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Hanging on the Precipice

UNESCO and Google spotlight climate change’s impact on World Heritage Sites
Last month, Google Arts & Culture launched a new online platform drawing attention to the devastating effect that climate change has had—and will continue to have—on five diverse and vulnerable UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The exhaustive and expertly organized initiative, Heritage on the Edge, achieves this through an array of mediums including photography, detailed 3D models, 2D maps and Street View tours, historical information, audio, interactive graphics, and present-day interviews with local conservationists and residents living in the impacted areas. Two of the endangered World Heritage Sites are also brought to life using augmented reality “pocket galleries." Most important, the multimedia platform, which spans over 60 pages and is illuminating as it is devastating, illustrates how people in these five unique locales have come together to protect their most cherished cultural sites against rising seas, extreme weather, coastal erosion, and drought. Describing itself as “one of the most ambitious efforts to date to realize the power of heritage to tell the story of climate change,” Heritage on the Edge was conceived as part of a partnership between Google, California-based nonprofit 3D-surveying firm CyArk, and the Climate Change and Heritage Working Group (CCHWG) of the International Council for Museums and Sites (ICOMOS), which serves as an advisory body for UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee. The five featured UNESCO World Heritage Sites are Rapa Nui, the remote Chilean territory also known as Easter Island, where iconic monumental stone statues are suffering damage caused by rising seas; the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, where ancient and ultra-porous landmark buildings are decaying at an increased speed due to more frequent and severe rain events; the pre-Columbian desert city of Chan Chan, Peru, that’s threatened by both flood and drought; the mosque city of Bagerhat, Bangladesh, where salty floodwaters are wreaking havoc on its ancient buildings, and Kilwa Kisiwana, a Tanzanian port city at risk of being destroyed by coastal erosion. “The heritage narrative opens so many angles on climate change—justice, livelihoods, migration, mitigation, identity, loss, impacts, solutions and of course urgency,” Dr. Will Megarry, an archeologist and lecturer in Geographical Information Science at Queen’s University Belfast who coordinated ICOMOS’s participation, said in a statement. “The Heritage on the Edge project touches on all these and more, experimenting with multiple media, from high technology to traditional oral storytelling to make its points.” “While climate change is predominately fuelled by large industrialised countries, it is vulnerable communities and heritage which are most impacted. This is one of the reasons why sites were chosen from across the world,” Megarry added, noting that the project “helps blaze a trail for climate communication.” In total, five ICOMOS CCWG members coordinated the ambitious undertaking. Each oversaw efforts with local stakeholders and conservation experts to bring the platform fully to life through networking, providing climate- and heritage-related expertise and conservation support to site managers, and helping carry out “local training programs to assess site vulnerabilities.” Megarry headed up the Kilwa Kisiwana project; Jane Downes, director of the Archaeology Institute at Scotland’s University of Highlands and Islands coordinated efforts on Rapa Nui; Andrew Potts, the U.S.-based coordinator for ICOMOS and CCHWG, organized in Bagerhat; Milagros Flores, former President of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Fortifications and Military Heritage, oversaw work in Chan Chan; and Peter Cox, managing director of Carrig Conservation International Limited and president of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Energy and Sustainability, served as lead in Edinburgh. “Above all, the project is a call to action,” wrote Dr. Toshiyuki Kono, president of ICOMOS and professor of private international law and heritage law at Kyushu University in Japan, in an introductory essay published by Google Arts & Culture. “The effects of climate change on our cultural heritage mirror wider impacts on our planet, and require a robust and meaningful response. While actions at individual sites can prevent loss locally, the only sustainable solution is systemic change and the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” Launched in 2011 as the Google Art Project through the Google Cultural Institute Initiative, Google Arts & Culture has partnered with over 1,000 museums, cultural organizations, and heritage groups—the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum among them—to make a countless number of artworks and artifacts digitally accessible to the public using various existing and newly created technologies.
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WOJR builds practice through cinematic effects
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course at Syracuse University School of Architecture taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller, and now an AN interview series. On October 17, 2019, Alise Lamothe and Hanneke van Deursen, students at Syracuse University, interviewed William O’Brien Jr., principal of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based WOJR Organization for Architecture. The following interview was edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. We are both musicians, so it was cool to see that was your undergraduate degree was in music theory. We can see the influence of this in some of your work. Can you tell us about how music and music theory inspire your design work? William [Liam] O'Brien: The relationship between music and architecture is tricky. There are easy and superficial ways to make comparisons. You likely often hear metaphors about music being used to describe architecture… “architecture is frozen music,” for example. Most of the time, those metaphors are not so useful. Where architecture and music can benefit from being thought about concurrently is in thinking about form and formats. When studying music theory, I was looking at Bach to understand rules he followed to organize sound. There's a lot of overlap between the way that compositions are formed in terms of broad stroke forms and repetition. Interestingly, I find a lot of corollaries between spatial composition and music theory, between the ways we think about [the] organization of space and organization of sound. More recently, questions of symmetry and asymmetry have been coming into our architectural designs, which has me thinking about earlier work of mine as a student manipulating classical forms in music. There's another layer to music that is not about form, but it's about the atmosphere. When we're producing visualizations of our designs, we think a lot about trying to conjure atmospheres through referencing music. In each project, when we're doing art direction for the visualizations, there is usually a particular score that we're referencing, or a film that has a unique score that we are inspired by. That's another way that we're thinking about the impact of music on our work. There are qualitative aspects of music we are interested in that can have a direct corollary to the atmosphere of the architecture we create. To give an example… melancholy or mournfulness in some of our visualizations might be attributed to a certain score. Philip Glass is somebody who comes up a lot in our conversations, as someone who produced beautiful ambient work. We attempt to produce visualizations that convey the same quiet, meditative ambiance. Just before this interview, we presented your work to our classmates. We opened with the image of Mask House… the one from the bridge. It's a beautiful image. It’s also very melancholy. What was the score for that image? In visualizations for the Mask House, we weren't talking about a score, but about the film, The Revenant. It's dark, but in a different way. Not so much for the narrative, but more for the tonality. The mournfulness, something about the way that it’s lit… apparently no artificial lights were used in most, if not all of that film. It likely made for a cinematographer’s nightmare, but the lighting effects are really distinct from other films that try to do something similar. We were trying to capture something like that in the Mask House visualizations. There's a backstory to that project and why we were seeking these particular effects. The house is not built, but it's a project that was supposed to be built in Ithaca. The client is a filmmaker and his younger brother died in the lake that the house was to overlook. The project aimed to produce a threshold—a mask between the real world and another world. That other world is connected to the lake. One of the apertures in the house looks in the direction of where his brother was last seen on the lake. The project necessarily took a mournful tone, which is something conveyed in the visualizations. How do you use visualization and language to communicate not only to other architects, but also to the general public? As students, we often change our language and the way we communicate when we explain our work to our friends and parents, who are not architects. How does your communication change when talking to people who aren't as familiar with architectural concepts and terminology? The question of audience is so important. One of the things that any young architect learns quickly is that in order to get what you think is a deserving idea out into the world, there needs to be the ability to talk about it in many different ways. There's a necessary empathy that is required in trying to explain design work. The most difficult situations involve communicating with somebody who's cynical about architecture or sees architecture as a vanity practice. In a case like that, there’s ways of speaking about the concept that has to do with things that make an appeal to logic—things like functionality or contribution to context. Whether it’s functional or contextual issues, or material, social, political, cultural, formal, environmental, etc., there are many registers that an architect needs to hit in order to communicate with the right people at the right time about the most critical aspects of a project. A built thing in the world is inherently a political act. It is a social act. It is an active form. It engages construction systems… you can go through the whole list. We've been interviewing a lot of practices that are comprised of partnerships. The principals often cite the friction between them as a productive part of their practice… debate often spurs new ideas. We're curious how you maintain dialogue and productive friction when there’s only one person leading the practice. Just to undo that a bit… The name WOJR is not a great name for the office for a number of reasons. It is an awkward grouping of four letters and people often think it's a radio station. Also, WOJR, which corresponds to my initials, does not accurately convey the collaborative nature of the office. I am the main Principal, but there are an additional five team members right now, and they are amazing contributors. Any “productive friction” is coming through great discussions with each of them. We're trying to produce a non-hierarchical discussion that enables everyone to contribute equally. John [David Todd], who is the team member who has been here the longest amount of time—over six years now—is somebody who I can have conversations with that produce what you’re calling “productive friction.” I wouldn't even call it friction… maybe synergy, or simply great conversations that push the work forward. There's another answer to the question. We're constantly communicating with other architects and the architectural discipline at large. These conversations and debates are really helpful. We have a question about House of Horns. We understand that it’s being built atop an existing foundation, and that this condition ended up dictating, in part, the shape and size of the house. How did you work with these existing conditions when trying to design and construct the house, and what are other factors ended up informing design and construction? As you mentioned, there was a partially built house on the site. It was a Spanish style mansion, with all of the details that you would expect… like terra cotta tiles, and there was about to be a lot of work on crown moldings, but these things were not reflective of the new client’s values. Despite the size of the house, the client is somebody who is quite interested in the diminutive aspects of the house… trying to make the house as small and humble as possible. I say that while acknowledging that it's a very large house, but their aspirations are in line with ours. One of our challenges was to take the very odd, really bizarre shape of the foundation and imbue it with a different order. To do this, we created a series of different environments that were varied by the way that light might shine or be reflected within each domestic space. The “horns” that you see enable us to modulate daylighting and become the ordering device that negotiates symmetries and asymmetries in plan. Is this your first built work? It is. We're going through an exciting transition right now. We currently have two projects that are under construction and two more that begin construction really soon. In the office we used to talk about a path toward legitimacy. As a young architect, you’re always trying to become more and more legitimate, and there are all kinds of clues that it’s happening. We rented an office space seven years ago. We have health insurance now. We have a payroll. We published a book of our work. There are many things that help us believe that we're becoming a legitimate office. Most recently, the clues are tied to [the] construction of buildings we’ve designed. Some of our more speculative ideas are finally being tested in the built environment and we're learning a lot. Architecture is very humbling in that way. You think you are a smart architect and then you try to build something… and you realize you still have a lot to learn. Now that you're nearing the completion of your first built work, what part of the concept to construction process have you reveled in the most? I love the question, especially given that I was on site last week. There are two major takeaways from my site visit that will help me answer the question. One is the degree to which construction is a messy process. Despite the planning and precision that has gone into a really comprehensive set of drawings, there is an immense amount of in-the-field decision making. You think you have everything worked out and then comes the humbling realization that there are many issues unresolved and questions left unanswered when construction begins. Whether it's a modest house or something more experimental, each act of architecture… each building is a single iteration. Everything is unique, and every aspect of the building is being figured out by a group of people in real time. The reality of building and the distance between a precise drawing set and the messiness of construction is something I quite enjoy. And the second takeaway, or another way to answer the question… in House of Horns we have a very large marble egg that is a column in the project. I don't want to get overly romantic or poetic about it, but simply seeing something that we had imagined for such a long time in the abstract now in the real was incredible. We had the luxury of going to the quarry and picking out the exact marble block that would be carved and put into the house. To be a part of the process and to be able to touch the thing that we had imagined for so long was more impactful than I could have imagined. It was really, really rewarding. You’ve more or less already answered the question that we normally conclude with, which is “What has been the most rewarding moment in your practice?” So, we'll skip that one. But we have one more question. We recently read that you're now collaborating with Airbnb and Samara. Can you tell us more about this new job? Samara is a design startup that is branched off of Airbnb. It’s a company with many team members who are really interested in critiquing the tech world, and who are cultural critics, in general. The way that it started was that WOJR won a competition to be involved with defining the architectural design direction. It began as a consultative role. More recently, I've started in a full-time position with them and have started to build an architecture design team around me. Our current project has the ambition to offer new forms of living through architectural design. And our first offering is an architectural design system that has the capacity to be deployed in a variety of contexts. That’s all I can say at the moment, but it's a project that's really reliant on architecture. It's been fascinating to brush up against engineers, storytellers, filmmakers, industrial designers, interaction designers, and lawyers… all represented in our 45-person group. Samara is an interdisciplinary project and it's getting us to think about architecture from many different approaches, which is thrilling and humbling at the same time. Great. Thank you so much for joining us bright and early from San Francisco. We put you in the early slot thinking you'd be in Cambridge. You’re welcome—I enjoyed it! And I'm a morning person, so the timing was perfect.
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Life Finds a Way

New Jersey’s most famous work of novelty architecture is now on Airbnb
Lucy the Elephant, a 65-foot-tall wood-and-metal pachyderm on the Jersey Shore, has served many purposes over the past 138 years: Real estate office, tavern, private beach cottage, and standalone tourist attraction. Lucy has also lived through a lot—hurricanes, flooding, lighting strikes, encroaching development, two relocations, general neglect, “moisture difficulties,” and even an inadvertent fire started by the patrons of said tavern. Now, Lucy, greater Atlantic City’s most beloved jumbo-sized centenarian, is serving a new, though not all that surprising, role as a limited-time-only Airbnb rental. Because why hunker down for the night at Harrah’s or the Hard Rock Hotel Casino when there’s a giant, semi-habitable elephant that’s just steps from the beach and only costs $138 per night? Lucy the Elephant’s stint as an Airbnb property, as mentioned, will be short-lived—three nights only. The Save Lucy Committee, the nonprofit preservation group serving as Lucy’s caretaker and guardian, is hosting one-night sleepovers on March 17, 18, and 19. Three couples will be able to book Lucy via Airbnb when the listing goes live on March 5. The modest proceeds from overnight stays in New Jersey’s most unique, ephemeral accommodations will go toward upcoming renovations. “Right now, we're faced with a major renovation project, starting this spring,” Richard Helfant, the executive director and CEO of the Save Lucy Committee, told CNN. “Lucy's been painted so many times that her skin is at a point where it bubbles off. We're at a time where we have to strip her down to the bare metal, prime and repaint. It's a massive undertaking.” Not quite a duck with a trunk, Lucy has been an enduring symbol of Margate, formerly South Atlantic City, since 1881 when she was erected by James V. Lafferty—real estate speculator, engineer, and proto animal-shaped building constructor—as a means of luring potential property buyers to the Jersey shore. While Victorian-era tourists gawked at the 90-ton behemoth from the outside, Lafferty escorted potential clients six-stories up the building’s internal staircase into Lucy’s howdah-cum-observation deck so that they could better survey the lay of the land. The building was originally named Elephant Bazaar but took on the Lucy moniker after Lafferty sold the structure to the Gertzen family in 1887. The Gertzens, who converted Lucy into a tavern and later a summer rental home for a British doctor and his family, maintained ownership of the building until 1970 when they donated it to the Save Lucy Committee. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, Lucy the Elephant is the only such listed property to be available for overnight stays on Airbnb per the attraction’s official website. It’s also apparently the first animal-shaped building to appear on the lodging platform ,as Liz Fusco, senior communications manager for the US East division of Airbnb, relayed to CNN. A certain beagle in Idaho, however, would quite literally beg to differ. Airbnb aside, Lucy is an early, excellent example of programmatic architecture and is often been referred to as America’s first bona fide roadside attraction. While the early 20th century gave rise to a number of attention-grabbing buildings resembling things—the Brown Derby in Los Angeles (1926), Boston’s Hood Milk Bottle (1930), the Teapot Dome Service Station (1922) in Zillah, Washington, and, of course, the Big Duck (1931) of Long Island to name a few—Lucy arrived on the scene decades earlier, and has survived. “The oldest surviving example of zoomorphic architecture on Earth,” Helfant recently told the New York Times in an article detailing Lucy's upcoming run on Airbnb. Until 1900, there were three hulking elephant-shaped buildings on the East Coast including one on Coney Island which was also the creation of Lafferty. By the late 1960s, Lucy’s fate veered into bleak uncertainty. While roadside novelty architecture maintained popularity, especially in car-crazy Southern California, the Jersey Shore’s elephant-shaped building had fallen prey to disinterest and disrepair. Harsh marine weather had ravaged the beachside building’s facade, its tourist-snaring capabilities began to wane, and, in 1969, the owners sold the land, and the elephant on it, to developers who intended to demolish the then-condemned building. This led to the formation of the Save Lucy Committee, which raised funds to relocate the building to city-owned land, now a park, and treat it to a massive renovation. She was also moved in 1906 after a major storm. After four years of extensive restoration work, Lucy reopened to the public as a paid tourist attraction in 1974. Under the auspices of the Save Lucy Committee, the building has remained open for tours ever since, attracting roughly 132,000 visitors annually according to the Times (currently, tours run 30-minutes long and cost $8.50 for adults). But this marks the first time since the early 1900s that anyone has paid to sleep in the belly of the elephant. As the Times details, Airbnb has made, in the words of Helfant, a “sizable” donation to the Save Lucy Committee and decked out the surprisingly spacious interior of the building with period furnishings and decor—canopied bed, antique trunks, and grandma's elephant tchotchkes galore—that nod directly to Lucy’s Victorian heritage. And although Lucy once boasted a working bathroom, it has since been removed. To compensate, a comfort trailer will be parked at Lucy’s painted toenail-ed feet during the Airbnb stays. A staff member and security guard will also be camped out overnight in the attraction’s adjacent gift shop. Breakfast will be served in the elephant.
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Facades+ Portland

LEVER Architecture’s Thomas Robinson discusses architecture and engineering in Oregon
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The Pacific Northwest is home to a thriving architecture and design community that is shaping the industry across the country. The upcoming Facades+ AM conference July 21 will highlight notable projects within the state and region; ranging from a diverse spate of recently completed expansions to the University of Oregon campus to the ongoing proliferation of mass timber on the West Coast. Thomas Robinson, founding principal of LEVER Architecture, collaborated with The Architect's Newspaper in the program’s curation as conference co-chair. Participating firms include Allied Works, Ennead Architects, Hacker Architects, Office 52 Architecture, RDH Building Science, the Shildan Group, and Thornton Tomasetti. In anticipation of the conference, AN interviewed Robinson to discuss architectural trends in Oregon and the programming of the morning symposium. AN: We are consistently struck by the quality of work coming out of Portland and the Pacific Northwest. What is driving this emphasis on craftsmanship within Portland's design community, as found in the work of OFFICE 52 and Hacker Architects, and what work is LEVER currently up to? Thomas Robinson: There is a culture of “making” that permeates life in Portland. From the buildings to the culinary scene, people are interested in creating things that add value. Specifically, with respect to architecture, Portland projects have lower construction budgets (compared to San Francisco or New York) and that has pushed architects here to innovate with off-the-shelf systems and regional materials. You must be creative and collaborative to do something really special in the Northwest, and architects here are rising to the challenge. In terms of our own work, we’re currently in design or construction on several institutional projects. We’re building a new LEED Platinum headquarters for Meyer Memorial Trust, one of Oregon’s largest private foundations that is committed to advancing equity. The project has an interesting convening center for collaborations with community partners that is made from a new product called Mass Plywood Panels (MPP). We’re also in design on a major renovation of Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre. They do timely, provocative productions, and this renovation will strengthen their public presence and help them to engage with audiences in new ways. LEVER is leading the way in terms of timber design. What do you perceive to be the most exciting trends in terms of timber structure and cladding, and which aspects of the Nature Conservancy HQ do you plan on highlighting at Facades+ Portland? Designers are starting to think beyond tall wood buildings and beyond cross-laminated timber (CLT). There is so much potential. Right now, we’re doing a major project with a hybrid timber and precast concrete structural system. Hybrid systems are exciting because they make mass timber viable and accessible for projects across the country. Sustainable sourcing of timber for facades or for structures is a major issue as well. The Nature Conservancy Headquarters is an interesting demonstration project because it uses sustainably harvested timber products throughout, including FSC-certified glulams and CLT that were manufactured locally using regional wood. The ground level facade on the building is clad in Juniper, a native species considered invasive when overgrown because it fuels forest fires and negatively impacts Sage-Grouse habitats. The third panel brings together architect and facade consultant for the Knight Campus and the U.S. Embassy in Mozambique. Why is the dialogue between project partners crucial to successful project delivery, and what lessons do you hope are elucidated from the panel? Every consultant has a unique expertise, and it is only when we really engage in dialogue with our engineering, construction, and fabrication partners that innovation emerges. Both the Knight Campus and the U.S. Embassy project have advanced facades with respect to building performance. I am interested to learn more about the research and development that went into those systems and hope there are lessons and technologies that will be relevant to the everyday structures being built in communities. Further information regarding Facades+ Portland can be found here.
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Tearing Down the Ceiling

A rarely-seen Noguchi installation is under threat in Midtown renovation
A one-of-a-kind Isamu Noguchi installation is under threat in Manhattan at 666 Fifth Avenue, an office tower undergoing major renovations by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF). The New York Times reported that the sculpture, which spans the ceiling of the 41-story building’s twin lobbies, might be dismantled and sold off in parts. Since the interior space isn’t protected by landmark status, preservationists are worried whether the piece has a fighting chance to survive. The installation, referenced by Noguchi as “a landscape of clouds,” was designed in 1957 and features a series of white aluminum blades backlit from above. Joseph Giovannini of The Times noted that the undulating blades resemble an upside-down ocean. “The entire space glows,” he wrote and, paired with a matching vertical installation in a nearby passageway in which water rippled down and fell into a plant bed, the site once served as “an acoustic oasis in Midtown.”
 
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The Noguchi sculpture, now 63 years old, doesn’t reflect the artist’s original design intent, according to building’s developer Brookfield Properties. The building itself, designed by New York firm Carson & Lundin, has been subject to multiple controversial ownership changes over its lifespan and several serious renovations, the first of which included the lobby and lower floors in 1998. During that $20 million project, it was also anticipated that the Noguchi sculpture would be removed, but the building's owner, Sumitomo Realty & Development, instead rehabilitated the piece and restored the waterfall mentioned above.  That wasn’t the last time the artwork was in danger. Before the 2008 recession, Kushner Properties purchased 666 Fifth Avenue in a move to re-establish itself post-family scandal and, years later before Brookfield bought the building, Kushner planned to redevelop the entire site into a 1,400-foot supertall designed by Zaha Hadid Architects Brookfield’s aim, like so many developers before it, is to make the building continuously profitable. To do so, the company announced a $400 million renovation project last fall which will not only revamp the internal lobby, but also its public appearance. KPF has proposed replacing the building’s thick aluminum skin with a custom glass curtain wall, as well as adding four outdoor terraces for tenants to use during the warmer months. The renderings, released last October, reveal drastic changes to the six-decade-old structure, as Brookfield intends to reposition it as coveted office space in busy Midtown with sweeping views of the city.  Internally, KPF plans to upgrade the lobby with amenity and retail space, while also knocking out the columns that previously shortened floor heights and blocked access to daylight. New double-height ceilings and interconnected floors will allow companies to easily maneuver through multiple stories. The new rent for the building, which is now valued at $1.29 billion, will be among the most expensive in New York.  While many of the changes described here seem promising (including the fact that the building’s iconic name will be changed to 660 Fifth Avenue), the Noguchi problem remains. Brookfield now holds a 99-year lease on the tower and its vision for a modern Midtown lobby doesn’t include the artwork. It determined that the late ’90s renovation, which deconstructed the original lobby’s marble floors and walls, destroyed the integrity of the sculpture’s preservation. But a board member of Docomomo’s New York/Tri-State chapter told The Times that the sculpture is as good as it’s going to get: “You already have this strong, creative treatment of the walls and the ceiling and you can’t expect to come up with something nearly as artistically effective again,” said John Morris Dixon. “Why risk it when you’ve got it already? The lobby is a great asset that gives a high degree of individuality to the building.”  Brookfield and KPF plan to complete the entire renovation by 2023. Representatives of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum said that it will do everything possible to make sure the artwork is still there when all is said and done.
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Down the Drain in Spain

Barcelona city council rejects Toyo Ito-designed Hermitage Museum
The Hermitage Museum, the 256-year-old art museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, that is now the second-largest in the world, has developed several European outposts in the 21st century, including those in Amsterdam, Vilnius, and Ferrara, Italy. Barcelona, Spain, was slated to become the latest outpost when the Hermitage and the Catalan government signed a letter of intent with the expectation of a 2015 opening date. When that failed to pass, a 2018 opening was agreed upon and later abandoned. Two years later, Barcelona’s city council gas refused to greenlight the third planning application rather than move the goalpost even further down the field. The council rendered a verdict on January 27 after its members expressed concern over a few of the plan’s major elements. The council was initially displeased with the proposed site in the narrow peninsula of Nova Bocana, and raised concerns over the project’s economic viability, especially given the ambiguous sources of private funding and offering of museological materials. The council also felt lukewarm about the offer given that, in the last few years, the city has become overrun with tourists and “has become a tourist theme park,” according to The Guardian. Though the city council members ultimately lost interest in the deal, members of the Hermitage Museum commissioned Japanese architect Toyo Ito to design a four-story, 170,000-square-foot space for the port of Barcelona to help sell their vision. Having already designed a 41-unit apartment building in the city in 2009, Ito had become inspired to further contribute to Barcelona’s architectural heritage with a billowing, all-white structure overlooking the sea. After the recent shakeup, Madrid’s city council has reportedly expressed interest in hosting the museum if Barcelona officially passes on the project, though it is unclear whether Ito would remain the museum’s architect following a relocation. The council told Catalan News that the suitability of a Hermitage outpost in Madrid will be considered over the next few weeks and a decision will be made public soon.
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FELL IN LOVELL

Lovell Health House hosts temporary art exhibition of Eva Claessens’s artwork
While the future of Richard Neutra’s world-famous Lovell Health House remains uncertain, as its current owner is seeking a preservation-minded buyer, new life has been breathed into the Los Angeles home as it temporarily takes on a new function. Belgium-born, Uruguay-based artist Eva Claessens has taken over the home’s main living and outdoor spaces for a three-day pop-up exhibition of her paintings and prints that runs from February 23 through February 25. The event marks Claessens’ U.S. debut, as well as the home’s first time hosting an art exhibition. When seeing the work hung up casually throughout the structure’s interiors and its grounds, however, one might assume the space had always intended to display large-scale artwork. The home has the air of a lived-in gallery thanks to the crisp white walls and wide-open spaces, originally designed for individual and group exercises led by naturopathic doctor Philip Lovell. “A white gallery did not feel like the right place for me to show my work,” said Claessens in a press statement. “I wanted to find a place that reflected my aesthetic and the way I live. I live my life very much the same way as Dr. Lovell did, and my work reflects this.” The artist’s minimal yet gestural brushwork and interpersonal subject matter can also be compared to Neutra’s sketches, which often used as few lines of charcoal as possible to render entire scenes and the lives within them. The Lovell House’s current state of cosmetic disrepair fueled the artist’s creativity while curating her exhibition. “I see houses as living artwork and love restoring old houses,” she continued. “The more ruin they [are] in, the more my imagination [can] run free.” That is why Claessens is collaborating with photographer Yoshihiro Makino and filmmaker Romain Dussaulx to document the three-day exhibition as a short film to be screened at the LA Design Festival later this year. “This project,”  said Claessens, “is a marriage of four artists; Neutra’s architecture and my work with Yoshi’s photography and Romain’s storytelling.”
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Photo finish

National Building Museum reopens March 13 with Alan Karchmer: The Architects’ Photographer
After closing to the public for three months, the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., has announced it will reopen its doors on March 13 with an exhibition showcasing the work of architectural photographer Alan Karchmer. The museum’s popular long-term exhibitions, including House & Home and PLAY WORK BUILD, will also reopen. The National Building Museum, housed in the grand Renaissance Revival-style former Pension Bureau building, was shuttered to complete an extensive renovation headed by the General Services Administration. As part of the renovation, the aging concrete flooring in the 1887 building’s soaring Grand Hall, backdrop to numerous special events and the museum’s immersive annual Summer Block Party installations, was replaced with a modern foundation. A new ticketing gallery and visitor’s center was also built out, and the museum’s second-floor classrooms were converted into an exhibition space as part of the overhaul. The Karchmer exhibition, Alan Karchmer: The Architects’ Photographer, will debut in this new space. Originally trained at Tulane University as an architect, the D.C.-based Karchmer is one of the world’s preeminent photographers of contemporary architecture and the built environment. Over his career, Karchmer has stunningly captured the oft-difficult-to-capture work of numerous renowned architects and firms including, Santiago Calatrava, Tadao Ando, TEN Arquitectos, and Perkins + Will, among others. He's photographed everything from the Morphosis-designed recreational center at the University of Cincinnati to Moshe Safdie’s airport expansion in Tel Aviv. Self-taught as a photographer, “Karchmer combines his direct knowledge of the design process with his own artistic vision to express the essence of a building,” according to a press statement from the National Building Museum. In 2019, the National Building Museum announced Karchmer’s gifting of his professional archive in its entirety to the museum while “still in the prime of his career.” Several pieces from this collection will be shown as part of the upcoming exhibition. Personal photographs and artifacts of Karchmer’s will also be on display alongside his professional commissioned photography, which has been widely published and featured in previous photography exhibitions at the National Building Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Julius Shulman Institute, and elsewhere. “While the exhibition will feature numerous large prints of photographs of remarkable beauty,” said the museum, “it will also include didactic displays examining the technical and creative processes underlying such images, as well as the role of luck in achieving a particular image. It will thus illuminate why certain images are so successful in expressing both the physical and emotional aspects of architecture.” Last month, the National Building Museum revealed that it had commissioned the Folger Shakespeare Library to conceive this summer’s “Elizabethan-inspired” Summer Block Party installation. As AN has noted, this is a dramatic departure for the crowd-drawing series given that the museum has traditionally enlisted architecture firms such as Snarkitecture, Bjarke Ingels Group, and most recently, LAB at Rockwell Group to transform the Grand Hall into an air-conditioned and Instagram-ready design destination. Titled Shakespeare's Playhouse, the installation opens July 4.
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Small but Mighty

Toward a cooperative network of small architecture practices
You might be small…. In the United States, architecture firms composed of fewer than twenty people make up 92 percent of all firms—a percentage virtually unchanged since the 1970s—though in total they represent only 44 percent of all architectural workers (Economic Census 2012, table 5). Firms of 1- to-9 people make up 76 percent of the total number of U.S. architecture firms while capturing a mere 14 percent of total billings. If you are one of these small firms, you probably bemoan those tasks that transcend your basic competence and your engaged sensibilities. Unable to afford the specialized staff that tackles vital administrative, managerial, financial, legal, development, and marketing tasks commonplace to large firms, it is difficult to efficiently dispense with these realities to concentrate on the advantages of being small: programmatic experimentation, design detail, personal relationships with clients, work-life balance, and thwarting corporate divisions of labor. Flummoxed by the realization that an uncertain percent of your time is spent on the non-billable and uncreative aspect of running an architectural office, the possibility of sharing both relevant information about and expenses of administration might be attractive. More attractive still is a structure that makes the firm less vulnerable to the vagaries of the market and then next potential client call and taking more control of getting the projects that matter. But you can operate big… Rethinking the nature of practice in small firms is part of a broader need to reconsider the value of cooperation, cooperatives, and cooperativization in cities more broadly. The Architecture Lobby wants to facilitate this by viewing small firms in tandem with the social, economic, and political potentials offered by a cooperative network that leverages economies of scale, consolidates power, and expands collective professional and political capabilities. On the one hand, the cooperative network can leverage economies of scale by centralizing much of the business operations and in turn helping member firms reduce cost and risk. On the other hand, the cooperative network serves as a knowledge and trade network for small firms to help one another. By meaningfully sharing costs systems, labor, knowledge, benefits, and optimal surplus revenue, members build resilience that allows a firm to take large control of the direction of their firms and the projects it wants to pursue. A cooperative, technically, is a worker-owned organization, and the network would help these cooperative firms work together in predetermined ways. The network is open to all firms that have the willingness to share necessary information, and they do not need to be worker-owned—although this would be a positive step toward a larger democratic shift. The network joining these firms will share resources at the level comfortable for its members: Use the economies of scale to jointly hire consultants, share knowledge, share software, share knowledge, share employees as projects recede or expand, share space. Clients get the benefit of a firm with specialties it desires with an assurance that there is access to more complete expertise. Firms get the benefit of specific identities with the stamp of expanded expertise and stability. Coming Together... There are institutional challenges to forming both a coop and a cooperative network in the US: capitalism is based on competition, something that is reinforced in everything from our education to institutional modes. Also, cooperation between firms can trigger fears of monopolization and antitrust legislation. But laws allowing cooperativization that were first enacted to support struggling small farmers in the US are increasingly being applied to other industries, although professions, where licensed and unlicensed workers mix in a typical firm organization, are prohibited from legally forming as a coop. But again, coops can function cooperatively despite these restrictions. The Architecture Lobby has found several firms pushing the envelope in the U.S. Warrenstreet Architects of Concord, New Hampshire, for example, has adopted cooperative structures simply for better workplace culture and more responsible firm practices. CoEverything in Somerville, Massachusetts, offers a variety of cooperative-based architectural, education, and real estate services. South Mountain Company, based in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, operates a straightforward ecological design-build cooperative and has grown enough to self-initiate affordable housing developments. In search for the most equitable structure of practice, Lobby members at uxo architects in the Bay Area, California, have tapped into their local cooperative experts to help them navigate the opaque legal waters of incorporating as a legal cooperative and worked with coop law experts to remove barriers to the formation and operation of professional cooperatives in the U.S., as well as The Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives, a group that backs democratically controlled workplaces across sectors. All it takes is a desire to move beyond the current system that doesn’t work for small firms, as forced competition guaranteed a race to the bottom. If you are interested in learning more and being a part of the alternative that we are building, please visit our website (architecture-lobby.org/coop) and become involved.
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Using it as a LEVER

LEVER Architecture’s Thomas Robinson discusses the impact California could have on the timber industry

We are witnessing a revolution in how we build with engineered timber in the United States.

In January 2019, the International Code Council (ICC) approved changes that would allow high-rise wood buildings in the 2021 International Building Code (IBC). Oregon and Washington were early adopters of these code changes, and Denver, Colorado, recently followed suit. Other states and municipalities are expected to adopt the 2021 IBC timber provisions early, but it is anyone’s guess what California will do. Will the state decide to adopt now, or will it wait till the code becomes part of the new issuance of the 2021 IBC? This is an important question not just for California, and by extension the City of Los Angeles, but also for the future of mass timber in the U.S. and beyond. California standards and codes transform markets, and a mass timber movement in the U.S. without the state that is also the world’s fifth-largest economy is not going to move the needle fast enough. The opportunity to scale a low-carbon, renewable supply chain to address catastrophic climate change is closing quickly, and it is time for California to step up and demonstrate the progressiveness and leadership that have been key to its prosperity.

What does early adoption mean in practice? Today, an architect in Oregon or Washington who follows the provisions of the new IBC can stamp drawings to build a timber building up to 270 feet in height as of right. This is a significant change. Just over four years ago, my firm’s design for a wood high-rise called Framework was selected as one of two winners of the first U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition. At that time, there was no code path in the U.S. for wood buildings over 75 feet. To receive a permit, our team of designers and engineers worked with the State of Oregon on a performance-based design process. Partly funded by the competition prize, this process included 40 tests on full-scale timber building assemblies to demonstrate their fire, seismic, structural, and acoustic performance relative to high-rise life-safety requirements. It was a fascinating, exhausting, and exhilarating experience, and we are proud that this work and research impacted the timber code changes. Thanks to the new code provisions, it is unlikely that another design team will ever have to go through this process in quite the same way again.

Early adoption of the timber code provisions isn’t just about tall buildings, though—it is a critical opportunity to encourage wider investment and innovation in sustainable mass timber development of all scales. Why should California (or any place else) care about mass timber construction? Building with engineered timber products addresses our most pressing global challenges. It has the potential to decrease carbon emissions relative to construction, spur rural economic development, encourage forest practices that prevent fires, and increase the speed at which we can deliver projects, including much-needed affordable housing. The promise of a major market like California supporting mass timber construction will be an incentive for manufacturers to invest in a more advanced supply chain, back new research, and encourage more sustainable forest management. California’s early advocacy of renewables and electric vehicles moved the market (see Tesla), and I believe it could have a similar impact on the development of mass timber.

We are currently in the permit process for one of the first multistory office buildings in Los Angeles with a cross-laminated timber (CLT) floor system. The building is essentially a hybrid, with CLT floors and steel columns and beams. It meets the current code and does not use the provisions of the 2021 IBC because the highest occupied floor is not over 75 feet. That said, it is still a 125,000-square-foot building—not a small undertaking. We have been working closely with Los Angeles authorities and our engineer to clarify and explain how the CLT performs structurally in the project and how it fits within the current code. We have made incremental steps that will allow for subsequent projects to better navigate permitting this type of building, as well as open up options for multiple CLT suppliers to serve the Los Angeles market. I believe these small steps are significant, but I know that my team could have gone further faster if California had already adopted the new timber provisions. Building officials in California are justifiably cautious. The optics of approving tall wood construction as the state faces devastating wildfires is difficult. However, moving in this direction creates a market that will advance the sustainable forest management that prevents these fires in the first place. If we are serious about addressing the major environmental issues of our time, we need California to adopt the 2021 IBC now. We are simply running out of time.

Of course, there is more to do. I believe as architects we must rethink design as a wider ecosystem of environmental and regional economic choices. Where our materials come from and how they are produced should drive and inspire our designs. This is not a limitation but an invitation to innovate with regional, renewable materials to create more compelling architecture that truly addresses both local and global issues.

Thomas Robinson is the founder and principal of LEVER Architecture.

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Design Grouping

The LADG builds practice in parts
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course at Syracuse University School of Architecture taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller, and now an AN interview series. On September 3, 2019, Ella Arne and Eliza Williamson, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Benjamin Freyinger and Andrew Holder of the Los Angeles-based The LADG. The following interview was edited by Kyle Miller and AN and was lightly condensed for clarity. Ella Arne and Eliza Williamson: Thank you for joining us. Our first question is a very simple one; how and when did your practice start? Andrew Holder: We started our practice when we were still students. Ben and I were in graduate school at UCLA from 2002 to 2005, and we began working on our first project together at the end of 2004. If you look at the older projects in our portfolio, you’ll see stores for a ski boot retailer called Surefoot. Surefoot in Vail, Colorado was our first project. I don’t think we intended to form a durable corporate entity at that time, and it wasn’t our intention to be a practice forever. The Surefoot store was our first opportunity and was followed very quickly by a residential remodel in downtown Los Angeles and a loft building across the street from SCI-Arc. But to the original question, “How did it start?”... we were raised on a myth of how architecture firms start. You sit down and write to clarify your position in the world. After that is absolutely clear to yourself and others, you begin to work. Our experience was almost exactly the opposite… the work came first. What is the identity of your practice, and how has it changed over the years? We started our practice during boom years for construction in Los Angeles. It was a good time to be an architect. For the first four years, we were totally consumed with work and executing projects commissioned by various clients. During the financial crisis of 2008 it became clear to us that architecture purely as a service for the market was not enough for us. We decided that we needed another layer of activity or set of incentives to impel what we were doing, because we felt as though the financial crash had removed many market-based incentives. We weren’t making money anymore. The thinness of incentives that we had thought would stick around forever was revealed. We needed new reasons to get out of bed in the morning, which lead us back to the idea that we needed an operating theory of what architecture wants to be in the world. We asked ourselves why we do this on a very personal level, but also how architecture can engage a broader audience. It was in 2009, 2010, and 2011 when we first started thinking through architecture’s relation to audience. In those years, you see the emergence of animal figures and biomorphic forms in our work. These things were essentially the most direct answer that we could imagine to the question of how architecture interfaces with a mass audience. Our answer to that was architecture sheds its status as an object, and it becomes a subject. I know how to participate in a crowd if I’m a living thing. We were doing everything we could think to do to turn architecture into a subject that could participate like other people. We reached a limit with 48 Characters, an installation at the University of Michigan where we were creating plaster versions of balloon animals. We started to realize that if architecture as a subject needs formal complication, then we have to come up with different ideas about how to make habitable space. It’s a very simple initiating problem. And that question essentially initiated a string of investigations up to the present day where we are thinking about assemblies of objects that produce rooms. Who exactly are you referring to when you talk about audience? Who is the audience for your work? We always want to have a couple of different conversations simultaneously. We are hoping that the balloon animal projects are immediately legible with no specialized knowledge in architecture. Stuffed animals have a mode of communication that requires little to no expertise. It just requires enculturation. You have to have been a person on the planet for a while. At the same time, balloon animals have a kind of second discursive tale. They're plugged into issues in architecture that are for sophisticated audiences. That longer tale has to do with the history of complex form and architecture, and the history of the use of digital tools and a long conversation about character. What exactly that term means… it looks like Ben is joining us now. Ben Freyinger: Hello. Sorry, I’m super late from another meeting. We were talking about how your work resonates differently with different audiences. But now that we have both of you here, we can ask how you maintain the identity of your practice considering both of you are in different locations. Ben: Case in point. Andrew: It'll be interesting if we have different answers to this question. Ben, what is that noise? Is that an airplane? I can assure you there is no airplane in Cambridge. Okay, so first, the geographic distance for us is profoundly clarifying. So, to revisit the history of how we started… Ben there's incredible background noise. Please go inside. Ben: I'm on a job site. I'll mute my microphone when I'm not speaking. Andrew: Great, thank you. So, bear in mind we started as students, which means that didn’t yet have formalized understandings of our roles. What we had was a desire to work together. It was when we started living on different coasts that we had conversations about who does what. It was that moment of specialization that also required us to have conversations about the operating theory of the practice. All of a sudden, in order to be efficient in schematic design, we needed to constantly be referring back to ideas we had about how to make space and how to use assemblies of objects loosely fit together to produce things like rooms and interior order. Those were as much theories of architecture and how it should work as they were a series of conversations regarding how to distribute labor between the two coasts, and how to clarify what Andrew does and what Ben does. Ben: I agree. To be blunt about it, having two people with either similar ideas or productively conflicting ideas in the same room is not always productive. There's the personal growth that you need to go through in order to expand in your career and move forward and learn new things that tends to get stunted when there is someone else in the room. Independently, we've discovered that the practice can grow and that there is a need for specialization. But no matter how specialized we each become in our roles, we still wear a lot of the same hats. We still do a lot of the same things. Andrew: Here is an example of how, for instance, something we produce has multiple lives, and becomes useful for the office. When I wrote “Notes on More,” the Log piece about density, I was interested in an academic audience. But I was also writing it as a letter to our office. It was how I was structuring thoughts about design, and was asking, “Can this help give us a common understanding of how to sit down to work?” We're always growing and shrinking, so it means anywhere from two to six people are participating in schematic design. Everyone has to be extraordinarily coordinated in their work output. The essays help hold that together. Can you talk more about the way in which the preference for using everyday objects informs your aesthetic sensibility? Also, how does this approach impact constructability and construction? Andrew: Interesting. We haven't used the word sensibility a lot in our conversations with one another. But maybe we should more often, because we have definite ideas about where we want to end up in terms of how things look. We want a kind of casualness, as though materials could come together in a variety of orientations and we would have simply picked one of those possibilities. We want a sense that our material palette is not elevated and expensive, but is common to the point of being retrievable from a junkyard if funds are limited. We also want for the fits between things to produce an occasion for design. If things fit together too perfectly, design is discouraged. One way that we create opportunities for design is by subjecting our work to physics by frequently positioning things with respect to one another so that all of the energy and intensity is in an interface or point of contact. Ben: We are using materials that are readily available and, in some cases, kind of ugly. And yes, it's in the interface between the materials and how they respond to one another or how they coexist… it’s where the invention is. The reality is that we have contractors that are looking at what we are producing. What they see is complicated or complex. We can break it down very logically, piece by piece, and explain why it isn't. But the reception of it is often “Oh, this is unusual… this is too complex to build.” Andrew: I also want to say that the casualness and looseness is not just for its own sake. Actually, let me go back. I'm totally fine if it's casualness for its own sake. I have no need to justify it further, but maybe we have an additional possibility. One thing that starts to happen as things are loosely arrayed against one another is the production of crenelated edges, which makes it difficult to assign things to the inside or outside. Elements often fall outside of the proper territory of the house or building. This means more engagement in the surrounding context. If you can't figure out where the envelope is, you're always questioning what’s around you. For us, that's good politics. We want to self-consciously style ourselves as part of architecture’s progressive crowd, but we don't see that as being related to exclusion on the basis of privilege—educational, financial, or otherwise. We're trying to resort to things that have a democratic availability and low barriers to intellectual engagement. Given this attitude towards being democratic and inclusive, what kinds of projects do you hope to work on in the future? Andrew: In the very immediate future, we're really interested in the suburbs and we're really interested in the single-family home, which may seem a weird answer to your question. We're trying to think of ways in which the form of the house can open up and start to create shared regions with neighbors. So, imagine many House in Los Angeles I’s next to one another. We'd have to imagine a different way of describing what constitutes yard or private ownership. Ben: We’re looking at the fringe areas of Los Angeles, specifically hillside areas, which encourage invention with regard to what Andrew was saying about the concept of yard or the concept of private ownership. We want to challenge and reconsider these things. Andrew: If you look at the larger context for House in Los Angeles I, you'll see that it's part of a series of suburbs that stretch between downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena. They're all super irregular, hillside lots. House in Los Angeles I looks kind of flat, but it's at the edge of a pretty steep hillside. What that means is that buildable area is tightly circumscribed. You can only put houses in certain spots, which leaves huge portions of the hillside unbuilt but also given up for shared uses. We want to be deliberate about how built form can preserve collective spaces that have already emerged, and start to encourage the emergence of new collective spaces. You spoke earlier of your dissatisfaction with conceptualizing architecture as being subservient to the market. How would you position your practice in relation to the market now? Is the market something you engage with critically? Andrew: What the market asked of us in 2009 did not overlap with how we wanted to spend our time. We wanted personal and intellectual satisfaction that the task given to us by the open market did not demand. We wanted to do more thinking and more drawing and more model building… and we weren't doing a lot of those things. When we talk about a reaction against an exclusively service-based practice, it's not that we were withdrawing from the market or the structure of how business works in Los Angeles. It's that we were trying to construct a viable business model with habits of life and thought and work that we found to be more humane and of interest to us regarding ways we wanted to live our lives. I would love to be a soldier of resistance against late capitalism, but my tools for thinking through that problem are more effective when I examine it at the scale of what I do when I get up in the morning. We’re encouraged that the market is now telling us that it has niches that support our habits. What's been the most fulfilling moment in your professional careers thus far? Andrew: I had a very fulfilling experience on my last site walk at House in Los Angeles I. It's been a while since I've been out there. When I went out, it was just after all of the rain in Los Angeles, but before the landscaping went in, so it was super muddy. My foot got stuck in one of the courtyards. There I was stuck in an idea we'd only been kicking around on paper. Ben: I'm going to play a similar card, but I'll zoom out a bit. For me, it's the physical evidence of the work. I can relate this back to Andrew's comment about how we choose to lead our lives in the office. If there's physical evidence of that work in the world, that is also the litmus test of our success in trying to bring a desire to operate, practice, and live a certain way into the market productively and reconcile those two things. I can look at it, I can touch it, and I can see it. That never gets old.
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By Decree

On beauty, value, and justice in federal architecture in America
This past week, a frenzied debate has erupted in response to “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” a draft executive order that, if adopted, would effectively mandate “the classical architectural style” for U.S. federal buildings. Assembled by the National Civic Art Society, a little-known organization dedicated to the promotion of classical architecture and design, the order proposes to rewrite the US General Services Administration’s (GSA) “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” a three-point policy document written in 1962 by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then Special Assistant to the Secretary of Labor, to focus the architectural ambitions of the GSA. Moynihan’s first and third directives aim squarely at design, insisting that federal buildings “reflect the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American National Government” and that careful consideration be given to the building site and the layout of adjacent streets, public spaces, and landscape. His second speaks more generally to matters of architectural style:
The development of an official style must be avoided. Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government. And not vice versa. […] The advice of distinguished architects ought to, as a rule, be sought prior to the award of important design contracts.
The crux of MFBBA’s argument is that Moynihan’s second principle precludes his first. By granting authority on matters of style to architects, it claims, the Guiding Principles supplant the preferences of the American people with “the architectural profession’s reigning orthodoxy.” This, it continues, “implicitly discouraged classical and other designs known for their beauty,” and sanctioned instead modernist, Brutalist, and Deconstructivist buildings which “have little aesthetic appeal,” citing work by Marcel Breuer, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Morphosis, and others as examples. In so doing, the order claims, “the Federal government has largely stopped building beautiful buildings that the American people want to look at or work in.” To encourage the design of buildings that inspire “admiration” instead of “public derision,” the order proposes that “in the National Capital [sic] Region and for all Federal courthouses, the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style absent special extenuating factors necessitating another style.” While this technically leaves open the possibility of non-traditional design, MFBBA sets an extremely high bar for its approval. Brutalism, Deconstructivism, and their derivatives (specified by extremely problematic, open-ended definitions) are excluded outright. Other non-traditional buildings would be permitted to move forward only with approval from the president, who must first be provided with a detailed explanation of “whether such design is as beautiful… as alternative designs of comparable cost in a traditional architectural style.” The term beauty, or one of its derivatives, appears twelve times in MFBBA’s seven pages. Though it is not included in the document’s list of definitions, it is used throughout to signify those qualities that give pleasure to the senses and the intellect. At its core, then, this debate is about more than just architectural style. It is about publicly funded pleasure. The art critic Dave Hickey similarly locates the essence of beauty in pleasure. In his 2009 essay, “American Beauty,” he finds it primarily in the “pleasant surprises” one encounters in everyday life. Such pleasure, whether derived from monumental architecture, a clear blue sky, or a perfectly executed jump shot, often leads people—Americans in particular—to dialog. “Beautiful!” someone exclaims, moved by an arresting object or experience. Others respond, sometimes in agreement, sometimes in dissent. Chatter ensues, occasionally moving toward the consensus from which societies are built. “American beauty is inextricable from its optimal social consequence,” Hickey writes, “our membership in a happy coalition of citizens who agree on what is beautiful, valuable, and just.” In American society, beauty, value, and justice are determined similarly—through the often-contentious debates we conduct in Congress, in court, in the press, in the marketplace, at school, at home, and out in the street. Given the complexity of these collective conversations (and the difficulty of surprising oneself), we often turn to trained experts—elected representatives, lawyers, cultural critics, brokers, artists, architects, and others—to generate possibilities and look after our interests. Though it often seeks guidance in expert opinion, American society is not based on timeless values, religious doctrine, or ancient edicts. It is based on mutual agreement. With the Declaration of Independence, Americans mutually agreed to their collective right to pursue “pleasant surprises” and other forms of happiness, and to tentatively ascribe power to the government to secure that right. This is where it gets complicated. As Hickey points out, every pleasant surprise is an occasion for change, an opportunity to renegotiate our collective agreement regarding what we hold to be beautiful, valuable, and just. Such activity always threatens the stability of the status quo, which is why authoritarian societies often attempt to neutralize such threats by outlawing idiosyncrasy and mandating familiarity. MFBBA adopts exactly this authoritarian posture, though its authors undoubtedly would point to their populist invocations of “the public” and to their proposal that all GSA architectural competitions convene public panels that exclude design and construction professionals as evidence of their efforts to foster exactly the sort of open debate I am advocating. Such arguments would ring false. With their thumb firmly on the scale from the outset, MFBBA’s authors decide in advance the outcome of public deliberation on federal buildings. Their message is clear: When it comes to the most hallowed spaces of our democracy, the American debate on beauty—and by extension, on value and justice – is settled. The authors of “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” thus work entirely on the side of entrenched authority, and rightly recognize the federal buildings of Breuer, Morphosis, Scogin, Elam, and others as subtly subversive. These works signal that the brilliance of American democracy issues from its accommodation of periodic reinvention, from our collective agreement that what we held to be beautiful, valuable, and just yesterday may not align with what we will hold to be so tomorrow. This is not to say that progressive architecture best represents our union, or that classically derived designs can no longer embody American values. It is merely to recognize, as Daniel Moynihan did, that we would do well to continue to draw on “the finest contemporary American architectural thought” to help us determine the best way forward, and to remember that the “dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability” of the American government obtains from the right of its citizens to perpetually renegotiate the terms by which we are governed, to reimagine the values we wish to uphold, and to freely pursue the subversive pleasures of beauty. Todd Gannon is the Robert S. Livesey Professor and head of the architecture section at The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School.