My recent posts at World-Architects


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Getty Center Turns 20

The Getty Center, designed by Richard Meier, opened to the public on December 12, 1997. I was fortunate to visit the complex in 2003, writing about Robert Irwin's garden on this blog.

To celebrate the Getty Center's 20th anniversary, the J. Paul Getty Museum is hosting an exhibition of photographs by Robert Polidori that document the museum 20 years ago. I did a quick write-up of Meier's building and Irwin's garden at World-Architects; head over there to read it.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Today's archidose #988

Here are some photos of the Centro Botín (2017) in Santander, Spain, by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. (Photos: Ximo Michavila.)

Renzo Piano. Centro Botin #1
Renzo Piano. Centro Botin #5
Renzo Piano. Centro Botin #4
Renzo Piano. Centro Botin #3
Renzo Piano. Centro Botin #2
Renzo Piano. Centro Botin #6

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Friday, December 08, 2017

Book Briefs #32

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with two- or three-sentence first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews, but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than can find their way into reviews on this blog.

American Libraries 1730-1950 by Kenneth Breisch | W. W. Norton | 2017 | Amazon
Fittingly, the cover of this history of libraries in the United States from the mid-1700s to just after World War II is graced by the George Peabody Library in Baltimore, designed by Edmund G. Lind and completed in 1878. Oddly, a photo of the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, designed by Thomas Beeby and completed in 1991, is found on the back cover. Turns out the latter is included in the Afterword, coming after six chapters (one devoted to Carnegie libraries) loaded with photos and drawings from the Library of Congress, and illustrating how public libraries are more important – and patronized – than ever.

Crown Hall Dean’s Dialogues 2012-2017 edited by Wiel Arets, Agata Siemionow | IITAC Press/Actar | 2017 | Amazon
Earlier this year Wiel Arets stepped down as dean of the Illinois Institute of Architecture after his five-year tenure. The official announcement boasts that "Dean Arets’ leadership has pointed the way forward for schools of architecture and built a strong framework for the College of Architecture’s future academic years," but one report says, "the faculty was unhappy with Arets's leadership." Whatever the case, this book (one among many put out by IIT during his tenure, which also saw the creation of MCHAP) signals it was a very busy five years. The book features interviews that were part of the College of Architecture's "Dean's Dialogues," with, to be expected, some impressive names: David Adjaye, Peter Eisenman, Phyllis Lambert, and Kazuyo Sejima, among many others.

New Architecture New York photographs by Pavel Bendov | Prestel | 2017 | Amazon
Although Pavel Bendov may not be a household name, the photographer is known to many people through his popular "archexplorer" Instagram that is full of, but not restricted to, buildings in his hometown of New York City. No surprise that his first book documents the building boom taking place in the city this century. New Architecture New York has around 50 projects, most in Manhattan but many gems, such as Tod and Billie's Lefrak Center at Lakeside, found in the outer boroughs. The texts – project descriptions by the editors at Prestel and an introduction by critic Alexandra Lange – are short, keeping the focus squarely on Pavel's skillful photos of the best NYC has to offer this century.

Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh, Alex Bozikovic | McClelland & Stewart | 2017 | Amazon
Although I wasn't familiar with the earlier editions of Patricia McHugh's guide to architecture in Toronto (the Goodfellows' contemporary guide is the only one I knew for the Canadian city), from what I can gather from this update they were kindreds with Norval White and Elliot Willensky's AIA Guide to New York City: short but sharply critical texts on architecture spanning centuries. The Globe and Mail's Alex Bozikovic is the most obvious, and best, person to update McHugh's guide – its first update time since 1989. There's lots to cover and Bozikovic does it logically and with a critical eye that rivals McHugh. With unfortunately small b/w photos for most, but not all, projects and 26 "essential" walking tours, this is clearly a book to carry around as one tracks the changes Toronto has seen in the last 25 years; its compact, lightweight format makes that easy to do.

The Icon Project: Architecture, Cities, and Capitalist Globalization by Leslie Sklair | Oxford University Press | 2017 | Amazon

Starchitecture: Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities by Davide Ponzini, Michele Nastasi | The Monacelli Press | 2016 | Amazon
Earlier this year I conducted some email interviews with the authors of these two books for a piece at World-Architects. Released within months of each other, the timing just seemed right, though I would soon learn that Starchitecture was released initially, in Italian, in 2011. Nevertheless, these books follow the Newtonian logic of "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." In this case, they are responding to the globalization of architecture, the starchitecture phenomenon, the Bilbao effect – whatever one wants to call the proliferation of expensive, iconic buildings meant to attract media attention, tourists, and money. It was only a matter of time before books critic of the trend appeared.

Those looking for an academic, sociological perspective on the subject should opt for Sklair's book, which breaks down icons into a couple categories (unique and typical, or architects like Gehry and copycat architects) and examines them relative to the politics and economics behind their creation. Those interested in an urban planning perspective, as told through a handful of case studies (Bilbao, Abu Dhabi, Paris, New York City, Vitra Campus), will find more to like in Starchitecture, which combines Ponzini's words with Nastasi's photographs – not the typical photos in architecture journals, mind you, as the cover attests. Each book makes it clear that there is plenty of fodder for critiquing contemporary today, and plenty of ways of going about it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Glass Tops in Union Square

Over the weekend I was running errands around Union Square and came across the construction site for the renovation of the old Tammany Hall building at the northeast corner of the park. Designed by BKSK Architects, the new project, 44 Union Square East, features a glass dome atop the old building.

[Rendering: BKSK]

Recently the building was used for a theater, but the new project converts it to retail and office space, with the first at the base and the second beneath the dome. Compare the above rendering with a period photo of the 1929 building and before/after sections of the project.

[Drawing: BKSK]

One glass-topped renovation near Union Square is an anomaly, but two of them is the start of a trend (though not a full-blown trend). The second project is DXA Studio's proposed expansion, spotted at New York YIMBY, of two landmarked buildings on Broadway between 12th and 13th Streets, across from the Strand Book Store.

[Rendering: DXA Studio]

While BKSK's plans for renovating Tammany Hall were approved by Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2015, DXA is in the process of obtaining LPC approval. Even though the two designs are very different, the BKSK project sets a precedent for a contemporary rooftop addition in an area with many historic buildings.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Sound in Space

Grabbing my morning pastry today, I noticed an enticing sign on the door of the coffee shop:

What struck me just as much as the image and the subject of the exhibition – architecture and photography – is the venue: New York Presbyterian Church. If that name and its Long Island City address don't ring a bell, maybe this photo will:

Korean Presbyterian Church, as it's also known, is the transformation of an old laundry factory into a church by Greg Lynn, Douglas Garofalo and Michael McInturf. Although it was completed in 1999 and I've lived in the neighborhood for eleven years, I've yet to go inside. Now I have a perfect excuse.

Here is some more information on the exhibition taking place on Sunday, December 10 (4pm-7:30pm), from the Forte New York Chamber Music Series website:
Architecture, Art Works and Photography Exhibition by architects Adrian Subagyo and Joey Giampietro

Space in Sound is an exhibition that critically engages with the relationship between objects and the space in which they inhabit while questioning many of our preconceived notions concerning sound and space. Humans primarily perceive sound empirically, as sonic waves vibrate through particles in the open air and reach our ears, we are given an abundance of information both qualitative and quantitative about our surrounding context. Sound also propagates equally through material via physical vibrations. Our perceptive systems are not trained to detect sound materially and as a result our engagement with sound is severely biased. Objects engage with their sonic environment through feeling. It is in this feeling of sound that vibrations are physically transferred from material to material or object to object, all of which are spaces. Access into this world, and that of a flat ontology, can be achieved through the use of contact microphones and amplification. In the exhibition on display there are several devices that gives the human (user) the capability to feel sound or hear sound as objects do, listen to intrinsic spatial qualities of an object, or listen to an active dialog happening internally between a set or family of objects and their immediate spatial context.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Today's archidose #987

Here are some photos of La Muralla Roja (1973) in Calpe, Spain, by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura . (Photos: Lukas Schlatter, who has more shots of the park in this Flickr set.)

La Muralla Roja
La Muralla Roja
La Muralla Roja
La Muralla Roja
La Muralla Roja
La Muralla Roja
La Muralla Roja
La Muralla Roja
La Muralla Roja
La Muralla Roja

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Old+New Book Review: Complete Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid: The Complete Buildings and Projects
Rizzoli, 1998
Paperback, 176 pages

The Complete Zaha Hadid, Expanded and Updated
Thames & Hudson, 2017
Hardcover, 320 pages

Back in 1998, six years before she would win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Rizzoli published The Complete Buildings and Projects of Zaha Hadid, featuring an introductory essay by Aaron Betsky, over sixty buildings and projects, and one spread of furniture and objects. At only 176 pages, it is a slim volume, about half as big as the latest expanded and updated Complete Zaha Hadid, published recently by Thames & Hudson. Between the first edition and latest update there were a few more: in 2009, 2013, and 2016, when I wrote about it briefly.

The number and frequency of the updates testify to the increasing output of Hadid's eponymous firm after her Pritzker Prize win, but the latest comes so soon after the previous due in part to Hadid's unexpected death last year. One need only read the first sentence of Betsky's introduction to realize this: "Zaha Hadid was a great cinematographer"; this sentence is the same in all previous editions with the obvious difference of "is" versus "was." Nevertheless, this will not be the last update, considering how many buildings of hers are being completed posthumously.

In last year's Book Brief I wrote that "thankfully Hadid's beautiful paintings from The Peak and other early projects are still an important part of the monograph." That remains true with the 2017 edition, but here I want to more closely compare it with the 1998 edition, in part to see if I keep that edition in my library, and to see if I recommend others search it out. Short answer: fans of Hadid's early work and her paintings should get it, while fans of her later work will be fine with the latest update.

One comparison reveals the differences. On page 32 of the newest update (spread above) is Kurfürstendamm 70, an unbuilt project from 1986 for Berlin. It is documented with four paintings, some section drawings, and a couple paragraphs of text. Opposite is IBA-Blick 2, another Berlin project, but one that was completed in 1993. Both projects are documented in the first edition with four pages each. The unbuilt project (spreads below) includes the same five images (all larger) and text as well as more of Hadid's distinctive drawings and floor plans. This is just one example of why the first edition excels with these and other early projects.

But why not maintain these and other projects in their first-edition form? Space is obviously a factor. If certain projects were not truncated (more projects are truncated than the few completed buildings from the first edition), the latest update would be closer to 640 pages than 320 pages, making it heavier and more expensive, kind of like Frank Gehry's sizable Complete Works. But I'd also argue that the editing is a form of forgetting, of not dwelling on the unbuilt, of shifting the focus to more recent buildings and projects.

In terms of recent projects, the last project in the first edition -- the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati -- is a good marker in Hadid's shift from an angular, aggressive architecture to soft, fluid designs, enabled by computers and the contributions of Patrik Schumacher in her office. Much of what follows that building in the new book exhibits this formal shift, while also revealing how the buildings have increased in size and complexity and branched out to places like China and the UAE. Additionally, the number of objects and furniture has greatly increased, now with nearly fifty pages instead of just one spread -- another example of how in demand Hadid was from late last century until her shocking death last year.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book Review: 100 Buildings

100 Buildings by Thom Mayne and Eui-Sung Yi, produced by The Now Institute
Rizzoli, 2017
Flexicover, 262 pages

When visiting the page for 100 Buildings on Amazon today, the "What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?" section lists one book: mine. This isn't surprising, given that both have "100 Buildings" in their title and have been published in the last couple years. But like many architecture books that share some similarities, the differences are also interesting. 100 Years, 100 Buildings features one building per year for the last 100 years (1916-2015), while 100 Buildings limits itself to the 20th century. My book is a fairly subjective sampling of visitable buildings spanning a whole century, given the year-by-year format, while the "must know" buildings in the book by Thom Mayne and Eui-Sung Yi are free from such constraints, as long as they were designed and/or completed somewhere between 1900 and 2000.

In fact, dates are played down in the book relative to the who, what and where of the 100 buildings, so it's hard to get a comparative sense of when the buildings were completed. Nevertheless, I'd wager there are more buildings from the 1930s than 1940s, for instance and very few from the 1980s. This stems from the fact Mayne solicited more than 50 "internationally renowned architects" to create a list of important 20th-century buildings — selective crowdsourcing, if you will. The book then takes the top 100 selections and orders them from most to least mentions. A matrix at the back of the book (also on the cover) lists the 50 contributors (vertical axis) and the 100 buildings from the book (horizontal axis). As can be seen, everybody but Craig Hodgetts, MVRDV, Dominique Perrault and Richard Meier (really?!) selected Villa Savoye, number 1 on the list of 100.

Each building is given one spread with a fairly consistent format, as the Villa Savoye spread below illustrates. There's one black-and-white (typically exterior) photograph, an axonometric, a floor plan, an elevation or section, a paragraph of text, and project data: name, architect, location, dates, and coordinates (N/S at the top edge, E/W at the right or left edge). In terms of the last item, coordinates, these come in handy for those knowledgable in entering them into Google Maps, but their location on the page is a missed opportunity. If they were switched (N/S on the right, E/W on the top) and located on the spread relative to a map, they would give a direct sense of where each building is located on the earth. Otherwise, a global map is found between the table of contents and first entry, but it only lists projects by country.

Of course, with only a spread per building, 100 Buildings cannot address everything such as this. It is a starting point, the book version of Wikipedia entries, compete with a list of references in the back of the book for further exploration. These references, though only 12 pages versus 200 pages for the main entries, are extremely important, considering that the book is aimed at students, at overcoming "a declining awareness of historical precedent," according to Mayne in his foreword. Some of this declining awareness will be overcome by the photos, drawings and paragraph of text about Villa Savoye, for instance, but Tim Benton's The Villas of Le Corbusier, the architect's own Towards a New Architecture, and Kenneth Frampton's Modern Architecture 1920-1945 will be more valuable in the long run. With this in mind, it's imperative that students using this book have ready access to a library well stocked with architecture books.

Returning to a comparison between Mayne's book and my own (something I never imagined I'd be doing, to be honest), there is plenty of overlap in the selections, even though my year-by-year, open-to-the-public format eliminated many buildings from appearing. Of the top ten 100 Buildings (in order: Villa Savoye, Chapelle Notre-Dame du Haut, Barcelona Pavilion, Centre Pompidou, S.C. Johnson & Son Headquarters, Farnsworth House, Salk Institute, La Maison de Verre, Couvent Sainte-Marie de la Tourette, and TWA Flight Center), seven of them are in my book – the top seven actually, with the others missing because they are not open to the public, are too similar to another design, and were in a state of limbo when I wrote my book, respectively.

So for somebody like me, there is little revealing in this book. But of course, this book was not made for somebody like me. It was written for who I was 25 years ago, when I was in architecture school but did not know what or who a Corbu or Mies was, much less how a plan and elevation corresponded to a building or photograph. So I would have loved a book like this to be around back then, a drafting table companion that would spark discussions with my professors and give me jumping-off points for learning about all the buildings that are worth learning about.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Today's archidose #986

Here are some photos of Bishan–Ang Mo Kio Park (2012) in Singapore by Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl. (Photos: Trevor Patt, who has more shots of the park in this Flickr set.)


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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Disappointment in Berlin

One of the buildings I went out of my way to visit on a recent trip to Berlin was Dominique Perrault's Velodrome and Swimming Pool, a project I wrote about way back in 2000, one year after the project was completed and seventeen years before I'd see it in person. Each of the main elements is given a regular shape – pool is a rectangle and velodrome is a circle – that is set into the landscape.

[Aerial view nabbed from Perrault's website]

In the text on Perrault's website, written by Sebastian Redecke, "[the] sports buildings are unique in the city if for no other reason than that they are largely underground." This impression held true as I approached the buildings from the east, from the bottom corner in the aerial above – what turned out, unknowlingly, to be a backdoor. Basically I was approaching via the automobile access, which is logically located alongside the railroad tracks.

Velodrome and Olympic Swimming Pool

From there I went left and walked up some stairs to the eastern edge of the project, the bottom-left edge in the aerial above.
Velodrome and Olympic Swimming Pool

Finally I was confronted with the view I was expecting: low, mesh-covered buildings tucked into the landscape. A rectangular one:
Velodrome and Olympic Swimming Pool

And a circular one:
Velodrome and Olympic Swimming Pool

My disappointment with Perrault's project firsthand stemmed from a few things: the landscape, access to the buildings, and the project's edges. All are related, but I'll discuss them one by one. First, in terms of the landscape, one does not need to visit to see how people have created their own paths across the lawns to connect the buildings and perimeter spots or just make their way across the raised landscape. Compare the aerial at top with the one below, where those new paths are visible (amazingly, both aerials are from Perrault's website, one from the project page linked above and one from the urban design page).

[Another aerial view nabbed from Perrault's website]

Normally I don't have a problem with people creating their own paths – while they serve to illustrate design defects they also show how a landscape has been made more democratic, less delegated – but here those paths are combined with other flaws: a notable lack of maintenance across much of the landscape and a thinning out of the 450 apple trees planted as part of "the orchard." The only other people I saw there (about ten of them on a chilly, gray weekday) were cutting across the elevated landscape, most via the new paths.

Velodrome and Olympic Swimming Pool

The second bit of disappointment had to do with access to the pool and velodrome. I walked down the steps (above) to get inside the pool, where I could see an event was taking place, but the doors were locked. This was the case on both sides of the pool building and at the velodrome. Instead of accessing the buildings via the elevated landscape, as seems to be the intention, entrances to the facilities are found in bulkhead structures along the northern railroad edge. (Sorry, I didn't take pictures of them.) So visitors either drive to gain access, or they walk across the elevated park to these access points; they do not descend directly to the individual buildings. This plan illustrates one such access point:

Not only did I not take photos of the bulkheads aligned along the project's northern edge, I didn't take photos of the other edges, which are basically huge expanses of steps connecting the raised landscape to the neighborhood. Here are a few views taken from Google Street View, showing the southeast corner:

The southern edge, which echoes the northern edge in terms of supplying bulkheads to the facilities, but in this case they are closed, most likely emergency exits:

And the wheelchair access in the middle of the long southern expanse:

These Street Views make it pretty clear that the project, though "largely underground," is for most people a – literally, not figuratively – elevated experience. While it's obvious that the raised landscape turns the two main components into nearly invisible volumes surrounded by lawn, it does this with unrelenting steps across most of the perimeter. And this makes me wonder if a flush edge and landscape, instead of raised ones, would have made the outdoor spaces between the main volumes more inviting and usable instead of, based on my brief visit, little used or merely conduits for getting from point A to point B.

This site section reveals that dropping the level of the landscape between the buildings could happen (at least in some places – not necessarily along the railroad edge, based on the plan above), but without allowing direct access to the velodrome and pool it would be for nought. Views into these buildings from the landscape are appealing, but without access the plan doesn't make sense – the only reason to ascend to the landscape is to circumvent it. Without the planning, use, and maintenance of the project's buildings and landscape in sync, what should have been full of potential only exhibits disappointment.