Michael Webb is a virtuoso English architect, inventor, and artist who was a member of Archigram in London before emigrating to the United States in the late 1960s. Continuing his link with the group and his inventive investigations, he survives by teaching in architecture schools. Yet baldly stated, these facts hardly prepare one for the extraordinary document that is Two Journeys, his latest book.Reading it, I have a serious suggestion: For those who have not had a chance to meet Webb or hear him speak, search online for a video of one of his lectures (there must be quite a few out there). Listen carefully, and then listen and watch it again. Then read the book carefully. His manner of speaking is slowly paced, often with the odd aside, spoken in a kind of English that those of us who remained in London after the 1960s have sullied through the influence of “Estuary English," the result of the cosmopolitanism of London that leads one to incorporate a faintly European sentence structure, some West Indian patois, or the occasional charming Italian bon mot. Not Michael: His parlance and manner are as charming and reassuring as the surviving BBC radio program Gardeners’ Question Time, which he still probably remembers. He speaks with a trace of wistfulness, useful hints, and a whiff of friendly irony—often with quite a laugh, but behind that lies a rapierlike thrust. That this book has finally emerged is wonderful, and for those of us who had despaired of it ever happening, it is a precious thing. Webb’s text is loaded with the same asides and nuances as the lectures themselves, accompanied by revealing pieces of characterization, such as his description of Cedric Price as, “A new suitor sporting slick-backed hair and a golden tongue”—or, “Nursing a martini whilst seated on the terrace of the Johansen house…one has the feeling that the terrace (can it really be so?) is no longer level. With the clarity of perception that a second martini brings, I realize that indeed, the plane is tipping up, at an ever-increasing angle.” Thus, in the first aside he captures the humility (or frustration) of a world where architectural ideas are the victim of style and communication, and in the second, he creates a charming lead-in to the discussion of shadow effect in the sun studies of 1988. The journeys—and there are surely more than two—take us in and out of exquisite drawings that are never really finished. Therein lies one of the agonizing challenges to observers of the work. For surely Webb can draw (and how). Long ago I once caught a glimpse of a pre–High Wycombe project, probably from his third year, in which he wielded the shaded pencil to suggest so many of Le Corbusier’s mannerisms on a single piece of paper. Yet in an early drawing of the High Wycombe project made to illustrate the ferro-cement technique, he left it just three-quarters finished because (as I remember him saying), “It didn’t capture the material.” On other occasions, he tackled the vexed territory of oil painting with a determination that did, eventually, produce the beatific Brunhilde’s magic ring of fire, with its floating angels. However, perfectionism has not always been accompanied by much archival concern for the state of the drawings, and tales of them being lost, damaged, blown off the roof of a car, or even forgotten are legion—and it shows in the book. In an attempt to keep the explanation of a project or train of thought going forward, the illustrations range from a fashion-plate exposure of clouds and translucent panels for his five-phase house to the succulent paintwork of Henley Regatta landscape details, along with the occasional, slightly hairy “rescued” item from an old slide collection. It would seem that the key search for perfection remains that of the idea, the pursuit of the drawing apparently being a means to the end. But in the cases of the reworked versions of the Henley project or developed versions of the house-car preoccupation, there is a search for finesse in the line, the shading, the sheer beauty of what we see. When publishing the odd item, he will negotiate hard to have the best version published—and why not? Well, this document is there to rescue us—friends, analysts, or new converts who inevitably will pick away, trying to fathom the tantalizingly not-quite-fathomable in his work. Yet such a book can be deceptive in its wish to explain overall significance rather than merely track the artist’s own priorities. This book is, of course, very concerned about “positioning” Michael Webb, and invites the late Lebbeus Woods to try and get inside Webb’s mind—which Woods does, invoking such dangerous allies as Faust, Freud, and God. As a fellow explorer, Woods has some insight into the significance of memory within the process, with both Webb and Woods dreaming their way in and out of it. The book presents a straightforward and rather useful chronology from Kenneth Frampton that embeds the experience of British and American culture alongside Webb’s work. Michael Sorkin and Mark Wigley are brought in, too—brilliant wordsmiths and provocateurs. But just how much “positioning” must we have? This is a tiresome tendency of books that are either too nervous just to back a masterful piece of work and let it sail, or wanting to show off just how many scholars they can pack into 200 pages. This brings us back to the narrative of the real author once again. The caption-like texts are revealing: disarmingly frank about motives when, for a drawing of the Leicester Square ramps, Webb explains, “A few dyeline prints were initially attached to the board. All of them faded to the mustard yellow you see here. So to complete the drawing, coloured paper of a similar hue had to be added.” As if this mattered. But of course, it did matter—the yellowness being part of the experience of the drawing as well as the information it gives about the ramps. Or consider Webb's near-apology for being painstaking with a plan drawing of the drive-in house, as he notes, “I am interested in the fact that during the reversing procedure the two front wheels are not parallel, hence the energy expended in the drawing on explaining why.” This underscores a delicious piece of draughtsmanship in which precise geometric lines of direction are laid over sweet exposures of steering armatures in plan and, of course, impeccably drawn tires—all 20 of them. It could be called something like “poetic pedantry,” and in fact, it is the amalgam of invention and art. So what is it really all about? Fifty-five or more years of exploration track over the territory of the automobile-environment, picking up on personal space devices, started by the famous Cushicle and the Henley, or the Temple Island project that examines and reexamines linear perspective projection. Out of these and back again, he has contrived scenes, séances, gadgets, vehicles, trajectories, procedures, and—rarely—buildings. In fact, only two of the projects are buildings per se, and these are the earliest of the projects. But my—what buildings. The Furniture Manufacturers’ Association at High Wycombe was a “set” project at the then Regent Street Polytechnic. Its “rack and tubes” architecture was stunning, moving the architectural vocabulary miles forward. It still gives Webb creative food for thought. The Sin Centre for Leicester Square (his “thesis” work) is, by his own admission, a form of folly: taking the thrill of a car driving up and zigzagging around inside a lacework of a building. Again he tracks back and over the mechanism. Yet again, it resembles no other piece of architecture, and thus snippets of it can be found in Gunther Domenig’s Vienna Z-Bank, bits of Richard Rogers’s work, and anywhere that the “high tech” conversation crops up. So having created these total statements, Webb seems to have moved into the foreground with an ever more internalized pursuit, not as crazy or agoraphobic as Scottish artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, but rather taking the day-to-day world as an amusing but irrelevant background. Read, and he willingly invites you inside. Two Journeys Edited by Ashley Simone with essays by Kenneth Frampton, Michael Sorkin, Mark Wigley, and Lebbeus Woods Lars Müller Publishers
Posts tagged with "Mark Wigley":
The exhibition ARE WE HUMAN? : The Design of the Species : 2 seconds, 2 days, 2 years, 200 years, 200,000 years will be on view at the Princeton University School of Architecture from November 6, 2017 through January 5, 2018. Curators Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley will give a presentation and gallery talk at 5:00pm on November 6th in the School of Architecture building. The installation is designed by Andres Jaque and the Office for Political Innovation, an international practice that explores material politics at the intersection of design, research and activism. The entire School of Architecture will be filled with a dense collage of overlapping works by architects, artists, designers, scientists, filmmakers, research groups and think tanks. The effect is a kaleidoscope of artistic, technical, philosophical, theoretical and ethical reflection on the intimate relation between “design” and “human.” It is the first time the exhibition will be shown in the United States. The exhibition is supplemented by a set of special installations prepared by the curators and a joint team of Princeton University and Columbia University students. Exhibition participants include Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Eyal Weizman and Forensic Architecture, Hito Steyerl, Marshmallow Laser Feast, MOS Architects, Armin Linke, Philipp Meuser, Galina Balashova, Francois Dallegret, Center for Land Use Interpretation, Laura Kurgan, Orkan Telhan, Lu Yang, Tom Keenan and Sohrab Mohebbi, Lorenzo Pezzani, Common Accounts, Daniel Eisenberg, Juan Herreros, Sebastian Seung, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Lucia Allais, Joyce Hsiang and Bimal Mendis, Lydia Kallipoliti, Ali Kazma, Axel Kilian, Spyros Papapetros, V. Mitch McEwen, and Universal Space Program.
Open for only a month, from October 22nd through November 20th, the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial was a quick look at an extremely expanded understanding of design. Far from a trade show of the latest in design objects or material innovations, Are We Human? The Design of the Species 2 seconds, 2 days, 2 years, 200 years, 200,000 years explored the relationship between what it is to design and what it means to be human. In order to provoke a response to this instigation, co-curators Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley set out eight interlinked propositions to which the participating 250 designers, architects, scholars, and scientists reacted:
- Design is always design of the human
- The Human is the designing animal
- Our species is completely suspended in endless layers of design
- Design radically expands human capability
- Design routinely constructs radical inequalities
- Design is even the design of neglect
- “Good Design” is an anesthetic
- Design without anesthetic asks urgent questions about our humanity
The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial has announced its participants and project titles. More than 70 projects are being produced for the exhibition entitled ARE WE HUMAN? : The Design of the Species: 2 seconds, 2 days, 2 years, 200 years, 200,000 years. Organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley are curating the show that will include “designers, architects, artists, theorists, choreographers, filmmakers, historians, archaeologists, scientists, labs, centers, institutes and NGOs.” The biennial will run from October 22nd through November 20th at five sites throughout the city of Istanbul. These venues include the Galata Greek Primary School, Studio-X Istanbul, Depo in Karaköy, Alt Art Space in Bomonti, and Istanbul Archaeological Museums in Sultanahmet. The work will also be divided into four “Clouds.” Themes for these “Clouds” are Designing the Body, Designing the Planet, Designing Life, and Designing Time. Each of them takes a look at the changing relationship of design and the world around us. The show will also include six curatorial interventions lead by Colomina and Wigley. The interventions are the work of Princeton and Columbia students who have been working in seminars for the past year. The interventions will be installed in the exhibition with the other participants' works. The range of participants, from five continents, range from individual practices to well-established design firms. The projects and the participants include: The Shepherd, Bager Akbay (Turkey) Mutant Space, Atif Akin (Turkey) Observer Affect / Observer Effect, Zeynep Çelik Alexander (Turkey), Vanessa Heddle, Elliott Sturtevant (Canada) Mixed Being, Lucia Allais (United Kingdom/Italy) Archaeology of Things Larger than Earth, Pedro Alonso & Hugo Palmarola (Chile) Milano Animal City, Stefano Boeri (Italy) Window Behaviorology, Atelier Bow-Wow / Yoshiharu Tsukamoto Lab. at Tokyo Institute of Technology / YKK AP Window Research Institute (Japan) Space Design by Galina Balashova, Galina Balashova (Russia), Philipp Meuser (Germany) Fictional Humanisms: A Critical Reportage, Marco Brizzi & Davide Rapp (Italy) 1 Brain, 100 Billion Neurons, 100 Trillion connections, Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Center for Spatial Research with the Zuckerman Institute, Columbia University (USA) Texas City Landscan, Center for Land Use Interpretation (USA) Conflict Urbanism: Aleppo, Laura Kurgan (South Africa/USA) and the Center for Spatial Research (USA) The Immortal, Revital Cohen (United Kingdom), Tuur Van Balen (Belgium) Going Fluid: The Cosmetic Protocols of Gangnam, Common Accounts, Igor Bragado (Spain), Miles Gertler (Canada) Art Fiction, François Dallegret (Canada) Human Treasure, Tacita Dean (United Kingdom) Kontrollraum / Control Room, Thomas Demand (Germany) Unspoken, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (USA) World Brain: Automatism, Stéphane Dougoutin (France), Gwenola Wagon (Canada) The Unstable Object (II), Daniel Eisenberg (USA) You will not be able to do it, Keller Easterling (USA) The Designer Designed by the Humans, estudio Herreros (Spain) Portable Indo Pacific, Fake Industries Architectural Agonism and UTS (Spain/Australia) A Natural History of Human Rights, Forensic Architecture in collaboration with FIBAR: Baltasar Garzón, m7red and Irendra Radjawali (United Kingdom/Spain/Brazil/Argentina) City of Abstracts and Lectures from Improvisation Technologies, William Forsythe (Germany/USA) The Breaking Point, or The Paradox of Origins, Anselm Franke (Germany) Welcome to the Anthropocene, Globaïa (Canada) Space Debris 1957-2016, Stuart Grey (United Kingdom) 5TH HELENA, Mathew Hale (United Kingdom) 51Sprints, Het Nieuwe Instituut (Netherlands) City of 7 Billion, Joyce Hsiang, Bimal Mendis (USA) MUSSELxCHOIR, Natalie Jeremijenko (Australia) GUINEA PIGS; A Minor History of Engineered Man, Lydia Kallipoliti, Andreas Theodoridis (Greece/USA) Anatomy and Safe, Ali Kazma (Turkey) “It is obvious from the map,” Thomas Keenan (USA) and Sohrab Mohebbi (Iran), with Charles Heller (USA) and Lorenzo Pezzani (Italy) Embodied Computation, Axel Kilian (Germany) The Perfect Human, Jørgen Leth (Denmark) The Anthropophagic Body and the City: Flavio de Carvalho, Jose Lirá (Brazil) Open Future, The Living / Sculpting Evolution Group, MIT Media Lab (USA) Maropeng Acts I & II, Lesley Lokko (Ghana) Memex, Marshmallow Laser Feast, Analog, FBFX, Duologue (United Kingdom) Köçek Dance Floor, m-a-u-s-e-r (Germany/Turkey) Glitter Disaster, McEwen Studio (USA) The Institute of Isolation, Lucy McRae in collaboration with Lotje Sodderland (United Kingdom) Ines-table, Enric Miralles (Spain) & Benedetta Tagliabue (Italy) Manchas Mies, Domi Mora (Spain) An Unfinished Encyclopedia of Scale Figures Without Architecture / Model Furniture, MOS Architects (USA) Architektur / Räume / Gesten, Antoni Muntadas (Spain) Nine Islands: Matters Around Architecture, NEMESTUDIO, Neyran Turan & Mete Sonmez (Turkey) Please let me go, away…, New Territories / M4 with Pierre Huyghe (Thailand/France) Frederick Kiesler’s Magic Architecture: Caves, Animals, and Tools from the Prehistoric to the Atomic Era, Spyros Papapetros (Greece) A Media Archaeology of Ingenious Designs, Jussi Parikka (Finland), Ayhan Ayteş (Turkey) Objects of Daydreaming, PATTU, Cem Kozar, Işıl Ünal (Turkey) South Africa on the Cusp of Revolution, Martha Rosler (USA) Beirut Bombastic!, Rana Salam (Lebanon) White on White, Alfredo Thiermann & Ariel Bustamante (Chile) Spidernauts… Dark webs…, Tomás Saraceno (Argentina) The Connectome: A New Dimension of Humanity, Seung Lab, H. Sebastion Seung & Amie R. Sterling (USA) The Visit, SO? (Turkey) Autonomy of Images, Hito Steyerl (Germany) Portable Person, Studio Works (USA) Archaeology of Violence (The Forest as Design), Paulo Tavares (Brazil) & Armin Linke (Germany) The Microbial Design Studio: 30-day Simit Diet, Orkan Telhan (Turkey) Museum of Oil—Deep Space and After Fire Territorial Agency (Italy/Finland/United Kingdom) Voyager—Humanity in Interstellar Space, Universal Space Program, Evangelos Kotsioris (Greece) and Rutger Huiberts (Netherlands) The Hand—The Whole Man in Miniature, Madelon Vriesendrop (Netherlands) Detox USA, Mark Wasiuta (Canada), Florencia Alvarez (Argentina) Information Fall-Out: Buckminster Fuller’s World Game, Mark Wasiuta (Canada), Adam Bandler (USA) Delusional Mandala, Lu Yang (China) Virtual Interior Istanbul, Annett Zinsmeister (Germany)
The AIA New York has named Architizer co-founder and minority owner Benjamin Prosky as its new Executive Director. He will step away from his role as Assistant Dean for Communications at Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). Prosky has been overseeing events, publications, multimedia content and special projects since 2011. He will begin his duties at the AIA in early 2016. “It is a tremendous honor to serve as Executive Director of the AIANY and the Center for Architecture,” Prosky said in a statement. “I feel privileged to have the opportunity to expand the scope of both organizations—I look forward to engaging with the professional architects who are the backbone of the constituency, and also cultivating the broader public which, in the context of New York, recognizes the profound impact that design and the built environment have on the vitality of the city and all aspects of our lives."
Amale Andraos, principal of New York–based architecture firm WORKac, has been named dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), succeeding Mark Wigley. Currently on faculty at GSAPP, she has also taught at Princeton, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and the American University in Beirut. "Columbia is just an incredibly exciting place that's always been on the forefront of the profession," Andraos told AN. "It's an incredibly diverse and experimental place. I want to maintain and expand its role as a think tank for global practice." “An inspiring teacher, a respected colleague, and a pioneering practitioner whose innovative commissions in cities around the world have earned widespread admiration, Amale is a new leader among a rising generation of creative architects and designers of our physical environment,” said Columbia president Lee Bollinger in a statement. “She is just the kind of person who can further expand the role of the School as a center of interdisciplinary thinking across Columbia about how to develop a more just and sustainable society.” While Wigley was best known as a theorist, Andraos has balanced both teaching and practice. "We think of ourselves as a design research firm. For us teaching and practice inform one another," she said. WORKac has completed numerous projects including the Blaffer Museum in Houston, the Children's Museum of Arts in Manhattan, and the Edible School Yard project at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn. They won the MoMA P.S. 1 Young Architects Program in 2008. The firm is currently working on a conference center in Libreville, Gabon and they recently completed a master plan for seven new university campuses in China. In a profession that is still plagued by diversity issues and gender disparities, Andraos is one of an increasing number of women deans and directors. Running a school as prominent as Columbia, though, she will arguably be one of the most influential women in American architecture.
There is a rumor making its way around the West Coast that Thom Mayne may have more than a new building in New York. He may be headed east to become dean of Columbia University, replacing the departing Mark Wigley. But we have also heard—despite his protests that he is happy sailing to Catalina—that Greg Lynn may also be interested in the Morningside Heights position. It could be that Lynn would join his wife, Sylvia Lavin, who has long coveted an East Coast deanship. How about if Mark Wigley and MoMA’s departing Barry Bergdoll simply swap positions? There seem to be no end to the rumors of who may be filling one of the vacant deans posts at Cooper Union, Columbia, California College of the Arts in San Francisco, Cranbrook, or the University of Kentucky. We hear that Cooper Union is assembling names and has created a short list (who would want that job now?) that includes the names of several current deans as well as alumnus Daniel Libeskind and philosopher poet Peter Lynch. Then what will happen in the next two years when deanships become available at Penn Design, Yale, and Sci-Arc? Now that Aaron Betsky has left parochial Cincinnati he may be looking for a more hospitable place to work.
Mark Wigley, pictured, is stepping down as Dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, a role that he has held for the past decade. Wigley, a New Zealand–born architect and author, will continue his position through the academic year. Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, made the announcement through email, affirming that “in every context, [Wigley] has represented the School and the institution in ways that make us all proud to be part of such a vibrant place.” (Photo: Courtesy Columbia)
Decon Artists: Wigley, Tschumi, Eisenman Reflect on MoMA's Landmark "Deconstructivist Architecture" Exhibit
On January 22, Mark Wigley, Bernard Tschumi, and Peter Eisenman took the stage in MoMA’s theater to reflect upon Deconstructivist Architecture, the landmark 1988 exhibit curated by Wigley and Philip Johnson. The press release at the time described the featured architects—including Coop Himmelblau, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, and Daniel Libeskind, along with Tschumi and Eisenman—as “obsessed with diagonals, arcs, and warped plans.” In a where-are-they-now moment, Wigley said, “It occurred to me that only Daniel Libeskind thought the show was about the future, and he still seems to be designing for the show, and that seems to be not a good idea.” And the sniping didn’t stop there. Eisenman, despite refusing to hold the microphone to his mouth, could be overheard saying what kind of exhibit he would—or rather, wouldn’t—do, if given the chance: “Well, it wouldn’t be like the biennale of last fall, which was sort of a discount supermarket of everything that was going.” “Including you,” zinged Wigley.
"NY-LON" is an annual series of discussions at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) about the transfer of ideas along the New York-London axis. In this particular conversation, Brett Steele, director of London's Architectural Association (AA), and Mark Wigley, dean of New York's GSAPP, talked about the threads that connect the two cities, what that means for architectural discourse, and how the connection has evolved over time. Steele began with an amusing comparison of the stereotypes of both cities, starting with Woody Allens famous take, "Don’t you see? The rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here." As for London, Oscar Wilde said it best: “The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.” But these assumptions, Steele posited, are now mostly synthetic and based on narratives driven by marketing. So how does architectural discourse flow from London to New York and vice-versa? Imperialism loosely defined the trans-atlantic exchange of ideas before globalization. Columbia was originally founded to promote the proliferation of European-style education in America. In the 1950s, Reyner Banham and the New Brutalists in London influenced Gerhard Kallman, the young German architect who studied in London at the AA. Kallman made his way to New York and Columbia, where he and another British architect, Michael McKinnell, would build the infamous Boston City Hall, a Brutalist icon. In a similar exchange, Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, built New York's Lever House, one of the first Modernist skyscrapers for UniLever, a London-based company. Educators, such as Bernard Tschumi and Alvin Boyarsky, moved from the AA to Columbia, also helping bring experimental architectural ideas and discourse to New York. Today's NY-LON exchange is more complex, evidenced by the United States' influence on England's foreign policy in the Bush/Blair years. The "Occupy" movement has similarly crossed between New York and London in both directions. Today, Steele said, the AA serves "as a mechanism for the converging and moving of bodies. Not in a traditional sense of directional transmission, but of allowing different people to converse." It is these wierd and accidental interactions which both Wigley and Steele are interested in. Moving Forward, the panel asserted that the continued influence of New York and London is questionable. Wigley made an interesting remark that New York and London will play no role in the future of cities. In the experiment of rapid urbanization in places like China and India, Wigley feels that America and Europe are like parents, quaint and out-dated. In an era of globalization, these formerly imperial locations have become "provincial." But Steele made "a plea for continued exceptionalism," pushing for the continued relevance of New York and London's unique ideology. As the west continues to be the center of markets, both financial and intellectual, NY-LON's influence will be in the delivery of known models, but also in facilitating the accidental transmission of ideas and the interesting exchanges that take place in auxillary locations, such as Columbia's Studio-X or the AA's Visiting School, both of which serve as places, dispersed around the world, for the exchange of ideas, and possibly the future of education. Are New York and London "provincial" locations which serve only to facilitate accidental exchange of ideas around the globe? What is the world coming to?
The first panel of this week's conference at Columbia's GSAPP, "Permanent Change: Plastics in Architecture and Engineering," got down to business a few minutes late on Thursday morning. After a brief welcome, Dean Mark Wigley ceded the floor to Michael Bell, the first speaker in the line-up for "The Emergence of Polymers: Natural Material--Industrial Material." But the pace picked up as Bell and subsequent presenters took listeners on an intense romp through the role of plastics in architectural history, providing background for the nine panels to follow through Friday evening. While each presentation had a distinctly different focus, there were a few standby slides that popped up in more than one powerpoint. The Vinylite House from the Chicago World's Fair of 1933 made repeat appearances, the Smithson's House of Tomorrow got props from more than one presenter, and Mansanto's House of the Future at Disneyland took the prize for most mentions. We got a chance to sit down with one presenter after the panel discussion. Billie Faircloth is the research director at KieranTimerberlake in Philadelphia. In her presentation she discussed sifting through more than 75 years worth of architecture journals. "I was interested in understanding how a material emerges as a building material," she said. "And with plastic it was possible because of its relatively short history, unlike masonry." Faircloth scoured library bookshelves and her own collection of trade journals. She used a "transect" method of collecting data. For a scientist studying a particular species in the field, transecting means that the researcher maintains a fixed path to observe the number of times the species appears. In this case, the path was paved with twelve architectural journals. "The only way to track this was through the architectural press and journals," she said. "I thought of them as a set of evidence. One can get a front row seat to a very narrow venue." The first mention of plastic was in a journal from 1933. Journals from 1954 to the early 1960s yielded the most data, as by that time the National Academy of Sciences was pushing for research on plastic use within the field of architecture. MIT, the University of Michigan, Illinois Institute of Technology and Washington University in St. Louis all held conferences on the subject and the architectural press was on hand. The variety of plastics in Faircloth’s study included dozens of trade names and distinct chemical compositions, but all fell under the deceptively simple moniker: plastics. “They’re really thousands of materials, but for convenience we use only one word,” she said. For the early period of the study, only 25 varieties of plastics were named; by the early 21st century, that number ballooned to 134. But alongside all the cross-references and transects (all beautifully mapped), Faircloth began tracking repeated words and phrases. She compiled yet another list. “Three phrases were repeated, no matter time or disposition of the author,” she said. “'Plastics are difficult to decipher.' 'Plastics are not substitute materials.' 'Plastics are the future.'”
Last night, I was lucky enough to enjoy assorted swells (but not very many architects) at the Hearst building for a screening of the enigmatic “How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?", a film devoted to his lordship’s extravagantly photogenic architecture and life of work. Or so it looks in this approximately 90 minute film which sweeps us from the Engadin Alps where Foster annually plows through a 26-mile mile cross-country ski marathon in tight black lycra with some 14,000 others to his redbrick childhood home quite literally on the wrong side of the tracks in Manchester to his current home in a Swiss villa, spectacularly void of human touches, to his 1,000-plus strong office in London to the early Sainsbury Centre; the Swiss Re gherkin; the British Museum Great Court; the Berlin Reichstag, etc, etc, and of course, the
Hong Kong Beijing Airport that is the largest building on earth as narrator Deyan Sudjic intones mellifluously. (The trailor below provides but a morsel of this delight.)
Many of his buildings are seen as if from the wing of a Cessna gliding overhead—especially the great dinosaur-scaled Millau Viaduct in France—with the nice touch of swelling slow-mo clouds, and almost as if Foster himself were at the controls. And possibly he was, as we learn that he is quite the speed and height freak. All is accompanied by an original, also very swelling, score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra.
The cocktail party was not so dizzying with guests including Cesar Pelli, Rafael Viñoly, Vishaan Chakrabarti, Mark Wigley, Beatriz Colomina, Bob Stern, and Paul Goldberger who after the film said he had no recall whatsoever of where or when he was filmed speaking so glowingly of the Hearst tower. Pelli remembered exactly when he first met Foster in the 70s, when he was the partner in charge of design at Victor Gruen and Foster insisted on a meeting. Meanwhile, Foster smiled as graciously and blankly as the many on-hand socialites known primarily to Lady Foster, who produced the film. When asked about the film, Foster said he was amazed that it was so deep in detail. Agreed! And then we were all called into the auditorium where Lady Foster by way of introduction to “How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?” said: “And we were able to follow Foster closely for three years!” As his wife, I should hope so.
And, oh yes, the title comes from a question Buckminster Fuller, a mentor of sorts for Foster in the 70s, asked on visiting his Faber headquarters in Ipswich many years ago. Apparently it weighed quite a few tons. And for one night of fun, so did his film.