We have to imagine a place before we can actually be there. So St. Louis–based artists and curators Gavin Kroeber, Tim Portlock, and Rebecca Wanzo invited their fellow citizens to imagine the urban future with “a two-day festival of art and ideas that explores the collisions of race, urbanism, and futurism, providing a platform for alternate visions of the St. Louis to come.” The name of the event, “Dwell in Other Futures,” comes from the novel Dhalgren by the Afrofuturist writer Samuel R. Delaney, who also served as the keynote speaker and underpinning force that bound together a number of the program’s participants. To open the event, Delaney recited a chapter from his most recent novel that bolstered the role that intimacy might play in how we understand our spaces. Held on April 27 and 28, the program included a collection of workshops and presentations, with special emphasis on performances. For example, the multidisciplinary artist Eric Ellingsen, along with his team of Tyvek-hazmat-suit-clad landscape architecture faculty and students from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, invited the public to join as they performed a choreographic ritual on an empty land parcel across the street from the Pulitzer Foundation. Inspired by the spray paint markings that often indicate underground utility lines, Ellingsen’s team challenged the audience to assume agency over the colored ground markings that make up our cities in order to speculate how infrastructure may connect us in more creative ways. Children and adults took charge of rolling paint applicators to inscribe the site with colorful lines while an overhead drone recorded the real-time mapmaking from a bird’s-eye view. Inside, artist Autumn Knight invited audience members to offer impromptu proposals for civic institutions as part of her La-A Consortium performance, positing playful yet bureaucratic titles such as “Shephanique Center for Literacy” and the “Jadavian Center for Creative Ecologies” as a starting point. By leveraging the power of intentional naming, Knight prompted the audience to consider how they might creatively impact the identities and activities of the organizations that constitute our society. The event closed with a bang as six different local participants delivered “Manifestos for a Future St. Louis.” These brief, bold, and highly choreographed proclamations required each participant to articulate a scenario about a possible future through whatever artistic means necessary. Architectural historian Michael Allen delivered a prescient soliloquy set to a Hollywood soundtrack, warning of a “non-topian” future that intensifies our troubled present, brimming with privatization and distrust of the public sphere. Maxi Glamour, the self-proclaimed “Demon Queen of Polka and Baklava” projected a nonbinary, gender-fluid future enacted by a spectacular drag performance. Social practice designer De Nichols closed the series with an optimistic call to action, imploring us to consider what parts of the status quo need to be destroyed in order to make space for “audacious” culture-makers and “fearless” justice-makers. What conclusions did the festival draw? Its participants proposed more questions than answers, implicating the audience every step of the way, but most assuredly, the celebratory collective voice proclaimed that the future will be black, the future will be queer, and the future city demands all of our emphatic participation.
Posts tagged with "Speculative Architecture":
In a recent installation at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), Mark Foster Gage Architects attempts to bring the notion of parafictional art fantasy to the realm of architecture—with mixed results. Gage’s Geothermal Futures Lab considers the notion that, given the current regime of “fake news” and “post-truth” reality, architects might have renewed license to create new visions for the future rooted primarily in fantasy. In lectures and writings, Gage argues that architects from Vitruvius onward have always engaged in some form or another with parallel or alternate versions of reality through their works and that conditions are ripe today for this tendency to take hold once again. Furthermore, Gage posits that these efforts represent a facet of the Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) school of thought and could potentially be used to fend off the ever-increasing erosion—or flattening—of a shared reality that occurs when the people who lead and represent the nation are fundamentally preoccupied with telling lies. In the exhibition text, Gage asks, “Might architecture’s power in this new world be conducted through an elasticity of the real that encourages citizens to develop doubt about their presented realities—and therefore perhaps become more resistant to ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts?’” For the installation, Gage seizes this opportunity as a justification for postulating a new energy-generation technology called “laser ablation geothermal resonance” that draws its power from sources deep below the surface of the earth in order to sustainably supply Los Angeles with over two-thirds of its daily energy needs. To convey the fundamentals of this fictional energy revolution, Gage fills the SCI-Arc gallery with a stage setting meant to approximate a control center for the power generator, installing lab equipment, a metal detector, a faceted gold-leaf-covered reactor, a pile of rocks, and a collection of high-powered lasers and imaginary technical drawings for display. Technically speaking, the student-produced machine drawings are exquisite in their effusive and cheeky detail. Drawn to convey exploded axonometric views of the reactor and other components, the starkly outlined assemblage drawings also incorporate recognizable pop cultural elements, with hidden My Little Pony and Mr. Potato Head figurines buried within the constructions. The reactor mock-up is impressive in its detailing as well; it features the fractal and agglomerated geometries Gage’s other academic work is known for, while spewing fog from its lower extremity. But overall, the exhibition—and Gage’s interpretation of what parafictional fantasy in the era of “fake news” can provide to the field of architecture—falls flat. It’s not the physical objects that result from Gage’s exploration that are in question, but rather the interpretations that underlie them. For one, it belies a fundamental misreading of the current political-cultural moment to describe the Trumpian notion of “fake news” as a symptom of the so-called “great flattening” of intellectual hierarchies OOO represents. Practically speaking, “fake news” is not so much a product of the erosion of objective truth as much as it is an acknowledgment of multiple, covalent, and oftentimes contradictory perspectives that have always existed. Like it or not, “fake news” represents not merely plurality, but a new era of simultaneity writ large. The president and his lackeys have not so much created a fantasy world for their devotees to occupy as elevated a parallel existence that has always been very real to its adherents. In a lecture supporting the exhibition, Gage cites the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements as emblematic of “flattening” as well, a comparison that also doesn’t really apply. If OOO ideology is rooted in the “removal of human as primary subject” from perceived reality, how can two movements entirely rooted in acknowledging and prioritizing the fundamental humanity and agency of two often-maligned social groups serve as a case study? The comparison is flawed and problematic, representing a misunderstanding of not just what drives these movements, but also of what we can learn from them as architects, as well. And lastly, like so many other recent attempts at projecting future scenarios, the project is not really “speculative” in the literal sense and represents merely an intensification of existing modes and technologies, raising the question: If architecture’s power right now lies in its ability to speculate, what does it mean to have so many of its fantasies seem so underwhelmingly conventional? Southern California Institute of Architecture January 26 through March 4
This Sunday, September 17, the Queens Museum opens Never Built New York, organized by the co-curators of Never Built Los Angeles (2013)—AN's Contributing Editor Sam Lubell alongside contributor, critic, and writer Greg Goldin. The exhibit, designed by Christian Wassmann, highlights unrealized architectural gems and urban design as its predecessors did, with a focus on New York. Spanning 150 years, the show presents works that would have "dramatically changed the landscape of New York for better or worse," according to Lubell. In Goldin's words, it's meant to examine "the capacity of draftsmen and model makers to seduce you, when the real world effects [of those designs] could have been disastrous." Divided into three discrete spaces, the show features the speculative work of recognized architects like Harvey Wiley Corbett, Frank Lloyd Wright, I.M. Pei, Steven Holl, Buckminster Fuller, and others. Each of the three spaces—the Rubin Gallery, the Panorama of the City of New York, and the Skylight Room—approaches the plans and drawings at a decidedly different scale. The Queens Museum itself is the only remaining in-use building from New York's 1939 World's Fair—its open, light-filled lobby was revamped by Grimshaw Architects in 2013. In the show, Eliot Noyes' proposal for the Westinghouse Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair is represented as a 1:6 scale silver bouncy castle, gleaming under a skylight. It's by far the splashiest piece of the show – the original would have been much less fun, a series of concentric spheres clustered around a rotating platform showcasing Westinghouse's utilities business, resembling a giant fidget spinner to the contemporary eye. On the walls surrounding the plush pneumatic project are models and drawings for projects related to the Museum and its home, Flushing Meadows. One highlight is a massive star-viewing platform called Galaxon by Paul Rudolph that was designed for the space where the Unisphere now stands, but was rejected from the 1964 New York World's Fair. Tilted at 23 degrees (supposedly the best angle for star-observing), this massive saucer epitomizes the rush of scientific and popular excitement in the 1950s and '60s leading up to the lunar landing, while the Unisphere, in contrast, centers Earth and earthly endeavors as monumental (its size is still astonishing at 140 feet tall). In the Rubin Gallery, a dim, tapered room roughly resembling the shape of Manhattan, models, renderings, and drawings are arranged salon-style on the black walls. Organized geographically rather than temporally, this is the meat of the show, though much of it is contextualized only by a fold-out newspaper guide. At the entrance, viewers find work located in Staten Island and Lower Manhattan; at the exit, work located in Upper Manhattan and Queens. The first item on view is Thomas Hastings's National American Indian Memorial. In 1913, project leaders held a groundbreaking ceremony on Staten Island attended by 32 Native chiefs, only to discover later that fundraising for the project had been a sham. Many monoliths and megaprojects lie within the elongated space: a plan for Ellis Island sketched by Frank Lloyd Wright on a napkin (translated into beautiful renderings by Taliesen Associated Architects), Robert Moses' infamous Lower and Midtown Manhattan Expressways, Steven Holl's aqueous urbanist experiments the Bridge of Houses (1981) and Parallax Towers (1990), and Buckminster Fuller's 1960 solution to house a quarter of a million people—fifteen 100-foot conical towers in Harlem — and so many more architectural relics. The projects in the room represent only about a fifth of the material that the curators combed through in the almost two years it took to put together the exhibition and its companion book. The third area, the Panorama of the City of New York, is already familiar to many urbanists and architects, and reason enough to make the trek out to Flushing Meadows. In the familiar model landscape of the city, the curators have placed 26 luminous models of the unbuilt projects, fabricated over a summer by students from Columbia University's GSAPP program. Gazing down from a platform surrounding its perimeter, the massive structures from the previous room suddenly appear small – or rather, at scale with the city's existing fabric, scattered throughout the boroughs, emitting a ghostly light. In the words of the curators, this lighting choice was meant to evoke the perspective of astronauts gazing down at a lonely planet, evoking a sense of fragility. On the opposite side of the model, a virtual reality station is set up with several headsets containing graphics generated by Shimihara Illustration of five keystone projects in the exhibit. Making use of spherical photography, the headsets allow viewers to toggle from a bird's eye view of New York City to a ground-level perspective of each project as it would have appeared in real life, in some cases with terrifying grandeur, as is the case for Fuller's spiky-crowned, towering Harlem housing units. When asked about the inspiration for the exhibit, Lubell referred to Rebecca Shanor's The City That Never Was (1991) as a particularly influential text, Robert A.M. Stern's famous New York book series, and Hugh Ferriss' examinations of the art of rendering, from practical urban interventions to lurid, futuristic daydreams. The curators were wary of remarking positively on most of the projects, suggesting that many were perhaps best suited for the realm of imagination alone. "Thank God that never came to pass" was a frequent aside. Due to the colossal scale of the majority of works featured (a hint at why they might not have received adequate funding), many would have resulted in the destruction of existing architectural treasures, such as a 55-story Park Avenue skyscraper by Marcel Breuer that would have cut its foundation directly through Grand Central Terminal. The show does spotlight a few modest, jewel box pieces, including Joseph Urban's design for the 1926 Metropolitan Opera, which was squelched by the institution's board. Architects will find in Never Built New York a parallel New York full of architectural wonders, whether better off unbuilt or not. The show is on view through February 2018.
New York City Building
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
September 17, 2017 – February 18, 2018
The Architect's Newspaper is a media sponsor of the exhibition.
This is a preview of our September issue, out tomorrow. What happened to speculation in architecture? At a recent symposium at the Yale School of Architecture titled “Aesthetic Activism,” Dean of the Syracuse School of Architecture Michael Speaks noted that curiously, architecture has lost its penchant for speculation in recent years. He cited the two most recent Venice Biennales as evidence of this trend, as the curators chose to look at the elements of building (Rem Koolhaas’s Elements, 2014) and reporting on reality in regions beyond what the Biennale had traditionally addressed (Alejandro Aravena’s Reporting from the Front, 2016). He also discussed the Chicago Biennial in 2015, which arguably focused on practice, rather than architecture. What happened to architecture’s ability to speculate on the world around us, as was the ordinary in the 20th century, from Le Corbusier and the modernists to Archigram and the radical architects of the 1960s and 1970s? In the latest issue of The Architect's Newspaper (AN), we set out to survey the state of architectural speculation today. AN Contributing Editor Sam Lubell will be opening the exhibition Never Built New York, which features proposals that were never realized. You could say that looking at the history of unbuilt architecture is speculation. So we set out to find what might be in the Never Built exhibition of 2050. What is speculation today? We found that in architecture, most speculation is more like plausible futures. It is being developed by private industry in some cases, well within the realm of possibility. Many think that self-driving cars are a revolutionary technology, and are a matter of “when,” not “if.” But why have so few architects gotten out in front of this technology looking for opportunities to change the city? Solar technologies, like those being developed at Tesla, would also have the potential to radically change how we build. Our research confirms that in many ways Speaks is correct in his thinking about a lack of speculation. Architects are not really thinking much about new ways of living and relating to the world outside of our own history and discourse. I would argue that the upcoming Chicago Biennial appears to confirm this idea. We did manage to find an interesting mélange of projects that project toward that future. From automation and smart cities, to floating islands (front page), there are some plausible futures that might be very real someday. So it is not necessarily speculation, but just futurist realism, which we found to be a fruitful endeavor. In an interview with Amelie Klein of the Vitra Design Museum about her exhibition as part of the Vienna Biennale, she reported that many of the most speculative work in architecture that she has come across is actually happening in the realm of construction, such as the algorithms used by Achim Menges at the University of Stuttgart, Institute for Computational Design, to minimize material use and create new ways of making. While the discipline might be struggling to imagine new ways of living, it is not a boring time for architecture. The world around us is changing quickly, and we can see several new futures simultaneously developing before our eyes. It may not be about predicting or producing new futures, but about reflecting on the present and what plausible near futures could be on the horizon and how they will affect our cities.
As several Chicago sites—as well as institutions in New York City and Hawaii—vie to host Barack Obama's Presidential Library, the Chicago Architectural Club is “calling for speculative proposals” to consider the design impacts of the nation's 14th presidential library. Submissions are due January 10, one month after official contenders for the library have to submit their proposals to The Barack Obama Foundation. Winners will be announced February 3 at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 South Michigan Avenue. First prize nets $1,500, while second takes $1,000 and third gets $750. The Architectural Club and CAF will exhibit the winning projects on their websites. Jurors for the award include Andy Metter (Epstein), Brian Lee (SOM), Dan Wheeler (Wheeler Kearns Architects), Elva Rubio (Gensler), Geoffrey Goldberg, (G. Goldberg + Associates) and John Ronan (John Ronan Architects). More information on submission protocol is available on the Chicago Architectural Club's website AN's editorial page has called for the library to catalyze the development of public space wherever it ends up, and the speculative designs offered by the Club's annual Chicago Prize are sure to spur good conversation on that topic. The competition literature identifies the site as the rail yard at the southwest corner of the Chicago River confluence—a site already devoted to Goettsch Partners' River Point development, currently under construction. In library news more likely to materialize as built work, the University of Chicago is mulling Jackson Park as a potential site. The Hyde Park university where Obama taught law is also reportedly considering an empty lot at Garfield Boulevard and Martin Luther King Drive, the South Shore Cultural Center, and an area of Jackson Park across from Hyde Park Academy High School at Cornell Avenue and Hayes Drive, according to DNAinfo Chicago.
There were about as many ideas for development on Chicago’s high-profile real estate at Wolf Point as there are Chicagoans. One you didn’t hear about during Alderman Brendan Reilly’s initial public meeting was The Clean Tower—a supertall that would return filtered wastewater to the Chicago River beneath its slanted profile. The Clean Tower wasn’t actually on the table for Wolf Point, but it does occupy real estate on the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s model of downtown. That’s because it’s part of Unseen City: Designs for a Future Chicago, an exhibition of imaginative projects from Illinois Institute of Technology's “Hi-Rise, Lo-Carb” studio. Hi-Rise, Lo-Carb—led by Antony Wood of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture—begat six projects, including a vertical neighborhood in the Loop complete with “streets in the sky,” and a "Post [Waste] Office" that envisions the vacant Old Chicago Main Post Office as a sustainable waste management center with a rooftop arboretum. This is the first time the Chicago Architecture Foundation has opened up its model of downtown for use as an exhibit space, and Unseen City is an excellent start. The model’s urban context legitimizes the ambitions of these inventive projects — placed alongside existing institutions in the Loop, they inspire progressive thoughts. Glimpse the unseen city in the lobby of the Santa Fe building, 224 S. Michigan Ave., through November 4.