Posts tagged with "Postmodernism":

Placeholder Alt Text

Just how much of a Nazi was Philip Johnson?

In The Man in the Glass House, released today, author Mark Lamster puts some meat on the bones of rumors of Philip Johnson’s many muddled improprieties. “I’m a whore,” Johnson was known to proclaim, and from his curation of the first show on modernism at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932 to his willingness to let Donald Trump "Make Philip Johnson Great Again" (after the architect’s falling out with the partners that launched his second coming as a postmodernist), Johnson has proved to be American architecture and design’s most storied strumpet. He played whatever role he wished without much consequence. A gossip but also an intellectual, it is easy to picture Johnson among today’s Elon Musks or Kanye Wests, a man of power fueled on provocation, publicity, and greasy alliances with often hollow reasoning and confusing motivations. Would he quote this and retweet it?  Absolutely. Most sensational is Johnson’s interest in the Nazis, beginning in the early 1930s with an excitable viewing of a Hitler Youth rally in Berlin, continuing with an essay titled Architecture of the Third Reich, and the design of a grandstand for a noted anti-Semitic Catholic Priest. While in Germany in the late 1930s, Johnson dined with Nazi financiers, telling the FBI later that the meals were “purely social.” Johnson hoped that the Nazis would jump on his idealized design agenda, but he would ultimately be unsatisfied by their disinterest. In the 1950s, Johnson would denounce his association with the Nazi party and partially atone for it by designing Israel's Soreq Nuclear Research Center and later the Kneses Tifereth Israel Synagogue and forgoing his fee, a hollow gesture considering Johnson’s lifelong wealth. He would later justify his attraction to the Nazis in sexual terms, having more to do with his homoerotic fascination of their uniforms than their ideology. AN has compiled the following quotes from The Man in the Glass House that provide insight into his Nazi past: "The Nazis were 'Daylight into the ever-darkening atmosphere of contemporary America.'” Philip Johnson, pg. 165 “Submission to an artistic dictator is better than an anarchy of selfish personal opinion.” PJ, pg. 93 “Later he would rather unconvincingly justify his attraction to the Nazis in sexual terms, as a kind of homoerotic fascination with the Nazi aesthetic: all those chiseled blond men in jackboots and pressed uniforms. It was easier to whitewash sexual desire than the egregious social and political ideas that truly captivated him.”Mark Lamster, pg. 114 PJ on witnessing bombings in Poland: “the German green uniforms made the place look gay and happy.” PJ, pg. 179 “At the time he believed, however naively, that National Socialism might still be reconciled with modernism. He outlined this position in an essay, 'Architecture in the Third Reich,' that Lincoln Kirsten published in the October 1933 issue of Hound & Horn. Johnson conceded that the Bauhaus was 'Irretrievably' tarnished by its association with Communism, but suggested Mies was an 'apolitical figure who would satisfy the new craving for monumentality' while proving that 'the new Germany is not bent on destroying all the modern acts which have been bent up in recent years.' Hitler’s racist and menacing rhetoric, that he might be bent on destroying more than just modern art, was left unmentioned.” ML, pg. 118 “Johnson hoped that the Nazis would come around to the monumental power and abstract beauty of the Miesian aesthetic, and in that wish he would always be disappointed.” ML, pg. 94 “When interviewed in 1942, Johnson’s former secretary Ruth Merrill told the FBI that Johnson believed 'the fate of the country' rested on his shoulders, and that he wanted to be the ‘Hitler’ in the United States.”  ML, pg. 139 “Johnson would later admit to the FBI that he attended American Nazi Party rallies at Madison Square Garden, and became a financial benefactor of the Christian Mobilizers, an anti-Semitic organization of street brawlers.” ML, pg. 169 “We seem to forget, also, that we live in a community of people to which we are bound by the ties of existence, to some of whom we owe allegiance and obedience and to others of whom we owe leadership and instruction.”  PJ, pg. 163 “A more plausible scenario is that Johnson was exchanging information on the activities, politics, and membership of American fascist circles, and discussing the means by which the Germans might disseminate their propaganda. According to records captured after the war, the Nazi diplomats were specifically interested in obtaining mailing lists and names of individuals who might be sympathetic to their cause…Johnson, who had built a network of nationalist supporters in both Ohio and New York, was in a position to deliver precisely that type of material. Indeed, Johnson had been keeping confidential lists of would-be supporters since April 1934, when he instructed his private secretary, Ruth Merrill, to take names at the first fascist gathering at the duplex apartment he shared in New York with his sister.” ML, pg. 165
Placeholder Alt Text

The Venice Architecture Biennale turns away from the digital

The most cogent critique of Freespace, the current Venice Architecture Biennale, is that it fails to recognize the degree to which contemporary urban space is a result of digital technology and computation. The curators, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, are practicing architects who wanted their Biennale to return to the basic principles of spatial design and what they consider “the generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture's agenda.” There is nothing wrong with this sentiment, but it meant they chose to focus on individual projects and not their means of production. The pair focused on craft; social, political, and technological “demand”; and featured figures and groups like Amateur Architecture Studio (Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu), Cino Zucchi, the Dutch architecture historian collective Crimson, Dorte Mandrup, Sigurd Lewerentz, and the British group Assemble. The results add up to a thoughtful and unique perspective on today’s architecture, but there is little doubt that it bypasses the “digital.” This direction infuriated those who believe that only a focus on digital production is an authentic summary of today’s architecture. For these critics, the results are old-fashioned and no longer offer a relevant analysis or typology, but a “purely phenomenological formal, material, or tectonic understanding of architecture,” in the words of Alessandro Bava. This digital versus demand formulation of architecture is not just a generational divide but represents a profound difference between an architecture grounded in an expression of the digital and one that primarily seeks to respond to site, program, function, and reception. In The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence, Mario Carpo describes the importance of the first digital turn of “mass customization” as one of the most important architecture inventions of all time because it “changed—or at least subverted, upended, and disrupted—almost every aspect of the world.” He sees an unintended benefit of mass customization, the possibility to change the notion of detail and form that has remained constant since Leon Battista Alberti toward the possibility of an “infinite number of variations” for the designing architect. He believes that modern classicism “continues to stifle technological innovation in building,” (even the golden age of modernism was a “retardataire phenomenon”) and this new technology offers a way forward to a new relationship, or, as Christopher Alexander would say, a new “pattern” of parts to the whole. In the 1990s, as Carpo wrote, the “first turn” saw “the best architects adopting and embracing digital change sooner than any other trade” and established the basis for the second wave, in which the avant-garde uses “Big Data and computation to engage somehow the messy discreteness of nature.” But this first wave, as we know, created a new architectural style of “smooth and curving spliny lines and surfaces” that, despite the potential possibility of first-wave, open-source collaboration and a return to medieval-style authorship, led to something else totally predictable. A new style, parametricism, took over and continues to this day, “with ever-increasing degrees of technical mastery and prowess. Ideas and forms that twenty years ago were championed by a handful of digital forms engender architectural masterpieces at a gigantic, almost planetary scale.” This planetary architecture, perhaps because of the high cost of design and construction of the complex forms it can produce, has become, counterintuitively to the claims of many theorists, a truly corporate style of design for the 1 percent and corporations. It should then come as no surprise that many of today’s younger architects are looking for a different kind of architecture and that many of the brightest are returning to the postmodernism of the 1980s. In this way, the current generation are like the designers of the first Venice Architecture Biennale’s Strada Novissima, who nearly 40 years ago looked for an alternate model to the modernism that they believed was destroying the historic layered fabric of our urban settlements. Though this style is still fraught with the problems (primary authorship, individuality, and history as a precedent) that brought it to an end in the 1990s, its reemergence is an authentic and important shot across the bow to technologists like Carpo, who are apoplectic at its return. It is an important attempt to find a way out for the profession, which all too often focuses on neoliberal, avant-garde experiments to the exclusion of real-world problems that daily become more urgent for everyone.
Placeholder Alt Text

Exclusive: Venturi Scott Brown-designed house suffers secret demolition

Only a month-and-a-half after a colorful Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown-designed house in Shadyside, Pittsburgh was put up for sale, AN has learned that the new owner plans on tearing it down. The Abrams House, commissioned by Irving and Betty Abrams and completed in 1979, is a striking example of Venturi’s playful postmodernist style. One-half of the roof curves and swoops like a cresting wave over the more traditionally-shaped rectangular portion, with a 20-foot-high vaulted ceiling below. The house’s front facade is capped with a window arrangement that resembles both a ship’s wheel as well as the rising sun and is accentuated with green-and-white “rays” emanating from the window assembly. A ribbon window wraps around the house and illuminates the interior, allowing the primary colors used everywhere from the soffits to the furniture to stand out. A mural by Roy Lichtenstein in the living room accentuates the house’s pop art aesthetic. Other than the colorful flourishes, the Abrams House is particularly notable for its location; the house is surrounded by midcentury work from well-known architects, including the Frank House by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer and the Giovannitti House by Richard Meier. The two-bed, two-and-a-half bath was put up for sale in mid-June of this year for $1.1 million, and the new buyer, Bill Snyder, closed on the building on July 20. Preservationists had briefly hoped that Snyder, who also owns the Giovannitti House, would restore the building, but a demolition permit was filed on July 23. Pittsburgh requires a 15-day wait period between the filing of a demolition permit and the start of work, but an anonymous source has informed AN that the interior of the house has already been gutted. The large Lichtenstein piece has been covered and removed, either causing or revealing significant degradation in the wall behind, and fixtures throughout the house have been cleared out. Snyder had purchased the Giovannitti House from its original owners, Frank and Colleen Giovannitti, in 2017 and is currently restoring the exterior of the home to its original condition. With the demolition of the Abrams House, the entire lot may become a landscaped addition to complement Meier’s building. Brittany Reilly, a board member at the nonprofit Preservation Pittsburgh, has been trying to raise awareness of the house. According to Reilly, the home is a unique piece of architecture for Pittsburgh in a neighborhood full of architecturally-significant houses. The problem? The Abrams House isn’t visible from the street, and Reilly believes that seclusion has led the public to overlook it. The next step for preservationists is to “respectfully” drum up community attention to the demolition. Preservation Pittsburgh has reached out to VSBA Architects & Planners, who were unaware of the demolition, as well as other Pittsburgh-based preservation groups, and is currently trying to establish a dialogue with Snyder. Update: After this story was originally published, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) has been working to mount an individual landmark nomination with the Historic Review Commission, planning commission and Pittsburgh City Council before the 15 day period elapses. Denise Scott Brown expressed her displeasure with the demolition reached for comment by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Why does he need to do that? Why doesn’t he save it,” said Brown. “This is not very honorable.” AN will follow this story up as more details become available.
Placeholder Alt Text

The AT&T Building is now a New York City landmark

It’s official: Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s postmodern Manhattan skyscraper 550 Madison, better known as the AT&T Building, is now a protected landmark. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously this morning to landmark the 1984 tower, making it the youngest building to receive landmark status in New York. A movement to protect the building began last year when developers Chelsfield America and Olayan America revealed plans to renovate the base of the tower. The contested (and protested) scheme from Snøhetta to strip the pink granite from the 110-foot-tall arch and loggias at the tower’s base and wrap it in glass drew immediate criticism when revealed in October 2017. The proposal would have unbalanced the tripartite arrangement between oversized openings at the base, in the central tower, and through the ornamental “Chippendale” topper, and preservationists and Johnson’s contemporaries rallied to prevent alterations. Before designating the AT&T Building as a landmark, commissioners noted the outpouring of support from residents, critics, and architects at the public hearing on June 19. Special attention was drawn to the building’s relatively recent completion date; Fred Bland, the interim chair of the commission, remarked that it was one of the rare buildings of which commissioners had experienced the original intent. To that end, commissioner Kim Vauss recounted that on a tour of the building in college she was struck by the grandeur of the original lobby. It was only years later that she would learn the original lobby was gone, AT&T’s Golden Boy statue having been removed by Sony in 1992, and the arcades having been converted into enclosed retail spaces in 2002. Keeping retail off of Madison Avenue and confined to the passage between East 56th Street and East 55th Street (now enclosed by a Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman-designed canopy added in 1994) was Johnson’s original intent, something that Sony disregarded during their occupation. The lobby was ineligible for landmarking as the ownership consortium–including minority partner RXR Realty­­­­–demolished the ground floor interior in February. The demolition is part of ownership’s plan to reorient the building by creating a large enclosed garden and seating area in the rear and to open up sightlines through the new lobby. The tower’s interiors, originally designed for 800 single-tenant employees, will be converted into Class A office space for up to 3,000 workers. 550 Madison’s ownership team released the following statement to AN: “We are proud that 550 Madison is now an official New York City landmark, claiming its place in our city’s architectural heritage. Ownership strongly supports designation of the iconic office tower and applauds the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision. Since acquiring the building, we have taken our role as stewards of this important building very seriously. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with the LPC and other stakeholders to preserve 550 Madison's legacy as a commercial Class A destination in East Midtown, with smart and sensitive modifications to serve modern tenants.” When reached for comment on what exactly the designation covers, the LPC issued the following statement: "The landmark site for the AT&T Corporate Headquarters Building is the tax block and lot (Tax Map Block 1291, Lot 10), and includes the exterior facades of the office tower and the annex, and the exterior facades of the enclosed covered passageway."
Placeholder Alt Text

Postmodernism comes back to life in vivid color at the Soane Museum in London

A new exhibition devoted to postmodern British architecture is designed to spark a revival of interest in the movement. The exhibition titled The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture is now showing at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London through August 26. The exhibition will display a selection of important works by some of the country’s most prominent architects such as Terry Farrell, CZWG, Sir Jeremy and Fenella Dixon, John Outram, and James Stirling. Their works emerged as part of the postmodern movement, which was a reaction against the confining modernist style used in designing many British towns and cities at the time. Postmodernist architecture generally emphasized the reconnection of architecture to the past through “ornament, materials, form or typology,” according to a statement from the Soane Museum. The SIS building designed by Terry Farrell houses the headquarters of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency Secret Intelligence Service MI6. Located on the bank of the River Thames in central London, the cascading building looks like a fortress, finished with a cream-colored facade and green-tinted windows. Another highlight is a project for 200 Queen Victoria Street for Rosehaugh-Stanhope Developers by John Outram. Although unbuilt, its signature image, featuring oversized Greco-Roman columns, chinoiserie posts, mosaic patterns, turbine flourishes, and fantastical additions make it a shining example of the movement's style. CZWG’s work is also celebrated in the exhibition. Cascades is a twenty-story apartment building located on the Isle of Dogs in London. Its design offered an alternative appearance to the high rise typology. According to CWZG, the “Pharaonic references” signify the high-reaching ambition of the construction, making it a postmodernist centerpiece. China Wharf is also a significant piece by the same firm. The building combines functionalism and aesthetics. The scalloped wall “is used to twist windows, both towards the rising sun and away from the neighbors directly across the courtyard,” according to the designers. As part of a regeneration scheme for the London Docklands, the building includes a pastiche of stylistic references such as naval and pagoda motifs. “Postmodern architecture in Britain is frequently written-off as an expression of 1980s Thatcherism and still little understood. We conceived this exhibition to set the record straight and reveal this period as one of such amazing creativity and innovation that can hold its own with any moment in British architecture history,” said Owen Hopkins, Senior Curator at Soane. “Full of color, ingenuity, and exuberance, the exhibition will also show the serious intellectual basis that underlay a movement whose legacy still shapes how we create and understand architecture today.” The organizers of the exhibition hope to renew attention to postmodern buildings in the U.K. Later this year, Historic England, the public body that looks after England’s historic environment, will launch a project to assess postmodern buildings for listing.
Placeholder Alt Text

German photographer Haubitz + Zoche captures colorful Christian churches in Kerala

Polychromatic, Le Corbusier-inspired postmodern churches in Kerala are hidden gems of India that were recently photographed by art studio Haubitz + Zoche. In the series titled Hybrid Modernism, the post-colonial churches built after the country’s independence in 1947 are efforts by Indian architects to reinterpret Western influences and develop an identifiable local language with bright colors and sculptural forms. In post-independence India, Le Corbusier was responsible for the master plan of Chandigarh, a city in the north of India. He also built influential buildings such as the High Court, which became famous for the play of colors contrasted against the beton brut surfaces. His style made its way across the country into the architecture of Kerala, a southern state in India. Haubitz+Zoche shunned the popular churches and pilgrimage centers in Kerala, but explored the lesser-known ones that contain a variety of Western influences, Corbusian and beyond. A mixture of postmodern motifs can be seen in the architecture. Sculptures of stars, crosses, globes, and Bibles populate the facades, conveying the world-encompassing, light-radiating themes of Christianity. The photographs are an extension to their work from 2014, when they captured the extravagantly ornamented movie theaters of South India. A similar cinematic sense can be discerned from the region’s religious architecture. An exhibition of the photos, titled Postcolonial Epiphany: Churches and cinemas in South-India, is now on view at Zephyr, a modern art museum in Mannheim, Germany. The exhibition highlights the spellbinding magic with which these venues captivate their audiences. Visitors can experience the architecture’s otherworldly attraction by looking at the photographs.
Placeholder Alt Text

AT&T Building landmarking vote advances amid outpouring of support

The winding saga of Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s hulking 550 Madison took another turn yesterday, as New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) considered landmarking the postmodern office tower’s granite exterior. Preservationists, architects, and colleagues of Johnson’s took the stand to deliver public testimony in favor of the potential landmarking, and even ownership spoke on how they would sensitively redevelop the building with input from the commission. The furor over the former AT&T headquarters began with the initial reveal of Snøhetta’s plan to glass over and encase the base of the tower in October 2017, demolishing the great archways and loggias that, at the time of the building’s opening in 1984, formed a looping privately-owned public space (POPS). The original plan would have stripped the base’s defining 110-foot-tall granite archway and redefined the balance between what had been designed as a tripartite structure (the looming base, the center wall of windows, and the ornamental “Chippendale” topper). The LPC moved quickly to calendar the building in November of last year but also noted that, due to development partners Chelsfield America and Olayan America’s decision to demolish the lobby (against the wishes of Community Board 5), only the exterior would be under consideration. At the most recent meeting of the Landmarks Committee, Seth Pinsky, executive vice president of RXR Realty­­­­—now a minority partner on 550 Madison’s redevelopment—spoke on behalf of the building’s owners and discussed the new scheme they would be presenting. Snøhetta’s glass curtain wall is out, and ownership now officially supports landmarking the tower’s exterior. As a result, they would also like to remove the building’s rear annex and renovate the arcade covered by Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman during their 1993 renovation for Sony and bring the rear yard condition closer to Johnson and Burgee’s original vision. This would create a much larger enclosed garden and seating area. As for the tower’s interiors, originally designed for single-tenant occupancy and for a maximum of 800 employees, Pinsky stated that the current plan was to build out Class A office space for up to 3,000 potential workers. The vast majority of testimony read at the hearing was in favor of landmarking the former AT&T Building. Some in attendance spoke on the building’s noble intentions but purported failure to connect with the street level; in Richard Rogers’ statement, delivered via surrogate, it was noted that while the tower itself has always been impressive, the successive series of interventions at the ground level have only strayed further from Johnson and Burgee’s original intention. The committee received an additional 12 letters of support for landmark status, including from the National Register of Historic Places. Ultimately, the fate of 550 Madison will likely be determined at an unspecified later date wherein commissioners will take Tuesday's testimony into account. The building's owners will continue to tweak their proposed scheme in the meantime. AN will continue to provide updates as they become available.
Placeholder Alt Text

Unpacking Selldorf Architects’ controversial addition to Venturi Scott Brown’s Museum of Contemporary Art

As postmodernism comes roaring back in the architecture world, the time finally seems ripe for many unfairly maligned buildings to receive their due respect. But at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), the opposite seems on the verge of happening: A proposed concrete-and-glass expansion threatens to severely damage a lovely and highly functional building by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA). The agglomerated museum of today—built in pieces between 1915 and 1996—mixes austere concrete with playful color, oversize plaster columns with powerful round arches, large signs and neon with an intimate courtyard. The original portion, a spare house by the California architect Irving Gill, gently tussles with VSBA’s surrounding addition; together, they embrace the tensions inherent in preserving a house within the context of a museum’s more monumental scale. And yet the complex still manages to fit comfortably in its historic surroundings: a set of buildings also designed by Gill that together form a central green for the village of La Jolla. The proposed expansion, on the other hand, shows little interest in its surroundings. The work of New York City architect Annabelle Selldorf, it includes an interior renovation that would smartly turn the existing auditorium into gallery space with a pleasant set of oceanside terraces. But things go awry in the new galleries and glass-entrance atrium, which, in the architect's zeal for a sort of Tadao Ando–inspired minimalism, end up missing out on an opportunity to contribute to the building’s richness. The most alarming proposal, though, is the removal of VSBA’s dramatic colonnade and, consequently, the courtyard that it helps to form. Selldorf argues that the colonnade obstructs views of the original house, but she overlooks the way in which its exaggerated scale both projects the museum’s civic presence and creates a sense of shelter that allows visitors to experience the house in Gill’s intended intimate setting, separated from the traffic out front. Visitors pass through the compressed courtyard on their way into the building—but then upon entering suddenly encounter the double-height explosion of light, neon, and brightly colored patterns that is VSBA’s iconic Axline Court. Under the new plan, the house would indeed be more visible from the road, but it would appear small and insubstantial, overshadowed by the later additions. Visitors would enter via the glass atrium then proceed directly into the new galleries, undercutting the importance of the house and making the Axline Court into a kind of curious afterthought. Both Selldorf and museum director Kathryn Kanjo say they want the court to remain lively, but given the proposed circulation—in which most visitors will only come across it at the back of the bookstore or after passing through three galleries—it’s hard to see what purpose it could serve. The sum total of the new plan would be a mishmash: an unhappy family of buildings that refuse to talk to one another all jammed together onto a single site. It would lose the crescendoing choreography of spaces that gives it vitality and order, as well the carefully considered relation to the town green. And not for any good reason: it would be quite possible—and substantially cheaper—to add galleries where Selldorf proposes without fundamentally detracting from the existing building. Unfortunately, such an approach would require an appreciation on the museum’s part of its architectural legacy that has so far not been forthcoming. Officials I spoke to seemed to have given little thought to the impact of the new project on the VSBA building, and when pressed on their thinking offered no particular reason that the existing circulation or aesthetics needed to be changed. And the museum made only the feeblest of efforts to contact Scott Brown and Venturi about the plans—former director Hugh Davies says he left a single message at their office in 2014, though by that point they had been retired for several years and consequently never heard it. No follow-up was ever attempted; the duo were understandably surprised when I showed them the plans a few weeks ago. By contrast, when Renzo Piano undertook the renovation of the former May Company department store on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, he immediately contacted the office of the architects who designed it, A.C. Martin, and walked through his ideas with the firm’s current partners. Why are Venturi and Scott Brown, widely recognized as among the most important architects of the postwar era, not accorded a similar respect? The short answer to this question is simply that their work is unfashionable: too old to seem new but not old enough to have that nostalgic patina of “another era.” The longer answer is perhaps that architecture that engages the messiness of the world around it must fight an uphill battle for survival in the world of contemporary building—where architecture is too often seen as a formal game, as a matter of sculpting material and form with little concern for the complexities of place and identity. Too many of today’s architects and clients, not understanding the ethical imperative behind the VSBA mode of design, write it off as postmodern riffing—surface-level ornament without a coherent underlying order. But actually each element of the work relates to the larger whole—to symbolic meanings, to the physical and cultural context, to sequences of spaces. And in those relationships emerge subtle and sometimes even disconcerting distortions and juxtapositions—a traditional dome represented only through a bright neon outline in the Axline Court, an entry sequence that at first leads you toward the old front door of the Gill House and then suddenly turns you sideways. These moments allow us to look at the world a little differently: to see the familiar as strange and to reflect on what it means. This powerful but difficult way of making meaning, so well appreciated in many of the artworks of MCASD’s collection, seems to offend contemporary sensibilities when it makes its way into architecture. Indeed, this is not the first time VSBA‘s work has been mistreated in a contemporary renovation. The 2007 expansion of their 1991 Seattle Art Museum by the minimalist architect Brad Cloepfil similarly disregarded a carefully orchestrated entry sequence, replacing it with—drumroll please—yet another generic atrium. Though the VSBA-designed building’s exterior was ostensibly left alone, Cloepfil’s hefty glass tower flatly declines to engage with it (or with the rest of its context, for that matter). Now the original building has taken on the feeling of an eccentric side wing wedged up against a chunky office block. At this point nothing short of a total renovation could set things right. Fortunately, it isn’t too late for the San Diego museum to learn from Seattle and modify its course. It need not totally redesign the addition, but it ought to let the VSBA- and Gill-designed buildings continue on in their lively interplay of similarities and differences. It ought to leave the columns alone, or at least update them respectfully, and rethink the wisdom of having visitors enter through a generic atrium. As Scott Brown put it to me, “Making a more simple-minded entry could be, maybe, just that—too simple-minded.”

A compromise does seem possible. Earlier this year, value engineering eliminated one of the best features of Selldorfs proposal: translucent skylights above the new galleries and converted auditorium. Why not bring them back by saving money on the new atrium and entry sequence? The worrisome proposed circulation would be improved, as would Selldorfs own galleries. The Axline Court would retain its function as the hub around which the various other parts of the museum are clustered, and the Gill house would remain at the museums visual and circulatory heart.

Such a renovation would recognize a key thing: that effective renovations must be a labor of love. They cannot arise from a dislike of what was there before. If the new addition struggles against the Gill and Venturi Scott Brown buildings, if it chooses not to understand or engage with them, then no one will winnot Selldorf, not the museum, and certainly not the village of La Jolla. The rare vitality achieved in the current building will not be easily recovered.

A shortened version of this story appeared in AN’s June print issue. This story has been updated to reflect new information.
Placeholder Alt Text

How the 1980 Venice Biennale transformed architectural discourse

One of the first questions raised about this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, “Freespace,” is whether this exhibition has anything in common with previous editions. Edwin Heathcote, writing for the Financial Times, sees similarities with the 1980 exhibition, The Presence of the Past. Heathcote recognizes related themes between these two versions that stand almost 40 years apart, because he sees this exhibition, curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, as going back to the civic realm, privileging urban public space. It does not come as a surprise that references to this earlier 1980 Biennale are already being made. Indeed, one wonders just how far Lea-Catherine Szacka’s provocative book, Exhibiting the Postmodern: the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale, has permeated our consciousness, forcing us to reconsider the Biennale as an institution, an exhibition, and as a provocation in the making of contemporary architecture culture. Szacka’s book, which provides a comprehensive assessment of The Presence of the Past, came out in late 2017 and has been gaining significant momentum since. In this tightly researched account, Szacka provides an overview on what might very well be one of the most controversial post-war exhibitions produced for the Venice Biennale. While some might recall the full-scale street facades of the Strada Novissima, or Aldo Rossi’s floating Teatro del Mondo, it is the broader historical context that remains absolutely essential to understanding how the 1980 edition came about. In other words, Exhibiting the Postmodern is much more than a history of the first Biennale dedicated solely to Architecture: Szacka positions this exhibition as the primary vehicle for formulating new discourses on architecture, by understanding how the lead-up to this event, as well as its aftermath, have significantly influenced the way we understand architecture today. The Presence of the Past, curated by Paolo Portoghesi, would turn out to be a game-changer. The exhibition, in the absence of national pavilions (only found in later editions), held forth on numerous thematic fronts, providing seven separate sections, including works by those considered precursors of the architectural style that would come to be known as Postmodernism. The exhibition feted Philip Johnson, whose AT&T building was rising on the New York skyline, as well as solid contributions from Aldo Rossi, who designed the main tripartite gate to the newly refurbished Arsenale and built the Teatro del Mondo, a spectral theatre made to glide across the Venetian lagoon. But it was the novel Strada Novissima, a reformulated version of the famed perspectival street in Genova, assembled by stage craftsmen in Rome’s Cinecittà, that remains the most controversial display in the exhibition. The architects selected to contribute with full-scale facade structures made a notable community: Constantino Dardi, Michael Graves, Frank Gehry,  Oswald Mathias Ungers, Robert Venturi, John Rauch and Denise Scott Brown, Léon Krier, Joseph Paul Kleihues, Hans Hollein, Massimo Scolari, Allan Greenberg, Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, Paulo Portoghesi, Ricardo Bofill, Charles Moore, Robert Stern, Franco Purini and Laura Termes, Stanley Tigerman, Studio GRAU, Thomas Gordon Smith and Arata Isozaki. Szacka, in thinking about the use of this eclectic collection of facades for the Arsenale, asks, “So what exactly were they? Representation, simulacra, signs, images? Were they real or imaginary?” Szacka’s book unpacks this exhibition precisely through this lens. We don’t merely confront an exhibition, we penetrate deep into its subconscious. We learn from Szacka about the polemics surrounding the Venice Biennale’s reconstitution, brought about after mass protests demanded revolutionary changes in the way the Biennale was administered. Other events served as critical precedents: The 1973 Milan Triennale exhibition curated by Aldo Rossi, and in Rome, the Roma Interrotta exhibition set in the Trajan Forum in 1978, which reconceived the famed Nolli map through the urban projects of an international set of architects, many of whom would find their way into the Biennale two years later. “In the 1970s,” Szacka observes, “exhibitions were important events that served to define architecture’s intellectual discourse in the wake of the modern movement,” and were employed as “springboards to display ideas, debate and exchanges.” The direction of this debate, at least as it would be consolidated within the spatial configuration of the Arsenale in Venice, was further redefined by a significant break in the Biennale’s organizational program, when the institution chose to formalize the separation between art and architecture in 1980. Taken together, these prior exhibitions furthered sensibilities in architectural representation, and recent institutional reforms permitted the making of one truly unique architectural extravaganza. The invention of a dedicated architecture exhibition–independent of the arts sector–significantly reinforced the autonomy of the architectural subject and made possible a far more self-referential body of architecture. Access to the Naval yards and the Arsenale for the first time provided a unique building configuration with a monumental central corridor and flanking mezzanines spaces that could be readily adapted into an interior street mall. But in this reviewer’s opinion, the Presence of the Past lost something very precious in the process. The association with the Biennale’s fine arts program served to draw out ideas that went well beyond the built world of architecture and its urban fantasias. Szacka, in her very detailed history of the Biennale, glanced over one particular exhibition for Venice held in 1978, whose curators included Lara-Vinca Masini, and whose exhibition Topologia e Morfogenesi (Topology and Morphogenesis), merged the arts together with architecture. This exhibition would be best remembered for the piece by Superstudio, la Moglie di Lot—the Wife of Lot, the steel-framed mechanical contraption with five salt molds depicting five building archetypes and a dripping water spout that melted them away one by one. Masini, who built a solid reputation as art and architecture critique and curator working from Florence, spoke frequently about how art and architecture contaminated each other, enriching their modes of research and expressions on human nature and the built environment. Architecture, when contaminated with art, became radicalized, experimental and visionary, aspects that would be lost when architecture gained its independence. Nonetheless, 1980 would become a watershed year for postmodernism, and Szacka’s book very successfully points out how Biennales shape our understanding on these transformative and critical processes. She provides more than ample evidence to demonstrate how architecture evolves under the pressures of an international exhibition, from the genesis of a concept to the debates that brought a generation of architects together on a project few would have ever imagined possible. Exhibiting the Postmodern refreshes our understanding of the postmodern relationship between architecture and urbanism; a concern that seems to fuel Grafton’s curatorial vision for Freespace, but also connects to Kenneth Frampton, who is being awarded with the prestigious Leone D’Oro in this year’s Biennale opening ceremonies. In her pursuit of the exhibition’s multiple afterlives, Szacka details an insightful chapter on the exhibition’s follow-up tour through the U.S. and France, along with an insightful account of Frampton’s own controversial role in the 1980 Biennale. Szacka details how the British born architect and theorist felt obliged to step back from this historicist movement, as he could no longer reconcile his critical position within the expanding eclecticism of the postmodern. Frampton responded by formulating, according to Szacka, his own critical theoretical position on regionalism. Szacka’s book pulls together quite a few of these lose ends while brilliantly drawing out the major themes of the day. This extraordinary exhibit on the presence of the past, thanks to Léa-Catherine Szacka, is in no risk of becoming forgotten. Exhibiting the Postmodern: the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale Léa-Catherine Szacka Forward by Adrian Forty $32.50
Placeholder Alt Text

Are we all postmodernists now?

Revisiting Postmodernism Sir Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman RIBA Publishing $47.90 In their new, amply illustrated book, Revisiting Postmodernism, from RIBA publishing, architects Sir Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman construct a cross-generational account of postmodern architecture’s birth, evolution, and eventual decline in America and Europe, placing special emphasis on the movement’s development in their native UK in the 1980s, ’90s, and early 2000s. As the title suggests, the work revisits—and is thus a revision of—a well-known disciplinary narrative. Readers unfamiliar with the subject would do well to begin with first-wave accounts before engaging with Farrell and Furman’s somewhat idiosyncratic views—Charles Jencks’s Language of Postmodern Architecture, for example, or the more academic and comprehensive The History of Postmodern Architecture by Heinrich Klotz. From the start, Farrell and Furman exhibit a sincere enthusiasm for the works gathered in Revisiting Postmodernism, privileging careful, sensitive readings of mostly built individual projects over theoretical generalizations and broad cultural criticism. The works cited are almost entirely illustrated with brightly colored photographs, foregrounding the authors’ endorsement of postmodernism’s potential for populist appeal and mass communication, while affirming critical theorist Fredric Jameson’s assertion that “many are the postmodern buildings that seem to have been designed for photography…” What Farrell and Furman’s text offers is a charming and highly digestible breeze through a famously difficult and hotly contested series of interrelated developments in architectural aesthetics, art practice, academic pedagogy, and theories of city planning from the late 1960s to the present day. The authors present complementary accounts of postmodern architecture’s more than 50-year life cycle through an aggregation of loose chronological narratives, speculative asides, biographical anecdotes, and generous nods to a host of B-side projects and lesser-known offices. The text glosses over oft-recited narratives of competing factions (the Grays, the Whites, the Chicago Seven, and the Silvers) and the contentious positions of their critical/philosophical avatars (the phenomenological, semiotic, psychoanalytic, and Marxist rhetoric that marked academic discourse at that time), favoring the trajectories of projects and bodies of work. Revisiting Postmodernism’s unique contribution to a now-rapidly expanding collection of postwar alternative histories (see Jorge Otero-Pailos’s excellent Architecture’s Historical Turn) is its focus on the much-decried middle and late periods of the movement. This period, Farrell suggests, was ushered in by Paolo Portoghesi’s Venice Architecture Biennale in 1980, and while other critics view the 1980 biennale as the beginning of the end for the once-radical, ideologically charged trajectories of figures like Michael Graves, Aldo Rossi, Charles Moore, and Robert Venturi, Farrell declares it a “watershed.” By Farrell’s account, Portoghesi’s “Presence of the Past” set in motion two decades of unprecedented cultural and financial investment in a variety of interrelated postmodern styles. Indeed, both Farrell and Furman devote a great deal of their attention to the urban (at times, massively) scaled, public and corporately funded works by offices like Ricardo Bofill, CZWG, Richard Rogers, César Pelli, Helmut Jahn, Philip Johnson, and Graves. Farrell’s own giant-scale work from that period, such as his MI6 Building at Vauxhall Cross (1994) and Alban Gate in the City (1992), epitomize the marketability, populist agency, and aesthetic and material limits of high postmodern. Farrell and Furman avoid too-easy critiques of a corporately sanctioned, populist, historical (read: reactionary) architecture built in the wake of Reagan and Thatcher. Instead, they interpret the moment of MI6 and the pre-Disney work of Michael Graves as remarkable anomalies in the history of architecture and capitalism. As Furman writes: “Younger architects, critics and the public were blinded to the incredible opening up of the profession that it had brought about, to its transformation of how planners and architects related to the city, to history, to heritage and the contemporary world, and to how buildings could say something, could tell stories and generate atmospheres…” Farrell and Furman conclude with hopeful, if somewhat disorienting, speculations, briefly touching on the neo-postmodernisms of a younger generation (offices like FAT and WAM) that began to take root in the shadow of corporate pomo’s polemical and commercial decline. The authors seem to suggest that fluid, global networks of information, materials, cultural exchange, and capital have happily rendered us all default postmodernists in this second decade of the 2000s. Where cultural critics like Fredric Jameson paranoiacally theorized the rise of a ubiquitous “postmodern hyperspace,” that is, a space that accurately renders our collective incapacity to map the “multinational and decentered” networks that engulf us, Farrell and Furman celebrate the potential of a multivalent, multicultural architecture of the future—a communal, urban architecture presaged in the first and later waves of postmodernism.
Placeholder Alt Text

James Stirling’s No. 1 Poultry will soon have a mini golf range

Some may say it is par for the course for postmodern architecture to be allied with gimmicks and today, it seems those who do have cause for delight: James Stirling's No.1 Poultry in London looks set for a mini golf complex on its ground floor.
The endeavor is courtesy of Puttshack, a firm which claims to be the first "super tech" indoor mini golf experience provider. Plans for what the mini golf trials will be can only be seen in the sketches provided, however, Pomo putters can still dream of a course based on the site plan of Aldo Rossi's San Cataldo Cemetery (which would be amazing, let's be honest) or a homage to Michael Graves' Steigenberger Golf Resort in Egypt.
Puttshack's complex appears to come with an island bar and tables for dining and will ultimately be an after-work venue for those in the city. As for the real clubbing going on, Puttshack ensures there will be no fowl play when going for a Poultry birdie—its ball tracking and scoring technology uses a mini-computer inside the golf ball to monitor and share video highlights from each round.
"I’ve always wanted to locate a social entertainment concept in the heart of the city, and there could not be a better location than the symbolic No 1 Poultry address," said Adam Breeden, founder and CEO of Bounce, one of the companies behind Puttshack in a press release. "The area has been up and coming for a long time now and with the introduction of Puttshack it finally establishes itself as a truly varied and vibrant London destination," he added.
Built in 1998, Stirling's iconic work was the first postmodern building in the U.K. to be landmarked and, it was the country's youngest landmark, as well. Residing above Puttshack will be the new WeWork offices, which are slated for completion this March. Those renovations will also refurbish the building's famed staircase.
Placeholder Alt Text

Could L.A. get a second Hollywood sign?

A newly-released report aimed at finding ways to increase public access to Los Angeles’s Hollywood sign without impacting surrounding residential neighborhoods has made a few surprising recommendations, including the potential of erecting a duplicate sign on the opposite slope of the Hollywood Hills favoring the San Fernando Valley. The report, released earlier this week, was drafted by consultants Dixon Resources Unlimited at the behest of Los Angeles City Council District 4, amid complaints from local residents who would like to see public access to the site restricted. Homeowners in the areas surrounding the sign have complained of higher rates of traffic over recent years, as the sign’s popularity has boomed in the fitness-crazed Instagram age. The sign itself is not formally recognized as a public space, but many people access the grounds via a network of public hiking trails throughout Griffith Park. The sign—visible from across the region and perhaps best seen in sequence, coming in and out of view from twisty Mulholland Drive—is widely photographed from within surrounding neighborhoods, creating traffic and endangering pedestrians. In 2017, the city closed the popular Beachwood Canyon trailhead that leads to the sign, due to neighborhood outcry. Although vehicular access has been maintained to the trailhead, hikers and sign watchers traveling on foot are now instructed to use alternative entrances to the park. Still, however, demand to reach the site is ever-increasing and the City is searching for potential solutions that benefit both sides. The report recommends 29 potential fixes. Many of the proposed solutions involve instituting common sense improvements like additional wayfinding and pedestrian-friendly designs. Other potential solutions, like increasing parking fines and blocking views of the sign from residential streets using new plantings, are directly aimed at making it more difficult to see or access the sign at all. Several suggestions, however, stand out as more highly visible initiatives that would represent substantial investments in public infrastructure while also re-tooling the Hollywood sign’s significance in the city’s urban imaginary as a physical place rather than simply something to observe from afar. Among the larger-scale potential solutions in the report, perhaps most radical is the notion of creating a second Hollywood sign along the northern slope of the Hollywood Hills overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The duplicate sign, the report contends, could “spread out the impact of photo-seekers to both sides of the park.” The report also suggests the potential of adding more than one replica, as well as several ideas for creating a visitor center, viewing platform, transportation terminal, and even a network of gondolas to reach the sign. For now, the recommendations will be taken under consideration; a timeline for the final selection of actionable concepts and their implementation has not been released.