Posts tagged with "Representation":

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Diana Agrest explores geology through representation in Architecture of Nature: Nature of Architecture

Architecture of Nature: Nature of Architecture By Diana Agrest Applied Research + Design Publishing $49.95

“Representation, theater of life or mirror of the world.” Michel Foucault, The Order of Things 

Presented as a 9-by-11-inch hardbound volume of full-color drawings, this sumptuously produced book includes interviews and writings alongside Diana Agrest’s design research as demonstrated by the work of her M.Arch II students at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union in New York City over a period of nine years.

Agrest is known for work that spans theoretical discourses in architecture, urbanism, semiotics, and gender. Her approach to semiotics has been neither purist nor essentialist; rather she takes a mediated view that argues that shifts in textual meaning are based on shifts in cultural context. In the 1970s and ’80s her view was also a kind of mediation between the Whites and the Grays, treating representation as a form of artifice, reflexively commenting on architecture’s inability to do more than this.

The Architecture of Nature exhibits (at first blush) a big pivot, with a new arena of investigation, if not perspectival view and methodology. The focus on nature, seen through geologic data (point clouds and weather data), is new to Agrest, yet the representations it produces are familiar as the aura and language of Cooper Union through multiple eras (under the leadership of Hejduk, Vidler, et al.).

If there’s a through line between Agrest’s early and late career, it rests here, in the primacy of (a particular type of) representation as the number one tool of architectural practice, with theory and building coming in a distant second and third. Less easy to appreciate is how this new territory relates to Agrest’s intellectual foundations in language, architecture, and urbanism.

The drawings make geologic space seductive, in an ambient way. The works are more diagrammatic than spatial, more planetary and notational than human. They work through abstraction; delamination of layers; and schematic, atmospheric sections producing geometrically complex artifacts that are difficult to apprehend, yet in their finest moments, verge on the mystical. In their elusive effects, they seem cultivated like an endangered species to demonstrate the Cooper design imaginary and unique skill of the architect in re-presenting (in this case) science to the world.

In an interview with Agrest, which forms some of the finest content of the book, art historian Caroline Jones and science historian Peter Galison suggest that the work exemplifies “an embrace of the constructed nature of the image and how it comes into being.” Jones then offers the following critique: “It’s a sort of nature without us, except that the drawing is completely human in the way it is conceived.” The paradox Jones points out is this: Whatever “nature” is, we’re part of it, made of it, embedded in it. “Yet we can only ‘get to it’—that is, produce it as some kind of object for contemplation—by modeling, by presenting, by analogy, by metaphor, by externalization. We are of course a part of it all. But we have to pretend we aren’t, just to be able to think about it.”

Agrest’s stated ambition is not to be metaphorical but rather to visualize space-time. Jones suggests that avoiding metaphor is not possible (and possibly not desirable), suggesting Donna Haraway’s notion of “witness” as a more apt concept to engender complex ideas of entanglement. Agrest responds by invoking the transdiscursive and then “the process by which knowledge builds at the boundary.” In ecology we call this ecotone, but here it seems like getting caught in the dialectic of Jones’s caution.

In his interview with Agrest, science historian D. Graham Burnett suggests the work is “best understood as a kind of cataloging of contemporary gestures in the direction of a program—call it the ‘neo-sublime.’ This new program trades heavily on the aesthetics of information. In these cases, what we stand before that occasions a moment of negatory vertigo is not a big cliff or a deep cave but a colossal mass of data.” Burnett’s point is a salient one that this reader wishes had been further explored by Agrest. It’s part of a discussion that’s been percolating.

The material would also be enriched had Agrest made connections between the work she’s known for and this more recent design research less tacit—for example, the ongoing investment in notational design. Or to articulate ideas of gender and nature (if they are indeed still important) in her pivot to investigations of nature. She presents a too-simple discussion of “nature-gendered-female” in the introduction, and there’s no evidence of this thread in the design research.

Is it too far a reach to suggest that for Agrest, nature is the new object of the gaze, the so-called “scene of history” that in her previous work referred to the city? It’s one way to interpret an interest in the geologic past. Shifting focus from urbanism, Agrest has set her gaze away from the city and toward nature, and geology in particular. So it might follow that her previous articulations of a street—“Street: A scene in movement. The street is the scene of struggle, of consumption, the scene of scenes; it is infinitely continuous, unlimited in the motion of objects, of gazes, of gestures. It is the scene of history”—are now being transmuted to the immersive experience of geologic, or deep time. However, this is pure conjecture, so the reader is left to wonder if Agrest intends reinvention, recalibration, or promotion. The decision to include the 1991 essay The Return of the Repressed: Nature seems designed to place a golden spike in the calendar, a moment at which she began investigating nature. The essay, however, adds little to the more nuanced discourses with Jones, Galison, and Burnett in the book.

Given Agrest’s commitment to the transdiscursive, especially in the context of a body of work premised on an engagement with nature, it’s curious that the discipline of landscape architecture bears no mention, and in particular, the topological work coming out of the ETH in Zurich under Christophe Girot, as well as the work of Bradley Cantrell at Harvard and more recently the University of Virginia. Or the burgeoning interest in geology over the last 10 years or so in architecture, including Stan Allen’s Landform Building and the work of Design Earth, to name a few. This absence of peer context suggests that the real context for the book is not so much contemporary discussions about nature, but rather the legacy of representational virtuosity associated with Cooper Union’s School of Architecture.

Cathryn Dwyre-Perry is a landscape architect, adjunct associate professor at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture, and coprincipal of experimental design practice pneumastudio.

Drawing Codes: Experimental Protocols of Architectural Representation, Volume II

Presented by the University of Miami School of Architecture and California College of the Arts / Digital Craft Lab Curated by Andrew Kudless and Adam Marcus Emerging technologies of design and production have opened up new ways to engage with traditional practices of architectural drawing. This exhibition, the second volume in a series organized by the CCA Digital Craft Lab, features experimental drawings by architects who explore the impact of new technologies on the relationship between code and drawing: how rules and constraints inform the ways we document, analyze, represent, and design the built environment.
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Graham Foundation exhibit explores set design, collage, and architectural representation

The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts’ spring exhibition Spaces without drama or surface is an illusion, but so is depth will examine the proliferation of collage in architectural representation, specifically in scenography and theatrical set design. The show has invited contemporary designers to rethink the relationship between theatricality and architecture, while drawing on historical references from 19th-century toy theaters through Aldo Rossi’s Little Scientific Theater. The show features the work of a wide range of architects and artists, including Argentinian architects Emilio Ambasz and Gerardo Caballero, Portuguese firm fala atelier, Brazilian architect Marcelo Ferraz, and British architect Sam Jacob, as well as American offices Johnston Marklee, MOS Architects, and Norman Kelley.

Other contributing architects include OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Cecilia Puga, Aldo Rossi, Taller de Arquitectura Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo, and Pezo Von Ellrichshausen. Artists in the show include Pablo Bronstein, William Leavitt, Silke Otto-Knapp, Gabriel Sierra, Batia Suter, as well as dramaturge Jorge Palinhos. Spaces without drama or surface is an illusion, but so is depth is curated by the Mexico City–based LIGA, Space4Architecture, Ruth Estévez, and PRODUCTORA founder Wonne Ickx.

Spaces without drama or surface is an illusion, but so is depth The Graham Foundation Madlener House 4 West Burton Place, Chicago Through May 27, 2017

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A small exhibit hints at major changes in architectural representation

The small but provocative exhibition Re-constructivist Architecture at the Ierimonti Gallery on 57th Street forecasts a major shift in the way emerging architects are thinking about architecture today. Curators Jacopo Costanzo, Giovanni Cozzani, and Giulia Leone, in conjunction with the Casa dell’Architettura in Rome, have selected the work of 13 young architectural groups whose members were born in the 1980s to develop proposals for a residence in the Roman countryside. The projects fill three walls of the gallery and are intended to challenge the previous generation of older venerables. To that end, posted on the wall directly across are three projects by deconstructivist “starchitects”: Peter Eisenman’s Yenikapi archaeology museum, Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Art Museum in Strongoli, and Bernard Tschumi’s rendering done specifically for the show, A house like a city, a city like a house.

While the winner has yet to be determined, the exhibition does highlight several important new trends.

It is intended more as a battle than a debate. That the younger architects feel entitled to challenge the Goliaths of the field signifies a fresh and audacious confidence. This new generation intends to offer alternative modes of thinking that signal a change in focus within the field, and eventually to question the premises, concerns, and lavish extravagance of the previous one. Interestingly, they do so by reaching back to the architects of the 1960s, who were devoted to exploring the language of architecture itself. This reversion to an older source would seem to be a conservative move, a kind of retro or revivalist approach. However, these young architects, who certainly acknowledge the “bravura” of the deconstructivists, are instead revisiting the values and cultural concerns of such groups as GRAU, Superstudio, and even Archigram. The theme of the show itself seems reminiscent of architectural exercises at universities where these 30-year-olds studied, especially the projects for the classes of the late Alessandro Anselmi, whose exquisite drawing appears on the announcement for the show as an homage. Importantly, the proposals avoid grand utopian visions and eschew extravagant megastructures. Instead, the theme requires them to confine their efforts to developing plans for a simple structure, and to exploring how to generate a simple home responsive to its natural setting. The projects, then, reexamine basic notions of place and how to design for living on a truly “human” scale.

Secondly, while there are three models in the exhibition, the proposals are primarily graphic. Like architects of the 1960s, these emerging architects deploy drawing to convey their concepts, with each group presenting only a plan and small rendering of their project accompanied by a more-or-less helpful description. Interestingly, the projects vary enormously among themselves in the way in which they are rendered. For example, the group AM3 from Palermo, Italy, elected to represent its solution in the form of two small etchings, executed in a loose, traditional crosshatch technique. AM3 chose to situate its villa on Lake Nemi, a design inspired by the legend that the Emperor Caligula had two gigantic ships built there as floating palaces. Of particular beauty are the drawings by the Portuguese group fala atelier. While the rendering is elegant and clear, the description verges on the poetic crypto-theoretical. It anthropomorphizes the site, stating that the house is “sequential and schizophrenic” with the central void defined by the surrounding wall that “competes with the landscape” and is both “attracted and repulsed by its site.”

Particularly suggestive is the project by the Warehouse of Architecture and Research. The point of departure is a ruin—a kind of palimpsest ubiquitous in the urban and natural settings of the region. The ruin is then animated by a visitor, the so-called “colonialist” seen in the drawing. This subject adds Venturi-esque elements to the site with ironic verve, as if cataloging the various forms in the contemporary architectural vocabulary. What results is an improbable composite in which the various styles and elements elide into a fantastical yet cozy home, a kind of faux-picturesque pastiche. The group Fosbury Architecture based in Milan has produced a dramatic solution: From the square plan rises a kind of cone-shaped thatched tower punctuated by a single enormous column at the center. The hollow column is penetrated by a winding staircase that ascends to an area, one assumes, for contemplation, similar to the solitary towers pictured in Walter Pichler’s drawings. Significantly, the descriptions all share a contemporary ironic undertone that is without a trace of nostalgia or sentimentality.

An essential modus operandi is the use of collage as a way of conjoining past and present, as it allows the connections among the pieces to remain hypothetical and to function as propositions capable of triggering discussion. In fact, the exhibition is only a part of a larger project. The plan is to use the show as a springboard for a series of conferences in Rome that address the significant issues uncovered by it. Beyond the evident visual eloquence and high level of craft, what the show reveals is that the two generations are speaking about distinctly different realms of architecture, and what the new generation is advocating is the retrieval of certain classical, historical values as part of the conversation.

Re-constructivist Architecture Ierimonti Gallery 24 West 57th Street, New York Through February 10

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How Brussels-based OFFICE uses essential architectural elements to create its unique designs

OFFICE, founded by partners Kersten Geers and David Van Severan in 2002, is aptly located in the multifarious Belgian city of Brussels. Brussels has many guises; it is the de facto capital of the European Union, an official bilingual city, the location of the NATO headquarters, and a magnet for Muslim immigration. Much like the city it resides in, the architectural work of OFFICE requires a close reading from varying vantage points to uncover its multiple appearances. As Geers put it, “…very often things look somehow alike and then you look a bit more carefully and you realize there is something else entirely.” The firm currently has a major retrospective exhibition titled Everything Architecture on display at the Arc-en-Rêve Centre d’Architecture in Bordeaux, France until February 12th, 2017. The show features more than 50 projects and 25 collected art pieces that are related to the spirit and language of OFFICE. Additionally the firm’s multi-faceted approach has won them international recognition with the 2010 Venice Biennale Silver Lion. Geers currently teaches at the EFPL in Lausanne, Switzerland and is also a founding member of the architecture magazine San Rocco. Van Severan is currently a guest tutor at the Architecture School of Versailles. As Geers explained, the academic studio is a place of reflection where you can “…put a flag a little bit further and you can see if your train of thoughts that you had developed till now still holds or whether you have to adjust it.” OFFICE’s success has hinged upon its ability to manipulate essential architectural elements that have existed for centuries. The firm’s designs clearly establish what they call “territories” by creating legible perimeters that directly engage the fundamental inside versus outside dilemma. The reduction of architecture to its perimeter allows for an intensive investigation of the line between, as Geers explained, “Sometimes it’s a window, sometimes it’s everything, sometimes it’s a thick wall, sometimes it’s wire mesh thin…it’s always somehow there.” OFFICE’s consistent and precise application of these primary elements over a series of built projects is rare to find in contemporary practice. “If architecture is about obstructions, if architecture is about organizing spaces, if architecture is more standing in the way then solving things, we should reduce it to relatively simple forms so we can manipulate it,” said Geers. OFFICE’s pervasive collage style perspectives were born out of pragmatic necessity. When the firm was founded the partners “did not have a clue how to use 3D programs and these programs were also very expensive,” explained Geers. The resulting Photoshop collages are constructed with a minimal geometric toolbox producing a sparse aesthetic that helps the viewer focus on what’s important. The collages are produced by appropriating and redrawing concepts from artists. The influence of Ed Ruscha’s flat distorted large sky perspectives is evident in the collage compositions (see project (117) Drying Hall). David Hockney’s Los Angeles pool paintings with their flat planes, vibrant colors and multiplicity of readings are also a critical reference for OFFICE’s work. “In these paintings of Hockney, they are extremely beautiful, they are extremely… I would say joyful up to a point but there is also something very bizarre about them,” said Geers. OFFICE has consciously resisted the contemporary architecture fashions of formal excess, parametrically derived curves and hyper-realistic renderings. The firm’s strict adherence to the revision of elemental forms and the creation of a distinct collage illustration technique has allowed them to create a space for themselves within the field. As Geers noted, there are caveats to resistance: “Of course resistance is relative because you see now in the last few years that, quite frankly many practices have moved closer towards us. So at a certain point resistance becomes a bit idiotic because everybody has to change. If it is a resistance without inner content then it quickly becomes irrelevant.” OFFICE’s approach reminds us that a limited architecture vocabulary can create spatial complexity and a layered enigmatic body of work. OFFICE’s fundamental inquiries will continue to propel the practice and the field of architecture forward. “I think for us there’s the sense of architecture trying to figure out what architecture can do and how it can perform and what are its tools?” said Geers. (56) Weekend House Merchtem, Belgium - 2012 The project’s concept was to “effectively create a weekend house cut away from any sense of context and reality: a mirage.” The existing building at the front of the lot was renovated to a guest house with the long backyard becoming the weekend house extension. To resolve the long narrow lot and to create a clear internalized territory the house became a sequence of four identically sized square rooms enclosed by a 2.63m high wall. From the existing guest house the rooms are aligned as a courtyard, pool house, living quarters and a garden. The project is organized as an enfilade and is viewed as a cinematic, frame by frame experience of distinct spaces. A sliding glass roof can be modified to cover either the paved courtyard or the tropical pool house dependent on seasonal and user preferences. (117) Drying Hall Herselt, Belgium - 2013 The Drying Hall is the epitome of a building without content, where the architecture is reduced to a building envelope; merely a big box. This building’s main purpose is a space to dry potted plants within a larger tree plantation. This programmatic circumstance requires currents of air to enter but at the same time the plants must be protected from rain; therefore the building required a perforated perimeter and a closed roof. This pragmatic solution resulted in the use of perforated steel deck plates in order to create a thin, porous and economical perimeter enclosure. The building’s continuously slanted roof “gives the building multiple appearances from different vantage points,” explains Kersten. (126) Dars, Centers for Traditional Music Muharraq, Bahrain - 2016 The Dar Al Jinaa and Dar Al Riffa are part of an urban renewal project. Each project consists of both a renovation of an existing Dar (‘house’) and a new, added Majlis (‘collective room’). The project’s “ambition is to give a public face to the ancient community of pearl fishers, and their musical and cultural traditions,” said Geers. The Majlis are used as communal spaces for traditional performances. The resulting design solution utilizes a simple structure of round columns and platforms with allusions to Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-Ino. The project adds another layer of complexity by “veiling” the buildings in a thin seamless steel mesh which creates an obscure volume with multiple layers of transparency. The mesh veil also reacts to the region’s hard desert sun by providing cover. In accordance with use the veil can be lifted to allow glimpses of the performances inside. The interstitial space between the mesh and glass façade is cleverly used to locate stairs, sanitary boxes and technical installations. (176) Campus RTS Lausanne, Switzerland – 2014 This building is positioned in the heart of the double campus of EPFL and UNIL, and adjacent to the undulating EPFL Rolex Learning Center designed by SANAA. OFFICE won an international competition for this project and it’s currently in the development phases. Its parti consists of four big boxes that support a disc-like volume that is suspended over the ground. “So in a way it’s one big interior carried by four boxes. Looking at it that way allowed us to endlessly redesign the building without really redesigning it,” said Geers. The suspended disc acts as a continuous interior field which has been designed with the intent of providing maximum adaptability. At the ground floor a glass volume connects the four big boxes and creates a central public foyer where users circulate to the different entrances.
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A new Manhattan exhibition creates a dialogue between two generations of architects

Architectural rendering and design today is filtered through digital platforms that define contemporary production. It is rare to see an architecture that breaks out of this design template, whether the architect asserts environmental, stylistic, or urban design as the impulse behind the form. But Re-Constructivist Architecture: A Call From Rome, a carefully crafted exhibition at Ierimonti Gallery in Midtown, purposefully tries to avoid this new international style. Curated by Jacopo Costanzo and Giovanni Cozzani with Giulia Leone, the exhibit presents the work of thirteen, mostly Italian, architects born in the 1980s and sets them the task of generating “a debate between two generation of architects”; principally those presented in the 1988 MoMA show Deconstructive Architecture and of that show's generation. The Deconstructivists, the curators argue, "destabilized a certain kind of relationship with the design theory" and the architects in this exhibit want to rediscover a thoughtful dimension behind the architectural subject. This new work is more about place, specific local issues, and conditions, and operates from an Italian perspective, much as the manifesto of postmodernism did in 1980. The Architect’s Newspaper is sponsoring a special preview of the exhibition next Tuesday, February 7 from 6:00 to 8:30 at the gallery. It will feature short comments from Kenneth Frampton, Morris Adjmi, Umberto Napolitano from LAN and Enrique Walker. Ierimonti Gallery is located at 24 West 57 Street, suite 501.
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Sou Fujimoto's search for lightness at the Chicago Architectural Biennial

Just like every other major architectural exhibition, the Chicago Architecture Biennial is a massive undertaking filled with large scale models, full size mock- ups and room sized installations. However, the most light-handed approach in the main exhibition can be found sandwiched between two full scale houses. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto placed about 40 different found objects on five-inch-by-five-inch plywood bases. The objects range from wooden branches to industrial mass-products like ashtrays, to processed food such as chips or candy. Each plate is populated with white scalies and paired with a line of text. A sponge becomes a “myriad of voids layered on top of another, creating a density of void” and a pine cone reads: “When one thinks about it, this form has been a friend in architecture for thousands of years.” The casual inexpensiveness of the objects is amplified by the way they are displayed, seemingly without attachment. A pile of loosely arranged chips seems likely to fly away with the next visitor brushing by. Clearly there is a relationship to Fujimoto’s search for lightness, literally in the appearance of the architecture but also in the figure of the architect being open to inspiration from unexpected sources. This minimal installation eclipses many of the larger efforts of the show—Aaron Betsky called it the most successful installation in the main building. While the installation brings up questions about the role of ready-mades in the design process and issues of scalability, it also quietly mocks the expensive, time- and energy-consuming efforts of some of the exhibitors. With ease it brings playfulness and the joy of simple discoveries back into the discussion.
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On View> Sreshta Rit Premnath's "Folding Rulers" Explore Visual Representation

Sreshta Rit Premnath: Folding Rulers Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis 3750 Washington Blvd Through December 30, 2012 Sreshta Rit Premnath’s exhibit, Folding Rulers, at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis questions processes of representation, attempting to identify why certain objects, images, events, and discourses are chosen to represent larger ideas, cultural periods, or histories. Using various mediums, Premnath investigates why and how icons, places, and people— specifically the concept of power—are so symbolic. By analyzing and reducing these symbols and their meanings, his new work offers new readings of people, places, and times.