Posts tagged with "Reviews":

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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.
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Review> Set Designer Harnesses Nostalgia for Detroit in AMC’s New Series, “Low Winter Sun”

Nostalgia (nóstos), meaning "homecoming", a Homeric word, and (álgos), meaning "pain, ache", and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Ruth Ammon, set designer for the AMC television series, Low Winter Sun, used this word to describe the series in its most honorable sense. This tale of morality uses the architecture of Detroit’s heyday, to embody the pride of the city which elevated middle working class life. It is poignant that the city’s decline is also apparent in every frame, rather than pimping these noble structures like urban porn. Whether featuring Albert Kahn’s Packard Automotive Plant, 1903-11 (the production offices were next door to this location, one of the largest parcels of unoccupied real estate in the Western hemisphere); Kahn’s Detroit Police Headquarters at 1300 Beaubien St., 1923 (given the same role in the series, but now under threat since the PDP moved out); the art deco David Stott Building of 1929 by Donaldson and Meier; St. Hyacinth Roman Catholic Church, 1924 by Donaldson and Meier; or the Venetian Gothic Ransom Gillis House, 1876-78 (documented extensively by photographer Camilo Jose Vergara), these were deliberate choices. The tale centers on the murder investigation of a deeply corrupt cop. We know from the opening scene who did it—two of his fellow officers. One is an honest cop, Frank Agnew (Mark Strong), who agrees to participate after being fed misleading information by another cop, whose motives are more ambiguous. When Frank is assigned to solve the case, he must find a way to investigate without revealing his own guilt. The visual language reflects these moral ambiguities: the lone figure in a landscape usually backlit, which could almost be in a Western, but the vast expanses are downtown, a hallmark of contemporary Detroit. Buildings are often sited next to these open fields dotted with wildflowers among the debris, like the remaining few teeth in a withered mouth, but we always see a child on a bicycle, a man walking (who has money for gas?) or a dog (one has a rat in its mouth). These silhouetted figures are in wide shots, a rare luxury in an urban context; when you shoot in New York or Los Angeles, the picture has to be carefully cropped to eliminate unwanted surroundings. The visual vocabulary has pronounced darks and lights, and is often shot with available light, or motivated with a single light source indoors. In addition, mirrored surfaces and shots looking through glass partitions all contribute to the dark mood. The most modern location is the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, originally called the City-County Building, 1954, an international style building designed by Harley, Ellington and Day featuring white marble facing with black marble spandrels. It is here that the series will come to a head, with a faceoff among the protagonists as they enter this courthouse. Unusually for Cold Winter Sun, the building is wedged into a cityscape with the 3-mile long Detroit People Mover elevated train snaking its way across the screen. We’ve seen this public transit system before in other scenes where the Ren Cen and other downtown sites can be seen in the backdrop. On a up-note, Campus Martius Park (from the Latin for Field of Mars, where Roman heroes walked), which is the point of origin in the Detroit coordinate system—8 Mile Road is 8 miles from this point—is a revitalized green space with new stages, sculptures, an ice-skating rink, mini sand beach, and restaurants. It is filled with lunch-time workers, and is the site of a meeting of two warring gangsters, chosen as neutral territory in the midst of a vibrant public space. Many films have been shot in Detroit from 8 Mile, Beverly Hills Cop, Gran Torino, Robocop and the recent documentaries Searching for Sugarman and Detropia (one of its characters is Tommy Stephens, proprietor of the Raven Lounge, a location used in Low Winter Sun). But Low Winter Sun uses the city differently. We frequent Brush Park, Greektown, Boston-Edison, Indian Village, Klenk Island, Cass Corridor, MorningSide as well as downtown. It’s almost a cliche to say that the city plays a character in the series, but (not having seen the British original) it feels that this story could only have been set in this American city at this point in its history. That’s nostalgia. Low Winter Sun, AMC, Sundays 10/9 PM and on demand. 10 episodes (season started 8.11.13).
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Review> Barbara Bloom’s “As it were…So to speak” at The Jewish Museum

A woman sits alone and thinks to herself. A painting converses with a room. The room talks back. So says Barbara Bloom, whose installation of selections from the Jewish Museum’s collection, create a dialogue with architect C.P.H. Gilbert’s French Renaissance Warburg mansion—the building that houses the museum—real and imagined visitors, and the objects themselves. Architect Ken Saylor, who worked closely with Bloom on the spatialization and design of the exhibition, said, “we tried to ask ourselves ‘What does it mean to inhabit an exhibition?’ where things are simultaneously absent and present, masked and revealed, teased and assaulted, subject and context, museum and house.” Inspired by the design of the Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, where the original text is framed by annotated scholarly debates across generations, the exhibition is entitled As it were…So to speak. That suggests “what you are about to hear ... Is not exactly what it appears to be.” The exhibition is a narrative but without beginning, middle, and end, which harmoniously surfs the practices of art, architecture, and design. The solitary woman described above, sits in thought during Sabbath preparation in Isidor Kaufmann’s painting Friday Evening, from 1920, which hangs in the Warburg dining room. In it, she sits below a chandelier that served as the model for the actual lighting fixture that hangs in the room, a new commission by Bloom for this exhibition called Twelve Glasses (2013). It features 12 vessels in “an inverted parallel world” that mirror 12 glasses from the collection on the table directly below. Hanging across from Friday Evening is a framed reproduction of the painting in reverse, a mirror-image of the room. Viewers experience multiple inversions, reflections, and double-takes, but are in on the joke. Only the eyes are visible in portraits in the entryway and interstitial pilasters; the rest of their faces are masked out. Visitors engage directly with these sitters behind the masks who face off across on opposite sides of the hall (as banter from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Annie Hall plays). This roundelay of characters reminded me of comedian and musician Steve Allen’s PBS program Meeting of Minds, 1977-81, a dinner party populated by historical figures—Plato, Martin Luther, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin—using their actual words to converse about philosophy, religion, history, and science. Barbara Bloom imagines Nefertiti, Emile Zola, Amy Winehouse and Jesus playing games with an 1898 board game on the Dreyfus affair and a game using playing cards made from a desecrated Torah scroll, at a table off the dining room. In fact, the exhibition is laid out in distinct rooms of the house, and the objects are displayed in vitrines in the shape of furnishings. “I thought, what if we ‘furnished’ the house, but that it wasn’t really furniture. The objects that we ended up building are between furniture and cases and sort of ghosts of places where people could have congregated,” said Bloom. It reflects the ambiguity of the mansion turned museum that is now lies somewhere in between. In the dressing room, a Freudian “couch,” a “chair,” and a “vanity” hold amulets, charms, watches, and gifts (some actually exchanged with Freud). In the bedroom, the “bed” cradles marriage and divorce contracts, and Bloom imagines The Song of Songs sung by Leonard Cohen and Lou Andreas-Salome, one of the first female psychoanalysts and friend of Nietzsche, Wagner, Freud, and Rilke. In the library the “bookshelf,” “table,” “desk,” and computer station sport an array of hollowed-out books ranging from bibles to Joan Didion, fingered by metallic hand plaques. (The family’s Warburg Library, having been saved from the Nazis, forms the heart of the Warburg Institute at the University of London with 350,000 volumes.) The music room overlooking Fifth Avenue is anchored by two “couches” and a “coffee table” filled with watches and clocks and populated by six people including Marcel Proust, Albert Einstein, and Julian Barnes, conversing “in and over time.” At the heart is a “piano” with Torah pointers –often in silver, used to keep pace with the text and prevent fingers from touching the parchment—for strings. The scores to George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Arnold Schoenberg’s “Drei Klavierstücke” sit on the music rack waiting to be played, while a small video of the two composers playing tennis at Gershwin’s Beverly Hills home is inserted in a “book.” Also in the room is a window case with silhouetted objects in colored frames to represent synesthesia, the neurological condition that simulates one sense for another, such as colors for words. Here are representations for Kandinsky, Mozart, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, and Pythagoras. The “cupboards” that lead the way to the next exhibition, Stefan Sagmeister & Jessica Walsh’s Six Things, contrasts talismans of memory of the same subject, the holocaust, captured in film: Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The “cupboards” and “drawers” contain hats, and empty cases for pipes, scrolls, shofars, and circumcision implements. Bloom’s text then focuses on how Friederich Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth, distorted his writings after his death to support her anti-Semetic beliefs, which he had vociferously argued against in life. These empty cases are perhaps the clearest interplay with traditional museum display—or its absence. Overall, the result is an immersive, spatial exhibition that can be experienced on a series of levels, digging ever deeper into this hall of mirrors. As it were…So to Speak: A Museum Collection in Dialogues with Barbara Bloom at the Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave. closes August 4, 2013.
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Review> Palatial Kitsch: At Home with Liberace

With gay marriage rippling across the country and even the Boy Scouts opening their doors to gays, it’s hard to believe that during Liberace’s lifetime, coming out was career suicide.  The mystery is how anyone, particularly his adoring blue-haired female fans, could have ever thought otherwise.  His flamboyant, over-the-top more –is-better excess in décor and fashion, both on stage and off, screams “queen” louder than his proficient, versatile piano playing.  “The Impossible Dream” indeed. “I call this palatial kitsch” says Michael Douglas playing Liberace, known as Lee, to Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson, his soon to be paramour in HBO’s Behind the Candelabra.  This is shortly after Scott enters the Las Vegas spread where he asks the friend who’s brought him: “Is this a palace?” which prompts the reply “Lee thinks he’s King Ludwig II.”  Scott: “ Who’s he?”  “The Liberace of Bavaria.”  (Ludwig [1845-1886], also gay, commissioned extravagant palaces, patronized composer Richard Wagner, and was deposed as “mad.”) The many reflective, glittery surfaces that form Liberace’s world can be considered a metaphor for his life (one of his nicknames as The Glitter Man).  Although disco glitter balls are strangely absent, Behind the Candelabra is situated firmly in the disco era (the thumping instrumental strains of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” open the film), despite Liberace’s musical repertoire of classical, boogie-woogie, ragtime, and Broadway musicals.  The highest-paid entertainer in the world from the 1950s-70s collected lower-end houses in Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Las Vegas that he transformed into gob-smacking opulent creations.  “I do all my own decorating,“ explains Lee, who truly adorned his own life and its fantasy setting. In the film, the location of his Las Vegas home is actually Zsa Zsa Gabor’s French Regency-style mansion in Bel Air (which sold for $11 million on May 20) originally built by Howard Hughes, and rented by Elvis Presley.  The ochre exterior with white broken pediments around doors and windows, and black & white-striped awnings like piano keys, leads to an interior filled with chandeliers and wall sconces, a twisted Baroque-columned four-poster bed, swan faucets, Roman-style male nude statues, multiple portraits of Liberace (in one he kisses a Cardinal’s hand), a mammoth curved bar with swagged floral insets, Ionic pilasters, and frosted glass, and murals aplenty including the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the bedroom highlighting Adam, but minus the body of God (only the old man’s finger).  The palette is largely a golden vanilla with soft florals, perched on a highly polished floor you could skate on.  Other film locations included Liberace’s L.A. penthouse at 7461 Beverly Blvd; the U.S. Postal Center in West Hollywood, where Thorson worked after the break-up; Our Lady of Solitude Catholic Church, Palm Springs where Lee’s funeral was held; and on the on the stage of the Las Vegas Hilton, where Liberace performed. The stage sets, by contrast, are largely dark caves without natural light, which allows the artificial lights and mirrored surfaces to sparkle, whether the small shaded fixtures on patron’s tables, or the trademark candelabra on the mirror-tiled piano.  And then there’s Liberace himself in those custom-made costumes from his virgin white fox coat with 16-foot train costing $300,000 with $100,00 of Austrian crystals, “the only coat in the world with its own chauffer and car.”  Or his suit of mirrored tiles from head to toe.  Or the Lasagna Suit, a red and gold Fauntleroy outfit (if  he spilled tomato sauce on it, no one would notice) with white lace ruff and gold bow tie with red-sequined center and astral collar, topped by an white ostrich-feather cape with red lining.  Or the 200-pound King Neptune suit featuring a clamshell collar that surrounded his entire head.  At-home wear featured silk kaftans with jeweled clasps, gold slip-ons and gold chains and massive rings clutching champagne flutes, especially in the Grecian hot tub that sported painted puti lounging on piano keys and a portrait of Liberace above. All this was Liberace’s rejection of the traditional black tie and tails and black piano which was too uniform for him.  Rather, his grandiose style was meant to focus attention on him, Mr. Showmanship.  When he is about to appear on the 1981 Academy Awards playing all the nominated Best Original Scores, he objects to stars like Jane Fonda’s activism, and declares,  “When one reaches star status, it is not an invitation to show everyone how to change the world…We are here to entertain the world and sell drinks and souvenirs.“ And let’s face it – we all look better in candlelight.
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Review> IIDA Explores the Client-Designer Relationship in “What Clients Want”

At NeoCon this year, IIDA (International Interior Design Association) presented copies of What Clients Want, the first-ever study of the client/designer relationship told from the point of view of the client, written and edited by Melissa Feldman, IIDA's executive vice president. IIDA CEO Cheryl Durst called it "a groundbreaking account of how some C-suite executives have been able to alter their companies' destinations through design [by] firms who got inside their corporate DNA and pushed them to be better." Durst is referring to companies like Autodesk, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the Cowboys Stadium, and Facebook, which enlisted the services of Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander of Studio O+A, a husband and wife duo who have designed interiors for a roster of "techie brands" like Aol, eBay, Microsoft, and PayPal. In 2008, O+A was commissioned to consolidate Facebook's spread of ten office buildings in Palo Alto, California, and merge them into Hewlett Packard's former HQ. Studio O+A credits the extensive research they conduct on potential clients prior to any design work for landing the gig.
We want to learn what our clients are about and understand their sensibilities, because if our end result doesn't reflect them, it's not going to be successful or meaningful. Sometimes it's just a matter of talking to the entrepreneurs…other times we observe them for a while.
So what did they learn? Facebook, with its well known, humble beginnings in a college dorm room, is not about flash or excess. The primary goal was to create a collaborative, flexible, and comfortable space for the company's "scrappy and entrepreneurial" employees, as Facebook's communication designer, Everett Katigbak, described them. That meant a lot of repurposing existing pieces and spaces so that "nothing is deigned as a pristine or precious moment…Overall it's pretty raw and industrial with more of a garage or laboratory feel." O+A responded with nooks equipped with chessboards and by converting a loading dock into a skateboard ramp. Both Katigbak and O+A agreed that the design process went smoothly, but by the time What Clients Want was published, Facebook had already outgrown their facility and relocated to Sun Micro System's former campus in Menlo Park. They hired Gensler for the renovation, not Studio O+A—a testament to Facebook's hyper-evolution and obsession with "the new," or evidence that perhaps the road to design was a little more rocky than either side will admit? Either way, it's not included in the designer/client conversation Melissa Feldman chronicled in What Clients Want. There are thirteen more, which IIDA's Durst said is the first in a series of limited edition books that will focus on "key vertical markets, starting with hospitality." For What Clients Want, 3M donated their DI-NOC Architectural Finish Material for the cover designed by the NY-based design firm, Pure+Applied.
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The Weekly Review

For readers of the paper—the print paper, that is—you know full well the importance of our reviews section, just as vital to the pulse of the architectural discourse as the news and features we regularly publish. Online, however, we have never had a good, dedicated place for these disquisitions on the latest books, exhibitions, and ephemera. But, no longer! Now, we will be posting one review from recent issues each Friday, for your weekend enjoyment. Perhaps you can pull it up on your new iPad with the Sunday Times, or print it out and enjoy with a bloody mary or two. We know that's what Herbert Muschamp, subject of our inaugural effort, would have done. And don't forget to check back next Friday for more. Until then, happy reading.
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Guardian Review by Jonathan Glancey

  Nude hippies, big blobs, stunning dog pounds - is the 2008 architecture biennale too wacky for its own good?   ...The second part of the biennale, held in the national pavilions dotted through the city's giardini a few minutes' walk from the Arsenale, begins to offer some real, adult answers to the question of how we can make warm and lovable buildings for people of all classes, creeds and incomes. The US pavilion takes the theme the most seriously, with displays of radical designs for $20,000 homes executed in some of America's poorest states by such commendable US practices as the Rural Studio. These designs come as a welcome reality check. Curiously, one photograph of a real and powerful building by the Rural Studio proves to be unintentionally surreal. This beautiful, shelter-like construction is a dog pound built in one of the poorest areas of Alabama, one of the poorest states in the union. It stands opposite a grim state penitentiary. But while the jail is crammed, the pound is empty. The story is that there are many packs of feral, formerly domesticated dogs in rural Alabama, abandoned by poor and itinerant people. So there was a need for a dog pound. But it is empty because a local judge wants dogs held there to be shot after a short spell in their handsome cages, while US animal rescue groups oppose such trigger-happy ways. So the pound stays empty while the feral packs keep on roaming. This is a story worth dwelling on. It shows how, with the best will in the world, it is often very hard for architects to design and nurture truly publicly spirited projects. For all the help they get from officialdom, they might as well just dream and play. to see the full post-http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/sep/16/architecture