At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the role of the horizon in architectural display and setting for events was noticeable—both in the biennial's discussions held at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Chicago during the opening as well in the main exhibition in the Chicago Cultural Center. Here is what made instant impressions. When the dust settles, various other things will emerge, that I am sure. IIT threw a party for the biennial, as well as hosted panel discussions earlier that day. Without a doubt, Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall is an unbeatable example (on its ideological turf) of how rigorous rules of platonic geometry still drive the photogenic nature beyond actuality, and somehow end up being free of time. The Crown Hall is not only a setting of purity in Cartesian world of grids, but also an organizational force that persists as a monolith in face of any pluralistic trends of the moment, many of them that are present at the biennial. Two discussions "crowned" the morning of that day. First, by reviewing a group of "Emerging Voices," a descriptor meant for a youngish architecture practice established by The Architectural League of New York. After presentations by Dan Wood, Tatiana Bilbao, Michael Meredith, Florian Idenburg, Paul Lewis and Kim Yao, along with a Martin Felsen-moderated discussion, Anne Rieselbach, of the Architectural League, asked the question that was hanging in the air (paraphrased): For how long will emerging architects will still be considered emerging? Judging by the work presented, the offices owned by the panelists are well ahead in their production of some very important projects. Yet, ideologically, what is the position of supporting institutions of Emerging Voices in order to understand the advance of such highly educated architect makers, influenced by being apprentices to their "parent" architects such as OMA, Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl, Diller Scofidio+Renfro, and SANAA. Are they, the “emerging children,” still struggling to assert their own brilliance and excellence already on record? The interesting and lateral voice was Tatiana Bilbao, architect from Mexico City and the only woman on the panel, for whom the question of influence nor mentorship really seemed to matter. It is always good for the debate to see someone shake the table horizontally and get the discussion to go further. Bilbao is from what people in the North call the South. Which leads me to the observation of the second panel at IIT, moderated by Fabrizio Gallanti and titled "South-North," as an inversion to common understanding of geography. This conversation involved two architects from the “South” and two architects from the “North.” Felipe Mesa and David Barragan, spoke about how different it is to be an architect from the south, and how the south is discovering new phenomena in the last five years, such as tourism. Architecture seems to play a large role in the trend of emerging tourism in locations that were not usually visited before. The lessons from these conversations at this time seem two fold. At one end, the inclusion of the south is simply not just having south, it is about being south from the north. In terms of competence of design and construction process, there seems to be no difference, yet there is asymmetry due to different climates that impose legal regulations onto architecture. David Barragan from Quito referred to vernacular architecture in Ecuador as an escape from the curriculum of the architecture schools there that teach detail drawings made to Swiss and German standards, which no one can read and perform there. The case in point. A side discussion with Paul Lewis unfolded at the scene after these two panels. We both looked at the ceiling of IIT covered in tiles that are in square shape while the entire geometry of the Crown Hall is rectangular. It is good to remember that ideas behind pure architecture are indeed purer in geometry, and not necessarily in economy. Back at the Chicago Cultural Center, three installations stand out as direct answers to the title of the biennial: The State of the Art in Architecture. If not noted before, this title is borrowed from Stanley Tigerman’s conference held at Graham Foundation in 1977. For me two projects presented at the biennial draw attention to this topic at best: First, Nikolaus Hirsch & Michel Müller and, second, WORKac & Ant Farm. They take the aspects of the future from the past seriously into the design process of crafting them now. It is a fantastical world of day-dreaming of architecture that crosses through any statements of architects trying to do art…and fail gracefully…into the next set of ideas of what the future of art shall be, by architecture.
Posts tagged with "Mies van der Rohe":
Performance has been the breakout surprise of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. While many of the works inside the Chicago Cultural Center grapple with issues of urbanism, politics, and the resonances of Modernism (especially Mies’ oversized presence in the city) in contemporary culture, the three performances included in the opening weekend program address and embody what is at stake. Views from Superpowers of Ten by Andrés Jaque and the Office for Political Innovation (@andres_jaque, Instagram) Superpowers of Ten by Madrid/New York-based architect Andrés Jaque and his Office for Political Innovation, developed for and first performed at the Lisbon Architecture Triennial 2013, uses pop, oversized props and black-clad performers to restage of the Eames’ icon Powers of Ten. The original film was filmed on the banks of Lake Michigan, not far from the Chicago Athletic Club where it was performed. Jaque’s reworking expands the Eames narrative to our contemporary condition. The exponential zooming out from Earth and then back into the heart of the atom now includes critical questions of space junk, nuclear fallout, immigration, race, queerness, and transgender identity. In a gallery the unorthodox mix of para-architectural issues might seem ponderous, but told through pantomime, they resonate visually and emotionally. We Know How to Order, conceived by Bryony Roberts, and choreographed by Asher Waldron of the South Shore Drill Team powerfully superimposes the movement of African American bodies in space on top of the charged site of Federal Center by Mies van der Rohe. The South Shore Drill Team, hailing from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago, trains young people to master the precise choreography. On the plaza, while the performers mimicked the lines of Mies’ architecture, which underscoring the conditions of universal space into the public realm, they also brought joy and dynamism to the windswept public space. Even stalwarts of the architecture community were moved to tap their feet and wipe their eyes. https://vimeo.com/141231941 Performed in Mies' super spare Carr Chapel on the IIT campus, Theatre by Mexican artist Santiago Borja brought a different kind of otherness to the Miesian space of worship. The performance was set with two specially-designed petate rugs, woven in Mexico, that represent esoteric geometries developed in Europe at the start of the modern movement. Made out of palm leaves, one rug sits on the floor and the other hangs above, demarking what is not so much a stage as an abstract spiritual space for Ingrid Everwijn, the lead teacher of the Eurythmeum CH in Dornach Switzerland. Dressed in pink and yellow dress, Everwijn performed eurythmy movements—a kind of “spiritual gymnastics” developed by Rudolf Steiner and Marie Sivers in early 20th Century. The result was mystical, irrational, and energetic, as well as an immersive experience that undermined the rigors of Miesian abstraction.
In the wake of a slew of criticisms on numerous glass skyscrapers' over-reflective properties, some architects and critics are asking if it's time to reassess our view on using glass facades in the future. Contemporary architecture today is at a crossroads: Do we continue to enamor the structures that reach up into the sky in a display of corporate might with reflective sheaths of glass? Take advantage of the new technology that is allowing the sun to power these buildings? Or do we take a step back and re-evaluate our position on the all-glass facade altogether? Fred A. Bernstein of the Architectural Record laments that today the "relentless repetition of glass facades leads to a numbing sameness." "Is that a building?" said a designer to Bernstein , "I thought it was a pavilion for a plexiglass convention." It's no surprise that the person, who was passing by Fumihiko Maki's creation at 51 Astor Place, feels disillusioned. At one end of the spectrum, you have cities like Bath in England where such glass behemoths are nowhere to be found. You are surrounded by the Georgian works of John Palmer, who's Lansdown Crescent, despite its scale, is not overwhelming. At the other end, you have cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai, which are filled with an unprecedented amount of glass high-rise structures, their facades lost in the sky with light bouncing off one another. Where then, do we draw the line? With modern skyscrapers being the architectural product of an ever changing, neo-liberalist, globalization obsessed corporate society, such a line may even be impossible to draw. The case for glass—to pardon the pun—is clear. For companies, having floor to ceiling windows helps break down the stratified hierarchy that was once commonplace in such office buildings by giving all employees, not just the boss, a panoramic view. When used effectively, an elegant glass facade can convey honesty and open-mindedness and even perhaps financial transparency. This may be why the style is so popular amongst financial firms, despite the fact this isn't always the case. Developers are also under pressure to maximize space. Having a thin skin such as glass is an easy solution that enables the architect to sell the building's space as good value for money. Plus, the advancement of photovoltaic cells now means that they can be installed as windows, further advocating the facade style as an economically viable asset. PV company SolarWindow, which specializes in PV-based window solutions claims that when installed on four sides of a 50-story building, 1.3 gigawatt-hours of energy can be generated. Architect Ken Shuttleworth however, has different ideas. Despite being part of the team behind the glass clad Swiss Rae building in London, he has since done a U-turn by stating that he is "rethinking" everything he as done in the last 40 years. Shuttleworth's voice is echoed by many in what is an emerging discourse on the glass structures that run the risk of becoming the scourge of the skyline. "We need to be much more responsible in terms of the way we shade our buildings and the way we thermally think about our buildings," he told the BBC last year. The only thing that appears to be halting the perpetual rise of the glass facade in the United States is a shortage in the material. Failure of the market to produce however, has not stopped developers, who according to WSJ’s Robbie Whelan, have now delved into the glass manufacturing industry. Developer, Related Cos has even gone so far as to take production methods into its own hands—building its own glass factory to create the largest private development in American history. Bruce Beal Jr., Related’s president chose to embark on the endeavor for a handful of skyscrapers and apartments on Manhattan’s West Side as part of the Hudson Yards scheme. Across the Atlantic, the trade association "Glass for Europe" is understandably keen to dismiss the growing concern about the once ubiquitous glass facade and advocate the fact that glass is fully recyclable. Pressure from trade unions isn't enough it seems to sway architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff who, like Shuttleworth, isn't a fan of the glass skyscraper. Speaking to the BBC he said, "as someone who spends their entire life staring at buildings, I am a bit bored by the glass box. They were radical in the 1920s and now they are just cliches, expensive ones at that," he said. "Now we are having to be more thoughtful about how and where we use glass. Maybe architects will become more inventive in how they use windows, instead of plastering them across whole facades." Technological advancements may be the only way this question will truly be answered, but for now, money talks and that appears to be what governs the modern architectural style today.
Endless House: Intersections of Art and Architecture Museum of Modern Art The Robert Menschel Architecture and Design Gallery 11 West 53rd Street, New York Through March 6, 2016 The Museum of Modern Art pays homage to the single-family home in Endless House: Intersections of Art and Architecture, a rich exhibition comprised of photographs, drawings, video, installations, and architectural models from MoMA’s collection. It showcases the artistic endeavors of both architects and artists alike with works that span seven decades. Intriguing house designs—ranging from historical projects by Mies van der Rohe, Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, and Rem Koolhaas, to new acquisitions from Smiljan Radic and Asymptote Architecture—are juxtaposed with visions from artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Bruce Nauman, Mario Merz, and Rachel Whiteread. The inspiration for the exhibit’s name is Frederick Kiesler’s "Endless House," shown in the 1960 MoMA show Visionary Architecture. Courtesy MoMA
New York City's iconic Four Seasons Restaurant inside the Seagram Building is at the center of a renovation dispute
Traditionalists went into a tailspin over proposed modifications to the landmark Four Seasons Restaurant, a gastronomic and architectural emblem of New York City housed in the historic Seagram Building. The high-ceilinged enclave, clad with French walnut walls, plays daily host to high society a big business in Midtown Manhattan. The eatery garnered landmark status in 1989 for the building’s architectural prowess. Nevertheless, the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) cautions that this designation does not shield the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs, Florence Knoll banquettes, Eero Saarinen cocktail tables, and table settings by L. Garth Huxtable. Building owner and noted art collector Aby Rosen of RFR Holdings recently filed plans to make changes to the restaurant, reportedly without consulting owners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder. While the LPC approved the proposed new carpeting without qualm, they balked at a removal of the cracked-glass and bronze partitions separating the dining area and bar. Originally installed by legendary architect Philip Johnson, who designed the space with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1959, the partitions would be replaced by movable ivy planters to open up the space. Selldorf Architects is also considering nixing the large walnut panels separating the square-shaped 60-foot-by-60-foot Pool Room from the dining room on the mezzanine. These will be replaced with five panels, the outer two of which would be operable for reconfiguration of the space. According to Rosen, this would improve the flow between the mezzanine and the Pool Room without the upper tier framing the space. “This landmark is elevated to a level where any kind of intervention would not be living with preservation,” objected LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. Conservationists bristled last year when Rosen entertained an eviction of the Le Tricorne Picasso tapestry hanging inside the restaurant in order to facilitate reparations to the wall behind it, where a “potentially serious steam leak” from the two-story kitchen had purportedly crippled the structure. The preservation commission retorted that removal of the tapestry would cause it to “crack like a potato chip.” A New York State judge issued an injunction prohibiting Seagram from removing the painting, but Rosen, a real estate developer and avid collector of post-war art, is in conservationists’ crossfire again for daring to alter a landmark. “These are features that are integral to the sense of space. Not just decorative but have architectural meaning and value,” said Commissioner Diana Chapin. Edgar Bronfman Jr., whose family owned Seagram, claimed that RFR’s proposal displays “utter contempt” for the icon. RFR representative Sheldon Werdiger maintains that the changes are restorative rather than invasive. “We’re not making changes as much as we’re restoring. Our local press is trying to make it into a controversial situation,” he told Arch Record.
The days of China as a staging ground for progressive, even experimental, architecture may be numbered. High-profile projects by Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, et al, while the delight of design aficionados around the world, haven't impressed Chinese President Xi Jinping—at least in a positive way. At a symposium on the arts held in Beijing at the end of last year, he made statements to the effect that "weird" buildings—an adjective that has not yet been codified—would not be welcome in the future. Government intrusion into architectural aesthetics is not, of course, without ugly precedent. Joseph Stalin—who was called "the father and friend of all Soviet architects" at the All-Union Congress in 1946—essentially conscripted architects to work for the state, forcing them to close their practices to deliver structures like the Seven Sisters, fortress-like buildings topped with Gothic-ish towers. (Un-fun fact: The project manager for these buildings was a KGB honcho, and the construction crews were composed of POWs and political prisoners.) Mies van der Rohe, in an act of cunning integrity, convinced the Third Reich of the importance of keeping the Bauhaus open, only to close the school himself in a statement of artistic principle. We wonder who among the contemporary architectural community might take such a stand—should the need arise—with regard to China.
According to Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, president of Chicago-based JAHN, contemporary facade design neglects one of the building envelope’s foremost responsibilities: storytelling. “There is a focus now on using the building massing to convey the key message,” he said. “However, I think it’s through the facade that we can bring a more compelling narrative about how the building functions.” As an example, Gonzalez-Pulido pointed to Mies van der Rohe’s One IBM Plaza, which he can see from his office. “When you look at the mechanical floors, they’re treated differently,” he said. “In the lobby, the glass is different. This is actually the responsibility of the facade—it’s more than a piece of glass and metal to cover the building.” Gonzalez-Pulido, who will deliver the afternoon keynote at facades+ Chicago later this month, framed the problem in terms of lightness. “Lightness is not only a physical property but a metaphysical property,” he said. “There’s been a tendency of loading skins with unnecessary elements for the sake of aesthetics. The facade is regulating so many important things that we have to be more conscious of it. If we are, the impact of buildings on the urban environment will be much more positive than it has been.” Architects should take their cue from the automobile and aircraft industries, he said, and discard homogeneity in favor of innovative materials and assemblies. The tendency toward standardization, Gonzalez-Pulido said, does not just have aesthetic consequences. It also sacrifices environmental performance. “It bothers me that buildings are so passive when the environment is changing constantly,” he said. “By facades being so mundane, as they are in a lot of buildings right now, we’re relying more on internal systems as opposed to the skin itself to really improve performance.” In the best-case scenario, the building envelope should facilitate “invisible acclimatization,” explained Gonzalez-Pulido, “creating ideal conditions of comfort and energy consumption without you being an active regulator or manipulator.” One key to correcting the imbalance between form and function, Gonzalez-Pulido argued, is convincing clients that high-performance facades are worth the initial cost. “That’s part of the reason why we’re creating this very boring look to buildings, because clients are so aware of what it takes to make a building inexpensive,” he said. “They’re pushing architects to the cookie cutter. This is dangerous—we’re not inventing things, we’re trying with aesthetics to make a difference.” Luckily, some clients can be talked out of a preference for glass boxes. This is what happened at the Veer Towers in Las Vegas (2010), where JAHN convinced an initially skeptical MGM that external shades were essential in a desert environment. “This is a remarkable story of how we were able to turn around the destiny of a building in its context, through collaborative effort, integrated design, and a committed client,” Gonzalez-Pulido said. Ultimately, it is up to architects to realize the building envelope’s full potential, Gonzalez-Pulido said. “Only if we push our boundaries, remove our preconceptions, and respond to the different context where we’re actually influencing through our design will we be able to make real progress,” he said. “It’s not just a technical question, but a moral question.”
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s archetypal modernist home, the Farnsworth House, is drowning. The banks of the Fox River served as an idyllic setting for the building’s white steel and glass when it landed in Plano, Illinois. But lately the Fox has gone rabid, spilling over its banks three times in the past 18 years. So what to do? Preservationists are looking at installing hydraulic jacks to lift the house during floods, to the tune of about $3 million. Call it the Three Million Dollar Modernist. Ironically Mies put the house on stilts to prevent such flooding; I guess you can’t outwit a wily Fox.
A group of North Carolina preservationists is trying to protect a local piece of modernist history from the impending wrecking ball. The News & Observer reported that a group called North Carolina Modernist Houses (NCMH) has started a campaign to save the former Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic building, which was designed by Raleigh architect G. Milton Small over 50 years ago. "The building is really Raleigh’s finest example of international architecture," said George Smart, the head of NCMH, who noted that Small studied under Mies van der Rohe at IIT. The two-story structure is wrapped in floor-to-ceiling windows and a porch, and has a 6,000-square-foot courtyard with a 10-foot decorative brick wall. While the building does not have a national profile or an esepcially famous architect, it was noted for its "taste and design" in a 1965 New York Times cover story. The building is currently vacant, and its owner has filed plans for a structure twice its size on the site. Construction on that project is expected to begin in a few months, but before that happens, NCMH is making its own push to find a new tenant for the building. They will be hosting an open house at the clinic building on May 7th.
Earlier this year, the Washington, D.C. Public Library announced that Martinez+Johnson and Mecanoo had won their competition to design the next phase of the city's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Check out AN's coverage of the winning design here. The firm beat out two other finalists to revamp van der Rohe's iconic work. Here's AN's guide to the competition and the runners-up. According to a press release from the D.C. Public Library, each team “developed two preliminary design ideas: one of a stand-alone library and one of a mixed-use building with additional floors.” All three teams propose ways to respect and restore the structure’s original facade, but re-imagine the library’s interiors and offer ideas for what can go on top of it. There are also two competing proposals to add “a cloud” into—or onto—Mies’ structure. The Runners-up: The Patkau Architects/Ayers Saint Gross proposal removed existing interior floorplates to create what they’re calling a “Community Mixer.” Above this courtyard-like space will be “the cloud,” a “new technological form” that “distributes daylight, broadcasts information, and sustainably generates energy.” The STUDIOS Architecture/The Freelon Group team proposed a completely revamped roof with gardens, a café, a pedestrian walkway, an amphitheater and possible housing. And, yes, they’ve got “a cloud” too; it will be “ever-present through the building” and include “new library programs associated with sharing, innovation and prototyping.” Martinez and Johnson + Mecanoo's winning proposal: Read about the winning plan in AN's recent article on the project.
Norman Foster has broken ground on a skinny residential tower in Midtown Manhattan. Situated adjacent to the 1958 Seagram Building on the site of a former YWCA, Foster + Partners' 61-story white luxury tower at 610 Lexington Avenue will dwarf Mies van der Rohe's 38-story bronze-clad landmark. "It’s not simply about our new building, but about the composition it creates together with one of the 20th century’s greatest," said Foster + Partners' Chris Connell in a statement. "In contrast to Seagram’s dark bronze, our tower will have a pure white, undulating skin. Its proportions are almost impossibly slim and the views will be just incredible."
Out of a crop of 26, ten teams have been invited to present their technical proposals for the renovation of the Mies van der Rohe–designed Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. District officials are hoping to transform the landmark 1972 building, Mies’ last built work and his only in D.C., into a state-of-the-art central library fit for the nation’s capital. The finalists are Cunningham Quil Architects and 1100 Architects, Ennead Architects and Marshall Moya Architects, Leo A. Daly and Richard Bauer, Martinez and Johnson Architects and Mecanoo Architects, OMA and Quinn Evans Architects, Patkua Architects and Ayer Saint Gross, REX and Davis Carter Scott Architects, Shalom Baranes and Davis Brody Bond, Skidmorw Owings & Merill, and Studios Architecture and The Freelon Group. With the library’s plumbing, HVAC and elevator systems in need of replacement, asbestos present throughout the building, and annual maintenance costs soaring to $5 million, the aging athenaeum demands some serious work. Library officials have given their chosen architects a few different options, from a simple update of the building’s ailing systems, to construction of two additional floors or a complete gutting the interior. Either way, the transformation is scheduled to wrap up by 2018.