Rem Koolhaas cut the interviewer short when asked if he had any regrets: “That’s a private matter and therefore not one I will answer.” And yet the entire hour-long conversation provided what seemed to be almost shockingly intimate glimpses into the architect’s state of mind, where feelings of being lonely, isolated, ineffectual, nostalgic, and even old seemed simmering. The event was LIVE, a series offering public interviews of topical characters, held in a sumptuous Victorian-age hall at the New York Public Library. And Rem Koolhaas with Hans Ulrich Obrist were there to talk with event curator Paul Holdengraber about their new book Project Japan: Metabolism Talks. The capacity audience numbered over 400, strong in architect professionals, including Marion Weiss, Michael Manfredi, SO-IL’s Jing Liu, Beatriz Colomina, Paul Goldberger, Suzanne Stephens, MoMA’s Pedro Gadhano, and Family’s Dong-Ping Wong among so many others. And they were all ears when Holdengraber said he had asked Koolhaas and Obrist to define themselves in seven words: Koolhaas gave a clear-cut six: mystic, rational, sober, baroque, patient, immediate. Obrist, sort of eight: catalyst, conversation, curating curiosity, guidance-making, and protest against forgetting. In a brief introduction, Koolhaas returned to a subject he’d addressed at the Japan Society a few nights before: How Kisho Kurokawa managed to be a magazine-posing celebrity architect in his day (1950s and 60s) who was still taken seriously enough to influence the direction of postwar Japan. “He was prominent enough to interview the prime minister,” Koolhaas noted, and you could almost feel the waves of longing and envy welling up. Today, he said, the effect is the opposite: the more media exposure, the less architects are taken seriously. Even more, the architect said, Kurokawa provided a postwar model for being male in Japan. (And that without wearing a black turtleneck.) The Metabolists worked together, and with the country almost entirely in ruins, their thinking as a group became “an extension of the imagination of the state.” Perhaps. What the Metabolists actually recommended in terms of architecture—floating fortresses, sky villas, pod-dwellings—seemed less of interest than the camaraderie of ideas. In contrast, Koolhaas said, “We are all lonely operators with very little cooperation. They could stand together and work in a movement.” And though the work itself dealt with impossibilities of scale and entirely broken down systems in desperate need, the united effort was “a miracle to behold.” Glossing over the homogeneity of postwar Japanese society with competitive zeal fueled by peer humiliations, Koolhaas apparently finds that zeitgeist preferable to today’s market economy where “architecture has been warped and separated from anything important and no longer serves the public good, but only the good of private interests.” The sheer Japanoiserie of Japanese architecture impressed both Obrist and Koolhaas who attribute that quality to modern architects having never cut off tradition but allowing it to flow continuously from the past and into their work. The same, he said, could never be said of a French, Dutch, or Swiss architect (pace Zumthor). It means something to be a Japanese architect, Koolhaas contended, while elsewhere, “architects have disintegrated to insignificance.” Such self-flagellating remarks have been voiced before by the profession’s most Sphinxian sage. And yet when he spoke of meeting with surviving Metabolists—some of them politically reactionary, to his surprise— it was how they coped with their advancing years that seems to have caught his attention most: "Perhaps old age requires strategy more than any other point in life. The conversations demonstrated touchingly that it is more crucial to exploit your limitations than to survive your gifts. As memory weakens, vision is your only option," Koolhaas said at the end, paraphrasing his book and, still marveling, added “It was magnificent to see the tactical ticking in their brains on how to make a good impression.” And so it was.
Posts tagged with "New York Public Library":
Who knows what Henry Kissinger, Lou Gehrig, Maria Callas, Ralph Ellison, Marianne Moore, and Jacob Javits have in common? They were all kids who checked books out of their neighborhood library, the Fort Washington Branch of the New York Public Library. It is one of the original 67 New York City Carnegie Libraries. Designed by Cook & Welch Architects, it opened in April 1914. Walter Cook, along with George Babb and Daniel Willard, designed the Carnegie Mansion on Fifth Avenue and 91st Street – today’s Cooper-Hewitt museum. Sage and Coombe Architects were retained to modernize the second floor children’s room. Giant lampshades and custom carpets create kid-sized story circles with themes drawn from the neighborhood context. My favorite is the one I call “Run, bunny, run,” with “Ant Farm” a close second. Graphics for the shades are collages of images from the digital archives of the New York Public Library. These fun spaces inspire young and old alike. I think I’ll just curl up for story time! Cynthia Kracauer. Read more at www.archtober.org/blog
Tower of Babel. Argentinian artist Marta Minujin has created an 82-foot tall "Tower of Babel" in Buenos Aires after the city was named UNESCO's World Book Capital for 2011. Readers, libraries, and 50 embassies donated over 30,000 books in a variety of languages to fill the twisting structure. The Guardian has a slideshow and we posted a video of the tower after the jump. High Line Caution. Witold Rybczynski penned an op-ed for the NY Times cautioning the many would-be High Line copy cats that the success of the New York wonder-park (and a Parisian predecessor) aren't because of the parks themselves, but because of their unique situations in dense, thriving cities. Tower Trouble. The Wall Street Journal writes that skyscraper construction has dropped off drastically from decades past to the tune of 14 million fewer square feet per decade than the period between 1950 and 1990. Can New York maintain its global competitiveness without ramping up construction? Twin Lions. Two stone lions, Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, have been standing sentinel at the New York Public Library's main entrance on Fifth Avenue since 1911. Ephemeral New York posted a little more history on the backstory of the big cats.
Last week, we came across illustrator James Gilliver Hancock's series of playful block elevations titled "All the Buildings in New York." It turns out this impulse to sketch block upon block of New York's architecture has been around for quite some time. In 1899, the Mail & Express newspaper company published a graphic journey down Manhattan's Broadway in a book called A Pictorial description of Broadway now archived at the New York Public Library. The stroll down Broadway 112 years ago reveals just how much New York has evolved over the past century. As the NYPL says, "The result, as you can see here, is a 19th century version of Google's Street View, allowing us to flip through the images block by block, passing parks, churches, novelty stores, furriers, glaziers, and other businesses of the city's past." Two of the most dramatic plates in the series show Times Square, above. Quite a striking difference to the neon canyon we know today. Below, you can see the lush Madison Square, also with significantly fewer high rises, and below that is a stunningly underdeveloped 59th Street showing vacant lots and buildings of only a few floors. Click on the thumbnails below to launch a gallery.
At the turn of the last century, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie offered grants for 67 library branches in New York City, a boon for book-lovers across the five boroughs. More than a century later, however, many of these aging buildings are more than a little dog-eared, and the New York Public Library has been working to reclaim them as bright community hubs. The latest of these spaces to be revived, the St. Agnes Library on the Upper West Side, is back in shape after a two-year, $9.5 million restoration that library officials see as a model for the system’s Carnegie legacy. Originally designed by the New York firm Babb, Cook and Willard, the 1906 building had suffered typical alterations: Dropped ceilings occluded architectural details, and skylights were covered over, dimming interior reading rooms. The main goal for Helpern Architects, commissioned for the renovation, was to recreate the original volumes of the nearly 18,000-square-foot structure. According to architect-in-charge Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo, the team found much ornament intact: When restoring the ceilings, original crown moldings were uncovered, while wood flooring and pillars could also be saved. Original windows had been removed, partly replaced by solid aluminum panels, so the architects specified new multipane mahogany windows, based on historic details. Bringing the library into the 21st century also included making the building fully accessible. One of the main challenges was the new entrance ramp, which had to fit within both the landmark district and the Renaissance Revival facade, which fronts on Amsterdam Avenue. Using a reconstructed historic wrought-iron fence on the exterior, the ramp continues inside the building, minimizing its visual impact. To route new infrastructure, the firm took advantage of empty duct shafts that could be used for mechanical systems. And by tucking the elevator in back and inserting a fireproof glass stairwell, the structure’s grand marble stair could be retained as the center of attention. “The whole idea was to make it all feel seamless,” said David Helpern, founder and president of Helpern Architects. “The library had always been as you see it, yet it is new and modern.” Among the new elements, a collection of colorful, egglike seats in the children’s section is illuminated by a new skylight, while a mural fills the entire south wall, inviting visitors within. The genesis of the wall graphic, spelling the word Imagine, was to capture the essence of the neighborhood, with Central Park’s Strawberry Fields and the Dakota Apartments, home to John Lennon, a stone’s throw away. This successful blend of past and present has made St. Agnes a template for future library renovations. “This is the single best renovation of a Carnegie library I have ever seen,” Paul LeClerc, president of the New York Public Library, told AN. “I appreciate the way Helpern Architects have preserved the original aesthetic of these gorgeous, vivid spaces,” LeClerc continued. “You know you are in a historic building–it’s welcoming and warm. At the same time, it has the feature of our best contemporary buildings: lots of light coming in.”