Earlier this month a dozen or so Latin American architects gathered at The City College of New York (CCNY) Spitzer School of Architecture for a “Pan Americas” conference. A few colleagues from New York joined them, including CCNY professor Michael Sorkin, who gave an impassioned speech about the poorly compensated resource extractions imposed on Central and South America by “el norte,” from oil to sugar, and about how Latin American architecture is “a polymorphous tradition that continues with enormous vitality.” There were two thematic pulls in the conference: the realities of the region’s economic and political conditions, and the vital and witty Latin American architecture that manages to emerge out of them anyway. One of the first slides of the conference showed Le Corbusier’s Modulor. It was barely recognizable as it had acquired a domestic environment, and was now found reclining on sofas, in poses other than the familiar one with the outstretched arm. The presenter, Mónica Bertolino, an architect and professor in Córdoba, Argentina, was making the point that when modern architecture arrived in Latin America it had to be tempered with local materials. But this is not to say that the architecture is any less modern, albeit less known. Hans Ibelings and Mauricio Quiros rightly pointed out the lack of coverage of Latin American work in books about modern architecture. They hope to address this with their upcoming publication about Central American architecture, but they also argued that what they call a peripheral condition (relative to Europe and the United States) could be a source of creative strength and encouraged Latin American architects to revel in it. The landscape architect Maria Villalobos, who gave the most impassioned lecture of the conference, is doing just that. She studied at Versailles and Harvard before returning to Venezuela to design the Botanical Garden of Maracaibo and it was this designer, one so deeply knowledgeable on French gardens, who resisted the cliched formal garden approach and came up with something inspired by the diverse Venezuelan habitats. Two other young designers presented outstanding work, Dana Víquez Azofeifa, from Costa Rica, and Inés Guzmán from Guatemala. Víquez Azofeifa uses the native biodiversity of Costa Rica to ameliorate the urban problems of its capital city San José. She grew up in Costa Rica, went north to study and work, and then returned home to start the firm PPAR with her partner Jose Vargas Hidalgo. “El norte” may have in the past robbed its southern neighbors of their raw resources, but now these designers traveling north are bringing home professional experience and intellectual insights. Guzmán was perhaps more aware of the complexity of her geographical allegiance and called herself “a Guatemalan citizen of the world.” She presented several projects by her firm Taller KEN, which she founded in 2013 with Gregory Melitonov. Her stint abroad included working on Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum, but it was James Wines of SITE (in the audience and also a presenter), whom she credited as her inspiration. Then, when she showed Madero Café in Guatemala City, one couldn’t help but think of SITE’s Ghost Parking Lot project from the 1970s. In that project Wines buried cars under asphalt in a shopping center in Hamden, Connecticut, while Taller KEN impaled them on a forty-five-foot-high red cube. James Wines’s own presentation was a plea for more work like this. He showed images of t-shirts with various calls for social justice written on them—is this what activism looks like today, he asked the audience? He would like to see that activism make its way into built design work, and Taller KEN’s Madero Café is an example of this. The big red box calls attention to itself among undifferentiated stretches of trafficky roads and low-rise commercial strips. Then, inside, the only daylight comes from the top, completely isolating the cafe patrons from the surrounding context. Taller KEN critically responded to the wanton deforestation of Guatemala’s rainforest by putting a piece of it, albeit symbolically, inside the box, like the precious thing that it is. If there’s one insight from this conference that is applicable to the discipline of architecture in general it is that socio-cultural concerns in architecture are not only compatible with exciting design, but can even be the motivators. The last discussion of the conference revolved around the imaging of architecture. What are the possible effects of social media on what gets designed? The best answer came from Fredy Massad, Argentinian by birth but living and working in Barcelona and writing on architecture for the Spanish newspaper ABC. His most recent book of architecture criticism is Crítica de Choque (Shock Criticism), which places recent developments in architecture in the context of major political events—the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the financial collapse of 2008, etc. Massad is critical of the lack of discourse in an image-driven culture of architecture promotion. He rebukes the uncritical production of images of architecture in a book entirely devoid of images, and we readers find respite in this sea of words. With this book, we feel like characters in a Wim Wenders film who, overwhelmed by the bombardment of images, turn to words for redemption. Massad’s lecture did include some images, and notable among them was the portrait of Chilean architect and Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena. Massad argues, and others at the conference agreed, that Aravena aestheticized low-income housing in a way that was not beneficial to those the architecture was meant to serve. Massad has termed what Aravena does a kind of “Adamismo,” as in making himself the “Adam,” the person at the beginning of all things socio-political, and in the process erasing all the efforts that came before him. The future of Latin American architecture depends on its multifariousness, not in the singularity of a star. Perhaps the best moment of the conference was when Álvaro Rojas, co-organizer of the event with Guillermo Honles, started his presentation by playing a song, Ojalá que llueva café (I hope it rains coffee) by the popular Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra. The students around me looked up from their phones and laptops and broke into roaring laughter. Is this the “shock” that Massad argues is needed in architecture today? For about four minutes an auditorium full of people accustomed to always be doing something did absolutely nothing except listen to a song. Perhaps this is the point of this and any conference, to take time out from the daily grind and just listen.
Posts tagged with "City College of New York":
Freshly anointed “Design Mind” of the year by the National Design Awards, Michael Sorkin dazzled the full house at the annual graduation conference hosted by SVA’s Design Criticism MFA program. Sorkin startled the audience to attention with his opener, “Our world is going to hell!” and then never let up. Presenting concepts for self-sustaining cities, the architect/professor/gadfly took a break from urban planning to critique some other types of design. “Get ready for the worst graphic design of the day,” he said, clicking to a the logo of his employer, The City College of New York, and its weirdly gargantuan “the.” Following his presentation, Sorkin and moderator John Hockenberry debated the appropriateness of a request Sorkin had received to write a good review of a recent tour on TripAdvisor…from a guide who had just taken him through the Dharavi slum in Mumbai. In vintage Sorkin style, the Design Mind lamented, “Everything is being assimilated to a system of consumption!”
One of the most important components of any architecture school is its semester-long lecture series. It's a chance for schools to bring in voices from outside their building and communicate to students a broad range of approaches and ideas percolating in the culture and profession. Many schools send out posters of these lectures to other schools across the country to announce their programing and these are posted on hallway walls for all to see even if they are thousands of miles away on another coast. But now City College of New York's Spitzer School of Architecture has taken the next step and is simulcasting its lectures live online for the public to view. Old lectures will be archived and viewable any time. This semester City College is focusing its lectures on Rethinking Kahn and have scheduled a distinguished line up of Louis Kahn scholars including Stanislaus von Moos this Thursday, February 28 speaking on Kahn’s urban projects. On March 7, Ken Frampton will be speaking on monumentality in Kahn’s work. March 21 will feature Gina Pollara who will lecture on New York's FDR Memorial on Roosevelt Island and its construction. After that Robert Twombley and William J.R. Curtis will lecture. On the Friday after William Curtis’ lecture, there will be a discussion between William Curtis and George Ranalli and Rethinking Kahn.
Beginning this summer, City College of New York's Spitzer School of Architecture will welcome home its 2011 entry to the U.S. Solar Decathlon, a biennial student competition to design ultra-sustainable homes sponsored by the Department of Energy. The solar-panel-topped house, dubbed the Solar Roofpod, will be perched atop the architecture school and flanked by rooftop gardens and even a windmill. The house will be used as a meeting space and teaching device to show the benefits of environmentally-friendly design and materials. Solar Roofpod was designed as a prototype structure that could easily attach to the roofs of buildings in high-density neighborhoods in cities like New York. A team of more than 100 students at the Spitzer School of Architecture and the Grove School of Engineering along with Architecture Professor Christian Volkmann designed and built the structure that was eventually displayed on the National Mall. The Solar Roofpod is expected to be fully reassembled in its new home in time for the fall semester.
Parks for the People The Octagon Museum 1799 New York Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. Through November 30 Parks for the People presents student ideas of how to reimagine our national parks as natural, social, and cultural destinations. Teams from City College of New York, Rutgers, Cornell, Florida International University, Kansas State, Pratt, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington competed in a semester long studio, engaging questions of the preservation, sustainability, accessibility, and technology in 21st century national parks. The National Parks Service, Van Alen Institute, and the National Parks Conservation Association sponsored the competition, which ultimately declared the teams from City College, for their work on the Nicodemus National Historic Site in Kansas, and Rutgers, for their project at the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in Pennsylvania (above), the winners. All seven entries, each representing a different region of the country, will be on view at the Octagon Museum in Washington, D.C.
Last night was a night of tough decisions. ArchNewsNow threw its tenth anniversary party at the Center for Architecture and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan gave the Mumford Lecture at City College—on opposite ends of town at the same time. Impossible to do both, our Publisher Diana Darling partied down with ArchNewsNow and we headed for the Mumford Lecture, sending hearty congratulations to ArchNews editor Kristen Richards. Despite missing the party, the trip Uptown was well worth it... The event got off to a slightly late start. City College's urban design director, Professor Michael Sorkin couldn’t resist announcing that the transportation commissioner was stuck in traffic. Like so many Sadik-Khan events, high-ranking officials, like City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, sat alongside bike-helmet-in-hand supporters. “She has reimagined our streets as places rather than appliances,” Sorkin said by way of introduction. At the podium Sadik-Khan was her usual irreverent and direct self, giving more of a presentation than a hard-core academic lecture. She tossed off casual tidbits of advice to students (practicing judo with your boss is a good way to release inter-office tension—she practiced with a former boss, not her current one). At another point when an audience member asked about the city’s plans for public restrooms she deadpanned, “Starbucks.” But on the subject of safety she was dead serious. She said that until the current administration, “Our streets were looked at through a 1950s ethos” of a car-centric culture. “We’re one of the premier walking cities but it's often dangerous to walk," she said. The commissioner quoted Mumford who called car accidents a “ritual sacrifice in worship of speed.” Though fatalities in the city are at their lowest level in 40 years, she still sees a need for more “retrofits" of the streetscape. To that end the DOT is developing wayfinding signage for pedestrians that will be launched next year. The commissioner concluded by pegging sustainability to safety: “We can't get people on bikes unless they feel safe.”
Joseph Aliotta, a principal at Swanke Hayden Connell, took over the chapter presidency of the AIANY last month, ushering in the Center for Architecture’s 2012 theme: “Future Now.” Aliotta plans a two-prong approach that will focus on the future of the profession and of the future of the built environment. A first generation New Yorker, Aliotta said his blue-collar Brooklyn roots partly informed his efforts to bring fresh faces to the profession. A City College education yielded his family’s second college degree (an older cousin got the first), inspiring him to volunteer at the ACE Mentor Program, which lends a hand to high school students aspiring to be architects and engineers. “They may not look like me, but they are just like me,” he said of today’s first generation New Yorkers. Aliotta doesn’t plan on reinventing the wheel to bring newcomers to the Center. Instead, he plans to capitalize on existing career development programs, like Emerging New York Architects (ENYA) and New Practices New York competition. Rather than dreaming up new exhibition themes, the ENYA and New Practices competitions will act as flagships to the year’s programming. The thinking is that over the summer months when students are out of school, they’ll populate the Center and drive the programming effort. A one-day conference where students and young professionals set the agenda is planned for September. Regarding the built environment, Aliotta has requested that all 27 committees at AIANY focus on future needs to answer the question, “Where are we going to grow?” He added that even committees that may seem to go against the grain of a future-focused theme, like the Historic Buildings committee, fit quite nicely into the program when it comes to greening and maintaining older buildings. Even though the new president isn't not planning marquee moments, changes are already taking place. “It’s not about how many events we have, it’s about a change of culture,” he said. He noted that with the year’s theme announced, several of the existing committees have reached out to the ENYA members to coordinate with them, creating a casual interaction between established and new members. “That collaboration and that energy results in a mentorship that’s natural and not forced," said Aliotta.