Posts tagged with "Brutalism":
When one hears of a piece of architecture by Alison and Peter Smithson being altered, the worst comes to mind, particularly when developer Tishman Speyer promises a "wholesale re-imagining." With demolition photographs of the architects' Robin Hood Gardens splayed across every design publication and blog, this protective instinct is more than justified. Now, London firm Deborah Saunt David Hills Architects (DSDHA) has completed Phase One of such a "re-imagining" of the Smithsons' Economist Plaza. And if evidence of this first phase is a precedent for the rest, then we can breathe a momentary sigh of relief, for the project is in safe hands. Comprising a trio of buildings, all varying in height, the Economist Plaza off St James's Street is a quiet enclave in the city, a welcome respite a stone's throw away from the tourist throbbing bustle of Piccadilly Circus. It was designed by Peter and Alison Smithson for the Economist magazine and finished in 1964, a decade after the Smithsons first took to the architectural stage with the Hunstanton Secondary Modern School. Tishman Speyer's decision to employ DSDHA reflects a sensitivity to the project, something it is well-versed in through its management of other 20th century icons like New York's Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center. Its decision to rename the complex to "Smithson Plaza" in the original architects' honor embodies this ethos. The Smithsons' contribution to architecture is enormous. As teachers, writers and academics, they were prolific. But as architects? Not so, and today, their eponymous plaza is their last remaining work in London. DSDHA has refurbished the tallest tower, renamed "Smithson Tower," which rises to 15 stories and was once owned and fully occupied by The Economist. Here, the lobby has had a facelift and the tower has new elevators, double-glazed windows, insulation and services, replacing the Smithsons' unorthodox and outdated ventilation system. A new, 1,500-square-foot public cafe (yet to be finished) has been installed on the tower's ground floor. However, this, combined with a reinstated public art program on for the plaza, heralds the danger of the plaza losing its tranquillity as it becomes both visually and programmatically busier. "We found that many people didn't even know this was a public space," Deborah Saunt, co-founder of DSDHA, told The Architect's Newspaper. Inside the upper six floors of the tower, renovation work has created 21,500 square feet of office space. Who will inhabit that remains to be seen. To its previous tenants, the vistas were a source of empowerment. "Perhaps our height also gives us greater confidence in handing down Olympian judgments on world affairs," the Economist wrote in a 2016 farewell letter after it had sold the premises for $170 million. The tower's facade has also been cleaned to reveal its pitted Portland Stone and Roach Bed stone. On the ground, the plaza has been resurfaced with granite, a material which has been allowed to flow into the new lobby where it replaces what was once concrete flooring. If you ignore the impending planters, the plaza has since become a much lighter space in a show of pure materiality. And when washed in sunlight, the tower's almost gleaning beveled edges are as tactile as any imported verdure. Only now do Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's (SOM's) 1990s interventions, adding a canopy and extending the lobby into the colonnade with glass and travertine cladding, seem horribly hamfisted. DSDHA has done well to undo some of this work, replacing the travertine with Portland Stone, for example. With the lobby gaining a new concrete bench, akin to an original external seat and now sharing materiality with the plaza, the colonnade feels primed to realize its potential as the threshold it was originally intended to be. For the time being, however, the canopy and glass frontage, spaced awkwardly close to the colonnade, remain. More changes had been planned by SOM as well, with two further stories proposed for the plaza's tallest tower. On the 13th of June in 1988, though, the plaza and its buildings were hurriedly awarded Grade II listing (the equivalent of landmarking)—a move which makes you wonder, particularly in the aftermath of the Robin Hood Gardens demolition, where the spirit to preserve architecture has gone. The Smithsons, of course, were aware of change being around the corner. In 1965, they remarked that in 200 years' time, their work "may seem an error." "But in our situation," they continued, "there is no other course but to build and to demonstrate." Even DSDHA's proposals did not come without backlash when they were unveiled in 2016. "The Smithsons’ best and last remaining London building deserves better," wrote critic Ellis Woodman in February 2017, as other architects voiced their concern. Some of DSDHA's plans have been curtailed. A proposed spiral staircase will now be a much simpler slip stair, which will lead to a new gallery space—a conversion of the former car park. These changes are due to be made in later phases as part of the addition of 4,600 square feet of retail space.
One of Marcel Breuer's two New Haven, Connecticut buildings will be preserved and converted into a hotel. When it was finished in 1969, researchers and administrators at Armstrong Rubber worked out of the company's Pirelli Tire Building, a Brutalist structure whose office tower core is bisected by beguiling angled windows. The building—vacant since the 1990s—is now owned by IKEA and sits aside a store parking lot. IKEA is in talks with a developer to convert the I-95-adjacent concrete building into a hotel, the New Haven Independent reported. AN IKEA spokesperson told the paper that the company hasn't gone public with its plans for the structure yet. The conversion scheme were revealed at a meeting of the city's development commission. Breuer's work is enjoying a strong revival, thanks in part to renewed popular interest in Brutalism. In Atlanta, city officials are looking to revamp the Breuer-designed main library, while back in 2016, the Metropolitan Museum of Art restored the Whitney's former home and re-christened it the Met Breuer. (H/T NHVmod and Docomomo US)
Even as SOM bulldozes Lawrence Halprin's Los Angeles atrium (the only atrium he ever designed), officials 1,000 miles to the north are gearing up to preserve Freeway Park, the eminent landscape architect's highway-capping park in Seattle. Designed by Halprin and Angela Danadjieva and built in 1976, the Brutalist park had fallen into severe disrepair, and residents said that they avoid the somewhat isolated park for safety reasons. After initial, conceptual proposals for the National Register of Historic Places-eligible property provoked alarm, stakeholders said they are collaborating with landscape preservation and advocacy organizations like The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) on any future changes.
The renovations are thus geared towards better lighting and wayfinding in the original segment of the park. On its website, TCLF cross-posted an excerpt from an agreement between public and private interests on the future of the park that stated renovations will follow "the Secretary of Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties, as well as specific guidance for parks found in the Secretary of Interior’s Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes," two nationally-codified standards for preservation practice.
As renovations kick into gear, the City of Seattle is collaborating with Freeway Park Association (FPA), the park's nonprofit stewards, to repair the park's facilities and infrastructure. Last summer FPA tapped Seattle's SiteWorkshop Landscape Architects to produce schematic designs and conceptual renderings for park improvements based on community feedback. Work may also include upgrades to lighting, wayfinding, and entrances, as well as restrooms and site furnishings. $1o million of the project cost is being financed by a public benefits package that stems from the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC), a $1.7 billion project that the Seattle City Council has yet to approve. FPA has also received grant money to carry out the repairs.
On April 12, Boston’s Pinkcomma Gallery is opening its Brutal Destruction exhibition. In the context of contemporary demolitions of Brutalist buildings and complexes, such as Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments and Orange County Government Center, Brutal Destruction joins the growing reappraisal of maligned Brutalism as architecture worthy of historic preservation. Curated by Chris Grimley, of the Boston-based interdisciplinary practice over,under, Brutal Destruction is a collection of photographs of concrete architecture undergoing the process of demolition. By examining the widespread dismantling of Brutalist structure, the exhibit seeks to stir up debate regarding their disfigurement and society’s seeming incapacity to repurpose these half-century old architectural works. Grimley frames Brutalism within the larger narrative of the architectural conservation movement. Similar to Brutalism, historicist and classical styles such as the Victorian or Second Empire faced similar rhetorical and public attacks and were cast as outmoded and outdated forms. Grimley suggests that just as we regret the mass demolition of historic buildings in the mid-twentieth century, we should pause to properly assess America's concrete heritage before wiping it out entirely. The exhibition is part of the ongoing Heroic Project, a book and advocacy web archive cataloging Boston’s substantial Brutalist legacy.
Designing for friends has its advantages. More trusting than an anonymous client, a friend will often let you get away with a lot when it comes to pushing creative boundaries. This was the case when Sean Griffiths started work on the Hearn Hill House in South London. Griffiths, head of London-based Modern Architect, and once a member of the now-disbanded FAT, has been taking such opportunities to work out what exactly it means to run a post-FAT firm—experimenting with color, geometry, materials, and illusion. Despite its limited scope—a small ground-floor kitchen expansion—the project immediately faced strict building restrictions due to its location in a conservation area. The area’s restrictive code prevented the addition from wrapping around the rear to the side of the building, but did allow for extensions out from both faces separately. Rather than fighting this condition, Griffiths opted to take the code quite literally and make two glazed extensions, achieving needed natural lighting, maximizing floor space, and exploring some spatial ideas. “With this project I was aiming at a kind of realism. That partly has to do with the way planning constraints shape a project like this; there are certain structural issues and a sense of materiality,” explained Griffiths. “So in the first instance, the plan is almost completely (and absurdly) determined by planning rules. This led to structural and spatial issues that resulted in the odd placement of the column (which also made it interesting) and the use of mirrors to resolve the spatial problems in the largely predetermined plan.” In order to rationalize the kitchen’s new, slightly awkward footprint, Griffiths deployed a number material and graphic techniques. Drawing on a time-honored trick, two floor-to-ceiling mirrors double the perceived size and brightness of the room. The mirrors also produce a visual symmetry, negating the effect of the code-determined floor plan. Columns in the space are pebble-dashed, a nod to Brutalism, as well as the facade of next-door neighbor’s home, visible from the space. “The client wanted something Brutalist, but we couldn’t afford that so we pebble-dashed the column. In the UK this is thought of as a tacky finish that poor people with no taste apply to their houses and that middle-class people spend a lot of money on having removed when they buy houses covered in it.” With limited budget and space, color and pattern would have a significant impact on the project. Undeniably, the most striking feature of the room are two large designs painted on the floor, wall, and ceiling. Continuing the geometric motif of the columns, these graphics produce a forced perspective, which once again challenges the shape and size of the room. Distorted from all but one angle, when the viewer is properly positioned the shapes snap into perspectival alignment, appearing to be 3-D. For color, a rich green and a series of grays were pulled from Andreas Gursky’s photograph Rhein II, which is one of the most expensive photographs ever sold, and a favorite of the clients. With the Hearn Hill House addition, Griffiths takes the project’s challenges, legal limits, and limited budget, and turns them to his advantage. A play on representation and reality, flatness and form, the space realizes ideas far beyond its humble programming.
Few buildings are as quintessentially British and Brutalist as Robin Hood Gardens, a London housing estate designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in the late 1960s. And now, remnants of the complex are heading to Italy, where the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) will present a facade section of the demolished icon as part of the Venice Biennale. (It's actually a return to Venice for the late architects, who displayed billboard-sized images of the under-construction buildings at the Biennale in 1976.) The Robin Hood Gardens housing block has never been far from the center of the debate of social housing since the Smithsons first unveiled plans for a concrete mass of residences linked by "streets in the sky." And now that it's being demolished to make way for a new development—all while cities around the globe struggle to house growing populations—that controversy is more in the news than ever. Though Peter Smithson himself expressed his regrets about the failures of the design, Robin Hood Gardens found a legion of supporters, if not strictly for its Brutalist design, then for its place within the conversation about urbanism. In fact, an all-star lineup of contemporary architects including Richard Rogers, Robert Venturi, Toyo Ito, and the late Zaha Hadid, came together to protest the buildings' demolition. When it became clear that plans would move forward, the V&A stepped in—on the urging of London firm Muf architecture/art—to acquire a nearly 29-foot high by 18-foot-wide by 26-foot-deep cross-section of the housing complex. The museum will be presenting a fragment from the estate at the Pavilion of Applied Arts in the Sale d’Armi in the Arsenale, from May 26 to November 25, 2018. The segment will be displayed on a scaffolding system designed by Arup, the firm that engineered the original Robin Hood Gardens, while a film by artist Do Ho Suh will document the structure. Additional documents and interviews will give context to the social history of the complex. ‘The case of Robin Hood Gardens is arresting because it embodied such a bold vision for housing provision yet less than 50 years after its completion, it is being torn down," said pavilion curators Christopher Turner and Olivia Horsfall Turner in a joint statement. "Out of the ruins of Robin Hood Gardens, we want to look again at the Smithsons’ original ideals and ask how they can inform and inspire current thinking about social housing."
Demolition of the Paul Rudolph-designed Shoreline Apartments in Buffalo, New York, has accelerated, and the full destruction of the housing complex is being stalled by a single tenant. John Schmidt has refused to leave his unit in what remains of the brutalist buildings, despite having received an eviction notice, over what he feels are strong-arm tactics from developer Norstar Development Corporation. Finished in 1974, the waterfront development held 426 affordable units and was part of Paul Rudolph’s unrealized master plan for a revitalized Buffalo waterfront. Featuring sharp angles made of concrete and mono-pitched roofs made of heavy, serrated metal, the complex’s design was unmistakably Rudolph’s. Norstar, a private company, purchased the site with the intention of demolishing the state-built homes and overhauling the complex. The first phase of demolition and redevelopment began in 2015, and has already replaced five of Rudolph’s cascading buildings with seven townhouses and a short apartment block, for a total of 48 new affordable housing units. While the final phase of the project was slated to begin this spring, Schmidt’s unwillingness to leave has held up the rest of the process. His defiance is understandable, as Norstar had previously promised Shoreline residents that they would have time to relocate, before advancing the demolition timetable without warning. While Schmidt is now the last resident in what remains of his 300-unit complex, his reason for staying isn’t driven entirely by preservation. Schmidt is demanding an apology from Norstar for displacing the 222 families who have been forced to relocate, as they were told that the buildings had fallen into an unlivable condition. The local community has disagreed, and argues that the apartments are still structurally sound. Norstar has dismissed these claims, and reiterated that no one has been forced to move under false pretenses. “We are pleased that we can bring people very nice, new affordable housing in the downtown business corridor. We do have to relocate these people to rebuild housing, people will be able to come back, but they do have to qualify under that state's section 42 low income housing regulations. But at this point, all of our residents are income qualified,” Norstar representatives said in a statement. Many of Rudolph’s buildings have met ignoble ends in recent years, despite outcry from preservationists and architects. Earlier last year, one third of Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center was partially demolished and replaced with a more modern-styled annex. Judging from the type of buildings that have emerged from the first phase of the Shoreline’s replacement, the same process is repeating itself in Buffalo.
Blue Crow Media, a publishing group that publishes architectural guides for cities worldwide, just released a map glorifying concrete structures across New York City—titled, appropriately, Concrete New York. Among the structures highlighted by the map, many will be familiar to AN's readers. Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal at JFK airport, currently being renovated into a 505-room hotel, is listed, as is the Marcel Breuer–designed granite and concrete monolith now home to the Met Breuer. Perhaps less visited is Breuer's Begrisch Hall on the Bronx Community College campus or I.M. Pei's Silver Towers at NYU. Concrete infrastructure also gets its due: the Cleft Ridge Span at Prospect Park (completed in 1872) is featured as well as the more recent Dattner Architects and WXY Studio-designed Spring Street Salt Shed (completed in 2015). In Greenwich Village, New Yorkers will recognize New Orleans architect Albert Ledner's Curran/O'Toole Building, unmistakable with its double cantilevered, scallop-edged facade, formerly serving as St. Vincent's Hospital (a landmark institution for victims of the HIV/AIDS crisis). The guide also points out historic works by Paul Rudolph, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Durell Stone, and many others. The map was edited by Allison Meier, a Brooklyn-based writer. The next guide will look at the use of concrete in Tokyo, and will be available next month. Previous maps by Blue Crow Media have examined modernism in Berlin and Belgrade, art deco in London, and constructivism in Moscow, although Brutalism remains their favorite topic to date, with maps on the subject for Boston, London, Paris, Sydney, and Washington, D.C.
The Robin Hood Gardens public housing complex in East London has finally met the wrecking ball. After years of protests from locals, architects, and critics, local authorities at the Tower Hamlets council chose to ignore pleas for the Peter and Alison Smithson–designed project and demolish it to make way for a new development. Built in 1972, Robin Hood Gardens was the realization of the illustrious pair's "streets in the sky" concept. A Brutalist icon, its demolition was protested by architects Richard Rogers, the late Zaha Hadid, Robert Venturi, and Toyo Ito, as well as numerous critics including Jonathan Glancey who argued that the building should be turned into student housing. The Twentieth Century Society, too, also campaigned tirelessly for its listing which Heritage England rejected on the grounds that it was not architecturally significant. Situated by East India Quays, the housing complex was just a stone's throw from Canary Wharf, London's financial hub. In many ways, it was a fitting counter, stylistically and programmatically, and was a symbol of resistance. From inside the Robin Hood Gardens' green space—located between the two concrete blocks—the glass towers of Canary Wharf (such as One Canada Square ) could be seen poking over the housing units. Financial capital was seemingly stopped short of knocking down social housing. Except it did. Developer Swan Housing Association will be building Phase Three of "Blackwall Reach," a new housing complex that will see 1,575 new homes added. Three firms—Haworth Tompkins, who won the 2012 RIBA Stirling Prize, Metropolitan Workshop, and CF Møller—are involved. The new scheme will keep the grassy mound that defined the previous project and the new units will be "affordable" dwellings. In the U.K., however, "affordable" is a loose and often redundant term as it means units can be priced at up to 80 percent of the market rate. This means some apartments can cost $1,855 per month. Instead of destroying the Smithson's work, a better option would have been to emulate what Urban Splash did to Park Hill Estate, another Brutalist social housing icon in Sheffield. Here, units were spruced-up and drastically improved, while the local area maintained its post-war heritage. Alas, it is too late. Robin Hood Gardens is no more, and with it goes another icon of the egalitarian post-war principles that shaped Britain and London.
Seattle's Freeway Park, a pioneering work of modernist landscape architecture by Lawrence Halprin and Angela Danadjieva that is widely recognized as the world’s first freeway cap park, is preparing to undergo a series of wayfinding-oriented renovations over coming months. The renovations are being undertaken by the Freeway Park Association (FPA)—a nonprofit organization created in 1993 “in response to the community’s demand for greater public safety in their aging neighborhood park.” The FPA recently completed a RFP for the project and hired Seattle-based landscape architects SiteWorkshop to perform the improvements and proposed alterations to the iconic Brutalist park. The 5.2-acre park opened on July 4, 1976, spanning over a depressed stretch of Interstate-5 in downtown Seattle. The park was expanded over the years, including the construction of a major addition in the 1980s and implementation of a tree canopy minimization plan in 2005; the original designers remained involved variously throughout these changes. When originally built, Danadjieva’s and Halprin’s designs symbolized the city’s effort to weave highway-adjacent areas back together following the route’s destructive beginnings. As a result, the park is organized as a web of stepped and zig-zagging walkways and terraces that surround a central walking path directly above the depressed highway. These walkways link the central path to formal park entrances, lawns, and plazas that are scattered on surrounding blocks and footholds. These areas are individually programmed to provide various types of leisure spaces. Architecturally-speaking, the park’s hardscapes are of their time and follow a Brutalist material palette. Throughout, the park features board-formed concrete surfaces—Halprin envisioned the park as a type of “freeway vernacular” that was inspired by and built from freeway-associated forms and materials—that become the retaining walls, planters, and knee walls that give the park its stark character. These terraces and planters are filled with broadleaf trees and shrubbery in mounds that rise and fall according to the surrounding natural and human-made geographies.
The park is also well-known for a magnificent cascading raw concrete fountain that originally emptied into a deep pool that park-goers used as a swimming hole. The fountain’s steep and angular surfaces are based on the abstracted geologic forms of western mountain ranges and the fountain bears much resemblance to the Ira Keller Fountain designed by Halprin and Danadjieva in Portland, Oregon. At the time of design and construction of Freeway Park, Danadjieva was a project manager at Halprin’s office; the scheme was carried out by the firm with assistance from Peterson Landscape Architects. One big issue with the contemporary park is a byproduct of its “freeway vernacular” aesthetic and site arrangement: many of the park’s formal entrances are located behind blind corners, at the feet of steep staircases, and without direct sightlines through the park’s interior spaces. Further, Halprin pursued a landscape-based narrative strategy for arranging the park’s interior rooms that has resulted in closed-off spaces, as well as picturesque arrangements. These former qualities are seen by FPA and some in the community as opportunities for crime. As a response, the design team has been tasked with not only increasing wayfinding strategies within the park to highlight paths but also with transforming each of the park’s 12 main entrances into urban beacons that use signage, pavement graphics, and other placemaking approaches. There are concerns regarding how far some of these changes might go and which aspects of the park are changeable, given its importance as a work of landscape architecture. At 41 years old, Freeway Park is too young to meet the 50-year age eligibility requirement for the National Register of Historic Places, though it does meet the City of Seattle’s age requirement for historic status. One note—Although Freeway Park is less than 50 years old, it might be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places due to individual and exceptional merit. Pershing Park in Washington, DC by M. Paul Friedberg is such an example. The park is described as “one of the most compelling treatises on post-war landscape architecture” by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), an organization that raises awareness about historic landscapes around the United States. Charles Birnbaum, founder of TCLF, said the potential changes should bear in mind that Freeway Park is "not just as a National Register of Historic Places candidate but also a potential National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site." Halprin, always looking forward, was reportedly “enthusiastic and supportive” of upgrades performed to the park’s tree canopy in 2005, according to the Daily Journal of Commerce. Perhaps, the designers will take a page from Halprin himself and embrace some of the park’s rougher qualities, following a line from the designer’s 1966 book, Freeways, where he writes, "The trick is to perceive the old freeway as a part of the cityscape and tame it, rather than complain about it." For now, FPA is engaging in community outreach to ascertain which aspects of the park nearby residents want to see amplified and upgraded. The organizers held a public meeting last week, with more scheduled throughout the summer. For more information, see the FPA website. This post has been edited with updated information.
All too often, The Architect's Newspaper (AN) reports the demolition of yet another Brutalist structure—the perpetual bane of the public eye for reasons architects only half-pretend to care about. So it was refreshing to celebrate the reopening of the National Arts Centre (NAC) by Toronto-based Diamond Schmitt Architects. The $110 million overhaul retained the original architectural motifs, while opening it up to the public with large spans of glass and warm wood interiors. The existing one-million-square-foot NAC by Canadian architect Fred Lebensold was on the public’s blacklist from the start. Intended for the Canadian centennial in 1967, it wasn’t finished until 1969 and went over its $35.4 million budget by over $10 million. Critics immediately jumped on the excess budget and delayed opening as well as its style—a reporter for the Toronto Star dubbed it “the Alcatraz on the Rideau.” Beyond matters of taste, there were serious issues with the building. “When it was built in the 1960s, it was assumed that the only way you would go to the [NAC] was by car,” architect Donald Schmitt told AN. “So the building wasn’t really accessible to pedestrians, and the road down [to the entrance] meant that the building’s back faced the city.” Inside, natural lighting was limited and the thick concrete walls made Wi-Fi connection difficult, much to the frustration of its modern users. Thus, in 2011, the NAC hired Diamond Schmitt to renew the building for Canada’s sesquicentennial. The first phase was complete in time for Canada Day this past Saturday with the remaining two phases slated for completion by early 2018. Schmitt’s design for the new wing builds out from the original terraces, now enclosed in large part by a 28,300-square-foot glazed curtain wall system, creating an airy effect amidst the weighty frame. Echoing the original concrete facade fins, which encase the stage house, audience chambers, lobby, and public spaces, Diamond Schmitt installed five new vertical fins that serve as window mullion caps. The shallowest fin is used on support spaces; intermediate fins are applied to public lobbies; and the deepest cap is located in the north atrium, to frame the newly created views to Parliament Hill. A broad, white oak staircase leads the public deeper into the building and doubles as stadium seating, reminiscent of the stairs the firm designed at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto. In all, the addition creates six major new spaces to accommodate various audiences and programming, including an expanded “Panorama Room” that looks over the Rideau Canal. “We wanted to reveal views that just weren’t possible with the old structure,” Schmitt said. In keeping with Lebensold’s original geometry, hexagonal prefabricated Douglas Fir coffers in the ceiling double as structural support and Ontario limestone was used for the floors. “We cut [the limestone] on the flat for a curvilinear shape—a fleury cut—that creates a unique pattern,” added Schmitt. Above the new entrance on Elgin Street, a glass tower the NAC dubbed “the Lantern” rises 68 feet tall, intending to create a new landmark aligned with Ottawa's iconic Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. The Lantern is the opposite of the former inscrutable main entrance that faced the canal, where a never realized public plaza and lagoon were to have been situated, virtually inaccessible from the street. The new light-filled entrance is digitally enabled to screen performances on four sides of its hexagonal facade, a flashy upgrade amidst Elgin Street and Parliament Hill’s gothic revival architecture. With an on-time completion (even with a tight 18-month construction schedule) and praise from local officials and media, it seems that the building’s latest iteration is already off to a solid start. And for Diamond Schmitt Architects, it is a promising warm-up to its renovation of Ottawa’s 1912 Union Station, another heritage site (and architectural dupe to New York’s original Penn Station), which is currently under construction and set to reopen and house the Senate in 2018.
The Institute for Town Planning and Architecture in Skopje, Macedonia has vanished in a fire on April 21, 2017. The Institute housed an archive of one of the largest post-earthquake reconstructions orchestrated after World War II. This urban reconstruction was led by Kenzo Tange with Arata Isozaki and involved scores of international architects and planners. They included Doxiadis, Van der Broek, Bakema, Polish architects, as well as domestic Yugoslav planners mainly coming from Croatia. The archive housed documents of the rebuilding: plans, memos, reports, booklets, books, and models. Many of them have been lost. This fire has largely been reported in local media. Artists, architects, and the public created a series of postings on social media. It is not clear what the scale of the damage has been. The planning institute was housed in a construction barrack ever since the earthquake. It is not clear why the Institute did not move to a more permanent location. However, and under lesser known circumstances, a few years ago, the barrack that housed the Institute was foreclosed and became an occasional squat for homeless. The records on the internet, social media, and personal mail show books, stacks, and flat files covered in black ash. According to these records, the site is still left uncleared although this may have been changed. Tange's reconstruction plan was a response to the 1963 earthquake that leveled large parts of Skopje. As a rapid response, Yugoslav socialist leader Josip Broz Tito initiated a solidarity campaign to invite the world experts to lead the reconstruction. As the aid started to come into Skopje, including construction material, prefabricated homes, and machines, it was quickly dubbed as the "City of Solidarity." The United Nations ran a competition for the reconstruction. The First Prize went to Kenzo Tange whose team proposed a mixture of brutalist and Metabolist urbanism. Several revisions were made. As a result, other teams including Croatians, Dutch, Greeks, and Slovenians joined the planning and design efforts. Several masterpieces got built, including infrastructure, housing, and cultural projects. The brutalist aesthetic almost overnight became Macedonia's new identity. In 2010 Abitare magazine carried my article about heightening tensions in Skopje with photographs by Armin Linke. The tension between left and right wing politics focused on brutalist architecture as a key culprit in the conflict. The younger architects in Skopje were already preparing for the worst, while still organizing opposition to a nationalist re-branding of their city in clever ways. Unfortunately, the government proceeded with the plan called Skopje 2014. This ongoing plan involves about two dozen government buildings and hundreds of monuments in a kitsch neo-classical style. The reason goes deep into state identity politics and Macedonia's disputed use of its own country name led by Greece. The center of the dispute is the claim that Alexander the Great is allegedly from Macedonia. According to Skopje 2014, Macedonia must assert its "true" national identity by building fake classical architecture. We predicted that "Skopje will disappear" because of this bold, nationalist pseudo-classical proposal to hide anything Tange did. The article can be found here. Later on, we moved to publish two books documenting socialist architecture in Yugoslavia. They included Skopje's planning institute and records of Tange's legacy within a larger context. The planning institute we visited was indeed housed in a construction barrack. The dark wooden corridors displayed the architectural successes of Tange's master plan via black and white photography. The conference room had a wooden model of the master plan displayed on the large table in the center. On the walls were original plans for zoning, traffic circulation, and all that usually fits into a master plan. Rolls of rolled paper were in plastic buckets designed in the 1960s. There were pencils next to the model. All was authentic, except for a cheerful: "Happy New 2009" colored paper arrangement on the front wall. I realized that I did not just enter the Institute for Planning and Architecture, but a memorial for the plan itself. The reconstruction of Skopje, an icon of a brutalist phoenix, was on display as a permanent exhibit. This is not the first fire of brutalist architecture in Skopje. The last fire occurred in 2013 when a brutalist post-office, again designed by the Yale graduate, was partly damaged. Then we can mention the fire at Yale in 1968... or fires caused by the traumatic memory of loss in films by Andrei Tarkovski (Mirror) and by Wim Wenders (Paris Texas). Each house on fire is a testament of erasure or conflict rather than resolution. In Skopje, an ongoing clash between the left and the right makes anti-fascist and nationalist positions binaries in war. Thus the right in power labeled Tange's urbanism as socialist and tried everything to hide it. This includes the plan called Skopje 2014. This plan, still ongoing, is a series of Las Vegas style pseudo-classical sculptures and government institutions built to hide socialism. Fingerpointing is relatively easy, but prone to manipulation.