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Made in Tokyo

Get some exclusive insight into Atelier Bow-Wow’s New York exhibition

Continuing their influential body of work examining the city from fresh angles and novel frameworks, Atelier Bow-Wow’s Momoyo Kaijima and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto will cocurate Made In Tokyo: Architecture and Living 1964–2020 at New York’s Japan Society. The show, scheduled to open in October, will examine Tokyo in the period between the 1964 and the 2020 Olympics, both of which were hosted in the Japanese capital and marked shifts caused by enormous infrastructural investment. Made In Tokyo, a close examination of the flows of everyday life and urban institutions, will feature models, drawings, and photographs of a collection of architecture and art that developed around the city in this period of extraordinary change. AN executive editor Matt Shaw exchanged emails with the iconic duo as they prepare the exciting exhibition.

The Architect’s Newspaper: What can we expect from this show? How does it relate to your book projects, particularly Made in Tokyo, which shares a name with the exhibition?

Atelier Bow-Wow: What you can see from this exhibition is the Tokyo of the two Olympics, seen through the evolution of various urban institutions. Our book, Made in Tokyo (2001), showed the life of this unique city through the observation of “hybrid” metropolitan structures. By applying this lens to the urban institutions that were being created in 1964 and 2020, the years of the two Tokyo Olympics, we will showcase the change, or metabolism, of the life of Tokyo.

How did you sort through almost 60 years of architecture and development of the largest metropolis in the world? What were you looking for as you made your framework?

The urban architecture that was built between the last Tokyo Olympics and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics can be categorized in two ways: architecture that supports the everyday life of Tokyo (transit stations, city halls, offices, houses, etc.) and architecture that supports the nonroutine life (capsule hotels, stadiums, department stores, etc.). Comparing these two kinds of architecture and observing how the environments, conditions, and social expectations for each type has changed will reveal how life in Tokyo has transformed.

What are the major transitions you identify? What built works illustrate them?

Size. The size of the Olympics, the size of cities, the size of economic impact, the technical environment—namely, the internet—how families should live, the way of working, commercial services, demographics of cities, etc., have all changed drastically.

Were there surprises that you came across as you surveyed the city and its history? What assumptions about Tokyo might be upended?

We are the generation of the previous Tokyo Olympics and cannot hide how surprised we are at the tremendous turnover of city spaces from what we remember in our childhood memories. Since the government handed over the reins of urban creation to the private sector, the logic of capital and industry has entered into every corner of the city and started determining the shapes of life and urban spaces. Although it is widely said that the 70-year period of peace in Tokyo—without war or huge earthquakes—has contributed to cultivating a city that values quality over quantity, I think in reality it is livelihood that is servicing capital and industry.

From the outside, 1964–2020 in Japan seems to be a very positive and optimistic period of growth. Is that true?

Since World War II, we had grown in both population and economically until around 1990. Various urban institutions were created with great productivity and enthusiasm. Especially in the 1960s—15 years after the end of the war—young architects were allowed to creatively contribute to diverse architectural designs. Now, in contrast to those times, the institutions that were built in the 20th century are showing their age and need to be renovated. In high-value areas in central Tokyo, there is an incentive for large capital and organizations to move toward mass redevelopment that increases the total floor space, thus covering operating costs. On the other hand, buildings in the other areas are left to the tides of time and tend to be unoccupied and deteriorating. These buildings are often revitalized by young architects and activities rooted in their neighborhoods. In short, bipolarization is happening, and we cannot be positive about the situation.

Now we are moving to the idea of “revival” and localism of the countryside rather than Tokyo’s centralism. Tokyo has been established on the support of the rural areas, but the fact has become more apparent and Tokyo is getting situated as one of the cities in the network of lives.

You include several avant-garde artworks, including some performance pieces, that are critical of Japanese economic development and consumerism. How do those fit into your narrative? Why did you include them?

They show what “ambiences” are surrounding architecture in each era. Along with focusing on urban institutions, we would also like visitors to imagine the backgrounds and conditions that surround the institutions.

(These responses were translated from Japanese into English.)

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I Wanna Be Down

ArtCenter to take over old Main Museum space in Downtown Los Angeles
ArtCenter College of Design is making a play for the old Main Museum space in Downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Pasadena, California-based college has signed on to take over the 6,250-square-foot facility that had been occupied by The Main Museum until late last year when the institution abruptly and mysteriously shuttered.
ArtCenter president Lorne Buchman told The Times that the new space will give the school a foothold in L.A.’s bustling downtown, which has seen a flurry of arts-related activity over the past 20 years as major cultural venues and institutions have sprung up and expanded to the area. The move, according to Buchman, will also change ArtCenter’s reputation for being located in “the hinterlands” of Pasadena, a wealthy suburban enclave located 10 miles east of Downtown L.A.
Buchman said, “I’m excited about our students being able to be in that location and engage that community—that will make a huge difference.” The announcement came roughly six months after Main Museum director Allison Agsten penned a brief letter on the museum’s website announcing that ArtCenter and The Main Museum’s founder, real estate developer Tom Gilmore, were discussing “future plans [for] the space.” The announcement scuttled expansion designs for The Main Museum by Tom Wiscombe Architecture that would have added a new roof terrace to the Hellman Building, a historic mercantile office building opened in 1903.
Under the new agreement, ArtCenter will lease the space for $1 per year for the next 10 years and will have the option to renew the lease in the future.
The ArtCenter outpost will join the Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed Broad Museum and the forthcoming wHY-designed Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles as recent newcomers to the Downtown L.A. art scene. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles recently announced that it would be relocating its architecture galleries from the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood to the Frank Gehry–designed Geffen Contemporary outpost in nearby Little Tokyo, as well.
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Before the Deluge

AIANY misses the mark with its photography show of Syrian architecture
Last month, I attended the opening of an exhibition by the American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter (AIANY) at the Center for Architecture, showcasing photographs of ancient Syrian architecture and civilization. The exhibition, titled ​Syria Before the Deluge​, was by far the most disappointing and superficial work I’ve seen displayed at AIANY. At first, I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was bothering me so much about this elegant display of black and white photographs of ancient Syrian landmarks. After all, I’m a Syrian architect and I should be thrilled for an event that is calling attention to Syria’s ancient civilization and architecture, especially when delivered by a renowned architectural photographer, Peter Aaron. But the truth of the matter is that this exhibition failed to inform the audience of anything of value about the history of present of Syria, a country whose history, like its architecture, has been shaped and reshaped by the rule of a totalitarian barbaric regime that systematically plundered and reduced Syria’s history over the past six decades to what we see today, and what Aaron photographed in his 2009 visit. The photographs showcase Aleppo and Palmyra, two of Syria’s most iconic jewels. Yet nowhere on the walls of the exhibition is there a mention of the residents of Aleppo, or Palmyra, or Damascus, whose ancestors built these ruins. All that is shown are pictures of ancient structures with sympathy-provoking captions like ​“this structure was destroyed during the civil war in 2015.” Nowhere does it say who bombed the iconic Umayyad Mosque’s minaret in Aleppo, burned the city’s historic Souk, turned the Citadel of Aleppo into a military barrack, and caused the displacement of half of Syria’s population. These issues were simply left out of the exhibit narrative. The exhibit also fails to mention those who systematically looted Palmyra’s treasures since the 1950s and turned the very name of Palmyra into a symbol of terror for millions of Syrians due to the infamous Palmyra prison. A high-security prison in the middle of the desert that allegedly witnessed the most gruesome massacres against political activists among countless other violations of human rights during the Assad ruling. None of that was in the exhibit. Just an orientalist, romanticized narrative about a beautiful civilization that once was but is no more. Occasionally, Isis is cited as the force of evil that ruined what is portrayed as ancient oriental heaven of architecture and civilization.   In the abstract introduction to the event, Aaron writes: “[Syria’s] tolerant atmosphere has quickly disintegrated due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism,” a statement that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Syrian society was ravaged by the Ba’ath regime's tactics of planting fear and mistrust between minorities and the Muslim majority over decades of an authoritarian ruling. In one corner of the exhibit, the curators reach peak tone-deafness with a picture that shows a young man riding a horse with a massive picture of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator, in the background, with the caption reading: “Portrait of President Bashar al-Assad at a private riding club in the Damascus suburbs.” No mention of the 500,000 that this president is accused of killing over the past eight years. Throughout the event, the war is referred to as the “Syrian Civil War.” I personally find that term lacking in nuance and indicative of ignorance in the Syrian cause. Anyone who’s done any amount of reading about Syria would know that this naming is both factually and morally wrong. Factually, because when Russian air fighters are bombing rebelling neighborhoods with the support of Iranian ground troops, it’s not so much of a civil war as a proxy war involving two of the world’s most notorious armies spending billions of dollars to preserve the ruling of their puppet in Damascus. It’s also morally wrong to equal a rebelling people, that was bombarded, displaced, and starved for eight years after demanding freedom and democracy, with a regime that unapologetically used chemical weapons against that same people. When I raised these issues to a Syrian friend, she wondered about why I would raise political issues in an architectural event. A few months back, I attended an event at AIANY where my former Columbia professor, Michael Murphy, talked with Michael Sorkin about the political aspect of architecture. The event was titled ​Architecture is Never Neutral​ and it portrayed a very different narrative from the one I saw last week. That event explored in depth how being “apolitical” is the most political act anyone can take in situations of injustice. Syria is far from being an exception to that rule. This exhibit not only failed Syrians by failing to tell the true story of their country, but also failed the visitors who will leave knowing little about the current status of a 4,000-year-old civilization, and the ancestors who built that civilization. AIANY can take steps to make the remainder of this exhibit a more nuanced representation of Syria’s recent history by recaptioning the photographs to be more reflective of Syria’s current state, starting with the picture of Syria’s ruthless tyrant, Bashar al-Assad.
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Your Glass is Grass

De Blasio cracks down on glass towers as part of Green New Deal
Days after the New York City Council passed the sweeping Climate Mobilization Act, which will impose emission restrictions on buildings over 25,000 square feet, New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed a sweeping “Green New Deal” for the city. The OneNYC 2050 initiative, which would see the city go fully carbon neutral by 2050, tackles climate change through new building codes, glass tower crackdowns, renewable energy requirements, citywide composting, investing in resiliency planning, and by supporting the new congestion pricing scheme. The $14 billion package would, combined with actions taken by the prior administration, reduce carbon emissions from a 2005 baseline level by 40 percent by 2030. A number of steps will help the city government decrease emissions 23 percent from a 2005 baseline. The city’s 50,000 buildings over 25,000 square feet will be retrofitted with more efficient technology, and city-owned buildings will be switched over to all-renewable energy sources in the next five years (the city is currently in talks to build out the infrastructure that would allow them to bring in Canadian hydropower). De Blasio also touted the potential restrictions on new towers with inefficient glass curtain walls. “Now, we’re going to take it another step because part of the problem here is that buildings got built that never should have been built to begin with if we were thinking about the needs of our Earth,” said the Mayor when announcing OneNYC 2050 on Earth Day yesterday. “Some of them you can see right behind us in the background. And so, we are going to introduce legislation to ban the glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming. They have no place in our city or on our Earth anymore. “If a company wants to build a big skyscraper, they can use a lot of glass if they do all the other things needed to reduce the emissions. But putting up monuments to themselves that harmed our Earth and threatened our future, that will no longer be allowed in New York City.” The mayor went on to ding Hudson Yards in particular, claiming that many of the towers were inefficiently heated or cooled due to their glass envelopes. De Blasio’s aides were quick to point out that the administration wasn’t banning glass as a facade material outright, but that they would be imposing much rigid standards on performance or allowing developers to purchase carbon offsets instead. Mark Chambers, the city's sustainability director, touted SHoP’s American Copper Building for its smart use of high-performance glass. "The reason I’m saying ban is to emphasize the point that if a company came in, a landlord came in with the exact same kind of design that they’ve come in with in too many cases in the last—just few years, it will be rejected and they would not be allowed to build, period. That’s why I say it’s a ban. You literally will not be physically allowed to build the kinds of buildings that have gone up even recently in this town. Now, you know, there’s good examples and Mark pointed out the Copper Building, the buildings that Cornell-Technion are built to much higher standards which is a good example that you can have, you know, a modern skyscraper that works. But honestly even some of the recent ones built in this city don’t meet appropriate standards and those will no longer be allowed." That drew immediate pushback from Hudson Yards’ developer Related Companies, which told Crain's that the neighborhood was designed to meet LEED standards and that its towers were among the city’s most efficient class A office buildings. Other changes the mayor proposed included amending the city’s electrical code, enacting a citywide organics recycling program (composting), and realigning the city’s development goals with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Although the New York City Green New Deal was announced with much fanfare on de Blasio’s part, actual details of how these changes would be implemented were sparse. The plan will also have to pass a City Council vote as legislation and may change in the process.
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Architectural Atrocity Tourism

The Cursed Architecture Twitter feed showcases the best of the worst
What drives the internet’s (perhaps morbid) obsession with bad design? Strange angles, melting paint, oddly-placed and vaguely threatening toilets, signage that hinders rather than helps, stairs to nowhere, and misplaced windows have all caused digital rubbernecking. Whether it’s critiquing the bric-a-brac nature of suburban homes assembled by the nouveau-riche in McMansion Hell, or posting abject failures in the 1.5-million-member-strong r/CrappyDesign subreddit, the demand for “bad design” to critique seems bottomless. The worst offenders are frequently aggregated on Instagram, meme-y Facebook pages, Twitter, and listicles, repackaged and reshared failures of design for new audiences. Enter the Cursed Architecture Twitter account, which has been posting baffling, incomplete, and/or possibly haunted buildings since September of last year. When asked about where they compile their material from and why they think it has such an enduring appeal, the owner of Cursed Architecture had this to say: "I started collecting the images a couple of years ago because I thought they were funny, and later on made the account for my own entertainment. I never expected it to be so popular—or popular at all. I’m a little stunned by it, honestly. The images come from all over the Internet: house listings, DIY forums, and so on. Some are submitted to me. "We live in a very planned, sanitary, squared-off world. I think that’s why the failures are so funny, and why they resonate. So much current architecture is totally impersonal, but a bizarre mistake is the opposite. It invites the question of who did it, and why, and who thought three urinals crowded into a corner or a staircase to nowhere was a good idea. There’s something very human about that." Perhaps the collective fascination with such failures stems from the internet’s ability to give would-be critics a seat at the table, allowing anyone to weigh in. It’s also possible that when faced with overwhelmingly terrible design that fails at a basic level, everyone can put aside their quibbles and unite to make fun of it, together.
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Green Deal With It

NYC Council passes sweeping building emission legislation
Some of New York’s tallest towers are doing the most harm to the environment. Although buildings larger than 25,000 square feet only represent two percent of the city’s stock, according to the Urban Green Council that minority is responsible for up to half of all building emissions. Now the New York City Council is finally cracking down on the worst offenders, and New York will soon become the first city in the world to constrain large building emissions through hard limits. Yesterday the council passed the eight-bill Climate Mobilization Act, a legislative package that some are comparing to a New Green Deal for New York. The Climate Mobilization Act, which Mayor de Blasio is expected to sign, would set increasingly harsh limits on carbon emissions for buildings over 25,000 square feet beginning in 2024. According to the Urban Green Council, New York City produces 50 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, and buildings account for approximately 67 percent of that—meaning buildings over 25,000 square feet produce 35 percent, or about 13 million tons of carbon dioxide, a year. The legislation covering the affected 50,000 buildings will roll out in phases. This year, an Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance and an advisory board will be created at the Department of Buildings to both regulate and enforce the new standards. When the law fully takes effect in 2024, emissions from qualifying buildings will need to be reduced 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The Climate Mobilization Act then takes things one step further and requires that these same buildings slash their emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Why are large buildings such energy hogs? Lighting, heating, cooling, and tech requirements, combined with inefficient equipment, all constrained within leaky envelopes, have combined to create a perfect storm of waste. Retrofitting these massive buildings to use or waste less energy is projected to potentially create thousands of jobs for architects, energy modelers, engineers, and construction workers, as everything from inefficient windows to HVAC systems will need to be replaced. For those structures that can’t be brought up to code on schedule, their owners can offset a portion of their emissions by purchasing renewable energy credits. If an owner still isn’t in compliance, they can be hit with an ongoing fine based on their actual emissions versus the cap. The real estate industry had been a vocal opponent of the measure, arguing that it would place an undue burden on both it and tenants. “The overall effect is going to be that an owner is going to think twice before she rents out any space: ‘Is the next tenant I’m renting to going to be an energy hog or not?’” Carl Hum, general counsel for the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), told the New York Times. “There’s a clear business case to be made that having a storage facility is a lot better than having a building that’s bustling with businesses and workers and economic activity.” Still, those fears appear unwarranted. Part of the Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance’s job will be to work with landlords and tenants and issue variances for buildings with higher energy requirements.
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Isozaki Wins

Why Arata Isozaki deserves the Pritzker

The Architect’s Newspaper is very happy that Arata Isozaki has won the 2019 Pritzker Prize, despite some grumbling to the contrary within online architectural circles.

The Pritzker is about lifetime achievement, so let’s start at the beginning. Isozaki began his career studying architecture after a childhood in which he witnessed profound destruction. “[During WWII] I was constantly confronted with the destruction and elimination of the physical objects that surrounded me. Japanese cities went up in flames. Forms that had been there an instant earlier vanished in the next.”

This darkness pervaded his work, especially the concept of impermanence and ruins. In his early career, he was involved with the Japanese theoretical group, the Metabolists, who were taking on the city as a large-scale biological process, producing some of the most visionary proposals of the post-war era. However, Isozaki believed that they were too naïve and positive, and that architecture needed to (paradoxically) build for death and destruction as well as life and progress. Isozaki became more aligned with what would come to be known as postmodernism in the Venturian or Jencksian sense when he broke from both hardcore modernists like the CIAM and the Metabolists. For Isozaki, the city was not a place of activism or functionalism, but rather a place of memory and poetic imagination.

He took the Metabolists’ love for viewing the built environment as a living organism and imbued their rational, hardcore functionalism with a more artistic, human-scale, colorful approach. His Oita Prefecture Library and the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art both took on the Brutalist concrete aesthetic, but treated the building as a body with connected parts, rather than an aggregation of cells or individual units as in Metabolism. In both the library and art museum, views are framed by cantilevered “eyes.”

In addition to his bodily references in buildings, Isozaki was an early protagonist of experiments in the relationship between architecture and performance art. His Demonstration Robot, part of the extravagant Metabolist Osaka ’70 expo, made an architectural-scale human that could host events on a stage while reconfiguring itself on an even larger stage. These performance architectures incorporated principles of the nascent performance art movement of the 1970s and foreshadowed projects like OMA’s Transformer or the work of Andres Jaque or Diller Scofidio + Renfro. However, soon after the expo, he fell physically ill and ended up in the hospital because he felt guilty for promoting a technologically positivist viewpoint of modernism.

Rising from his profound experience in the hospital, Isozaki formulated a theory of architecture that would guide what would be his most significant work. The crux: “Space equals darkness, time equals termination (escatology), and matter, or architecture and cities, equals ruin and ashes.” This represented his unique version of the postmodern linguistic turn, as he engaged with semiotics and form-giving through the lens of impermanence and ruin. He saw the void, negative space, and ruin as the rhetorical and cultural antithesis of architecture.

Isozaki had already been exploring these ideas in Electric Labyrinth for the 1968 Milan Triennale. He created an installation of large silk prints showing the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki alongside futurist visions of the Metabolists. This metaphorical evocation of these tragic events juxtaposed with the architectural positivism illustrated Isozaki’s cynicism about Metabolism, but also his reluctance to subscribe to any style in favor of his own underlying conceptual affinities, such as temporality, impermanence, irony, and collages of ideas and spaces.

This collage mentality was developed at the building scale in one of the most aggressive examples of historicism in the postmodern era and one of Isozaki’s most influential projects. According to Emmanuel Petit in Irony; or, The Self-critical Opacity of Post-modern Architecture, the Tsukuba Civic Centre “emerged as an assemblage of fragments diachronically cut from diverse historical contexts. The building’s composite anatomy of recognisable architectural fragments surfaces as a 'group portrait,' in Isozaki’s own words, comprising materials taken from such diverse sources as Michelangelo, Ledoux, Giulio Romano, Otto Wagner, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Charles Moore, Aldo Rossi, Hans Hollein, Peter Cook, Adalberto Libera, Philip Johnson, Leon Krier, Lawrence Halprin, and Ettore Sottsass." The project assembled these fragments into a sort of bodily composition meant to sit in contrast with the gridded rigidity of the rest of the town. The invented and somewhat arbitrary historical narrative paradoxically provided context for a town that had little real history.

Perhaps Isozaki’s most important project was his design for the Palladium nightclub in New York, which opened in 1985 and closed in 1997. The lavish Beaux Arts interior of the former theater was augmented with a white grid and an orgy of light, sound, projection, and music that created what he saw as a technological environment. Like the Osaka robot, the relationship of architecture and bodies was in constant feedback, while Isozaki’s critical ideas about the false utopias of modernism came through via his references to “ghost-figures” of the Edo period of Japanese history and the ruins of Hiroshima.

Later in his career, Isozaki was again able to adapt to the times, as his work became less critical and more elegant. Many architects enter what Jencks would call a “late-mellow” phase, and Isozaki’s was not unexciting. Beautiful, competent buildings such as the Shanghai Symphony, Palm Springs Desert Shelters, and the slightly wacky Qatar Convention Center.

But the Pritzker (and architecture in general) is not just about finished projects. It is about ideas, drawings, and writing. Isozaki also had an influence on drawing with “120 Invisible Cities,” a series of speculative projects made with a silkscreen technique. Precursors to Illustrator graphics and cartoonish renderings that pervade architecture’s avant-garde today, Isozaki’s flattened graphics were also used on the Los Angeles MOCA project. He also used the silkscreen method for his entry for the New Tokyo City Hall competition, which he lost to Kenzo Tange. Isozaki even made an early foray into the digital, producing some computer drawings for the City Hall project in 1986.

Let’s face it—the Pritzker Prize is a relic from another era. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t serve as a useful tool for highlighting the great minds of the discipline and profession of architecture. Isozaki might not be the most avant-garde, politically correct pick at first Google, but for those who are paying attention, it is a great capstone on a truly incredible career.

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Fascist Facades

Photographs document the Italian Fascist architecture of Eritrea

Walking the central streets of Asmara, Eritrea, for the first time can be quite a puzzling experience for a foreigner. The capital city is full of structures and modernist buildings that blend Art Deco and Futurist styles. Shops and bars have signage that could easily be found in Italy: Farmacia Centrale, Bar Crispi, Cinema Roma, mixed with many in the Tigrinya and Arabic languages.

In fact, the city was planned and built in its current form during the Italian colonization of Eritrea starting in the 1890s. When the Fascist Regime took over, Mussolini set out to build an overseas empire with Asmara as the model city of his colonial expansion.

Many recognize the effects of colonization on the architectural quality of the city. But few acknowledge one of its most controversial aspects: racial segregation.

Since the very beginning, the city’s master plans aimed to separate Italians from Eritreans and enforced this when dividing the city into four separate sections: a European-only quarter in the south, an Eritrean quarter in the north, a mixed zone around the central market for both groups, and an industrial zone in the northeast.

Historically, Eritreans needed a special permit to cross into the European-only side of Asmara to go to work as housekeepers, artisans, and masons. Today, some of the local elderly still refer to the city’s center as the “Fenced Field” because one of the original Italian outposts was called Campo Cintato–or “fenced field” in Italian.

The Eritrean quarter, known as Aba Shawl, was the most densely populated in the city and largely left unplanned. Ninety years later, the effects of this lack of planning are still visible today. The construction quality of the buildings is not comparable to the rest of Asmara; some have neither running water nor bathrooms. When it rains, the streets get coated in mud because there is no stormwater drainage system. The people who live here are still poorer than inhabitants elsewhere in the city.

But despite all of this—or perhaps due to the lack of planning—Aba Shawl has become the Eritrean face of Asmara, which complements the Italian part of town.

Starting in the 1910s, Italian architects merged vernacular Eritrean elements into the architecture of the city—both in Italian and indigenous areas—and constructed a mosque, an Orthodox church, and movie theaters for the Eritrean population.

In 1938, the Fascists, intending to enforce newly drafted racial law, set forth a plan to bulldoze Aba Shawl and relocate its dwellers farther out from the city center. However, the local governor—afraid of alienating the indigenous population—stopped the plan. A few years later, Mussolini lost control of the country to the British, and Eritrea began a decade-long struggle to achieve full independence. This didn’t come until 1993, after a gruesome war with Ethiopia. Since then, the Eritrean capital has been in the process of reclamation and reappropriation of its colonial past and architectural legacy. In 2017, UNESCO declared the center of Asmara, including Aba Shawl, a world heritage site.

When asked why Asmarinos care so much about their city, a worker from its heritage office said: “These buildings might have been designed by the Italians, but it’s our grandfathers who built them, it’s us who preserved them and live in them. These buildings are our own buildings now.”

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More Than a Phase

Jeffrey Inaba digs into McKinsey’s Design Study

“I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist…During the hippie era, people put down the idea of business. They’d say, ‘Money is bad’ and ‘Working is bad.’ But making money is art, and working is art—and good business is the best art.”

—Andy Warhol

McKinsey & Company’s recent study on design confirms what designers have long known to be true. And it recommends all businesses do more of it. To McKinsey, design is the single most important factor for growth and should be an integral part of every organization. For it to have the greatest impact, McKinsey advises companies to make design a cyclical process instead of a single phase in a project, and dedicate the time needed to achieve good results.

On the occasion of the McKinsey Design Index’s release, AN contributor Jeffrey Inaba talked with Ben Sheppard, one of the report’s authors.

Jeffrey Inaba: It’s fascinating that companies are interested in improving their quality of design, but they aren’t sure how to go about it. The Index says, “Less than 5 percent of the companies surveyed reported that their leaders could make objective design decisions, from developing a new product to entering a new sector.” That’s a surprising realization about the state of the business world.

Ben Sheppard: In the last five years we’ve received a critical mass of questions from business leaders about design, and so we thought we needed to do a global study on what the opportunity is. They've got the highest of aspirations—they want to make the next iPhone, the next Amazon Prime—but they don’t know what actions they should take to give their companies the best possible chance at designing the best products and services.

JI: What correlations were found between design and business performance?

BS: There are two things. First is the business value of design, and second are the actions leaders should take to capture that value. On the first, there are three numbers to remember.

One: Those people who are top performers in terms of design significantly outperform their industry peers—as much as 70 percent higher shareholder return gross than their industry peers.

Two: Across the board, whether you’re doing product, physical, or digital design, good design is good for business regardless of what type of design you are doing.

Three: The study showed that the companies who are best at design were disproportionately rewarded in a given industry. Users care about the very small number of companies in an industry that are consistently making the best products and services.

These are remarkable numbers. At McKinsey we do a lot of essential science research pieces. This is one of the most statistically significant correlations we've seen in years.

The second part: Because the study was done in such a rigorous and detailed way, not only can we say at the broad level that design is the most tremendous engine for business growth, we can point out the individual actions that show the best correlation with improved business performance. This is a world first, to tie individual leaders’ actions to performance.

JI: Good. Before we get into the actions, what is McKinsey’s definition of design?

BS: For our clients, design is understanding users’ needs and then creating fantastic products and services to meet those needs; put the prototype into users’ hands and listen to what they're telling you.

JI: It must be a sea change for many companies to go from seeing design as an added cost reserved for special projects to an essential part of what they do as a business. Let’s start with the section, “More than a Feeling,” since it touches upon this paradigm shift.

BS: What we've found is that those companies that have treated design with the same rigor as they treat discussions on revenue and cost significantly financially outperformed their peers. The companies who quantified design metrics in their discussions about design outperformed their peers.

JI: Of the recommended actions, the section called “More Than a Phase” stands out as a key lesson for businesses. Design firms try to communicate to clients that paying for the hours to iterate are worth it since the added time will lead to a better, more desirable project outcome. McKinsey’s study argues precisely for this point.

BS: Yes. We have very clear evidence that those companies who just have one discrete design phase are outperformed by those companies who iterate with their end users from early strategy to postlaunch.

JI: What does McKinsey say to companies who are hesitant to invest the time in undertaking an iterative process?

BS: It's a case of investing to save. Take Disneyland, for example. The first prototype of the MagicBand [an all-in-one wristband device for Disneyland/World guests] cost 40 dollars and is made from parts from Home Depot. If you iterate early, you do so at lower cost. If you have a single design phase and decide to make all your investment at once, then if it turns out you were wrong, you’ve got a huge loss. When you talk about the risk associated with that, not just from a cost point of view, but also from a sales point of view, it’s easier to quantify why iteration is so important.

JI: “More Than a Product” observes that just about any project involves the design of a digital as well as physical side. Whether it’s a building or a car, there needs to be a digital component to a product.

BS: Traditionally, many industries thought of themselves as only physical or only digital. Now everything has some combination of digital plus physical space. We found that all the companies that historically have been very good at just hardware or just software now find the very thing that gave them success in the past is something of a burden in the future. The automotive industry is a great example of this. For decades, it was all about hardware. Now suddenly their users are saying, “We expect a great experience, from the digital apps within the vehicles themselves to the way that software integrates with the rest of my life.” That’s a real challenge for car companies. But the rewards are rich. Those companies that are able to break down the internal barriers between service design, experience design, front-end, back-end, user interface, and user experience and provide a great overall experience are outperforming their peers.

JI: How can companies take advantage of the different speeds of digital and physical production? Execution is much faster on the digital side. How can that help the experience of the physical side?

BS: It’s so much easier to iterate in a software environment than it is in a physical one. What we have found, though, is even in industries where traditionally people have thought it’s impossible to iterate, you can iterate. One example is shipping. It could take as many as ten years for a ship to go from concept to launch. In the past, there was one design, which was locked in at the beginning, because they said you can’t iterate a whole ship. Now there are two different design specifications, one that is locked early on, and a second one for software—for control and operation systems. As technology evolves and its operators’ ways of working evolve, iterations can continue to be made to those systems. When it's launched a decade later, the software is modern, intuitive, and easy to use.

JI: A McKinsey retail banking study found that early technology adopters prefer their most important transactions to occur in physical spaces. In other words, people who are deeply interested in digital technology are deeply interested in physical environments. When making important decisions, they take cues from the person they interact with and the design of the space they’re in. Are companies thinking about the design of their physical environments given that physical space becomes more consequential as our lives become increasingly digital?

BS: I’m working with a car dealership, which has traditionally been a physical environment. We hear lots of pain points with that model: Often the centers are outside of towns; you need to travel to them; the salespeople are often commission-based and that can lead to a pressurized environment. Therefore, some people hypothesized that the future of automotive was basically an Amazon for cars. It would all be digital. Different companies piloted that, and they found it doesn’t work. People want a combination of physical and digital. While you can make things more efficient by moving to digital, often, particularly for large purchases, people still want a human connection. And as you say, the physical environment can have a big effect on that experience.

JI: With the completion of the study, McKinsey has a good overview of the industries that can benefit from good design. What industries do you believe will have the greatest benefit?

BS: We’ve seen the power of design on everything from energy to consumer goods to hospitality.

We believe it’s a signal that design has come of age. Across industries, design is a priority for senior management. I don’t know a single company where creating fantastic products and services don’t matter. Frankly, if you’re not doing that, then why are you a company at all?

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The Renegades

Bruce Goff’s imaginative teaching lives on in Oklahoma
Most architecture students study design precedents or build upon knowledge gained in history courses, but one mid-century educator repeatedly told young minds instead: 
Do not try to remember.
Bruce Goff, a self-trained architect and long-time mentee of Frank Lloyd Wright, instilled this idea in his students at the University of Oklahoma (OU) during his tenure as chairman there from 1947 to 1955. Instead of copying the popular Beaux Arts and Bauhaus styles of the recent past, Goff wanted architects in training to express their own creativity and views of the world through designs that avoided architectural stereotypes and instead presented a radical future. This era of educational exploration and disruption became known as the American School of architecture. Historian and OU Visiting Associate Professor Dr. Luca Guido is the curator behind the exhibition, Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture at Bizzell. Now on view in OU’s Bizzell Memorial Library, it details the widespread influence of Goff’s personal teaching style and the program he built, which attracted students to the American Midwest from as far as Japan and South America. The exhibit features large-scale drawings by alumni, as well as uncovered models and writings from Goff’s students and colleagues like Herb Greene, Elizabeth Bauer Mock, Bart Prince, Mendel Glickman, and Jim Gardner, and Bob Bowlby, among others. Built from the school’s expansive American School archives, the show unveils former students' work that’s been so pristinely preserved and restored, it all looks like it was completed yesterday. Goff, who seemed to have encouraged serious attention to presentation, penmanship, and shading, left behind what Guido considers a “gold mine” of materials. Every framed assignment on view is a piece of art in and of itself—a testament to the architectural educator’s guidance. “Bruce Goff introduced a new architectural pedagogy,” Guido said, “and the School of Architecture at OU endeavored to develop the creative skills of the students as individuals rather than followers of any particular trend. The drawings represent the evidence of an extraordinary and, at the same time, little known page of the history of American contemporary architecture.” That history is one that OU is now trying more heavily to build upon. As one of just two architecture schools in Oklahoma, OU lures students from across the state, nearby Texas, and around the globe to the small town of Norman. It was considered a world-class institution during Goff’s years and still seeks to live up to that legacy today. Since becoming head of the school three years ago, Dean Hans E. Butzer has worked to re-elevate its status. “Our discussions over the past few years prove a symmetry between those defining aspects of the American School and the overarching strategic priorities of the Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture,” he said. “The work of the American School of the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s may be described as contextual, resourceful, and experimental. Today, we have set the goal of graduating entrepreneurial students who design resilient cities, towns, and landscapes through the lens of social equity and environmental sustainability.” This idea is evident in the success of last year’s graduating class. As of fall 2018, one hundred percent of architecture students secured a full-time position within six months of graduation, according to Butzer. Only two, the faculty jokes, didn’t get hired. They instead went on to begin master’s degrees at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. When asked why OU graduates are so attractive to firms across the country, Butzer noted the work ethic and creative problem-solving skills they learned as students. Teaching students to speak up, stand out, and work hard can be traced back to Goff’s presence at the school and his own career as an eccentric architect who always put the client first and aimed to “go the extra mile,” according to Guido. His modus operandi was to first connect deeply with the client, ensuring the end result was strictly their vision. His objective was to never design a building he personally wanted to live in. Some of Goff’s most famous structures, the Ledbetter House in Norman, the ill-fated Bavinger House that was demolished in 2016, as well as the Bachman House in Chicago, took on forms reminiscent of Wright’s residential work—low-lying residential homes with surprisingly large interiors, cantilevered carports, and large windows—but they all displayed a curious amount of flamboyancy that was signature to Goff himself. The architecture of his early years, such as the historic Tulsa Club and the Art Deco-designed Boston Avenue Methodist Church, are celebrated landmarks in Tulsa and reveal Goff’s visual personality. Goff was also a champion of sustainable and site-specific construction; he often utilized local materials for his projects. Fittingly, Goff rejected the idea of having a personal style of architecture. Some of Goff’s mid-century work and the sketches of his students from this time seem to be inspired by Atomic Age tropes. Viewing them now, they’re so futuristic they probably seemed structurally unbuildable at the time, but the geometries that came out of the American School were forward-thinking and technically-advanced. During Goff’s leadership, architectural courses fell within OU’s College of Engineering where students were taught how to complete construction drawings and to specify materials. But in Goff’s classes, it was all about creativity. “Bruce Goff didn’t believe in critiques,” said Guido. “He wanted them completely free to propose what they wanted. The assignments were structured around abstract themes that allowed the students to express themselves in the best possible way because for Goff, there would be no little Corbusier's, no little Mies's, and even no little Goff's. He didn’t want his students to become followers of someone. He wanted them to abandon all memory of what came before them.” Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture at Bizzell is on view through July 29 and will turn into a comprehensive traveling exhibition this year with a stop at Texas A&M University in the fall. The OU Libraries also has plans to secure the preservation of the archives by making them part of the school's Western History Collection and digitizing select images for online research.
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New Thinking Needed

Zumthor’s LACMA proposal is an affront to L.A.’s architectural and cultural heritage

Despite gaining approval from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in April, what has already been said many times needs to be said once more: Peter Zumthor’s oil slick–inspired redevelopment proposal for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) campus is just plain bad.

Say what you will about the existing mish-mash of buildings designed by William L. Pereira & Associates and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (HHPA) the scheme seeks to demolish, but the $650 million Zumthor proposal is simply not a suitable replacement.

Many have already delved into the (really) long list of reasons why Zumthor’s proposal leaves so much to be desired—its substandard size, inflated cost, and absurd urban configuration among the top reasons to dismiss the idea. But worse still, perhaps, is that the overpriced proposal will also destroy a vital urban cultural resource: the museum itself, as Angelenos know it.

Critics might not like to say so, but LACMA is a real place and a beautiful one, at that. The terrace sandwiched between the HHPA addition and the main Pereira building can be effervescent when tour groups, families, and aficionados converge upon it, for example. Pereira’s galleries next door are peculiar, yes, but the spaces just off the elevator, wrapped in warm wood paneling and studded with delightful details like inlaid clocks and flush-mounted wood accessory doors, are dignified and rich in a way that simply isn't found in other L.A. art museums. HHPA’s building may form an impenetrable wall along Wilshire, but when you finally find the entry, a shaded outdoor living room soothed by flowing water and the jovial sounds of the social life taking place on the terrace beyond create a public space articulated for the senses.

For better or worse, the current manifestation of the complex has existed for a longer period of time—37 years—than any other of LACMA’s incarnations. The current configuration is LACMA, it’s the LACMA that director Michael Govan inherited when he arrived from New York, and it is the LACMA he wants to destroy as he strives to leave his mark.

Though the current configuration leaves much to be desired, Govan has had to strong-arm the Zumthor project into being, weathering withering criticism of the ever-devolving proposal without pursuing any meaningful changes to the design.

Govan, of course, did downsize the proposal as fundraising efforts pushed up against their natural limits, but he has persisted in pushing a vision that is fundamentally and irrevocably flawed.

In a way, the project and the persistence in bringing it to life despite its continuing and multiplying inadequacies follows a long line of efforts to undermine the legitimacy of Los Angeles and its unique architectural and cultural history.

To put it plainly, Zumthor’s LACMA represents the latest attempt to apply a colonial mentality to Los Angeles. It follows in the tradition of slash-and-burn conquests waged by powerful men who, like Zumthor, a Swiss starchitect, and Govan, former director of the Dia Art Foundation in New York City, come to Los Angeles and see nothing but a blank slate. They land at LAX as “visionaries” blinded by their own genius to the thriving richness of everyday life here.

It’s not that they are violent and destructive men. Zumthor’s delicately reverential Kolumba Museum in Cologne, Germany, and Govan’s meticulous restoration of the former Nabisco headquarters for Dia: Beacon suggest that both are capable of thoughtful and respectful restorations. The reality is that, like many who came to Los Angeles before them, they simply don’t value the city s as a real place with a long, complex, and legitimate history.

Late modernism and postmodernism are fundamental to Los Angeles’s design history, however, and Angelenos should not let others delete them away.

The majority of people here inhabit these types of buildings in one way or another. It’s where we go to the doctor, it’s where our children go to school, it’s where we work, it’s where we learn about art. To try and minimize that aspect of Angeleno culture, to try and erase the sometimes contrived nature of late modernism or the often over-the-top pastiche of pomo, erases a fundamental aspect of who Angelenos are and how they live.

Often, outside voices serve to turn a mirror on a place, uncovering morsels of beauty from what might be considered banal to the local eye. Zumthor and Govan have failed in this regard and instead seek to erase buildings that are neither fully understood nor appropriately admired. Los Angeles has had enough of that; perhaps it’s time for some fresh thinking.

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Tell Me More

Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas discuss their work at Facades+ New York
At this week's Facades+ New York Conference, Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas delivered the keynote address, giving a description of how their firm designs and conceives their innovative building skins. The Architect's Newspaper sat down with them after the talk to get more in-depth insights about their approach. Check out what they had to say, and why they don't like the term "facade" in this video interview: For more information about the Facades+ Conferences, click here.