How do you rebuild after a natural disaster? This question was the call to action at the fifth edition of the MEXTRÓPOLI Festival of Architecture and City that took place March 17 to 20. The four-day city-wide event was presented as an active reflection to rebuild since last September’s major earthquake that struck central Mexico. Coincidently marking the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, the natural disaster in September last year hit hard on the same day three decades prior–at least 40 buildings collapsed, wreaking havoc in the Mexican states of Puebla, Morelos, and in the Greater Mexico City area. At MEXTRÓPOLI, temporary built environments activated Mexico City’s public spaces to promote reflection of those events and fuel sustainable future building. Twenty pavilions designed by institutions such as UNAM, Ibero Puebla, Anahuac University, Querétaro, Sci-Arc, and Maristas took up at Alameda Central, the oldest public park in the Americas located downtown, adjacent to the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The goal? To inspire sustainable and preventative practices, and to demonstrate potential sustainable architectural futures. Architect Elias Kababie, Taller Paralelo Arquitectura, Michigan Architecture, and students from Colectivo Seis collaborated to design Pabellón ( ), a brick pavilion, with financial support from Masonite. The ephemeral structure is described by Kababie as a built testament to what local people felt in the aftermath of the quakes. “It creates an experience based on what we felt when everything was demolished,” explains Kababie. The structure itself was the very first built project for Colectivo Seis, who are only in their second year of college. As the story goes, on the first night of building the pavilion, the students and Kababie assembled the bricks made by a local factory and craftsman. The bricks themselves are made from locally-sourced clay, baked, and dried. Initially, they tried laying each brick one by one. Eventually, they made a rig that allowed them to stack eight bricks at a time. What took six hours to build on the first day took only one hour on the second. The trace of their handiwork lingers, with the red ochre-hued dust marking anyone who enters the pavilion. From the outside, the pavilion looks fortress-like, a cubic construction of six tiers of stacked brick on all four sides. Visitors were invited in by Kababie and the students through the periwinkle Masonite door into a narrow, tubular passageway. Once inside, onlookers are pleasantly surprised to find an undulating series of brick laid out to form the negative space of a circular sphere, or, if you will, an inverted oculus. The stacked formation encourages sitting and climbing, as well as spectacular views of the heart of Mexico City. Aptly dubbed, Pabellón ( ) is formally a parenthesis. Conceptually, it is a theoretical interpretation of the meaning of “collapse,” what students from Colectivo Seis described as the continuum of material and emotional rubble that was left behind after the quake. These experiences are collectively housed between the empty parentheses, the material manifestation of the symbolic namesake, the pavilion. “It’s a metaphor for the current situation. When you have this perfect brick wall that when you walk outside, you don't realize that there’s a greater structure, an emptiness that came about through the earthquakes. It’s still there and it hasn’t been fixed. We wanted this to be a point to talk about those aspects of our lives and that is still going on and many of us don’t realize it,” explained Alonso Varela of Collectivo Seis. This collective experience is not only expressed in concept, but also in practice. Kababie proudly reflects on their experience as completely collaborative, a project completed by a group from beginning to end as a group. “Having that extraordinary shared journey, the idea of idea of changing the conversation through bricks, through a situation, with a door that you go through, in a specific place as a specific project—it was an amazing idea.” You can find more videos of Mextropoli, Pabellón ( ), interviews, and other footage of the festival as a story highlight on AN's Instagram story highlights.
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In September, the Mexican-born artist Bosco Sodi responded to Trump’s border wall plans with "Muro," a one-day performance installation in Washington Square Park in downtown New York City. “Muro” translates to “wall” in Spanish, an apt title for what Sodi built, brick by brick, with the help of his Mexican creative friends living in the city and anyone who happened to be in the park between 3 and 8 p.m. After every brick was stacked, the wall was torn down by the same people who might otherwise be on both sides of the wall, suggestively breaking down physical and mental barriers. Sodi made 1,600 clay bricks for Muro by extracting raw earth and mixing it with water and sand to form clay–a vernacular Mexican building material. The clay was then shaped and smoothed by hand into solid cubes that were left to air dry in the sun at his studio in Oaxaca, Mexico. Once cured, the cubes were fired in a traditional brick kiln with wood, jacaranda seeds, and coconut shells. Using the same process, Sodi formed clay cube sculptures, which he considers “living sculptures,” for Caryatides, his first solo exhibit at Paul Kasmin Gallery, on view until January 6, 2018. Stacked in a series of volumes, the cubes are a material amalgam of varied terra cotta hues, streaks of green and black, and jolie laide surfaces. The Architect's Newspaper spoke with Bosco Sodi about his exhibit and his process. Architect's Newspaper: Why clay? Bosco Sodi: Clay is one of the early material building materials. It is poetic, representing the essence of human building. I have been using clay for 3 years. It began when I started to go very often to see the [local] clay workers. I visited them and started to experiment. I wanted to do something that was seemingly impossible to develop with the material. It took a year to develop a cube that did not split and break. We made them by hand, and then we let them dry in the sun for two months, then they cook in the kiln. Each [Caryatides] cube weighs 3,000 pounds. AN: What is unique about your process of making these works? BS: Made with no mold, they are completely human-formed. The materials [themselves] are unpredictable; they create a unique result each time. The clay cubes and bricks are made by hand, in the same process to build the wall in Washington Square Park and the sculptures in the gallery. They are political pieces. AN: How is the material political? BS: All of the bricks have different colors, yet they are made the same. They are the metaphor of the dream of what it meant to come [to the United States]. AN: And then, the political meaning came into form as performance at the Muro installation? BS: Yes. We put up a wall in the U.S. made by Mexicans with Mexican elements: sun, water, fire, wind, and earth. It was made in a public place, New York, by Mexicans. Then, we let everyone take it down. It was a social performance where you become part of a happening and a result of the piece. Caryatides, the first solo exhibition devoted to Bosco Sodi’s clay cube sculptures, is on view through January 6, 2018 at Paul Kasmin Gallery on 515 West 27th Street. *This interview was edited minimally for clarity.
This robotic arm by a Swiss architecture firm stacks bricks into lightweight helixes for complex building facades
Research-intensive Swiss architecture firm Gramazio & Kohler has created a robotic arm capable of stacking bricks into a sculptural, helix-like facade that would appear to defy gravity. The facade zigzags across the front of the offices of Swiss brick manufacturer Keller AG Ziegeleien. By stacking bricks at angles to one another in a gentle curvature, the robotic arm makes the bricks appear light and airy. The repetitive-though-intricate task, which would be inordinately difficult though still possible without the robot, is guided by algorithms, without the need for optical reference or measurement. Hence, no extra effort is expended in creating more complex structures, unlike with a human bricklayer. Furthermore, the arm can rotate bricks in multiple directions to create space between each brick, effectively producing curvatures and other complicated shapes. Named ROBmade, the robotic arm assembles and glues the bricks into facade patterns, such as the eye-popping Programmed Wall in Zurich, in which a brick wall was made to visibly billow in and out. Each brick has a hollowed-out honeycomb structure at its center in adherence to a tenet of aerospace design, in which the bulkiest materials in a plane must be kept lightweight. The bricks can be stacked high when connected with adhesive joints. According to Gizmodo, robot-stacked architecture could work on a larger scale by turning the floors of buildings into building blocks – given, especially, the robot’s ability to carry out repetitive complex functions with enormous precision. The firm has experimented extensively with robotic arms for on-site construction and design, touting ROB itself as a mobile fabrication unit that can be transported via container. In 2009, the brick-laying robot made its debut in New York City, part of a project by the Storefront for Art & Architecture to create an undulating brick wall called Pike Loop. Watch the robot in action below. https://vimeo.com/6973740
This miniature Italian Gothic cathedral by Pratt alum Ryan McAmis gets every teeny tiny detail right
The devil is in the microscopic details in this miniature model of an Italian gothic cathedral by illustrator and graphic designer Ryan McAmis. The Pratt Institute alum has built the Renaissance interior and exterior from scratch with arresting realism, right down to the furnishings, wall tombs, and iconic paintings. The Brooklyn-based artist used materials from hand-scribed brickwork on treated paper, to clay and wood for the most true-to-life effect. He then combines all the materials and creates a silicon mold to strengthen it and casts the pieces in white plastic, which he then hand paints. To achieve the correct scale, the artist mapped out the structure using computer vector modeling. He reverts again to the computer to render the stained-glass windows, which he lays out on Photoshop and then prints on a transparency. He then uses a small clay tool to burnish every little piece and give it the appearance of regular panes of 600-year-old leaded glass. The granite flooring, too, is designed on Photoshop and printed on archival paper. The paper is then glued to the floor, varnished, and sanded several times, while the clay tool is again enlisted to scribe the tiles. Most enrapturing of all is the apse – the very back of the cathedral beneath which the high altar sits – clad in ultramarine blue and gold stars inspired by the ceiling in the Scrovegni Chapel in Veneto, Italy, painted by Giotto Bondone. “Blue was the most expensive color in the late medieval period. It was made from Lapiz Lazuli imported from Afghanistan,” McAmis writes on his website. Meanwhile, the wall tomb in the apse is inspired by Renaissance funerary monuments, such as Bernardo Rossellino’s design for the tomb of Leonardo Bruni in the church of Santa Croce in Florence. The top of McAmis' wall tomb bears the bust of St. Mark’s, flanked by busts of Putto at the corners. Inside the church are fixtures such as the Savonarola, a Renaissance folding chair, and a miniature framed painting of the Madonna and child. In an interview with Daily Mini, McAmis revealed that while he would love to install an operative secret passage or gargoyle fountain, inside the funerary wall monuments are hidden mementos of his recently deceased cat, Leo – a fang, a bundle of whiskers and a lock of fur.
In a neighborhood of glass and steel, Fiterman Hall stands out. The new building, part of the CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College downtown campus, is designed by Pei Cobb Freed and sits adjacent to the World Trade Center. The 17-story building is fronted in large prefabricated red-brick panels rhythmically relieved by square glass windows revealing multilevel interior atria. At a cost of $325 million, this is not your grandmother's little red schoolhouse. The vertical seams between the brick-faced precast panels betray the interlocking nature of classic red brick and the smooth prefab surface contrasts the tactile quality of hand laid masonry. Regardless, the panels certainly place Fiterman apart as an institutional structure amidst corporate America’s continued penchant for glass. Brick paneling is hardly new, but with prefabricated buildings making inroads, it’s hard not to view them as another form of value engineering requiring less union hands at the construction site. But David Sovinski, director of industry development for the International Masonry Institute (IMI), said that their membership doesn’t have a problem with the material. IMI is an alliance between the International Union of Bricklayers, Allied Craftworkers, and contractors who promote masonry construction. He noted that IMI union members are better trained to install the panels, as they are with most enclosure methods except glazing. Their main goal, regardless of the method, is to keep trained union hands on the site. “They get man hours off all kinds of construction,” said Sovinski. “You can always go to a factory in rural Pennsylvania for nonunion cheaper labor, but our training is more productive. If you use a trained craft person you don’t get callbacks to fix mistakes.” The completion of Fiterman Hall is probably one of the more high profile uses of the material in Manhattan, but with the Gotham West tower swiftly rising on Eleventh Avenue and 44th Street, it won’t be the largest. There, more than 1,200 apartments will stretch over almost an entire city block. Gotham’s 11th Avenue tower and midblock low-rise are already getting brick panels slapped on as fast as you can say "prefab." Once again, at Gotham, the panels appear smooth, uniform, and manufactured. “I prefer laid in place, I think it’s a better system,” admitted Sovinski. “When you see these fake solutions, it just looks poor.”
Not so Clean. White brick buildings, once favored in the 50s and 60s for their shiny glaze and supposed waterproofing and self-cleaning benefits, are now a costly headache for New York City, reported the NY Times. The glaze, it turns out, actually traps moisture and causes cracks and deterioration, with repairs climbing into the millions of dollars. Back to Basics. While architects nowadays can get away with their shaky doodles (of the physically impossible buildings and cartoonish people with disproportionate heads) as long as they prove their CAD proficiency, the just-launched Beaux-Arts Atelier feels differently-- only when you master the basics can you be freer to do crazier, modern things with more creative control. More on The Wall Street Journal. The Digitals. Architecture historian and journalist critic Alexandra Lange critically compares the content and design of four new digital interior design magazines and discusses the merits of blogs. Read her thoughts on Arch Record. Juried Judge. The NY Times ran a story about Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's selection to join the Pritzker Prize jury, citing AN's report from September. The move looks to be a good one for architecture, as Breyer, a fan of Gothic and Beaux-Arts architecture, has pushed for better design of federal buildings.