similarly forward-thinking vision will surely prove to be Avant-Garde in time. Re-imagining the Avant-Garde runs through December 21.
For 40 years, Ran Morrissett has been hooked on golf course architecture. Arguably one of the most underrated and hidden fields of design, the professional world of creating and maintaining golf courses is surprisingly complex and rather storied. North Carolina-based writer Morrissett, who started studying the topic seriously for Golf Club Atlas, a website he founded with his brother, has just been named the first architecture editor at GOLF Magazine. Growing up, his family of four would travel to world-class courses abroad in England and Scotland, or places closer to home such as Harbour Town in Hilton Head, South Carolina, or Pinehurst No. 2, a 1907 design by famed course architect Donald Ross in North Carolina. It was during these vacations that comparing and contrasting—aka critiquing—golf courses became a tradition. Cut to decades later, and Morrissett has made it his own unconventional career. AN sat down with Morrissett ahead of the GOLF’s release of its annual Top 100 course rankings, where they compiled the best places to play on the planet. As Morrissett's first major project with GOLF, the classification system reveals which of the some 30,000 courses around the world, both private and public, boast the best design. It wasn’t exactly a daunting task for Morrissett, however, who at 56 years old has held tee times in over 35 countries and visited some of the most revered courses ever made. We asked him about his nascent role and what makes great golf course architecture. AN: Tell us more about your origin story and why you’ve dedicated your life to studying golf courses. RM: In my twenties, I found it was becoming increasingly harder to have meaningful conversations with people on golf course design. At the time, the internet didn’t exist and there wasn’t any great writing on golf course architecture. That all started to change when the Donald Ross Society was established in 1989 to help preserve his courses and the Classics of Golf started republishing the finest architecture books from the late 19th and early 20th century. Newspapers were also only covering the major events in golf, mostly within the PGA Tour, and they’d profile these insanely difficult and long courses that were set up to challenge the best, not the average player. My brother and I didn’t think that was enjoyable so we started the Atlas online to provide a platform for people who just wanted to play for fun and connect with others. We found that thousands of people shared our viewpoint. So everyone became a critic on how to improve the physical set up of the game? Yes. At one point—and you could argue it’s still true—the definition of a good golf course was how tough it was. That’s not what we thought. A hard golf course can beat you up and demoralize you. To be honest, the absolute easiest thing in the world is to build a hard golf course. Why? It’s harder to make a course that everyone will enjoy playing regardless of their skill level or age and one of the largest determining factors for that is the way it interacts with nature. In a similar way that Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architecture harmonizes with nature, good golf courses do the same. For example, if you go to the Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen, Nebraska, by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, this minimalist design pays tribute to the existing natural environment, which is a design ideal. How Coore & Crenshaw found eighteen holes and connected them so flawlessly to make the course a delight to walk amongst this huge expanse of rolling sand dunes is amazing. One of the greatest architects of all time, Harry S. Colt, said the ultimate test of a golf course is: Will it live? His designs are among the most timeless because they seem as if they were almost born out of the ground, as opposed to man impaling design features onto the Earth. That's what makes them attractive and keeps people coming back. Another reason why Sand Hills, in particular, is so successful is that it drains well. Some say great architecture is about drainage. The more sand content in the soil, the better the property will drain, which directly impacts and extends the course’s playing season. What is the most challenging part of designing a golf course? The responsibility that golf architects have is enormous because they are working with such big blocks of land. Think about it: If you build a poor golf course that doesn’t provide any enjoyment for anybody or doesn’t drain well, you have essentially ruined 100 acres of land. It’s not going to live if it can’t find an audience that will use it. Another challenging aspect for both the architect and the player is the hole location. The architect has to consider how a player will approach each hole as it moves throughout the green. Courses that have flexibility are inherently more interesting than courses that are just linear and ask the same thing shot after shot, day after day. How has Golf Club Atlas grown? We’re in every corner of every great golf nation. I have friends around the world that I try to meet when I travel and they come to me when they want to play Pinehurst, a mecca for golf. This year, my wife and I will probably have entertained 300 people from all parts of the world. It’s important to connect with others in golf because like a building, a golf course is a living thing. You can’t walk away from it and think it’ll be fine without any help. Golf courses are reliant on people who will dedicate the time to study them, understand their heritage, and find the right consulting architect to maintain it. When we started Golf Club Atlas there were hundreds of courses being built each year, so we wrote a lot about new construction. Now there are fewer courses being built and many architects are turning to restoration work. What is the biggest issue architects face when restoring aging courses? One of the main problems is how to address the overgrowth of the 80- to 100-year-old trees on sites around the country. Trees can narrow holes, impede sunlight, and lessen the quality of grass and turf. Moisture issues can occur too if the soil remains damp for too long, causing golf balls to release slower. Golf is often perceived as a highly exclusive sport. You mentioned the best courses in the world are set on coastlines, which I link to being expensive to play, live near, or get to. That's comment is coming from your perspective here in the U.S. In the UK, it’s every man's sport. Clearly, you have golf courses here that are extremely costly, but the nice thing about the sport is that—and I say this from personal experience—people love to show off their courses and will invite you to play. I’ve been asked to play at over 2,000 courses. I do wish the U.S. had more of the UK’s inclusion model but part of the reason is that UK courses are built on ideal sites—sandy soil for a climate that’s conducive to great golf and isn’t costly to maintain. This means dues are cheaper too. Heavier, clay soils and weather (including heat and humidity) add to the challenge and expense of maintaining courses in America as opposed to the UK. It sounds like a lack of knowledge on the diversity of the sport is a problem. It’s true. Some of the best courses built in the last 25 years, though, are open to the public. Mike Keiser built nearly 10 of the highest-ranked courses in the world, like Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon. Anyone is welcome there. One of the best courses in the U.S., Bethpage State Park on Long Island, is public too. At GOLF, we realize the narrative hasn’t always been the best for golf course architecture. We’re all very keen on trying to highlight courses that strike a balance between being challenging and fun so that they’re inclusive for as many people as possible. Four sterling examples of this in the Top 10 are St. Andrews, Royal Melbourne West, National Golf Links of America, and Royal Dornoch. Can you explain more about your plans as the architecture editor at GOLF? The magazine has always been broken down into three things: How do you play (instruction), what you should play (equipment), and where do you play (courses). Obviously, my role is to help point people to places where they would like to play. One of the reasons I love the sport so much is that I do my homework and I don’t play poorly designed golf courses. I derive no joy from doing that. If we can get people to where they’re going to have the most fun, then we’re doing a great service to the game. Additionally, if you understand what’s in front of you and what the architect is challenging you to do, then, in theory, you should be able to score better over time. You can literally think your way to a better score.
Fair Pay for Fair Work
Lawrence Scarpa on paid competitions
The following editorial comes courtesy of the Lawrence Scarpa, a co-founder of the Los Angeles-based Brooks + Scarpa Architects, in response to Matt Shaw's October 24, 2019, article on the value of paid architectural competitions. Matt. After reading your post, “Here’s to Paid Competitions!” about the design competition for the new cafe at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, it reminded me of the many pitfalls surrounding the vast majority of design competitions and the abuse of design professionals that are rarely made public. While the Everson Museum Competition appears to have been equitably organized and includes some compensation, most competitions grossly exploit architects and designers and their valuable skills. Competitions today are a “Client Take All” proposition with perhaps one architect or designer as a winner. Even when competitions are well-compensated, the requirements for deliverables, such as physical models, 3D visualizations, travel for interviews, etc. almost always exceed the amount of compensation offered, by double or more! I have never heard from any architect, EVER, that has said anything other than how much they’ve spent or lost (beyond the compensation) to partake in a design competition. Furthermore, the large majority of design competitions rarely get built. Not because of poor design or any problem(s) with the designer or architect, but because too many clients are quick to hold a competition before they have funding for the project, control of the site, jurisdictional approval, political support, or many of the realities that are necessary to permit and build a competition-winning scheme. Take the recent Guggenheim Museum competition in Helsinki, for example. Many millions of dollars were spent by hundreds of architecture firms around the world with the promise of the “career-changing” commission. Result: No commission and NO BUILDING. (Winning such a coveted commission and seeing it built are about the equivalent of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning). No big deal for the client(s), as they’ve invested very little relative to the benefits they get from the architects' work. Another similar competition was recently held in Bentonville, Arkansas, sponsored by a major foundation that paid shortlisted firms $5,000 each to compete, and again, after the architects spent well in excess of the stipend amount, they were informed that maybe only one of the five sites that were part of the competition might be constructed. Just last week, I was told by a globally recognized firm that they just finished a competition where they were paid $450,000 to prepare a design proposal but had spent almost $2 million to complete the competition submission. Recently, our firm was short-listed for an important commission in South Florida by an unnamed city. When the teams were notified for their interview times, and even though it is against Florida law, they were told that the selection committee was expecting to see design proposals during the interview. No compensation was offered, nor did the rules state that this would be a requirement. I was shocked that a municipal organization would brazenly break the law. Yet no team dared challenge this demand as it would be a sure ”death sentence” and the chance to win the competition would go to zero. Unfortunately, these examples are more of the norm than the exception. To add insult to injury, we have a network of architect-slash-competition advisors that, rather than informing clients of the great benefits that architects provide and how they should be compensated fairly, they instead get paid handsomely by the client to round up the best architecture talent and get them to do extensive amounts of work for competitions at little to no cost. When was the last time you told your attorney that if they represent you for free this time, and that if you like them and their services, you might hire them for future work? Architects should simply say NO to competitions that are: a) Not compensated fairly and/or b) do not have an extremely high probability of being constructed. Furthermore, organizations that hold competitions and do not hire or engage the winner for professional services to construct the building should be held accountable for false advertisement and be required to pay all competitors for the time they spent preparing their competition scheme. By the way, many competitions also require that the architect or designer give up their ownership and copyright for their designs they create Unfortunately, there has been little movement to change this unjust practice surrounding competitions. Britain’s Architects' Journal has at least started a conversation on the issue. They’ve assembled a panel to look at how competitions are being run and followed up with an article by Ella Jessel titled, “What is Going Wrong with Architectural Competitions?” Derek Leavitt’s blog, “Why Open Competitions are Bad for Architects?” highlights even more poor and unfair practices surrounding design competitions. What is sorely needed is an organization that officially sanctions all design competitions, that have been vetted and proves that they have the ability to pay the design professional in accordance with industry standards and have the funds to build the project they are offering in the competition. Competitions are a massive investment for design professionals, and at the very minimum, they should be treated fairly and given proof that the competition they are about to enter is not just a dream! Architects and other designers rarely talk publicly about this for fear of becoming the Colin Kaepernick of the design world. Competitions in the U.S.A. are a far cry from European and other countries' models, even China's, where rules and compensation are clearly stated at the onset of a competition and submission requirements are more fairly aligned with the expected deliverables. This has started a new and alarming trend for “Design Awards” as well, with so many magazines and organizations starting to charge $500 and more just to submit for an award, but that is another story. It is time for our profession to stand up against this treatment, but more importantly, advocate for the valuable services and skills we provide. It would be interesting to hear from your readers and others about their experiences with design competitions. Hopefully, there will be a few readers brave enough to speak up and hold those who exploit designers accountable.
Nearly two decades ago, Zaha Hadid's vision for a building that housed art, but more broadly worked to catalyze an urban redevelopment effort in Cincinnati, was to create a structure that made art accessible to the public. She delivered on her goal as a spatially complex series of stacked galleries piled up high over a tight infill site. Accentuated on the ground level by virtually no threshold between the city and institution, Hadid's Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) has since become defined by it's airy public lobby, an "urban carpet" that transitions seamlessly from sidewalk floor to gallery wall, and Corbusier-inspired stairways that form a vertical street, tapping into a set of galleries floating seemingly impossibly overhead. It is only fitting that a show like Props could emerge in a space that set out to reimagine the idea of what a white box gallery could be. Props is a set of eight experimental sculptures from architecture-trained mixed media artist Lauren Henkin, who has found new productive uses for underutilized space in the 16-year-old building. Her solo exhibition joins two other compatible shows concerned with spatial awareness: Confinement: Politics of Space and Bodies, and Cincinnati-based photographer Tom Schiff's Surrounded by Art. The trio of exhibitions will remain open through March 1, 2020. Steven Matijcio, former curator of the CAC, and the current director & chief curator at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston curated the work. "Lauren [Henkin] and I wanted to challenge and expand the typical locations of artistic presentation at the CAC," said Matijcio. "By its very nature, Lauren's series of "Props" was meant to skew the habits, conventions, and assignments that coalesce in even the most avant-garde of structures." Each of Henkin's Props is assembled from an ad hoc material palette—concrete, PVC, wiring cable, plaster scraps, and so on. In one case, scrap wood was pulled from the CAC's basement and piles of debris discarded by installers of the concurrent exhibitions. The development of the work relied heavily on photographic documentation, drawing, and visits to the building. Henkin worked between her Maine-based studio, the CAC, and a nearby Kentucky-based fabrication studio. Props intentionally undermines the programming of the CAC's formal gallery spaces. Why have work in the gallery when it can exist outside of the gallery? Lacking any formalized infrastructure for art viewing (lights, art labels, etc.), the work feels at home amid and within the architecture of the building. The pieces dissolve into walls, hug corners, and playfully grow out from the floor. In this regard, the Props do not come off as menacing or insulting in any way. Instead, they feel like discreet, optimistically friendly characters, producing compelling moments of their own that stop us in our tracks. With no labels or signage, there seems to be a real possibility that some of these Props could be overlooked during de-installation and hang around the museum indefinitely. Henkin, whose background is in architecture, says movement is the organizational force underlying Props: "These pieces are meant to be viewed while in motion where the viewer is moving up and around the work." Henkin flips our traditional relationship to art: the work becomes static, while the viewer is set in motion. However, beyond Zaha's stair, Props can be spotted hiding out in spaces less trafficked, like the entrance to the fourth-floor women's restroom or a forgotten corner of a hall leading to a fire stair. Formalized art galleries offer no escape for visitors who become immediately incorporated into the spatial logic of the institution: you must walk up these stairs, and you must view the work in this order. Henkin, Matijcio, and co. offer an alternative to this. You inevitably pass Henkin's work, but it operates as a filter, or primer, for the other work in the galleries. "The element of play, whimsy, and revelry played an important role in the conception and execution of the project. Lauren's sculptural interventions in the CAC are meant to disorient and befuddle, and provoke," said Matijcio. "Some are imposing and seemingly precarious; others are quizzical and slightly comical. Each one is different, but the unifying thread was to reimagine the structure's non-gallery spaces as fertile terrain to reconsider and activate." While this iteration of Henkin's Props likely won't travel elsewhere due to its site-specificity, the show might still have a legacy. The problem that Henkin's show exposes is that austere, raw, underutilized display and circulation spaces of today's art museum do have the opportunity to be more critically used. What would it look like for an exhibition to spill out into these spaces? What trouble would this cause, between issues of security, lighting, and liability? However, what opportunities this could create, to reimagine the broader curatorial flow to the institution! Props beg us to consider and reinvent our normative, intuitive, choreographed movements through the museum, especially in Cincinnati, where 16 years of exhibitions have begun to familiarize and dull this incredibly significant architectural space. In an institution that prides itself as a "non-collecting" contemporary museum showing "work of the last five minutes," Props exist as a welcome sideshow to the CAC's ongoing spirited circus of traveling acts. Henkin reminds us that a white room can fit only so many paintings before overflowing.
Architect-artist Maya Lin is bringing a series of spectral cedar trees to New York’s Madison Square Park next year to shed light on the effects of climate change. Talk about a timely topic. On view from June 8, 2020, through December 13, Ghost Forest will feature a grove of regionally-sourced dead trees to stand in contrast to the Flatiron park’s lush summer landscape. The installation will show visitors first-hand the phenomena that occur year-round around the world as trees fall ill and die because of rising sea levels, salt-water inundation, and resource deprivation. Specifically, the trees chosen by Lin will come from the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, a massive sandy forest on a coastal plain that is afflicted with poor soil. A 1.1-million-acre national reserve, the landscape was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy due to a build up of salt in the soil. While located very close to the major cities of New York and Philadelphia, little is publicly known about the Pine Barrens and its plight, which is why Lin aims to demonstrate just how close-to-home ghost forests really are and to educate people on how to protect and restore natural ecosystems. The trees used in the installation will help clear the way for the regeneration of the surrounding species and shine awareness on other dying forests in North America, from South Carolina’s barrier islands to beaches along the Oregon and Washington coasts. Ghost Forest is the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s 40th public art commission. To Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and chief curator, Lin’s piece will embody the spirit of the organization. “The Conservancy’s public art commissions are transient by nature,” she said in a statement. “Ghost Forest underscores the concept of transience and fragility, and stands as a grave reminder of the consequences of inaction to the climate crisis. Within a minimal visual language of austerity and starkness, Lin brings her role as an environmental activist and her vision as an artist to this work.” Lin has long-been an advocate for environmental sustainability and has explored climate change in various projects including her What is Missing? series, an ongoing project on the loss of biodiversity which she considers her final memorial.
Francisco Javier Rodríguez-Suárez named new director of University of Illinois's School of Architecture
It’s the end of the college semester and things are shaking up at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). After almost three years without a permanent director, and an interim one from the Department of English, the university’s College of Fine and Applied Arts announced that Francisco Javier Rodríguez-Suárez as the new official head of the School of Architecture. Set to take over in January of 2020, Rodríguez-Suárez will enter his post after coming off a long teaching stint at the University of Puerto Rico, where he’s served as a Distinguished Professor of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture since 2016. The architect, editor, speaker, and educator has an extensive background in both designing and teaching, having served as the school’s dean from 2007 to 2016 while building out his practice, rsvp architects, in San Juan. Rodríguez-Suárez himself is a graduate of Georgia Tech and Harvard GSD, which he attended after studying a year at the Université de Paris. He’s held teaching positions at a wide range of universities including the University of Seville and the Universidad de Cantabria (both in Spain) as well as the Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia, and his alma mater, Harvard. In 2010, he was invited to explore the history of architecture and pedagogy as a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome. In a press release, Kevin Hamilton, dean of the UIUC College of Fine and Applied Arts, said it was Rodríguez-Suárez’s international experience and broad connections that stood out to the hiring committee the most. “In Francisco, we also have someone who brings deep knowledge and appreciation for our School of Architecture’s distinctive and historic record of accomplishment. Such as a combination of global and local perspectives will serve us well not only in architecture but across the college, helping us to deeper service to the state, the region, and beyond.” AN spoke with Rodríguez-Suárez in September when his third-year students in Puerto Rico drew attention for creating counter-proposals to New York’s planned Hurricane Maria memorial. The project was born from a class discussion on whether it was appropriate for such a memorial to be erected in the city, especially so soon after the hurricane. Rodríguez-Suárez told AN that the competition studio was arranged to help students learn the importance of architectural competitions and how to think critically and present strategic ideas. While it’s unclear yet if and what classes Rodríguez-Suárez will teach in Illinois, he aims to encourage his students to take risks. “There are kids all over the world studying to be architects, and what I’m saying is that we’re all inhabiting the same world, the same space, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t be the best in that group,” he told The Daily Illini. “And I will provide the confidence and the space and facilitate a platform for that to take place.” The change in directorship comes as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is building a new design center by Bohlin Cywinski-Jackson.
Makin’ my way downtown, I zip along on my Lime® scooter through the ersatz Japanese village of Little Tokyo, past taxis, buses, and Prii, to a bustling, small-scale warehouse district on the fringe of Los Angeles’s central core. The whirlwind of scales, land uses, languages, and people is dizzying, but I finally land at my destination: Sonoratown, a lively taco spot famous for its soft tortillas, which are made with flour driven up from Sonora, Mexico, in small batches by the owner’s mom. This delirious, quasi-urban experience is one that could only happen in the messy, diverse urban fabric of Los Angeles. You are free to grab whatever pieces of the kaleidoscopic surroundings you can, and the faster you are moving, the more there is to take. Somehow, this frantic energy and free movement seem unaffected or held back by the past. The cultural critic Sean Monahan called LA the capital of the 2010s, describing it as:
...a city whose attributes anticipate collapse: flat and amorphous, rather than vertical and defined; kitsch and pop, rather than avant-garde and tech; individualistic and mass, rather than institutional and elite. You can suggest San Francisco, HQ of disruption, or New York, backdrop for protest movements (#OWS, #BLM). But both places fail to capture the spirit of the age, because they are fighting so hard to change it. They are relics of empire, unsure of themselves after a decade in which success was indistinguishable from failure… Built on celebrity, media, and lifestyle, L.A. doesn’t presume to be building the future, merely inhabiting it. It’s a pick your poison kind of place. [Go wild] at Chateau Marmont. Spend half your paycheck on inscrutable health food at Erewhon. Commute four hours so you can live in a Riverside McMansion. Drive Uber every day, write screenplays every night. Sell out, drop out, suck up, fuck up. There is no right or wrong way to do L.A.Monahan accurately describes why Los Angeles encapsulates the present, and why it’s the most exciting place in the US right now. However, it is also important to note where the city is moving in the 2020s. With the 2028 Olympics as a finish line, Los Angeles is at a crossroads, on a path to become a different place in the next decade. But with the city already at the forefront of global media culture (The Kardashians, Moon Juice, Goop, etc.), it doesn’t need global architecture to maintain its position as a worldwide force. How it defines itself as a physical place is still up for grabs, and it should learn lessons from other hyper-globalized cities, namely New York. Tomorrow’s Los Angeles is one of layers. Moving on from its days as a bastion of mythological American modernism centered around mobility (cars), individuality (single-family homes), and triumph over nature (lawns), it will add new collectivities on to itself. These layers will arise from the constant flux of the new: Technologies and emerging social patterns meld nicely into the loose, still-codifying culture and its corresponding urban forms. It is the flickering of new, communal, car-free, publicly subsidized lifestyles against the old, car-centric, low-density, low-regulation, “libertarian” bones of the urban landscape that make it such an interesting place for urbanism today. The oft-bandied-about claim that the city is libertarian is also not entirely accurate, as California is a sea of regulation and red tape, continually votes to raise its already high taxes, and both California and Los Angeles are leading on climate action. The city is quietly building public infrastructure at a pace that vastly outpaces New York. New York’s Second Avenue Subway took somewhere between 10 and 100 years to complete three stations, and the next phase will be three stops and will be completed by 2029 at the earliest. Meanwhile Los Angeles is (optimistically) on course to build 28 new lines by 2028. This includes an airport-connection line that will allow a direct link from LAX to the city. Meanwhile, New York’s MTA is in a worsening crisis with crumbling stations and delays only getting worse, and New Jersey’s NJ Transit recently gave up on accounting for the traffic expected to reach the American Dream Mall, instead calling on private industry to complete the line, citing none other than Los Angeles’s electric rail airport connector as an example. That’s right—L.A. is leading the way in public transit. Meanwhile, Uber, a municipal car share and micro-mobility options such as scooters have already altered how people get around (many young people don’t have cars at all) and where they live, partly due to an explosion in transit-oriented development around the new metro lines. It is unclear exactly how successful, affordable, and sustainable this will be, but change is certainly underway. New transit networks both public and private, along with lower parking requirements for new construction will profoundly impact development and housing typologies in the future. But it is no secret that Los Angeles is careening toward a New York–like affordability crisis (if it isn’t there already) that goes hand-in-hand with the urban whitewash of global capital. Homelessness is at record levels and only getting worse. In response, architects are working to develop new housing typologies, from affordable prototypes and accessory dwelling units, to larger, multi-family schemes that continue to evolve with new regulations and design challenges. The L.A. River and the L.A River Greenway in the San Fernando Valley are also emerging sites of urban experimentation and reclamation/rehabilitation of greenspace. Los Angeles has a unique architectural culture and urban fabric, but red flags are emerging. First, Bjarke Ingels Group and Herzog & de Meuron, international firms that are both very popular with the New York development community, have projects downtown. Related Group (of Hudson Yards fame) has moved in and is developing a large Frank Gehry project across from Gehry’s own Disney Concert Hall. It perfectly illustrates the lower design quality of developer-led construction and echoes Related Companies’ other project, Hudson Yards: “The project is anchored by a central plaza wrapped with shopping areas and public art.” The biggest red flag might be the shortlist for the La Brea Tar Pits project. In Miracle Mile’s Museum Row, a neighborhood that already has been marred by architectural globalists—once by KPF and twice by Renzo Piano—the shortlist for the La Brea master plan is New York establishment firms WEISS/MANFREDI and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, along with Danish firm Dorte Mandrup. It is a truly odd and troubling list. All three are talented firms, but their selection signals the wind turning toward a placeless architecture where, in California terms, “there is no there there,” reflecting classic donor-class aesthetics. Don’t even get me started on what director Michael Govan and the LACMA board are doing to push through their new building. Joseph Giovannini said it best:
In a sleight of hand that still has serious consequences for LACMA and Los Angeles, Govan introduced [Peter] Zumthor, the architect who presumably could achieve this world-class building, to his Board of Trustees. There was no competition, no public review or discussion, no transparency, just a shoo-in of the architect who had arrived in Los Angeles in Govan’s back pocket. “It won’t be the seventh Renzo Piano building in the country,” Govan explained to me in an interview. “We’ll have the only Zumthor.” …Had he even made it into a normal architect selection process, the jury might have concluded that he was mismatched and dangerously underequipped for the commission.Some Angelenos say that local architects should get their due. L.A. has been defined in many ways by outsiders such as Neutra and Schindler, but also by local legends like Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry, as well as a younger generation like Barbara Bestor, Michael Maltzan, and a host of others who can deliver top-notch design. Los Angeles doesn't need the continental, polite, same-as-everywhere architecture that plagues institutions around the world. The architecture scene has always valued experimentation and allowed younger, more avant-garde approaches and diverse practices to gain ground, outside of the institutional weight that plagues places like the East Coast. It is not “provincial”—as some claim—to want to preserve this well-established local flavor while moving forward. In fact, what would be provincial is thinking that it is necessary to look outward for world-class architecture, or that a mythical global culture needs to be imported for the city to become a world-class place. Nothing defines the periphery like the center, and nothing makes one more provincial than defining oneself against New York. Of course, outside architects can come in and add to the culture; it just takes a bit of judgment. For instance, Spanish firm SelgasCano’s bright, breezy, kit-of-parts style seems to fit with L.A.’s pop modernist aesthetic, and Arata Isozaki’s MOCA has also become an iconic part of L.A. architecture. So let L.A. be regional and different. Don’t let it succumb to the pressures of global capital and “global architecture.” Don’t let Boyle Heights—a strong Latino neighborhood under development pressure, with several buildings already being renovated—become Hudson Yards. New York City has been ruined by capital, which was weaponized to take away the grittiness of places like Times Square, a project of Ed Koch and eventually of Rudy Guiliani. Later, technocrat billionaire Michael Bloomberg finished the sanitization of the city with sloppy rezonings of Williamsburg, West Chelsea, and Long Island City most notably, which ushered in the era of bland office towers and mega mall-like sterility. Developers like President Donald Trump and Related Companies, along with their elected enablers like Bloomberg and Guiliani have shared class interests that threaten the small-scale, local and regional urban landscapes where artists, immigrants, and the working class foment culture. How can Los Angeles be a laboratory for resisting the entropic, hegemonic cancer that is global capital, the global donor class, and the donor-class aesthetic? One tactic, and to be fair, something that the Bloomberg administration got right in places like Brooklyn and Staten Island, is downzoning to preserve the character of neighborhoods. This is also tricky and can lead to NIMBYism, which L.A. has certainly had its share of recently. In a similar vein, Thom Mayne provocatively suggested clustering development on the Wilshire corridor in order to protect other areas. The Wilshire area has seen some development, but not at the scale Mayne has suggested. Additionally, serious and innovative criticism is needed. Critics must not fall into 20th-century modes of operating; they have to get out in front of these debacles rather than react to them. There are a host of critics operating in Los Angeles, and no one is better positioned to have an impact than former L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who is now in a unique role as the Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles, a position where he is literally helping craft RFPs (request for proposals). As long as Hawthorne is able to be heard in the government and in the public and can surround himself with good people who will help guide L.A. through this crucial time, there is a real opportunity to have more and more expert opinions in the process that will avoid the disasters that haunt New York. This, along with more equitable and compensated juried design competitions, can help the people who make financial decisions make "better" aesthetic and cultural decisions. Regionalism, when connected to local ecology, provokes more interesting and nuanced design than a totalizing, global aesthetic. In terms of what resistance might look like outside of design review, Los Angeles is already taking on challenges in a unique way. In Boyle Heights, gentrifying art galleries have been pushed out by strong neighborhood coalitions demanding affordable housing and neighborhood services. Los Angeles could also adopt anti-gentrification policies such as rent control or downzoning to prevent the displacement of both residential and retail spaces. Many cities have adopted such plans, while Berlin and other cities have enacted rent freezes and other regulations on the housing market to ensure affordability. Los Angeles in many ways is the logical conclusion of the myth of the American West. Several time zones and thousands of miles in distance from New York and other global cities, it has historically been connected to global culture through mass media, not physical space. This isolation has left it to its own devices as an urban place. This doesn’t need to change as it grows into more of a global force. New forms and ways of living can be cultivated without abandoning what makes it a special place: its resistance to the forces of the outside. In the 2020s, defining a new localism would be quite an amazing achievement.
Montreal-based MU Architecture has unveiled its design for a "paleo-futuristic" tower set in the middle of a Canadian forest. Hovering 670 feet above the hilly landscape of western Quebec, PEKULIARI toes the line between looking like a relic from the past—totemic—and embodying the architecture of the near future. The seven-year-old firm, which is mainly known for its sculptural, high-end residential projects, envisioned the organically-shaped skyscraper for the Outaouais region, just north of the Ottawa River, as a luxury development that connects people directly with nature. In an email conversation with AN, MU Architecture founders Jean-Sébasten Herr and Charles Côté said they first visited the 15,000,000-square-foot site this summer. "[It] totally impregnated us with the immensity and strength of the forest," they said. "The site literally inspired the stacking; it was the only relevant solution for the project. As if the structure had always been there and nature, in time, only took back its place." According to the architects, PEKULIARI is an indulgent nature retreat far away from the stressors of urban life and the concept is meant to both immerse guests in the wild while providing them with high-end comforts. For example, its podium, meant to resemble a large pile of rocks, will eventually invite guests into a three-story lobby where they can access a concierge to equip them with food and gear for venturing out into the forest. The rest of the 48-story structure, created using parametric design software, will house 50 luxury units, conference rooms for business and entertainment, a cigar lounge and bar, and a rooftop pool, gym, and spa—all packed within the exoskeletal-like frame that holds up its crystalline facade. It’s an extravagant development, no doubt, and will span 326,000 square feet of space total. However, the building isn’t meant to take away from the land, said Herr and Côté. They noted the land surrounding the structure will become a Private Natural Reserve, making the property owners in charge of protecting the local wildlife (although the construction of the tower itself may likely displace or disrupt the forest's natural rhythm). Intentionally or not, the project invites comparisons to the Danish Bestseller Tower, which will place a supertall skyscraper in the middle of a pastoral town. From the outside, the tower will take on an earthy feel, blending into the forested region. The cellular exterior panels will be multi-toned in order to enhance the reflections from the sun. From the inside, the boreal landscape is nearly unobstructed by the building’s presence; several cutouts in the facade allow for panoramic views. Other features include an underground parking garage with a “bat cave-type hidden entrance in the woods,” according to the architects, and a massive wine cellar and indoor shooting range. In an interview last month with La Press, Herr and Côté said they like a “touch of strangeness and mystery” about their projects. The element of surprise becomes a key part of their designs—hence why PEKULIARI emerges from the middle of nowhere. As the only non-urban structure among their current tower projects, (the other two are located in downtown Montreal), the building supposedly represents the studio's aim to "overcome the near-impossible." "The possibility of designing a unique skyscraper in the middle of the forest follows MU Architecture’s philosophy to design outstanding architecture that moves people and creates unlived experiences, " said Herr.
“Everything we do at WeWork should be done with intent and meaning for maximum impact,” said Adam Neumann, the recently ousted CEO and cofounder of WeWork, in a 2018 blog post. “This starts with every space for every member and scales to every building in every city. In 2018, we want to have an impact on the buildings we occupy. In 2019, it will be the neighborhoods WeWork is part of, and by 2020, the cities we live in.” This bombast was characteristic of the businessman known equally for his tequila-fueled screaming bouts and Kabbalah-enhanced executive meetings, whose oversized persona in many ways came to define the company. To meet the megalomaniacal goal of a WeWorld as well as the more quotidian needs of making flexible office spaces, the We Company amassed a large team of architects, designers, and technologists through both hiring and acquisitions. The company was itself cofounded by an architect, Miguel McKelvey, who WeWork’s recently-departed chief growth officer (and then CTO) David Fano claimed rather hyperbolically in a 2015 interview in Architect “built a lot of the original WeWorks with his bare hands.” McKelvey remains WeWork’s chief culture officer. This cultish blind faith is—or was—characteristic of WeWork acolytes. In the wake of a botched attempt to take the We Company public, exposés on Neumann’s excessive spending, unpredictable behavior, and self-dealing, and revelations that the company was more or less out of cash and has little prospect of turning a profit in the near future, confidence has flagged, even among true believers. Once valued at $47 billion, and after an infusion of cash from SoftBank which included an unprecedented $1.7 billion “golden parachute” for Neumann to leave his post, the We Company is now worth "just" $8 billion. WeGrow, the company’s foray into for-profit education led by the former CEO’s wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann (cousin to Gweneth Paltrow), will close at the end of the academic year. The fate of its other numerous side projects, such as Rise by We, a gym, and the housing initiative WeLive( which is currently under investigation in New York City for possibly illegally operating as a hotel) are uncertain. WeWork is also likely to divest from the high-profile conversion of the former Lord & Taylor building in midtown. But perhaps most distressingly, the company is expected to lay off as many as 4,000 people this fall, according to some estimates, with untold more to come. But even those plans have been hampered: the company can’t afford to pay severance. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t look like we’ll all be living in WeCities in 2020. With WeWork shedding its properties and staff and finding itself on less steady ground day by day, what does that mean for the company’s architects? Uncertainty reigns.“It’s been disheartening to find things out through media instead of the company itself,” said one WeWork employee to AN (the company declined to comment on whether those layoffs might include architects and other design employees). Designer Dror Benshetit, who was hired for WeWork’s “Future Cities Initiative” in partnership with Di-Ann Eisnor, formerly of Waze, has been sacked along with his team, according to current and former employees. Fashion designer Adam Kimmel, former chief creative officer, has just stepped down. Most of the architecture and technology higher-ups from Case, the design tech company that WeWork acquired in 2015, have departed in the past several months, including Federico Negro, WeWork's former head of design, and David Fano, former chief growth officer, who left in October. That said, architects inside the company who were willing to speak to The Architect’s Newspaper reported feeling relatively secure in their positions. Creating workspaces is WeWork’s core enterprise, and employees have noted that at conferences given by executives, the work of the architects at the We Company has been largely praised. However, the constant uncertainty and erratic nature of the business has driven many to leave the company in advance of any possible layoffs. Others are staying, some with the hope of cashing in on severance deals, not of keeping a job in the long term. “I find it sad that the person who made this business happen was an architect, but it was his business partner who ruined it,” lamented one WeWork employee, speaking of McKelvey and Neumann, respectively. Building WeWork Founded in 2010, WeWork’s design ambitions became clear in 2015 when the company acquired Case, a high-tech Building Information Modeling consultancy. This made sense: WeWork is more or less a real estate company masquerading as a Silicon Valley-style startup. It owns very little of the buildings it occupies, including the much-talked-about Dock 72 that just opened in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, which The New York Times reports is still largely empty. Instead, it leases spaces, then redesigns them and offers them up as flexible rentals to other businesses—from brand new startups to tech giants like Facebook and IBM to legacy publications like the Atlantic. The biggest news was, well, BIG. In 2018, WeWork named Bjarke Ingels its “chief architect,” an unprecedented move for a company like WeWork. But it spoke to its ostensible high-minded design goals. Ingels’s firm BIG did design the Manhattan WeGrow, as well as other projects. However, current and former employees who requested not to be named for fear of reprisal reported that most of Ingels’s actual architectural responsibilities had been delegated to Michel Rojkind, the architect who serves as WeWork’s senior vice president of architecture (Rojkind could not be reached for comment). “It wasn’t anything more than a marketing thing,” said one former WeWork employee of Ingels’s appointment. Ingels reportedly receives no salary, having opted instead for compensation in equity alone, a regrettable move in light of recent events. (Representatives for Bjarke Ingels and BIG declined to comment for this story.) It wasn’t just notable names—WeWork hired architects, lighting designers, project managers, and other design professionals by the dozen. “There was a lot of hand-wringing early on about how many architects were leaving the industry to work at WeWork, and there was a fear that WeWork was sucking up the best architectural minds,” recalled one former employee. The company also formed another architectural spinoff, Powered by We, which brought its know-how for designing workspaces to external corporate clients, like the Swiss bank UBS. Insiders report the division has yet to turn a profit. But despite all the present-day disorder and uncertainty, many employees are happy to stay. “I don’t want to work at a normal architecture office,” said one architect who spoke on condition of anonymity. “ As tumultuous and crazy as the year has been for the whole company, I think it’s a good thing that they disrupted architecture practice; it’s an industry that needs some disruption.” “At an architecture office you’re not encouraged to try other projects or make it better; it’s just, ‘This is the system, this is how we do it,’” the employee added. But WeWork lets architects ask, “How do we make things better rather than just following traditions?”—something they didn’t feel able to do in traditional architecture offices. WeWork’s ability to “disrupt” architecture is due not just to some vaulted startup ethos nor its ability to pay higher salaries. Another meaningful difference is who the designers work for; WeWork is its own client. While it may work with architects of record and contractors, for the most part, WeWork’s architectural labor supply chain is vertically integrated. Everyone from the lighting designer to the architectural software engineers are on staff. There is also a hope that former WeWork architects might bring this new perspective with them when they return to the industry and that the industry might respond, for example, by putting technology on the same level as other aspects of design. “Architects have a lot to offer, but it’s time to take risks. We need to learn to want more for ourselves and for the industry.” Buildings = Data Beyond all the hype surrounding the company, at least one of its divisions was living up to the Silicon Valley unicorn moniker that investors had ascribed to it. A former WeWork employee described the architectural software arm of the company as “One of the more technically advanced offices in the entire AEC [Architecture, Engineering, and Construction] sphere.” The employee went on to say, “We’ve got a pretty intelligent system around BIM, around data, around workflow and processes.” These developments happened relatively behind the scenes, though hardly secretly. WeWork regularly published blog posts about its use of 3-D laser scanning, machine learning, and data collection. This architectural brain power, along with easy access to new BIM and parametric technology, did, in fact, give WeWork an edge in its core business: designing office spaces. It’s as a design practice that WeWork could truly be understood as an innovator. To be clear, it isn’t in the often-mimicked design aesthetic of its office spaces—with its exposed brick, neon signs, midcentury modern knockoffs, and formaldehyde-expelling phone booths. What is new is how WeWork has been able to design with tremendous efficiency at scale in part thanks to its voraciously collected user data. Similar to the way social media companies harvest untold amounts of data on their billions of users, WeWork was swimming in data on the workers occupying its office spaces around the world. In February, some WeWork employees had begun wearing shirts that said, “Buildings equal data.” The largest office leaseholder in New York City was using data to shape everything from what buildings to rent to how to lay them out. Through a variety of tools, WeWork was harvesting its tenants data the way Facebook exploits its users—as unwitting sources for generating new, targeted services to generate even more revenue. WeWork embedded sensors in conference rooms and phone booths, tracked “user behavior” on its app, and tested out computer vision and location beacon systems. “Imagine a conference room that can tell you how it feels, that understands what the inhabitants might be feeling,” said a company blog post that asked, “What would the Google Analytics of buildings look like?” Last year, WeWork used virtual reality headsets and EEG brainwave monitors to see how people responded to different “vibes.” For example, “Spaces with more natural light and brighter finishes are associated with significantly higher levels of focus and interest.” While WeWork wanted to collect users' general emotional response—one test subject described wearing the headset as “empowering”—its central interest, of course, was creating environments ideal for work. Of course, WeWork, along with tech companies and creative firms, has created a new sort of standard which other companies want. “A lot of corporate America works in environments that are stifling and boring,” said one Powered by We employee. “Retaining and hiring young staff has been hard for them. [Powered by We] is a way of changing a workplace by changing the interiors.” With this data, WeWork claims it was not only able to make the design and building management process more efficient and targeted, but also able to introduce new custom automation into its design of its mass-produced office spaces. They are often created from a sort of kits of parts—which included pre-determined selections of wallpaper, kitchen fittings, furnishings, etc.—inside the many buildings the company has leased, or less frequently, owned. WeWork had also developed custom software to help the company’s designers automate desk arrangements throughout their spaces. More desks means more money, after all. Recently, in the Avery Review, philosopher Mathew Stewart referred to WeWork’s space layout algorithm as “One tool in the now endless surge of automated BIM options that aims to make the bureaucratic processes of architecture more efficient, calculable and less labor-intensive.” He added, “This produces a mystified process that hides the social and political character of design decisions. The contemporary production of architecture is a complex global web of supply chains, logistics, labor, and legal and political infrastructures.” Some former WeWork employees disputed this characterization. In a company blog, former senior researcher Andrew Heumann said that they just want to get rid of the “tasks that are the most tedious and repetitious.” However, design at WeWork was arguably a relatively simple problem, one in which automation could easily be introduced without tremendous technological innovation. Offices may be different shapes, but at the end of the day, they’re relatively consistent spaces. One Powered by We architect suggested that “WeWork Classic” architects weren’t “challenged.” “I would assume their job is quite boring,” the employee said. “It’s just based on efficiencies.” Multiple things can be true at once. While WeWork likely overstates its technical prowess in order to boost its legitimacy as a “startup,” and while other companies also use data collection to inform design, building, and usage in their offices, its proprietary BIM tools and automation technologies may have unforeseen, significant impacts on how architects design, especially as more and more well-qualified architects, designers, and tech professionals exit WeWork to create their own startups or work at other companies or traditional firms. If expanded beyond the simple constraints of aesthetically-unified office design, new automation tools could free up designers to do more interesting, innovative things beyond building mechanics and interior layouts. Or, as so often happens under a capitalist logic consumed with “optimization” above all else, they may just cause a flattening of design difference, ushering a new Algorithmic Realism in architecture. Perhaps WeWork will take over the world after all. At least there’s happy hour.
Below is a transcription of Denise Scott Brown's comments at the June 15 memorial service for the late Robert Venturi at the University of Pennsylvania's Fisher Fine Arts Library. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. It’s lovely to see you all. There are some recent friends and also people I hadn’t seen since 1960. One came up, a planner: I once said to him, “That’s not suitable for high school, it’s not even suitable for elementary school,” and I wondered what he became. He said, “well I have been the ambassador to Burundi.” That makes me so happy. He was wonderful then and obviously is now. Bill, who lived in our basement, has talked about Bob in the studio. We’d hear him say, “This is a terrible idea… but wait, let’s see.” He would rather take it up than say, “oh no, we couldn’t do that.” But he might say, “I haven’t understood the system of the building yet.” Few people knew he thought that way or knew his strong ability to go from analysis to synthesis over and again—to be extremely rigorous. But I respected him for it. I’m happy we are holding this memorial here, because the Furness library has been such an important place for us. Bob and I met here. But he had, in fact, saw Robert Scott Brown and me at a presentation our planning studio made to Lou Kahn in 1959. He was very impressed by Robert, who had stayed up one night until 3 a.m. with Bill Alonso who had taught him rent theory, so Robert could explain how roads influence the design of buildings and cities. I had merely noted that Lou Kahn had with him a young assistant. And then within two weeks Robert was killed. I went back home and returned to Penn in the fall a sad, young widow. But I graduated and started teaching in 1960, and within the first week or so there was a faculty meeting. At the AA you as a student could enter anyone’s jury. I had done this at Penn, and that was another reason Bob knew me slightly. And at the faculty meeting I did it again. “Why are you taking this building down?” I asked. I had seen in London the Horniman Museum and Whitechapel Gallery of the architect Townsend, and the Furness Library, especially its scale jumps, reminded me of them. I was very interested in scale jumps, and the Mannerism they were part of. Seen as aberrant, Mannerism was reappraised in England in the 1940s. Nicholas Pevsner, its rediscoverer, and one of his students, here tonight, and also John Summerson, guided me through Mannerism. I listened two years running to Summerson’s AA lectures on Classicism, travelled in England, France and Italy, with Pevsner’s book and Robin Middleton’s itinerary, and learned a great deal. Bob grew up in Philadelphia. He was a moony little child. His parents took him out of Quaker school when they found his desk in the corridor outside the classroom. He was apparently talking too much. An old teacher friend of his mother said, “send him to a structured and disciplined place,” That was Episcopal Academy. “I went there,” Bob said, “and went underground.” The school was suitable—structured, disciplined, but very kind. And we love Jim Squires, our client for its chapel. But there were only two little Italian boys in the school, and in history class, the teacher said, “immigrants from the North were preferable to those from the South.” Bob and I shared that. I had to put up with anti-Semitism at my prep school in South Africa. But I believe that being different—having skewed views—is useful to creative people. Our wayward eyes quickly joined forces, we shared mannerism and being marginal. This made for a very interesting five years that few knew we had shared. The going story is that Bob went to Rome, discovered Mannerism in the library, came back, and started to do it. Yes, he learned about it in Rome, but 12 days before he left. And can you imagine Bob sitting in the library when the whole of Rome is outside to explore? I’ve seen him in Rome, visited churches with him many times. And all those, they were baroque churches. He went where Giedion sent him. He saw a jillion little towns—hill towns—all over. And he got to Egypt with friends. When was the time to do all that reading? But about twelve days before he left, Jim and Sally Gresham took Bob and Chuck Brickbauer to see the work of Armando Brasini on the outskirts of Rome. He was a fascist, still living in his remarkable palazzo, and Bob visited him. Back in America, he [Bob] had lots to do. His Dad was very ill. He had to run the fruit and produce business, which we later ran together. It was three blocks from the architecture office. Long-haired, egg-head fruit merchant—that’s part of him—Princeton gentleman with a southern Italian opera background. It was these mixtures that we started with. And Dave Crane said, “Denise you should marry Bob Venturi, and I’ll invite you both to dinner.” By the time he did, we had already had dinner. We started by going to his office and seeing his designs, then he took me to a Princeton ball game. Bob went to a “ball game” by going to the library while the ball game was played, and when it was over, his friends wouldn’t tell him who had won. But in the library, I found Lutyens’ four volumes on his houses. I had had two years of lectures on Mannerism with Summerson, and had traveled to Venice using Robin Middleton’s list of buildings and paintings to see on the way to Venice and then on to Rome. And, though we had a lot to share, Bob had not seen those books. I said, “You mean you’re interested in Lutyens and you haven’t seen these?” Well, he went and bought them and within two weeks he knew them better than I did. He was thrilled with what I had learned, and I was equally thrilled with what he learned from two years of lecture with Donald Drew Egbert at Princeton. At Penn, we taught consecutive semesters of a theories course, surveying architecture, landscape architecture, and planning. Mine was an overview of them all with selected faculty from each department, introducing their field and their interests. I gave one lecture, but my role was to pull it all together. Although I was a faculty member, Holmes treated me as a TA. I had to give out photographs on boards for students to draw from, because learning to draw was part of this course, as well as learning some modern architectural classics. Soon I was getting killed by my class. “Don’t you see that we’re graduate students!” So I broke the rules and defined my job as linking theory and practice via drawing as Holmes had wanted, but having them choose their examples and analyzing them via the subject matter of the lecture to lead toward studio design problems. We shared them with each other and with Bob. He was running the Spring semester course on theories of architecture. As Holmes said, “You went to Princeton, you know history.” But the underlying message was, you didn’t go to Harvard so you won’t be staying here long, and it applied to both of us. Meanwhile, teaching together, putting our two courses together, was all sorts of fun. And that’s what Bob was mainly doing. The archive here at Penn is full of his notes. Now he sat in this library all the time, working 80 hours a week finding slides and reading on the very wide topics he used to augment the Vitruvian components of architecture from three to fifteen and giving a lecture on one each week, surveying how different eras of architecture, for example, how light was let into buildings. Robert Scott Brown and I had done a great deal of photography while traveling. We spent a month photographing in Venice, seeing what we were doing as making a record to take home to South Africa. But it grew on route to showing ideas through photography. At Penn, I used mine for teaching. Then I said, “Hey Bob, I’ve got slides that you can use for your lecture on scale.” We began sharing photographs and helpful book references. Then Bob, having seen the connections I was making between theory and studio for my course, asked me to devise equivalent work topics for his. Eventually, I did so formally by running the tutorials for both courses during the last semester, we collaborated at Penn. I ran the tutorials, the drawing and research exercises, and the link to studio. And the next place you’ll find that type of work is in the programs for the Learning from Las Vegas studio. Later I learned that when we left Penn, the performance in studio went way down, because research-design connections were no longer made. So that’s the story from one side. On the other were the planners. They were like Rabbinical students jumping up on the tables and arguing, and I argued with them. I also argued with Paul Davidoff, without leaving my seat. We occupied two small rooms across a corridor from each other in a basement studio. We merely leaned over to argue from our seats and across the corridor and groups of students would form around the doors to listen. Then we might go upstairs to the coffee machine and a larger group might form. As far as I could see, that was the only time planners and architects willingly came together. But the strength of the planning school was a wonderful strength for me and the basis for connections between Las Vegas and architecture that Bob and I later made, and things like that. Bob was fascinated by the social planners. His mother was a socialist and a pacifist, so he could hear Paul Davidoff when he said, “Why do you have to go as far as Ville Radieuse, the city isn’t that bad. It’s pretty good. It’s almost all right.” And that’s where Bob got, “Is not main street almost all right?” that comes from Paul. Bob was very open to what was going on in my West Philadelphia studio and the planning school in general. But no one else in architecture was interested at that time. So when I went to Las Vegas, Bob was the only colleague I invited to come with me. And when planning his theories course, delved with my help into urban and planning thought. And I could help with early Modernism. His research files in the archive, contain a note saying “Function and beauty, Denise.” He is not saying I epitomize both. He says, “remember what she had to say about how the early Modern functionalists saw that relationship,” and he included my information in his lecture on function. I’m more than pleased to explain to you what Bob meant and also how I saw my role of linking architecture and planning, as that of a circus horse rider as the horses spread apart. But sadly Nixonism and Reganism separated architecture and planning until connection was almost impossible to make. It still is. Other things happened, so it didn’t work that way, but architects took strongly to these ideas as published in Learning from Las Vegas and turned them creatively to their own talents to something that designers could use and love. I have wanted to show you that our first five years of collaboration were an amazingly happy time. That’s what I was so happy about. And I’m happy about the rest, though our careers were a long, slow, gently sloping motion. And Bob, for much of his career, felt like Milton in his sonnet, “On His Blindness,” where, “that one talent which is death to hide, / Lodg’d with me useless.” Bob was a frustrated young architect because he could design so much more than he was hired to do. But slowly we built up, and eventually one day, after arguing with ourselves, we realized we really had achieved what we wanted to achieve. And sure, thirty of our projects could fit into one of I.M. Pei’s, but I feel I.M., an architect I much respect, would have liked to be the architect of the National Gallery. Just before he died, Bob said to me, “I’m a very, very old man.” And he was. And he thought he would die at the age his father had died, 69. And he was happy indeed at all that had happened despite our problems. You’ve told us how wonderful it’s been having us in your lives. And I’m telling you how terribly important you are to ours.
How many Utopian Hours are in a day?
A city making festival in Turin asks citizens to dream bigger
From October 18 through 20, students, architects, planners, politicians, and hordes of normal citizens all descended on Turin, Italy, to engage in talks, panels, workshops, and exhibitions at the third annual Utopian Hours festival. The name is a clever play on words; pulling the “nostra” from the middle of Torino Stratosferica, the nonprofit cultural body behind the event, results in “ours,” making the actual name of the festival more about imagining a utopian future for ourselves during that time. This year’s festival was held on the multipurpose campus of the Lavazza Coffee headquarters, offering ample space for the quickly growing event. Even before one entered La Centrale, a towering power-plant-turned-events-space, visitors were met with freestanding didactics featuring snippets of the ideas to expect within. Once inside, a sprawling exhibition floor presented visions of possible future Turins from local studios, as well as a series of low-cost placemaking interventions intended to be dropped in neighborhoods around the city. Upstairs, the festival’s organizers had set up a retrospective for the 100th birthday of Paolo Soleri, curated by Emanuele Piccardo, that tracked the Turin-born architect’s career and evolution in his thinking. Of course, civic engagement and the exchange of ideas were a central goal, and each of the festival’s three days began with activities to get participants involved. On Friday, that meant kicking off the event with a “Circular Economy Workshop” intended to make visitors brainstorm ideas for creating a more “circular,” sustainable Turin. On Saturday, Play the City started the day with an interactive workshop on using play and games to reimagine urban areas (the group would return with a presentation on their work in Amsterdam on Sunday), followed by a workshop on designing for the Turin of 2030, with the youth and elderly of the future in mind. Sunday changed things up with the chance to grab a more intimate breakfast with Jan Rudkiewicz of Werklig, the studio behind Helsinki’s rebranding; participants were encouraged to ask him about the intersection of culture within a city and institutional projects. The line-up was top-notch, as speakers from all over the world offered lectures and panels in both Italian and English. That included two mayors: Chiara Appendino, the mayor of Turin, who spoke at the “How is the Turin of our desires?” panel, and the current architect-turned-mayor of Bratislava, Slovakia, Matúš Vallo, who sat in conversation with Feargus O'Sullivan of CityLab for “How To Become The Mayor.” The shift in perspective throughout the festival, from discussions of institutional, top-down approaches to city-making, to how activists can make local, small-scale changes and advance their causes with grassroots support, provided comprehensive examples of how urban activists made people power work for them. Other discussions of note included a lecture from architectural photographer Iwan Baan on how to change one’s perception of the city, and how he approaches his work. Patrik Gustavsson of the Amager Bakke Foundation discussed the path to funding and ultimately realizing the skiable Copenhill in Copenhagen. AN web editor Jonathan Hilburg sat in conversation with Laurie Hawkinson of Smith-Miller + Hawkinson and Emily Bauer of Bau Land on how to “Make New York Livable Again,” no small task. With a mandate that big, the panel leaned heavily towards the topic of climate resiliency and flood mitigation; literally keeping the city livable. While New York is an international city and the myriad problems it faces are present in every large city, the task of informing a European city about the particulars of our own issues proved refreshing, if not daunting. One of the couldn’t-miss talks followed shortly after, as Alfredo Brillembourg of Urban-Think Tank (U-TT) delivered a fiery rebuke to the “one-size-fits-all” approach taken by many architects and urban thinkers today. Brillembourg ran down a list of the hyper-site-specific interventions U-TT had taken around the world in the last 20 years, including a cable car system through the slums of Caracas, Venezuela, and resident-led housing densification in the poorest parts of South Africa. Complementing the Soleri exhibition upstairs was what might be considered the centerpiece talk of Utopian Hours, “Paolo Soleri. From Turin to the desert,” a deep dive into the late architect’s utopian vision and thought process. Perhaps the most interesting additions to the festival, and the ones that elevate it above similar conferences, are the urban explorers. Three speakers who had never been to Turin before were invited to the city four days before the rest of the guests had arrived and given the chance to walk the city. Then, over separate days, they relayed what they had learned to festivalgoers and offered suggestions on what the city could do better. All three speakers were accompanied by flashy videos Torino Stratosferica had produced, tracking each urban explorer as they meandered around the city. Why were the urban explorers so important? Their inclusion lent the festival an “on-the-ground” feel, one of lived-in experience. It’s easy to research a place, but much more difficult to actually tackle it firsthand. Utopian Hours managed to draw an enormous crowd of engaged, thoughtful attendees who weren’t afraid to offer up questions or their own take on the material. The suggested €5 ($5.50) admission fee probably helped lure in curious passersby, and that’s certainly a good thing. Let’s hope the Utopian Hours festival make a fourth appearance. AN is an official media partner of Utopian Hours.