Posts tagged with "Iwan Baan":

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The architecture of independence? Or colonialism?

Architecture of Independence(!): African Modernism(!). (Exclamation points mine). The title of the current exhibition at the Graham Foundation is the first hint that the show is a departure from the Graham’s usual oeuvre. More historical survey than discursive inquisition, Architecture of Independence presents an impressive catalogue of architecture from five sub-Saharan countries (rarely- or never-before-seen by Western audiences) built at the height of late-modernism, at the moment just after independence from colonial rule.

Rigorously researched and curated by Swiss architect Manuel Herz, the exhibition is the outgrowth of a book dominated by photographs by Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster. Originally presented at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery in Germany, the mounting at the Graham is the first scheduled presentation in the United States. (It will also appear at the AIA New York Center for Architecture in Feb. 2017).

According to Herz, the aim of the research is to bring the architecture into the discourse through documentation and presentation. “There is virtue in just documenting these buildings,” he said. Focusing on the multitude of public and cultural institutions built during the era, the exhibition argues that architecture was used as a nation building tool in post-colonial Africa, and that the buildings themselves act as witnesses to the complicated and often violent history and politics of the regions following independence.

Aside from a case of archival materials that includes historical photographs, postcards, and architectural plans and sketches, the exhibition is an abbreviated representation of the book, exploded throughout the galleries. Like the book, the exhibit is organized by country: Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire are on the first floor of the Madlener House, and Ghana, Zambia, and Kenya are on the second. 

This approach works best with an illustrated timeline that spans the north wall of the library, charting the political, economic, demographic, and cultural histories of each country from the time of independence to the present. Where each country’s timeline is separate in the book, the exhibit overlays them all, quickly revealing trends and discrepancies between them.

Each building is presented within a wood box with photographs and texts arranged behind glass on a wooden back.

To fit over 700 images of over 80 buildings into the frames, the photographs are snapshot-sized and the text is small, forcing an intimate proximity to the walls. While the archival-style presentation unfortunately precludes large-format prints of most of the architecture, the clustering is reminiscent of a family portrait wall, which plays nicely against the residual domesticity of the Madlener House.

To absorb the scope of the assemblage is staggering. It inspires the speculation of an entire city composed of these buildings alone: skylines full of experimental, strangely expressive, beautifully dominating, concrete and steel monoliths. It is like a hyper-Brasilia, which is itself a close relative of the work on display, both in terms of architectural style and political ambitions.

The writing accompanying each building sticks mostly to close readings and formal descriptions of the architecture. The wall text introducing each country positions the architecture as intensely optimistic projections of the hopes and dreams of newly independent nations. Like La Pyramide market building in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, or Independence Square in Accra, Ghana, massive buildings were constructed to facilitate and anticipate the rapid cultural and economic development of each nation. Now both defunct, the exhibition reveals how the architectural style and utopian rhetoric of modernism were widely adopted to bring post-colonial Africa into conversation and competition with the Western world.

Also like La Pyramide and Independence Square, most of the architecture on display was designed by European or American architects, in many cases from each country’s former colonial power.

In fact, it could be argued that the work is not the Architecture of Independence at all, but is, in every way, the architecture of colonialism; the architectural manifestation of a kind of cultural Stockholm syndrome. The authorship and intentions of the architecture presented raise important questions about the meaning of freedom, autonomy, and independence in the wake of colonialism, the effects of which continue to play out today around the world. As Audre Lorde wrote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

In the introductory essay to the book, Herz examines the complexities and problems of authorship and architectural expression in relation to the slippery meanings of the terms “independence” and “modernism” in the context of Africa. Unfortunately, that critical framework is not explicitly carried over into the exhibition.

There is also the unavoidable problem of the white gaze. The framing and narration of the exhibition and the book are situated firmly in the scholarly, white, Western view, for a Western audience, fetishizing both the architecture and the anonymous black bodies populating the images. The existence of the white gaze is not as troubling in and of itself as the fact that it goes completely unacknowledged.

From a purely disciplinary perspective, the Architecture of Independence brings attention to a canon of architectural history (for five countries) that is full  of important and interesting work by European, American, and some African architects. However, it raises the questions: Who can lay claim to this work Where does it belong? In the Western discourse of modern architecture, studied alongside other known works by Denys Lasdun, Harry Weese, and Henri Chomette, or through the lens of African politics, history, and culture? While the exhibition seems to be saying both, the framing of the work seizes it solely for the Western discourse.

Many of these issues could have been addressed by simply changing the title from a statement to a question. Changing “The Architecture of Independence” to “The Architecture of Independence?” would not only shift grammar and tone to be more reflective of the complexities and idiosyncrasies presented, but it would also provide a more compelling framework for the exhibition.

Go see this show. The architecture is stunning, the research rigorous, and the images striking. Stand too close to images of iconic architecture you have probably never seen, get a crash course in the recent history of five African countries, take in the sublime photography of Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster. Do it. It’s worth it. But do so with one eye sideways, craning around the singular gaze presented to the complex questions that the exhibition raises.

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On View> Architecture of Independence: African Modernism at the Graham Foundation

Architecture of Independence: African Modernism Graham Foundation Madlener House, 4 West Burton Place, Chicago Through April 9, 2016 Based on a book of the same name, Architecture of Independence: African Modernism explores the boom of modernist buildings in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. With research by architect and writer Manuel Herz and photographs by Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster, Architecture of Independence looks at 80 buildings in five countries. From new parliament buildings to schools and central banks, the show presents architecture as a means of declaring and expressing independence after centuries of colonization. Along with local architects and planners, architects from Poland, Yugoslavia, Scandinavia, Israel, and, surprisingly, former colonial powers, transformed urban and government centers across the continent. This exhibition is being shown for the first time in the United States at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in cooperation with the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Numerous talks and film screenings will accompany the exhibition throughout its run.
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Koolhaas’ Garage opens in Moscow with a social media narrative

Last week another point was scored for social media as the de rigueur disseminator of architecture with the opening of Rem Koolhaas' Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow’s Gorky Park. As new media takes over old, images of Facebook’s new headquarters by Frank Gehry hit Instagram first, the announcement of BIG replacing Norman Foster at Two World Trade Center came through on Wired, and it may have reached its natural apex with the Garage designed by OMA. The first images of the museum flooded Instagram several hours before the June 10 press event—the museum officially opened on June 12. Feeds from photographer Iwan Baan—@iwanbaan—Nadine Johnson PR, and of course Garage’s own account @garagemca, all captured the guts and glory of a building that still seemed to be finishing up construction. A more traditional press event with architect Rem Koolhaas, museum founder Dasha Zhukova, museum director Anton Belov and Garage chief curator Kate Fowle complimented the social media onslaught. The team sat under a giant mosaic from the building’s previous life as the 1960s pre-fabricated restaurant Vremena Goda where OMA cleverly (when are they not?) retained the generous interior spaces and replaced the exterior with a translucent polycarbonate enclosure. Koolhaas, like Gehry, seems to be returning back to his early projects for inspiration, utilizing low-cost materials for both economical reasons and to subtly subvert expectations of taste. Now, that off-the-shelf approach applies to media and storytelling. By revealing the project via a purely visual medium like Instagram, Koolhaas liberates the architectural narrative from the traditional modes of transmission much like he has altered our preconceptions of what types of buildings materials can be used for and to what purpose. These well-known architects are not the only ones taking charge of their own narratives via social media and using those platforms to create exposure that might not otherwise occur. Los Angeles–based Warren Techentin of WTA created the La Cage Aux Folles installation in the courtyard of experimental gallery Materials & Applications. Collective posts on Instagram led to digital coverage in before appearing in print. Leave it to OMA to most seamlessly integrate old and new media (intentionally or not) to build a narrative for the Garage Museum, an institution positioned to transform from an outpost of the art world to one that spawns its own curatorial efforts.
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On View> Sink or Swim: Designing for a Sea Change

  Sink or Swim: Designing for a Sea Change Annenberg Space For Photography 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles Through May 3, 2015 Sink or Swim: Design for a Sea Change, at the Annenberg Space For Photography, examines worldwide resiliency strategies in architecture and design for the new challenges brought about by climate change and sea level rise. Composed of photographs from the likes of Iwan Baan, Stephen Wilkes, Paula Bronstein, Jonas Bendiksen, and Monica Nouwens, the show focuses on efforts that include coastal flood mitigation in the Netherlands, seawalls in Japan, floating schools, and temporary relief housing. The photographs are not glossy—they depict raw human responses along with un-staged images of contemporary design, creating a critical dialogue on the subject. The varied ecological and social contexts on view seek to provide starting points for discussions on nature, culture, and climate change in densely populated coastal regions.
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Night at the Museum II: Bjarke Ingels to re-imagine National Building Museum for new exhibition

The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) is returning to the National Building Museum shortly after its hugely-popular, and highly-traversed maze installation in the building's Grand Hall. This January, the museum will present what is essentially a retrospective on BIG's work called HOT TO COLD: an odyssey of architectural adaptation. According to the National Building Museum, the exhibition “takes visitors from the hottest to the coldest parts of our planet and explores how BIG´s design solutions are shaped by their cultural and climatic contexts." For the exhibition, the museum will suspend 60 three-dimensional models of BIG's work and premier Iwan Baan photographs of some of BIG’s latest projects. “What's so special about HOT TO COLD is that BIG has perceived the National Building Museum more as a site for a project, rather than as a venue for an exhibition,” curator Susan Piedmont-Palladino said in a statement.
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Daly Genik and Machineous Affordably Fabricate Sun Shaded Facades

Fabrikator

The fabrication team cut, folded, and welded 264 aluminum panels into 66 uniquely shaped sun shades.

One of the challenges of designing affordable housing, points out Kevin Daly, principal at LA firm Daly Genik Architects, is “managing a balance between the economic forces that demand repeatability and the risk that monotony comes with that repetitiveness.” Daly Genik and LA fabricators Machineous came up with a great solution for Broadway Apartments, an affordable project at the corner of Broadway and 26th Street in Santa Monica, developed by Community Corporation of Santa Monica.
  • Fabricator Machineous
  • Architect Daly Genik
  • Location Santa Monica
  • Date of Completion  August 2012
  • Material   Marine Grade 5052 Aluminum Sheet, Urethane Paint
  • Process  Rhino, Excel, 3D Surveying, CNC Cutting, Aluminum Welding
The project is made up of four nearly identical building blocks, arranged in a pinwheel plan around the site. Each has a facade primarily facing the sun, so to allow for large windows on these flanks the firm chose to install large, angular aluminum shades, projecting around the windows. The shades also animate the facades, forming a 3-dimensional tapestry along the building’s edge. To provide the efficiency that Daly describes, the shades are all made using the same material—1/4 inch thick aluminum, coated with urethane paint—and the same technique—CNC milling. But in order to avoid the monotony that Daly also refers to, each one of the shades' 264 aluminum panels are slightly different in size and shape. The 66 hoods range in size from 48 inches by 72 inches to 120 inches by 72 inches. The walls containing the hoods are also slightly curved, creating even more variety. Machineous cut each panel using its massive in-house robotic CNC mills, which have six-axis arms that can work in three dimensions. The mills were originally designed to produce cars in assembly plants. Each shade was "unfolded" into four parts from the Rhino documents and the 3D surveying data (to make sure the shades met the curving walls plum) that Daly Genik provided, post-scripted in Excel, and "nested," as Machineous principal Andreas Froech puts it, onto 48-inch-by-144-inch aluminum sheets. Each of the shades' four pieces were continuously welded at the corners to produce a continuous look. Machineous had to make several mockups to try out this technique. A stiffening 2-inch-wide bar of the same material was folded down along the horizontal front edges to avoid any sagging of the up to 120-inch span of the shades. The shades’ immense variety required careful communication. Each sheet had to be labeled with a sharpie after being cut out to keep track of it all since they weren’t built according to location. “Every part is one of a kind and cannot be replaced by another one," said Froech. “That’s always the challenge of designing with multiples and variation. It’s a little nerve wracking. It’s a huge puzzle.” But the puzzle worked, mostly on the first try. “It’s so complex, but also simple,” said Froech. “It’s really just cutting out shapes. But there’s no room for error. If something’s not right it gets complicated very quickly. What you see is what you get.”