When the Sonoma and Napa fires of 2017 tore through the Bay Area design community, several thousand structures were destroyed, and as many as 15,000 people were left without homes. Architects whose families and clients lost homes made it to the Monterey Design Conference last October to find comfort and to connect. Every year, I buttonhole attendees to seek out their favorite presenters. Sou Fujimoto won my informal poll, so I’ll start with him. Fujimoto began his presentation with a photo of a tree and a Tokyo city scene. The title of his lecture, “Between Nature and Architecture,” turned out to be the unintended theme for the conference. In all his work, Fujimoto questions obvious assumptions. This was true with two relatively small houses, House N and House NA, where he redefined the interior/exterior boundary. As with Richard Meier, most of his work is white. But unlike Meier’s work, his strives to almost disappear. He even questions assumptions about how to design a public bathroom in Ichihara, making the structure completely transparent and the landscape wholly private. Weiss/Manfredi’s opening lecture addressed the “binary reading of the natural and artificial.” Their low-rise projects express inventive ways to weave structure and landscape together, like Seattle’s Olympia Sculpture Park (2007) or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Center (2012). This approach reaches its apogee in the Novartis Visitor Center (2013). I can’t remember a high-security checkpoint being so graceful—like the spirit of one of Calatrava’s birds rather than the remains. They reminded us, with their handsome portfolio, that our experience of nature is largely constructed. An unexpected surprise was a last-minute replacement, the tall and very funny Jeff Goldstein from the Philadelphia based firm DIGSAU. Without a written script, he showed us a modest not-for-profit center that trains at-risk youth. Students helped build the wood collage wall. It was a glorious example of how to create authentic community engagement. Shohei Shigematsu, the head of the OMA’s New York office, showed us that there is a future to OMA beyond Rem Koolhaas. Milstein Hall, the expanded center at Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning reminded of some of the big moves architects employed in the 60s. OMA’s diagrams are ingenious, but the spaces are not inviting. One of Shigematsu’s most interesting projects is his collaboration with artist Taryn Simon at the Park Avenue Armory. The concrete columns have a stillness that some of the jazzier permanent buildings do not. My spectacular visuals award goes to Dominique Jakob of the Paris-based Jakob + MacFarlane. Their design appears to be rooted in digital technology and seemed far removed from the mundane requirements of our West Coast digital overlords. On the river in Lyon, two office buildings, the “Orange Cube” and the “Green Cube,” with bold color and grand cutouts, make Apple’s and Facebook’s new buildings look almost banal. The firm’s 100-unit social housing project in Paris doesn’t follow the form of typical Parisian apartment blocks, and Jakob’s use of ETFE film for balcony curtains gives the building a wrapped Christo look on each floor. What was called the “Tribal Elders” slot at previous conferences was filled with the Los Angeles graphic and exhibition designer Gere Kavanaugh. Noted architect and writer Pierluigi Serraino, a raconteur and interviewer of some skill, could not contain Ms. Kavanaugh. While her presentation of modernist graphics did go on too long, Gere was entertaining. Another determined Angeleno, Julie Eizenberg, talked about Urban Hallucinations, her new non-monograph. Her firm Koning Eizenberg has focused on Los Angeles. They are unafraid of the quirky, the cheap, the historic, the imaginary, the gritty, or the glamorous. This is an architect who thrives on constraints and, as she says, “stretches the limits.” One of my favorite new projects was the Pico Branch Library, which allows everybody to connect to the larger digital universe while staying grounded in the very nonimaginary neighborhood. The “Emerging Talents” included Laura Crescimano, a founder of SITELAB Urban Studio with the late Evan Rose. She charts the course for design professionals engaging disadvantaged communities. Heather Roberge of Murmur and Jimenez Lai and Joanna Grant of Bureau Spectacular reminded us that Los Angeles’s up-and-coming architects are just as bold as the earlier generation. Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects alum Alan Tse stole the show. In the few minutes he was allotted, he made us laugh and admire his considerable talent. His restaurants and interiors are sublime, and his construction budgets are what other architects would charge in fees. He made architecture real in a way I’ve rarely seen. We all needed some levity and inspiration as we returned home to question how or even whether we should rebuild so close to the wildland/urban interface. As with most Monterey Design Conferences, we came away with more questions and few answers.
Posts tagged with "Murmur":
Heather Roberge, principal of Los Angeles–based architecture firm Murmur, has been appointed the new chair for the University of California, Los Angeles Department of Architecture and Urban Design (AUD). Prior to Roberge’s appointment, Los Angeles architect Neil Denari had been interim chair. Denari’s appointment came in 2016 after former chair Hitoshi Abe decided to step down. Roberge’s appointment is not the only recent change at UCLA—Brett Steele was named as the new dean of the university’s School of Arts and Architecture late 2016. Roberge has been a faculty member at AUD since 2002 and has taught widely at schools such as Washington University in St. Louis, Ohio State University, the Pratt Institute, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, among others. According to Murmur’s website, Roberge’s academic work “investigates the spatial, structural, and atmospheric potential of digital technologies on the theory and practice of building.” Roberge has helmed Murmur since 2008. The firm was also named an Emerging Voices awardee in 2016 by the Architectural League of New York. Murmur’s 2015 exhibition, En Pointe, won an AIA|LA Design Merit award in 2015, as well. Roberge worked as a partner at the design practice Gnuform prior to starting Murmur. Roberge assumes chairpersonship as wider shake-ups have infused new waves of leadership at several other Los Angeles area architecture schools. Milton Curry was recently appointed as the new dean of the Southern California University School of Architecture while Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter was named new dean of the Woodbury School of Architecture earlier this year, for example.
“They don't rely on anything except each other to stand up,” noted Heather Roberge, principal of the architecture practice Murmur, as she wove through the leaning, gleaming steel columns of her installation En Pointe. “There is a structural interdependence between each member, showing that you can use strategies of eccentricity to produce stability.” Notions of stability and collective support—in visual, structural, and historical senses—return time and again in Roberge’s elegant and complex structure, recently exhibited at the at the SCI-Arc Gallery in Los Angeles. En Pointe featured a full-scale installation and a meditation on the column—a collection precedents drawn from of historical and contemporary projects. “We used case study techniques from industrial design for the formation of aluminum to produce surface-active shells that go beyond wrapping,” said Roberge, as she explained how the project’s structural loads travel along thin steel surfaces, without frames or internal structures, assisted by precise folding and fastening. It is telling that at the visitor’s standing eye-level is the so-called “waist” of En Pointe. Horizontal reveals for each column together create a horizon that splits them into two five-foot halves. Above, they widen and fuse to form multi-faceted arches; below, they taper to the ground. “The waist is literally the site of connection,” noted Roberge. “There's a ring inside, to which the top and bottom halves are bolted. This stiffens the column at mid-span and allows us to make the pieces in readily available sheet sizes.” From the gallery’s mezzanine overlook, En Pointe is capped by a single, multi-faceted, horizontal plane, where laterally supported sheets span from column to column, troubling their “individual” nature. “From above, you can really understand its mass,” Roberge added, “whereas below, we’ve found that people were really unafraid to approach it, to feel it, to squeeze it.” This combination of angular planes, elaborate seams, and connecting details produces a form that reads as both delicate and muscular, acknowledging its debt to machine processes as well as the work of human hands. Project components were shaped and folded using a CNC press brake, precise in its calculations but at times less predicting of the materials’ responses. “As a result,” she acknowledged, “the part is very close to the desired shape but isn't identical to it.” But it is at these rich intersections of multiple parts that Roberge is keen to speak to, treating them not as aberrations but as documents of the eccentricity and uncertainty inherent in complex metal fabrication. An associate professor at UCLA and director of the undergraduate program in Architectural Studies, her research focuses on both digital technology and materiality. Careful observation, measurement, and adjustment are clear sources of enthusiasm for Roberge and her team of UCLA and SCI-Arc students who helped construct the project. Predicting behavior is less about risk and more about an ongoing educational process. “I like how a material adjusts, how it strains, how it takes shape,” Roberge said. “Working with certain materials is always an approximation. Throughout the making process, we reached a level of comfort with revealing the contingency of the craft.” The research period that led to En Pointe was conducted with students at UCLA for a design studio that explored “the history of the spatial goals of the column.” Rather than focus on a column's load-bearing efficiency, they took a genealogical approach to examine how discrete variations on a central architectural element have come to articulate space throughout history. A pamphlet assembling the research accompanies the spatial installation, and positions En Pointe as a potential hinge in the column’s innovation and evolution. Still, Roberge is well aware that architectural pavilions present a cautionary tale as end-goals for younger practitioners. There’s a worry of getting caught in a disciplinary echo chamber. “The project is a form of research that does not discretely begin or end,” she said. “Architects don't want to be their own client, that's not how we construct our values. But with the proper support, installation becomes an amazing opportunity to treat experimentation as a form of practice.”