One of the most curious artifacts in the current exhibition, Energy: Oil and Post-Oil Architecture and Grids, currently running through November 10, is the one you run into just outside the entrance doors to Rome's MAXXI museum. It’s one of those ubiquitous mini AGIP filling stations, of the kind you normally would find curbside in any one of Italy’s many town centers. The look is ultra modern, with a cantilevered steel structure sheltering a smartly-constructed metal-and-glass shed designed for the gas station attendant and his stock of replacement windshield wipers and engine oils. Next to one of the pumps is AGIP’s bright yellow icon featuring a black, six-legged, fire-breathing dog. The filling station wouldn’t seem so odd if it were not for where it sits: on the pavement just under one of Zaha Hadid’s flying concrete viaducts. The architecture of Hadid's MAXXI suggests a series of highway overpasses crashing into one of the remaining buildings preserved on the former barracks site. The miniature service station with all its loaded petro-symbolism seems to fit perfectly under the shadows of this massive Ballardian road wreck. Inside, the exhibit offers an eclectic collection of road-related projects tied together by the medium of energy—petroleum in the immediate postwar era and proposals for projects fueled by alternative energy now that we are experiencing the fallout from post-peak production. The exhibition is divided into 3 distinct sections—“Stories,” the historical section; “Visions,” the section interrogating new energy possibilities; and “Frames,” a set of commissioned photographs. These are loosely tied to the Italian landscape, mainly by association to “Stories,” the core collection on display that features an impressive archive of visual documents on the beginnings of Italy’s Autostrada—the toll road that now extends over some 6,000 linear kilometers. Each of these sections has it’s own curatorial team and particular approach. MAXXI’s chief architectural curator Pippo Ciorra masterminded the exhibit and curated the section “Visions.” Just how does this exhibit fit into the broader global debate on sustainability, resources, waste, and climate change? What kind of critical contribution does it make to today’s energy forecast? Energy is not a high powered show. There is no pretense to comprehensiveness. If anything, there is a prevailing sense of arbitrariness not only in how things fit together but also to how much weight one section is given in relation to another. Yet in this age of data overload, a lot can be said about presenting a subjective assembly of issues held together by not quite much more then osmosis. Energy is an opportunity to focus in a couple very significant investigations and see how these issues stand up to the current debate. In this regard, the show, the second in the MAXXI series that began in 2011 with Re Cycle, is worth probing deeper into. To begin with, there is the “Stories” section curated by Margherita Guccione with its rich collection of archival drawings, renderings, photographs, and tourist postcards. While the United States looms large in Italy’s early postwar imagination, these documents provide an interesting view of how the architects involved in this first wave of transport innovation locked in to some of the key architectural typologies of the time. Specifically, the Pavesi and Motta Autogrill restaurants, the AGIP stations, and ancillary infrastructure that supported the growing highway network, including the ENI headquarters known as Metanopoli just outside Milan, and a score of worker leisure facilities that were then considered obligatory for a company of such national scope. And while most of the architects names are not that well known to the general public, contributions by Luigi Nervi and Mario Ridolfi accentuate the significance of this push towards Italy’s second wave of modernization. Anyone who is interested in Italy’s historical postwar design and manufacturing boom will find this section of the exhibit particularly rewarding. “Visions,” on the other hand, steers through a much more complex and, at times, more difficult terrain. Ciorra handpicks seven architectural groups who, he notes in the catalog, are “part of a generation that are ‘naturally sensitive’ to environmental issues” and who come from a range of countries as diverse as South Africa, Australia, Japan, Korea, Great Britain, and, of course, Italy. The road matters everywhere, though this is most eloquently taken up in the work of the Australian-based group, Terroir, whose manifesto begins and ends with the bleak landscapes of Mad Max. According to Terroir, the continent’s highways can be harnessed to generate non-expendable energy, but just in case, the architecture Terroir projects is intended to outlast civilization as we know it. In keeping with Ciorra’s initial premise, the group of protagonists in “Visions” are not bent on presenting the latest energy related gizmos, but rather to engender a set of solutions that make us want to “crave” leaving our wasteful consumption habits behind. MoDus Architects from Italy, present their “Heads Up Highway,” a sort of elevated power ribbon providing 160 million square meters of energy generating rooftop. For the most part, however, the “Visions” section remains utopian. One example is by Noero Architects of South Africa, who present the small fishing village of Hangberg outside of Capetown that explores the possibility of a localized energy infrastructure woven into the informal residential fabric. Open Building Research’s “Right to Energy,” picking up on the increasingly popular Commons movement, advocates multiple intermodal means of transportation to cut down on energy waste. Or in other words, get off the train and hop on a bike. There are two in the gallery connected to a looped video going through the streets of Milan. The photographic section, “Frames,” curated by Francesca Fabiani, could have had a much greater impact on the show if only it were given more space to breathe. Italians are incredibly sanguine in their photographic mastery of contemporary landscapes, and here too contributions by Paolo Pelligrin, Alessandro Cimmino, and Paola Di Bello give lucid portraits of the big and the small of the petrol industry. Perhaps this section could have easily eclipsed the other two. Which brings us back to just how much can a show like this matter, when the world is so hopelessly beholden to fossil fuel. Countries are plundered and peoples are massacred to ply this profitable trade. Nothing—thousands in highway dead, oil spills, not even biblical droughts and out of season hurricanes—serves to dampen the appetite for limitless oil. Ciorra in the accompanying catalog brings up Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1972 book, Petrolio, published posthumously. The architecture curator recalls the renowned film director’s concern with Italy’s moral decline. Pasolini’s lead character is Carlo, an engineer who works for ENI, Italy’s main energy powerhouses and one of “Visions” main sponsoring partners. Carlo succumbs to a deep crisis of identity that runs in step with the postwar mood of the country. Yet Pasolini in this exhibition remains an illusive ghost. Yes, Ciorra and his curatorial team have done well to find a simpler kinder approach to the energy controversy, perhaps in keeping with the notion that anything much harder will turn the general public off altogether. This lightness is what makes the show worth the immersion, precisely because it starts the process that greases our sense of collective responsibility. For those who continue to guzzle, there is the real the risk of getting burned by the six-legged black dog. There can be no doubt that this dog is from Hades. Energy: Oil and Post-Oil Architecture and Grids runs through November 10 at the MAXXI museum in Rome. Peter Lang is currently Professor in History Theory at the KKH Royal Institute of Art and Architecture in Stockholm, Sweden.
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Here in New York, we're excited to see CODA's massive Party Wall installation made of scrap from skateboard manufacturing rise at MoMA PS1 for this year's Young Architects Program (YAP). But the annual YAP, which recognizes emerging architects and invites them to design and build a temporary installation, has gone global. MoMA has announced the third installment of YAP at Rome's MAXXI museum designed by bam! bottega di architettura metropolitan and has launched a new program in Istanbul won by SO? Architecture and Ideas. SO? Architecture and Ideas' installation, Sky Spotting Stop, calls for a series of mirrored sun shades that give height to the museum's courtyard and play off the waters of the nearby Bosphorus. The mirrored discs are intended to provide playful shadows and reflections during the day and can be uplit at night. The installation opens in June at Istanbul Modern. In Rome, bam! bottega di architettura metropolitan's Helium-filled installation, He, will float above the MAXXI's courtyard shading a grassy lawn and wooden platform below. During the day, water will drip from the installation to cool the plaza. At night, the mass will glow as a large, floating lantern. At the end of the summer, the Helium from the installation will be reused for scientific research. The installation will open on June 20 at the MAXXI museum. A third international program has also been established in Santiago, Chile.
Earlier this month, we were first to bring you renderings of HWKN's planned installation for MoMA's P.S. 1 Young Architects Program (YAP), but now AN has learned that YAP's counterpart in Rome has selected Urban Movement Design's proposal for a series of sinuous benches and archways covered in grass and hanging plants as the winner to fill Zaha Hadid's MAXXI museum piazza this June. New York and Rome-based Urban Movement Design has proposed a series of morphing benches comprised of a wooden grid infilled with grass to wrap around the piazza forming various seating arrangements that provide new ways of experiencing the museum. Several ribbed archways covered with flowering hanging plants connect the benches. Called Unire/Unite, the installation will host the museum's summer outdoor programs in addition to being open to the public. The benches will later be reused in other parts of Rome to form a relationship between the museum and its city. “This is an inclusive and playful project that inspires health and movement and invites the museum visitors to live the space as a shared experience accessible to all,” the team from Urban Movement Design said in a statement. The young architecture firm is run by Robyne Kassen, Sarah Gluck, and Simone Zbudil Bonatti and focuses on accessible design that promotes well-being and physical activity. Both Urban Movement Design's Unire/Unite and HWKN's Wendy will open to the public this June and a third YAP installation is planned for Santiago, Chile this December. An exhibition of all 15 finalists from the three YAP cities will also be on display. Last year's MAXXI installation by stARTT, the first at the venue, included a grass lawn with larger-than-life synthetic tulips hovering overhead.
Imagine a warm summer evening in Rome. Then imagine stretching out on a cool, grass lawn underneath giant Jurassic tulips the size of a cherry tree. Their glow softly illuminates conversations over cocktails. Add a backdrop of the serpentine jewel of Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI museum, and you have theater. Rome is all about theater. So was the scene at the opening of the Young Architects Program installation at Rome’s one year old museum of art and architecture. Five young European firms were chosen as finalists by the MAXXI in collaboration with MoMA PS1's Young Architect's Program. The winner in Rome, stARTT Architects, installed 2000 square feet of luscious grass mini-hills inclined perfectly for reclining, so you can sdraiarsi, an untranslatable Roman manner of stretching out. Topping the hills are 20 or so three-foot wide tulips, each atop a six-foot curved stem. Semi-transparent red resin tulip-like flowers--a bit in the style of Avatar--light up in the evening and offer a bit of shade during the day. Mario Mattia, the resident architect in Rome for Hadid, had suggested a green space for the 12,000 square foot plaza court, drawing inspiration from a visit to the green lawn of Bryant Park beside the grand 42nd Street New York Public Library. But cut concrete paths and organized gravel won out--until now. Given a choice, humans gravitate toward the living and the green. StARTT architects managed to incorporate both elements into this built setting. So what did the user audience say about the installation on opening night? Papavere gigante! ("giant poppies!" omnipresent in the hills of Rome) and martini rossi! (martini glass-shaped flowers missing only the maraschino cherry). The giant tulips gently tilted your view upward to the rich evening turquoise of the Mediterranean sky, as you lay grounded on the refreshing islands of grass. A temporary installation? To quote another Roman, the emperor Hadrian: “Be attentive to the temporary, as it often becomes the permanent." Magari! (We hope so.)
P.S. 1 and the Museum of Modern Art have just announced that Brooklyn-based urban design and planning firm Interboro Partners are the winners of the 2011 Young Architects Program. Now celebrating its 12th year, the honor means designing what by now is widely recognized as the liveliest party space of the summer, the outdoor plaza of P.S. 1 in Queens. “Simple materials that transform a space to create a kind of public living room and rec room are trademarks of this young Brooklyn firm,” said Barry Bergdoll, MoMa’s Philip Johnson chief curator. “Interboro is interested in creating elegant and unpretentious spaces with common materials. Their work has both a modesty and a commitment quite at odds with the luxury and complex computer-generated form that has prevailed in the city in recent years.” The firm has also been selected this year as one of the eight firms participating in the Emerging Voices series at the Architectural League. Much of their work focuses on urban challenges, from completing a neighborhood development plan for Newark, the first in decades, to a temporary park at Canal and Varick streets, Lent Space, with mobile trees, seating and walls. Meanwhile, in Rome, a companion program called YAP_MAXXI in an outdoor space at the entrance of the new Zaha Hadid-designed museum, was also launched. Roman architects, stARTT, have been selected as the first-up in a partnership between MoMA P.S. 1 and the overseas institution, a model of a collaboration that could easily expand to other countries in no time. StARTT’s entry “Whatami” appears to be a series of discrete and turf-covered hillocks with Hadid-like curves constructed of various recyclable materials including straw, geo-textiles, and plastic. Recycling, in fact, was a key theme this year as Interboro also canvassed local libraries, greenmarkets, senior and daycare centers to see who might be able to use the rope and other materials when summer is over.
The prestigious Young Architects Program put on by the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA P.S.1 in New York has announced that it's teaming up with Rome's National Museum of 21st Century Arts, or MAXXI, to host a second outdoor installation at the new Zaha Hadid museum. MoMA’s chief curator of architecture and design, Barry Bergdoll who was on his way out of town for a vacation in Ethiopia before he takes up his post at Cambridge University to deliver the prestigious Slade Lectures, gave AN a call from Paragon Sporting Goods to describe the new initiative: “It’s something I have wanted to do for a while. When I went to MAXXI for their opening last year, we talked about what we could do together. You have a courtyard, I said, and while it’s not surrounded by a wall it is a big open space and they are doing programming much like what’s happening at PS1. They immediately said they wanted to do it. To use our name in the collaboration, they will be following all our guidelines and procedures. I see this as the first of several for Young Architects Programs that MoMA could get involved with globally. I want it to be localized; we are not exporting architects but trying to help grow young local talent. The five finalists in New York and in Italy will all be exhibited in both places, with just one or two judges from one group joining the other. Apart from that, the curating will remain within the home institutions. And they’ll open simultaneously.” A New York jury already announced the finalists for the MoMA P.S.1 exhibition in Queens, New York. The short list includes firms from Brooklyn, Boston, and London. A separate jury in Rome has chosen the finalists for the MAXXI installation from across Europe. Both juries consisted of MoMA, MoMA P.S.1, and MAXXI officials, but in an effort to lend a local flavor to the exhibitions, each was responsible for their own geographic area. Finalists for the Young Architects Program at the MAXXI:
- Raffaella De Simone e Valentina Mandalari – Palermo, Italy
- Ghigos Ideas – Lissone, Italy
- Asif Khan – London
- Langarita Navarro Arquitectos – Madrid
- stARTT – Rome