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 "Michael Sorkin":
As we turn the corner into summer, it’s time to kick back and dive into a book, whether you’re at the beach, drink in hand, or stuck inside an air-conditioned office. A suite of books about architecture, planning, and urbanism are slated to drop in the coming months, and AN has compiled a list of our favorite page-turners. They range from behind-the-scenes looks into how Disneyland was planned and built, to essays on urbanism, and mellow photo collections of a modernist California. What Goes Up: The Right and Wrongs to the City Michael Sorkin Verso $24.72 In this collection of essays, architecture writer (and AN contributor) Michael Sorkin tracks the conversion of New York City into a playground for starchitects, starting with Bloomberg and moving into the present day. But if What Goes Up has an antagonist, it’s most likely embodied in now-President Trump, who Sorkin views as a product of everything wrong with development in New York. The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids Alexandra Lange Bloomsbury Publishing $22.77 – June 12, 2018 release How does design shape our formative years? What did Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller play with when they were growing up? What distinguishes a “good” toy from a “bad” toy, and who decides which is which? Through equal parts history and case studies, Lange deftly explains how children went from playing with blocks to Minecraft, and how the play environment shapes a child’s formative years. Modernism's Visible Hand: Architecture and Regulation in America Michael Osman University of Minnesota Press $30.00 When did the modern age begin? The advent of refrigeration and climate control allowed for the mass distribution of food, the rise of tall buildings, and new advances in occupancy comfort. With so many more options for controlling the interior environment, architects took on a much more important role; and as Osman argues, played a major part in introducing the regulations that would standardize the centuries to come. Landscape of Faith: Interventions Along the Mexican Pilgrimage Route Tatiana Bilbao, photos by Iwan Baan Lars Müller Publishers $32.25 Two million pilgrims annually travel the treacherous mountain path through Jalisco, Mexico to reach a shrine to the Virgin of Talpa. Can a path, typically considered a liminal space, have its own vernacular, culture, and history? In Landscape of Faith, Bilbao and Baan explore the temporary and permanent structures, institutions, and landscapes that pilgrims must pass on their 110-mile journey. Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability Eyal Weizman MIT Press $35.95 With Forensic Architecture’s shortlisting for the prestigious Turner Prize, the research group/activists/art collective has gotten more media attention than ever. In this recently released monograph, founder Eyal Weizman details how group uses a mixture of architecture, forensic science, and crowdsourced information to reconstruct crimes scenes and obfuscated timelines. Forensic Architecture includes a mix of case studies as well as step-by-step details into how the group conducts an investigation. Walt Disney's Disneyland Chris Nichols TASCHEN $50.00 –September 12, 2018 release Disneyland represents a dream-like ideal for many, but how was the city-within-a-city actually designed and constructed? Nichols pulls back the curtain on Walt Disney’s little-seen inspirations, sketches, original documentation and more from the park’s conception. The design and buildout, opening, and the continued life of the park ever since are presented in context alongside a California that was changing around it. California Captured: Mid-Century Modern Architecture, Marvin Rand Pierluigi Serraino, Emily Bills, Sam Lubell Phaidon Press $40.19 Keep the California vibes going with California Captured, an index of photographer Marvin Rand’s mid-century work. Rand captured photos of the modernist masters at their peak (including buildings by Craig Ellwood, Louis Kahn, and Frank Lloyd Wright) and exported the “Mid-Century California” aesthetic all over the world. The Architecture of Closed Worlds: Or, What Is the Power of Shit? Lydia Kallipoliti Lars Müller Publishers and Storefront for Art and Architecture $32.20 - August 28, 2018 release Closed systems, whether they be a submarine or an office, are designed as self-sustaining environments. In The Architecture of Closed Worlds, Kallipoliti tracks the evolution of closed environment structures from 1928 to the present through 39 case studies of cutting edge prototypes. The relevance of the enclosed space extends into sustainable design and ecological concerns, as designing a self-sustaining system often forces architects and designers to expand their environmental consciousness. Every book on this list was selected independently by AN‘s team of editors. If you buy something via the embedded links, AN will earn a commission.
As Christopher Hawthorne moves on from the Los Angeles Times and as new forms of criticism proliferate, we asked the architecture community what the role of the critic is today, and what it might be missing. What do you see as the role of the critic in architecture today? Why is it important? What aspects of architecture are not being addressed today by critics? What are the problems with criticism today? Here are the responses we received from those who felt that architecture criticism is inherently political and should be approached as such, from across the country and abroad. How can women and people of color be included in the conversation when the field has typically buried their voices? This article was originally published in our May print issue, and was preceded by a selection of answers from architecture critics themselves and those who thought that the internet has fundamentally changed the field. Nolan Boomer Arts critic and editor of Take Shape. “At the core of architectural criticism is the realization that setting is not the backdrop of humankind’s story, but actually a character that shapes its plot...some of the best criticism appears in other genres like fiction and poetry, but it often isn’t considered as such.” Alice Twemlow Head of Design Curating and Writing Masters at Design Academy Eindhoven and professor of design at The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. “If you take architecture to be less about individual buildings, and more about the structural, political, and conceptual framing of the shifting relationship between public and private space, (which I do) then the role of the architecture critic merges with that of the social critic and, in that respect, is immensely important. When that framing is thoughtful and brilliant, she should make sure we hear about it; and when the framing is uninformed or unfair, she should also make sure we hear about it. She should remind us of the past, respond to the current situation, and anticipate or lead future moves. She should advocate for the right of every public citizen to access the aesthetic and practical benefits of the built environment whilst being protected from it failings and harmful effects. And if that sounds like hard work, and that it encroaches on the territory of urban planning, social politics, environmental science, ethics, and philosophy, that’s because it is, and it does.” Mitch McEwen Assistant professor at Princeton University School of Architecture and partner of A(n) Office. “Architecture has made so many heroic and visionary claims, and also failed so many people for so long. The architecture critic can sort through these claims and failures and new potentials, both for us and for a wider public.” Mark Foster Gage Principal of Mark Foster Gage Architects and the assistant dean of the Yale School of Architecture. “I think there is an old notion of a critic who tells you if something is good or not. This is outdated and it probably comes from [Gene] Siskel and [Roger] Ebert on television, watching movies—‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down.’ Here the critic is an arbiter of taste. It’s not helpful: it’s about judgment rather than a new opening of discussion. It’s a closure, stopping conversation cold. Once you call a movie bad, why discuss it? I believe a critic is a person that opens people’s eyes as to WHY certain things are notable in various disciplines (or outside of them). A critic should be opening conversations, prompting curiosity, and inciting interest. I also think it is the responsibility of the critic to focus on contemporary work and issues—‘the new’ is always in most need of support and discussion, especially among those who feel intimidated or uncomfortable about it. This is what the critic is supposed to do, make it possible to bring more people into the conversation about any type of work. They are stewards of curiosity and interest, not judges of success or failure.” Enrique Ramirez Writer and architectural historian based in Brooklyn. “This question presumes that criticism is important to the discipline and practice of architecture. To say so is to admit to a certain kind of hubris. Criticism is not needed, for no matter if critics decide to take on the mantle of an investigative magistrate and try to shed light on a particular issue, to watch different actors scurry about once their particular malfeasances become exposed, to say: ‘Aha, Architecture...YOU’VE BEEN CAUGHT’...this is criticizing, but is it criticism? I used to think, ‘Yes, it is.’ It’s not. An architectural critic may tell you, ‘Look at this building ...Modernism is EVIL!’ or ‘Postmodernism is TRITE!’ or ‘Everything coming out of UCLA or Michigan is MAGENTA and CORNFLOWER BLUE!’ Okay, but so what? If that is the mode of engagement that architectural critics prefer, then I want no part of it. As critics, we need to look at colleagues in other fields to see how they advocate for the cultural relevance of their object of inquiry, for this is at the heart of criticism. Architectural criticism seems stuck in a kind [of] mode that conflates ‘criticism’ with ‘criticizing,’ one that privileges the dressing down of a building over everything else. Architecture lives in the world at large, and as critics, we need to state how this is the case.” José Esparza Chong Cuy Associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. “I believe that an informed public opinion of what needs to be celebrated and denounced is more important than ever. Contemporary life is shaped by so many invisible mechanisms that need to be exposed to the day-to-day eye. There are so many things at play regulated by sociopolitical, economic, and environmental factors in the spaces we inhabit that we need to have thought out critical positions to be able to act accordingly, both socially and professionally. Having a better understanding of these invisible mechanisms could potentially open new ways of operating. Moreover, I believe that all critical mediums should make an attempt to cover rural environments. It is clear that city-living is not the only option, but critics should make an effort to cover stories about rural life and the rural landscapes to connect the practice or architecture to these settings as well. We tend to forget how interconnected the rural and urban contexts are, and the critic should use its platform to inform how one setting feeds off the other and vice versa.” Bika Rebek Founding principal of Some Place, and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia GSAPP. “A master of expansive writing reaching all fringes, and perhaps my favorite critic is Karl Kraus. While architecture is just one of his wide-ranging interests, his writing is personal, angry, funny, extremely timely and unconcerned with the consequences. Contemporary architectural criticism would benefit from this fearlessness and sense of humor. With more pointed controversy, critics could attract wider audiences and become part of an age-old dialogue, spinning the web further through the lens of our time.” Jesse LeCavalier Designer, writer, and educator whose work explores the architectural and urban implications of contemporary logistics. He is the author of The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment, assistant professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the Daniel Rose Visiting Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Architecture. “Foucault’s appeal to a kind of criticism focused on curiosity, attention, stewardship, and imagination remains, for me, an appealing statement about the potential role of the critic: ‘I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes—all the better. All the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination.’ While thoughtful and perceptive engagement with buildings will always be important, I feel like now more than ever we need to develop an expanded understanding the larger forces shaping the built environment, from our own consumer choices to larger policy transformations, their implications, and ways to engage them.” Kate Wagner Creator of McMansion Hell and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University researching concert hall design in transition from late- to post-modernism. “Architecture is inherently political on its own! While the city is relevant to the building, we should avoid using the city as a crutch.” Fred Scharmen Teaches architecture and urban design at Morgan State University’s School of Architecture and Planning. His first book, Space Settlements, will be out later this year. “I saw a joke on Twitter the other week that said: ‘Every academic discipline has another academic discipline which watches them, occasionally making sarcastic comments.’ For architecture, criticism gets even weirder, because this shadow discipline is supposed to do at least two more other things: it’s meant to be internalized, so architects should be working and self-critiquing at almost the same time; and it’s also supposed to be outward-facing, to explain what’s going on inside the discipline to an external audience. So somehow we’re all meant to be our own worst and best critics, hecklers, and narrators, all at once. This situation is messed up.” Peggy Deamer Professor of architecture at Yale University, an architect practicing in New York, and content coordinator of the Architecture Lobby. “The role of the critic is to inform both the public and the discipline about what aesthetic, economic, cultural, or social value is potentially embedded in that discipline and point out examples that are good or bad in relation to that potential. Critics aren’t identifying the connection between how we in the discipline work—with illegal, economically naive, sexist, and formally myopic protocols—and the poverty of what we are asked to work on (rich peoples second houses; the occasional private institution) and the consequent lack of respect and financial stability.” David Grahame Shane Adjunct professor in the Urban Design program at Columbia GSAPP. “Architectural criticism is not important as there is so little architecture of quality produced today by large firms or clients to consider. Look at Hudson Yards or the World Trade Center, and weep. The profession is BIM-ed and value-engineered to death. Public commissions and competitions that once gave openings to critics and young firms have disappeared along with small bookstores and magazines. Chat rooms and the academy remain as hermetic critical fortresses with their own private codes and handshakes. Sadly public intellectuals and critics are a disappearing breed, dying off in the new architectural ecology, occasionally spotlighted by museums as avant-garde and remote insights. It’s not a pretty picture, but surely in the future people will regain a sense of shared communities in the city and countryside and a new breed of architectural critics and architectural practice will re-emerge.” Michael Sorkin Architect, author, educator and founding principal of Michael Sorkin Studio. “The critic’s duty is resistance! As the country careens toward full-on fascism, its environment assailed and warfare looming, we must defend the social architectures of civility and not lose ourselves in the artistic weeds. A critic who fails to assail Trump, supports him.” Kelsey Keith Editor-in-Chief of Curbed. “Architecture as a study and as a practice has done a lot to isolate itself. I think that the built environment matters so much because it affects and influences people in the places they live. I speak not as an academic or as a critical theorist, but as someone who genuinely loves all this, wants it to be better, and believes that end is achieved in part via criticism. An architecture critic’s role in society today is to contextualize—whether the point is to educate, or entertain, or satisfy some curiosity: ‘Why are A-frames suddenly so popular again? Why is it important to preserve the work of a rare woman project lead from a midcentury architecture firm?’ Most critics are too busy broadcasting their own well-formed opinions to actually listen to the zeitgeist. Dialogue is important, but so is listening to others—as a knowledge-gathering tool or when their perspectives differ from your own.” Abdalilah Qutub (Abdul Qutub) Co-founder of Socially Condensed Fully-Built Enviromemes. “The role of the architectural critic today goes beyond the immediate issues surrounding a building, but also includes the larger ethical practices and impacts in which the participants in the architectural field might be involved. There are two main themes that are not really being fully addressed today: Workers’ rights issues and the overwhelming whiteness of the field. The dominance of white men now only further keeps alive the whiteness of the field that has been passed on by previous generations. Recent efforts within the #MeToo movement and the allegations that have recently come out against Richard Meier further reveal some of the underlying power structures in the field and how they are being abused. Criticism alone is not going to solve these problems without the provocation of direct action from the architectural and associated fields (strikes, demonstrations, and protests).” Nicholas Korody Co-founder of the experimental architecture practice Adjustments Agency, co-curator of the architecture store domesti.city, and editor-in-chief of the architecture publication Ed. “The role of the critic today is first and foremost to draw attention to the architecture of architecture—that is, the ways in which ‘architecture’ is not a given, but rather something constructed and therefore mutable. Within the discipline and profession, we take for granted that certain things, from exploitative labor practices to rampant sexism and even assault, come with the territory. They do not have to. Alongside this, we accept with little criticality the complicity of architecture with capital, with the end result that not only do we now design only for the select few, we also help fuel the conversion of our cities into playgrounds for speculative finance. This relationship is historically specific, and the role of the critic is to both point this out and to imagine alternatives. Critics today tend toward the myopic. They see a form and not what’s behind it: labor relations, environmental degradation, capital accumulation, displacement of people. Every act of construction has cascading effects far beyond the building site. Critics must contend with this. Broadly speaking, it is a conservative field. Many supposedly liberal or even leftist critics are in fact advocating for a maintenance of the status quo, which is a violent position to take. There are far too few voices demanding truly radical change within the discipline. Criticism is itself a form of practice, a way of imagining possibilities where others see none. Integral to that is looking far beyond the discipline, far beyond buildings. Most importantly, critics must take positions—albeit ones capable of change—and fight for them. Political neutrality does not exist. A good critic loves architecture so much they despise everything about it.” Ana María León Trained as an architect, León is a researcher and architecture historian at the University of Michigan. “Critics link the discipline not only to a broader audience, but also to larger concerns that often escape architecture’s purview. If good histories take a critical view of the past, good critiques are able to historicize the present. Our current political moment urgently needs more critical voices. Critics are still overwhelmingly white, male, and Western. This is not to say that white, male, Western critics are unable to look beyond their own identities, but representation matters, and a diversity of voices tends to insure a diversity of opinions and points of view. I would love it if say, The Architect’s Newspaper reached out to critics in South America, Africa, Asia, and asked them to review events and buildings there for a broader public.” Eva Franch i Gilabert Architect, educator, curator, founder of Office of Architectural Affairs (OOAA), current executive director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture and future director of the Architectural Association. “A critic is the historian of the present, or the present future, or as Reyner Banham’s intellectual biography points out, of the immediate future. To understand the power of architecture, unveil it, and transmit it to a larger audience is the most benevolent image of the critic, but the most seminal and most needed is to allow the field to find positions beyond obsessions; to position design culture in relation to the most important issues affecting contemporary culture and the built environment. Any critic needs to go beyond the cliché, the commonplace assumptions behind good design, and understand radical, powerful designs that are able to produce more equitable societies. A critic that is able to read beyond press releases, instant gratifications, three minute impressions of what should be and help us all imagine what actions, ideas, and form could be. The problems with criticism today are the same as the ones with architecture: it is extremely hard to go beyond client-oriented work, to produce designs that question the status quo and the forces at play. The making and buying of history in the PR age is an issue to be investigated thoroughly. It is extremely hard for editors, critics, and architects to keep a critical distance. While this might not be any different than in times past, at least I think there is now a more transparent understanding of sponsored articles, and the influence and power of certain lobbies. The real difficulty of being a critic is that we do not have editorial structures that support criticism in its full flesh. As in many other fields false criticism, sensationalism, scandalous headlines, ...are more in vogue than rigorous - maybe less sensationalist- forms of criticism. The problem is that bad criticism is more profitable in terms of business models; good criticism needs of idea models, less business models....”
Architecture lives as both object and aggregation: buildings and cities. If the pursuit of an environment that is sustainable, equitable, beautiful, and rich with difference is common at every scale, the valence of these values varies by situation. Metrophysics foregrounds projects rooted in the urban, including buildings and sites designed with both practical and polemical intent. The work is from a team that operates as a “traditional” architectural studio responding to clients and as a research practice that formulates its own agenda of investigation and intervention. In 2005, Michael Sorkin Studio underwent a mitosis with the founding of Terreform. Given a long history of activist work in a variety of registers—including design, advocacy, and writing—there’d been a long simmering desire to find a form of practice that was more transparent with the non-commercial—even utopian—projects and ambitions that engaged us. Not wanting to give up the prospect of “ordinary” building, however, we formalized the conceptual split into a “straight” architectural practice and an organization doing research, unsolicited interventions, publishing, and propositions. The studio works in a single spirit with a focus on questions of city, on its morphology, systems of equity, and metabolic behavior. What Terreform has learned over the years from New York City (Steady) State—an elaborate speculation meant to determine just how autonomous our city can become—informs “official” projects Sorkin Studio has undertaken in Wuhan, Xi’an, or Istanbul and vice versa. Each side serves as the lab for the other but we’re all on the same page: the iron fiscal curtain between the two entities is a membrane that’s completely porous to ideas. Michael Sorkin is a distinguished professor and director of the Graduate Urban Design Program.
Ecological urbanism to the rescue? Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform explore green cities at SCI-Arc
In the exhibition Metrophysics, New York-based Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform (both helmed by Sorkin) have brought their portfolio of eco-futurist-tinged urban designs to Los Angeles’s Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles, displaying a sprawling retrospective of the symbiotic architectural groups’ collective output from over the years. The work presented by Sorkin and Terreform—the latter of which is a 501(c)3 established in 2005 as a self-described “ ‘friend of the court’ dedicated to raising urban expectations and advocating for innovative and progressive ideas as widely as possible”—traces a broad stylistic and conceptual arc across time spanning from the mid-1990s through today. That arc hewed closely to the always-shifting focus of other ecologically-minded architectural firms: From dramatic landscape design in the 1990s to embodying technologically-derived formalism in the early 2000s and, more recently, a hybrid between the two. The exhibition, displayed neatly and semi-chronologically along a series of mounted display boards set atop wooden sawhorses, aims for grandiosity in content if not format. The collected schemes feature board after board of idealized eco-utopias. Some are depicted with Kazimir Malevich-inspired geometric abstraction, verdant, photo-realistic eye wash, or as techno-futurist blobitecture. According to the firm’s website, the body of work acts as a metaphorical extension of Terreform’s ongoing project, New York City (Steady) State, a “comprehensive investigation into urban self-sufficiency…intended to raise issues and propose solutions for cities around the world that seek to take radical measures to secure their respiration and autonomy and to achieve a more sustainably democratic polity, founded in the local.” As a result, each project presented uses the underlying notions of New York City (Steady) State to speculate on the potential for ecologically-minded urbanism in other locales. The works attempt to imbue their architecture with a sense of cosmological meaning by fusing the naturalistic geometries spawned by ecological, parametric design with old-school New Urbanism. New York City is, in fact, featured heavily across the collected projects, with a thoughtful and dramatically rendered vision for a transit hub in the Bronx from 2002 and the firm’s proposal for a temporary enclosure for the rubble at the former World Trade Center site from 2001 providing eloquent and compelling visions that stand somewhat outside some of the exhibition’s more general themes. Ex nihilo East Asian towns and business districts are also featured prominently in the collection of work, with the Penang Peaks project from 2004 (a horseshoe-shaped cluster of mushroom-shaped towers gathered around a body of water), Skyscrapers with Chinese Characteristics (an exploration that translates Sorkin’s collection of “scholar’s rocks” into tall buildings), and an Ecological Golf Resort for Australia from 2014 best showcasing the firms’ ability to generate a sort of contextually-based, ecologically-driven formalism. Central to the groups’ experiments are several notions due to be tested in coming years, namely that cities are in fact resilient and nimble democratic systems that can countenance the ever-growing list of maladies they face, including climate change, growing income disparities, and the ever-increasing flow of antiseptic global capital. Sorkin’s team implies with its research that both new and existing cities have the potential to overcome these stresses, but only if thoughtfully and ecologically designed. This will certainly be a challenge as a new era of incompetent authoritarianism takes hold globally. Terreform’s showcase at SCI-Arc, with its broad stylistic mantle and critical urban approach, has the potential to inject a dose of inspiration for a university in transition and city searching for a new moral compass. The cornucopia of drawing styles alone should provide fertile ground for the current generation of students hungry to cut and paste their way toward new modes of formal expression. And though the works in question vary greatly in terms of representational techniques, muses, and thought bubbles, Sorkin’s detail-oriented gaze remains consistent, whether it involves the tiny white ribbons representing pigeons drawn onto the firm’s Bronx transit plans or the technicolor landscapes of the Weed, Arizona project. The question—for after the exhibition closes—is whether SCI-Arc students will be inspired by techno-ecology and what a transition from designing at an urban scale to designing ecologically-driven urbanism might look like moving forward. --- Metrophysics SCI-Arc Gallery 960 East 3rd Street Los Angeles, CA 90013 Through December 4
Late last night the Helsinki city council rejected a proposal to fund a new Guggenheim Helsinki Museum; the final tally was 53 to 32. Despite its initial failures in securing funding from the Finnish government, up until this vote the Helsinki Guggenheim Museum was still a real possibility. However, it seems this rejection has finally capped years of controversy. First proposed in 2011, the Guggenheim Helsinki has been the subject of years of back-and-forth between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Finnish government over who would pay for the proposed museum's cost and maintenance. Much like the Guggenheim Bilbao, the museum would've featured parts of the foundation's modern art collection on a rotating basis, along with works by local artists. The foundation argued that tourism revenue would outweigh the government's funding. However, critics argued that the Guggenheim Foundation was seeking to spread its international brand at the unfair expense of Finnish taxpayers (and that Helsinki already had a robust arts scene). In 2014, the foundation launched an international competition to pick a design and win over the Finns in the process. Simultaneously, a competition formed by the proposed museum's critics, dubbed The Next Helsinki, sought alternative proposals. The Next Helsinki competition announced its winners in April, 2015; that same June the Guggenheim named Paris-based Moreau Kusunoki Architectes as their winner. Then, in September 2016, the incumbent and fiscally conservative Finnish government said that the museum's costs were too high—an estimated $138 million. The project was revived when, on this past November 11, Helsinki's city board members narrowly gave it the greenlight with a new funding scheme: The city would cough up approximately $85 million while the Guggenheim Helsinki foundation would provide the rest. However, their vote—which was a marginal 8 to 7—was not binding. Last night's vote from the 85-member strong city council, however, has nixed that. Biennale Books co-founder Laura Iloniemi told The Architect's Newspaper that the city councilor's concerns included the museum's appearance ("coal pile," "bunker," "inappropriate for the site"), the value of the proposed harbor site, the Guggenheim's association with workers' rights issues in Abu Dhabi (the location of one of their outposts), doubts about the Guggenheim's tourism forecasts, and frustration with the foundation's lack of transparency and forceful lobbying. Those in favor said the Guggenheim Helsinki was a unique opportunity that would increase tourism and the city's cultural offerings while forging a stronger trans-Atlantic connection. According to The New York Times, the Helsinki Council communications department released a statement after the vote, which said “The main objections to the project presented by Council members included the project’s excessive cost for the Finnish taxpayer; inadequate private funding; and the proposed site, which was considered too valuable for the project.” Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, told the Times that “I suppose that it was a reaction to a sense of engulfing internationalism, or a reaction against globalism.... That’s how I’m explaining it to myself.” Even as the Guggenheim Helsinki fades away, it leaves behind a legacy of alternative proposals: Urban Research, the imprint of Next Helsinki co-organizer Terreform, has announced the publication of a book featuring the Next Helsinki competition's designs. Dubbed The Helsinki Effect: Public Alternatives to the Guggenheim Model of Culture-Driven Development, it's due out in December and available for pre-order. The Helsinki Effect was edited by Checkpoint Helsinki board member Terike Haapoja, G.U.L.F. editor Andrew Ross, and Terreform founder Michael Sorkin; each editor has also contributed a chapter (Sorkin's is titled "WALMART COMES TO HELSINKI"). It looks at the submissions as a way of enlivening public discourse on "the role of culture in civic health and economic development," the consequences of which stretch beyond Finland and its capital. The Helsinki Effect also includes essays from leading urbanists, artists, and architects that touch on The Next Helsinki competition's significance to contemporary urban principles. Prominent Finnish architect and Next Helsinki juror Juhani Pallasmaa contributed a chapter to the book; in it he forcefully argues against the public's funding of Guggenheim's Helsinki outpost. He also skewers the Guggenheim Foundation's winning entries:
The awarded entries hardly acknowledge the unique historical narrative, character, and quality of Helsinki, or the adjacency of the neoclassical part of the city. All the awarded projects are self-centered in various ways, and lack an understanding of and respect for urban traditions, which altogether belong to the most valuable heritage of culture. All the winning entries are rather detached from the context and have little, if any, meaningful interaction with their neighbors.Speaking to The Architects' Journal, Pallasmaa described the venture as a "ruthless business presented as a cultural project," calling for taxpayers money to better spent on furthering Finnish artistic culture. Finnish politician Anders Adlercreutz, contrasting the Guggenheim Helsinki with Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, said "I simply can’t feel any excitement when viewing the winning proposal... It feels like a lost opportunity altogether, an entry that does very little to enhance the whole harbor area, that doesn’t contribute to the public space around it and that frankly looks quite out of place."
On June 24, George Lucas decided to move his proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts from Chicago. (You can read our full coverage of the Museum's saga, which began in San Francisco, here.) New York-based architect Michael Sorkin has penned a letter to George Lucas and his wife Mellody Hobson urging the museum to stay in Chicago but in inhabit a site south of the city and formerly used by U.S. Steel. A full copy of that letter, and its accompanying images, appears below: Dear George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, Come back to Chicago! In no other city will your museum provide remotely comparable stimulus and balm. While I was a supporter of your original site and an enthusiast for the design, I’m writing urgently with a suggestion for another location that could solve many problems for both you and for the City of Chicago, yielding a far superior result. It’s the 600 acres formerly occupied by U.S. Steel, jutting magnificently into the lake, engaging panoramic views to the Loop, bounded by Lake Shore Drive, and served by METRA. More, it is completely clear and ready to build. No need to tear down a huge building, no need to back away from the lake, no need to take park land, no need to cram into an over- crowded architectural zoo! As you surely know, a highly ambitious—and highly expensive—plan to build an enormous residential and commercial project (which briefly offered a site for the Obama Library) was, after years of effort, abandoned in March and the site is again orphaned: we see this as divine serendipity! Following this failed effort to develop the site in collaboration with McCaffery Interests, U.S. Steel (their stock is tanking and they have no interest in acting directly as developers) is doubtless eager to be rid of the place and some quick and creative collaboration could yield remarkable results—results that can be realized far faster than starting out afresh on the west coast, risking further delays. Here are some reasons a return to Chicago makes such compelling sense: 1. Your museum can inspire a new institutional and public cluster on the far south side of Chicago to rival the crowded complex in which you’d hoped to build and add a gleaming new pearl in the city’s civic necklace. 2. Your museum can be the fulcrum for a dramatic increase in the space of the city’s parks, leveraging as many as 300 additional acres of waterfront green space. 3. Your museum could go miles in addressing the abiding north-south split that so diminishes Chicago’s aspirations to equity and social justice and in affirming your well-known commitment to bettering the lives of the city’s poor and people of color. 4. Your museum could catalyze an enormous transformation in the quality of life for nearby neighborhoods starved for educational, cultural, environmental, and economic development. 5. Your museum could be a beacon and a symbol, a phoenix rising above a wasteland. Indeed, this would be far better than trying to squeeze in among an already dense and disparate group of buildings that will only compromise the power of its vision and originality. Here’s a scenario: 1. The City of Chicago acquires the northern portion of the site from U.S. Steel. This might happen through purchase, condemnation, or—best of all—through donation by a corporation for which the land now represents more of a burden than an asset. 2. The City of Chicago commits to the development of an extensive enlargement of its park system with a design that combines local needs with a great South Side Chicago Community Art Park. 3. The City of Chicago—or you yourself—facilitates the operation of a new transit system: a fantastic fleet of Millennium Ferries linking Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Museum Campus, the South Shore Cultural Center, and the great new South Side Chicago Community Art Park. What an attraction! What a unifier! 4. A task force comprised of municipal, institutional, civic, and community organizations plans for and array of synergistic institutions to cluster with the Lucas Museum, including (for starters) a South Chicago Community Center of Narrative Arts, an amazing lakeside amphitheater (Yo Kanye!), an enlarged South Shore Cultural Center, a Railway Museum, The Mellody Hobson Institute of Environmental Research and Technology as part of a reinvigorated Chicago State University, an all-weather amusement park, and a renewable energy complex drawn from the valuable work done as part of the McCaffrey proposal. 5. You build your project according to its original design. It will look so much better here, offer excellent access to an enlarged constituency of visitors—coming from north, south, and west—and do so much more good. 6. With this recreational, athletic, educational, environmental, and cultural complex assured, the attractiveness of the southern portion of the larger site for development will surely re-emerge, providing further resources for the community and an enlarged tax base for the city to support its parks, schools, and infrastructure. I’m writing you because of my deep admiration for the desire you both have expressed to make your museum extremely accessible, especially to those communities who have been so ignored by traditional cultural institutions. By building your project on this waiting site in South Chicago you will dramatically assert this principle of inclusion in the strongest terms and offer this neglected part of the city tremendous dignity and the opportunity to create its own narratives. And, such a move can catalyze a true people’s campus and park, a complex of sympathetic and galvanizing landscapes and institutions that will create authentic pride of place for so many who feel they’ve simply been left out. We are more than ready to help make such a plan. In fact, we’ve taken the liberty of sketching something of what this might look like. Please be generous and bold! Take this opportunity to return to Chicago with a determination both to build a superb museum and to make a transformative contribution to a city I know you both deeply love. We stand ready to offer any further assistance—and encouragement—you may require! Yours Sincerely, Michael Sorkin President, Terreform (501(c)3)
31 years ago a certain property developer was causing a stir in New York City. Surprise, surprise, it was a certain Mr. Trump. Controversial and as egotistical as ever (what has changed?) Trump proposed his self-prescribed "Trump City": an array of developments for the Lincoln Square neighborhood of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The project and its name were thankfully curtailed in 1991 and finally realized as "Riverside South" due to fervent opposition that involved community groups, architects and politicians. “That was a war to the death—with everybody,” Trump later said. Of those architects, three were Lebbeus Woods, Michael Sorkin, and John Young. In 1989 they showcased their alternative scheme on Robert Lipsyte's Eleventh Hour as a documentary set 21 years into the future, now six years ago now in 2010 (feel old yet?). Titled the Michelin Guide to New York City: 2010, the trio's film shows the Upper West Side as a place called "Timesquare," a place that in their eyes that is "the first true realization of a city district conceived in multiple layers, rather than as a series of individual buildings." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fI1FZ_xBNvU Described in the films commentary as "radical" yet "derided" in the hypothetical public eye as "science-fiction," Timsquare is meant to be a lively space. It was intended to be an alternative cityscape, one that defied convention, filled with tramways, "party walls," and New York's social underclass. This message however, is somewhat eclipsed by the eerie music that accompanies it alongside Woods' drawings which depict a much more sinister environment. “We’re talking about an absolute nightmare—an absolute nightmare,” said Batya Lewton, vice president of the Coalition for a Livable West Side. But she wasn't talking about Woods, Sorkin and Young's plan. Instead, Lewton, whose coalition formed in 1981, was referring to the much more real prospect of Trump City. “They’re asking for, unbelievably, 2,300 more parking spaces in an area that is just so overwhelmed with traffic,” she added. Dubbing Trump as the "Prince of self indulgence," Sorkin argued that Woods, Young and himself were reacting to Trump's proposal to "erect a 150-story high monument to himself." Building on this, Woods added that the scheme was merely an "experiment" that imagined a future that wasn't depicted in the usual technical medium of plans, sections, and elevations. Timesquare was meant to be departed from the surrounding "greed-based proposals" and something that wasn't profitable. "I don't want [Trump's] money and in fact I wouldn't accept it," Woods implored. In a retrospective blog post on the trio's counterproposal to Trump's plans, Woods, who passed away in 2010, spoke of the scheme's intended inhabitants. "One has to resist pitying those squatters. Pity is a treacherous emotion, for everyone involved. Better to respect them. Their way of life, as chosen as any in the capitalist jungle (don’t imagine that the rich are really free), included the certainty that they would one day have to move on, probably very quickly. They were prepared and no doubt found other ‘undeveloped’ spaces to settle down in for the next timeframe, whatever that would work out to be. On the other hand, their scattering was traumatizing and unnecessarily brutal. And another thing: their little community had a spirit of invention impossible to achieve in the emotionally arid and highly regimented skyscraper landscape that was soon to come."
Michael Sorkin has been selected as the American Academy in China’s inaugural research fellow. The urbanist, designer, and critic will begin work this summer. Dubbed the “Made For China” project, Sorkin’s research aims to look inwardly at his own firm’s recent Chinese work in search of an “urbanism with Chinese characteristics.” His research will also analyze the work of other western architects working in China and delve into the firm’s interactions with local regulations and stakeholders so as to digest their effects on these Chinese particularities. Clifford Pearson, Director of the AAC, remarking upon Sokrin’s selection in a press release, said “As a writer and critic, Michael has often challenged established perspectives, offering a penetrating and often witty take on what is really happening in architecture and design. And as an architect, he is fully engaged with the realities of building in China.” When asked about the academy’s selection process for the fellowship, Pearson remarked to The Architect's Newspaper via email, “Because this was the inaugural fellowship, an internal group of advisors—including Dean Ma (and) myself—selected Michael Sorkin. In the future, we will have a call for submissions and make our selection from people applying for the fellowship.” The AAC was established in 2007 by USC School of Architecture dean Qingyun Ma as a base for researchers and students from around the globe to study China’s arts and architecture. Among its chief tasks are conducting research on contemporary Chinese urbanism with a focus on what China’s contribution to global urbanism might be. The USC School of Architecture has operated a six week summer studio out of the institute and aims for the program to eventually have a global draw. In line with this goal, Pearson, himself recently named AAC director, launched the annual research fellowship in order to establish AAC’s role as a year-round, China-focused research institution. Regarding the AAC’s reinvigorated expansion, Dean Ma told AN via email, “AAC has developed a long trajectory through creative cultures between the US and China. This trajectory can only be enhanced and extended by scholars and designers alike. Sorkin meets the expectation perfectly—he has always been able to bring cultural and social discussion into design and reexamine them by the future of human expectations.” AAC’s upcoming programs include a symposium examining the changing nature between China’s cities and countryside and a design competition focused on napping pavilions with full scale versions of these “napavillions” commissioned from Noreen Liu, Gary Paige, Larry Scarpa, and Tiantian Xu.
When the Freedom of Information Act became law, many of my comrades from the struggles of the sixties sent away for their files. For a number there was a terrible outcome: The files were empty. How terrible to think of yourself as a dangerous enemy of the state only to discover you’d been completely beneath its notice! Slightly similar feelings arose when I received a note from the director of media affairs at the Israeli Consulate General wondering if I would be interested in covering a just-announced architectural competition for the redesign of Jerusalem’s Zion Square, a Mandate-era public space in West Jerusalem that has, since the 1930s, been a commercial center (the eponymous Zion was a cinema) and the go-to site for a wide variety of demonstrations, including mass rallies by both right and left. The competition is intended to refresh the site as well as to rebrand and repurpose it, “From Protest Square to Tolerance Square.” As the press release elaborates this false—even invidious—antithesis, “Zion Square, which drew demonstrations and protests, will become a square of tolerance and mutual respect.” Apparently my old pieces denouncing the fraudulent “Museum of Tolerance” (currently under construction on the site of an historic Arab cemetery not far away) and originally to have been designed by Frank Gehry (who wisely backed out) hadn’t made it to my dossier! Perhaps I have no dossier! Let one be opened and let my protest against this grotesque undertaking be the first page! This isn’t the first time there’s been an effort to reconsider the square. In 2006, the Jerusalem Foundation proposed to rebuild it and to rename it Rapoport Plaza, “in honor,” according to the Jerusalem Post, “of the Waco, Texas, tycoon who pledged two million for urban improvements,” including a colossal Cor-ten sculpture by Ron Arad. Although this scheme disappeared quickly, the funkiness and formal incoherence of the time-altered place has been an enduring source of dismay to bien pensant planners, concerned with its failures as a streetscape. The design brief for the new effort at transformation is couched in anodyne architectural language and calls for an “innovative, creative, and sustainable” solution to create a “beating heart of the city” that will become the “focal point of the city’s cultural activity,” supporting a “heterogeneous” “target audience” of “residents, tourists, and visitors” while attentive “to the needs of a diverse population, including children, seniors, and those with disabilities.” Concealed behind these “universal” categories is the more salient fact that this transformation will further ratify and reify steps already taken to shut down the square as a political space. In 2012, after the opening of Jerusalem’s light rail, the municipality signed a contract with CityPass, the system operator, which “prohibits the train being stopped by a roadblock.” This smooth-sailing clause has been enabled by, among other things, the government’s ongoing denial of any permits for demonstrations by anyone in Zion Square, through which the tram passes. In formulation and practice, here, tolerance is equated with prohibition and silence, with restrictions on speech rather than its encouragement. The competition organizers attempt to divert attention from this effective intolerance by a vaguely formulated dedication of the project “in memory of the 16-year-old stabbed during last year’s Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem.” As a further marker of the particular species of exclusionary tolerance hovering over the affair, the adjudicating jury is made up entirely of Jewish Israelis, including the Likudnik mayor of Jerusalem, three highly placed municipal officials (two current, one former), four architects, and the mother of Shira Banki, the girl murdered by an unrepentant, settlement-dwelling, Haredi homophobe, who killed her shortly after his release from a 10-year prison term for having stabbed five people at the 2005 Pride march (he knifed another six in 2015). What a sad exploitation of grief to serve such a cravenly elastic idea of tolerance. But the self-congratulatory propaganda that seeks to use one form of ostensible liberality to mask a far more endemic repression is, alas, an old story. For many years, Israeli officialdom has been working hard to celebrate its welcoming attitude toward gay tourists. According to a much cited op-ed by Sarah Schulman in the New York Times in 2011, the government launched “Brand Israel” in 2004, a marketing campaign aimed at men aged 18 to 24 (posters galore of buff boys on the beach), which was expanded a few years later in a $90 million ad blitz to brand Tel Aviv as “an international gay vacation destination.” The strategy has been widely described as “pinkwashing” for the calculating effort to universalize gay “solidarity” in order to obscure Israel’s attitude towards more intolerable forms of identity. As Jasbir Puar and Maya Mikdashi wrote in the e-zine Jadaliyya in 2012, pinkwashing functions to help the Israeli state “gloss over the ongoing settler colonialism of historic Palestine by redirecting international attention toward a comparison between the supposedly stellar record of gay rights in Israel and the supposedly dismal state of life for LGBTQ Palestinians in Occupied Palestine.” The ploy is even more fundamentally invidious: Makdsashi argued in an earlier piece, that this focus on gay rights—or women’s rights—serves to displace attention from the larger question of political rights and calls out the canny, if racist, Israeli self-promotion as advertising “a safe haven for Palestinian queers from ‘their culture.’” Conspicuously absent in the PR announcing the architectural competition is any acknowledgement of an earlier attack in Zion Square, the attempted lynching (a word widely used in the Israeli media) of four Palestinian teenagers by a Jewish mob in 2012, which resulted in the near death of 17-year-old Jamal Julani. The incident was itself marked by its own particular version of “tolerance”: As a headline in Haaretz put it, “Hundreds Watched Attempt to Lynch Palestinians in Jerusalem, Did Not Interfere.” That the organizers of this competition have chosen, in effect, to so narrowly celebrate a particular form of intolerance with the commemorative dignity of a refreshed architecture only demonstrates—like the opposition it offers between “protests” and “mutual respect”—that intolerance will not be protested here. There’s a fine essay by Herbert Marcuse—written in 1965 as part of the volume A Critique of Pure Tolerance—on the subject of “repressive tolerance,” in which he describes how the idea of tolerance acquires a particular valence depending on the circumstances of its promotion. Marcuse elucidates the conundrum of the ideal of tolerance in an environment of violence and “total administration” in which the exercise of nominal democratic liberties (voting, demonstrations, letters to the editor) serve to reinforce the ability of the system to pursue its own bad ends. In effect, tolerance—the enlargement “of the range and content of freedom,” something devoutly desired as an ultimate good—is made the instrument by which all it strives for is ignored. “Tolerance” becomes a fig-leaf for intolerance. Such unquestioning is used to make dissent meaningless, purging truth-seeking by offering effective equality to any value at all under the guise of an impartiality that reinforces the status quo. The Jerusalem government—through this competition—seeks to create an advertisement for its own warped idea of tolerance rather than to enable the thing itself. As Marcuse put it, “When tolerance mainly serves the protection and preservation of a repressive society, when it serves to neutralize opposition and to render men immune against other and better forms of life, then tolerance has been perverted.” No designer of conscience should participate in this awful sham, which only insults the memory of the victims—and the heroes—of Zion Square.
[Editor’s Note: The following is a response to a recent entry in The Architect's Newspaper's gossip column, Eavesdrop. In the response, Michael Sorkin is referred to as an editor at AN. Sorkin is not an editor, but does sit on AN's East Coast editorial advisory board. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. ] Our Guggenheim anti-counter competition posted on the Terreform ONE blog is a sarcastic commentary. It is not an actual architecture competition and this is readily apparent to almost anyone reading it. We produced the post in response to the enormous confusion created by Michael Sorkin's self initiated counter competition and anti-Guggenheim defamation campaign. We received a number of requests for information in our "info at Terreform dot org" email box and some negative backlash from legitimate entrants. As stated in our text, we have a profound respect for the Guggenheim Museums and Foundation. We also wish to divorce ourselves from any association with Sorkin and his personal opinions as a professional critic. Why Sorkin is so resentful of the Guggenheim, Terreform ONE, and many other publicly recognized groups is disconcerting. Furthermore, the individual attack on our co-founder Mitchell Joachim stating that Sorkin was his "father” is simply outrageous, offensive, and unprovoked. Why in this case does The Architect's Newspaper need to behave like a tabloid? – perhaps it's because Sorkin is an editor. Terreform ONE
Competition or PR stunt? That's up to you to decide, but there is no debate that the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition has provoked some interesting conversations around issues of the cultural institution in the globalized 21st century. On June 23, the Guggenheim will announce a winner, from the 1,715 official entries, all of which you can see here. However, the most interesting parts of the competition will probably be auxiliary to the building chosen on next Tuesday. In October 2014, the list was trimmed to a more manageable (and anonymous) six finalists. One of the spin-offs of the Helsinki competition is Next Helsinki, an alternative call-for-proposals that solicited new ideas about how the museum can bring its centrally located, waterfront site to life through the continuation of emergent urban trends. Rather than simply create another icon, Michael Sorkin explained on the website, organizers initiated the competition because of an “outrage at the march of the homogenizing multi-national brand culture emblematized by the imperial Guggenheim franchise—the cultural equivalent of Starbucks—was what launched us.” However, they also did it because they care about the city of Helsinki. “The feeling of love came from our mutual affection for Helsinki, from a sense that it is a singular place, unique in setting, form, and culture. Understanding the impetus to acquire a Guggenheim as a pursuit of the vaunted Bilbao effect, the idea that some gaudy global repository would put a tired place on the map, we wondered why a city so indelibly fixed in the urban firmament, so superb, would ant to surrender such a fabulous site to some starchitect supermarket,” Sorkin continued. For more on the Next Helsinki project, and to see the shortlisted projects, see their website.