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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Book Review: Out of the Loop

Out of the Loop: Vernacular Architecture Forum Chicago edited by Virginia B. Price, David A. Spatz, and D. Bradford Hunt
Midway Books, 2015
Paperback, 204 pages



In early June the Vernacular Architecture Forum, "the premier organization in North America dedicated to the appreciation and study of ordinary buildings and landscapes," held its 35th annual conference in Chicago, a modern city that would appear to lack vernacular buildings. Take a look at any book on vernacular buildings, be it by Paul Oliver or any other historian focused on the subject, and pre-modern buildings populate their pages, not those from a place born in the industrial 19th century. But when the definition of vernacular is broadened to encompass just about any building designed without architects – designed by and for the people – then Chicago fits in pretty well. After all, Chicago boomed so quickly and greatly in the late 19th century that there was no way architecture and planning could keep up (the famous 1909 Plan of Chicago was an attempt at doing so, but it came pretty late and was realized to only a very small extent).

This book is a companion to the conference and a guide to the city's vernacular architecture, all of it found, as the title makes clear, outside of the city's downtown. It is organized into two halves: the first part ("Building Vernacular Chicago: Forming City Neighborhoods and Forging Communal Structures") features twelve essays on various aspects of the city's built fabric, from its grid and common building types to racism and industry; and the second part ("Touring Vernacular Chicago: Neighborhood Transition and Community Identity") is made up of eight tours that range from Pilsen and Oak Park to Calumet and public housing on the South Side.

With divergent neighborhoods and topics under the "vernacular architecture" umbrella, the book offers something for everybody. I found myself drawn to the essays and tours that focused more on buildings rather than, say, social structures; the latter is found in abundance, which makes sense given that vernacular buildings arise from joint concerns and traditionally Chicago was made up of ethnic enclaves (Irish in Bridgeport, Germans in Old Town, Swedish in Andersonville). So highlights for me include Terry Tatum's "A Brief Guide to Chicago's Common Building Types," such as worker's cottages, two-flats, and bungalows; David A. Spatz's history of Chicago's expressways; Lawrence Okrent's thorough photo-tour of Little Italy; and Bill Savage's short piece on the city's 800-to-a-mile grid. Although the tours are not set up to be of use only when in the city with book in hand, I'm looking forward to using the book as such the next time I'm in Chicago, when my usual explorations of modern and contemporary architecture will be amended to embrace the vernacular in its myriad forms.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book and Exhibition Review: Making and Provocations

Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio
Cooper Hewitt
June 24, 2015 - January 6, 2016

Thomas Heatherwick: Making by Thomas Heatherwick and Maisie Rowe
Monacelli Press, 2015 (Revised and expanded edition)
Paperback, 640 pages

On June 24 the third leg of the traveling exhibition Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio opened at the Cooper Hewitt in New York; the exhibition started at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas last year and stopped off at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles earlier this year. Coinciding roughly with the exhibition's opening at the Cooper Hewitt is a revised and expanded edition of Thomas Heatherwick: Making, published by Monacelli Press and released on July 7. This review takes a look at both the exhibition and book.



First I'll discuss the book, since I reviewed the first edition of the monograph in 2012. If the first Making were released closer in time to my 2011 post on architectural monographs (or vice versa, if I would have written that post later), I would have included it as an example of how monographs are not "an endangered species"; instead, it shows just how good a monograph can be when it has the right goal. It gives insight into the designer's thinking, as I wrote in my previous review: "Process is key, and it comes across both in the illustrations and the conversational descriptions that accompany the designs." The same applies here, since the monograph builds upon the previous editions (a second edition was a paperback released in 2013) by sticking with the same format, tone, and authorship; the last including Maisie Rowe, a landscape architect and Heatherwick's partner.

Just how much changed for Heatherwick Studio in only three short years can be grasped by looking at the covers of each edition: the first edition features the UK Pavilion at Expo 2010, a "hairy cube" of tens of thousands of seeds encased in acrylic rods, while the latter is graced by a detailed view of the recently completed Learning Hub at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The former is arguably a building – habitable but temporary and serving as a folly without any real function. The latter is definitely a building – housing circular classrooms around a central atrium. So in those few years the scale of his projects has increased, evidenced by a glance at the "Large" project category on his website: the Learning Hub, the Garden Bridge, Pier 55, Google's Mountain View Campus and Bombay Sapphire Distillery; these are the projects that have been recently completed or are occupying the studio's efforts these days.

Of these handful of projects (among numerous new ones in the book), the most controversial is the Garden Bridge, which is proposed to span the Thames River in London. It is the first project in the book's reverse-chronological order, and its location right after Heatherwick's "From I to We" introduction gives it some meaning, as if to convince opponents or doubters about the qualities of the bridge. The text does not directly address opponents, who tend to focus on the economics and politics rather than strictly the architecture, but it makes it seem as if the bridge and its design is a natural fit for its spot crossing the Thames. Such is the effectiveness of Heatherwick's book, its text and illustrations making us believe in his approach to architecture and design, which is based upon rethinking what something is, coming at it from a new direction.

Provocations
[All exhibition photographs by John Hill | See more in my Flickr set on the exhibition.]

The exhibition does much of the same thing, yet with the experience of models and other three-dimensional artifacts – it's no wonder the exhibition started at the Nasher Sculpture Center, given the role of models in all aspects of Heatherwick Studio's creations, from Christmas cards to large pieces of infrastructure. Provocations is in the Cooper Hewitt's third-floor gallery, but the exhibition's presence is signaled much sooner: a full-scale section of the double-decker bus Heatherwick designed for London (800 are set to be rolled out by 2016) sits by the open stair adjacent to the ticket counter. Even though the interior of the bus is roped off, it's great to see the sliced-open bus and its Art Nouveau-esque stair, particularly in juxtaposition with the museum's grand old stair. The bus is a sure-fire way to get visitors excited for the exhibition.

Provocations

Once upstairs, visitors are confronted with an odd contraption made of steel and rolls of paper. A handle and a piece of plexiglass with the words "tear here" on it make it pretty clear what to do: turn the crank until the "tear here" on the paper lines up with the plexi: instant memento! The roughly one-meter length of paper gives a brief description of the exhibition followed by some selected projects, such as the Distillery and Garden Bridge. On the back of the paper are questions, the same ones that preface each project in the monograph: "Can a bridge be a place?" for the Garden Bridge, for example. It's common for museums and galleries to have a pamphlet or tear sheet for an exhibition, but Heatherwick provides a literal tear sheet that gets the visitor into the action. This somewhat overblown expression is aligned with the way Heatherwick reconsiders just about everything – but does he reconsider how to exhibit architecture and design?

Provocations

While I appreciate the layout in the museum's third floor galleries, I'd argue that the exhibition does not break any ground with displaying architecture and design. As the photo above indicates, the exhibition is made up of stands of varying heights for models, some of them in plexi cases. The walls are used almost exclusively for large-scale renderings and photographs. In essence the layout is limited to three-dimensional process atop the terrain of boxy stands and completed (or idealized, in the case of renderings) impressions on the walls. While not groundbreaking, it works fairly well – minus one thing: the Cooper Hewitt pen.

Provocations

In the foreground of the photo above is one of the interactive tables sprinkled about the museum. Here visitors can use the pens they picked up at the entrance to "interact" with the exhibition and the museum's collection. Visitors take the pen and click the "+" on the back of it with a matching "+" by the piece they want the pen to remember for later. The problem at Provocations is that the interactive "+"s are limited to signs, like the one below, that lay out the plan of the exhibition but are found in only a few places around the exhibition. Therefore, one cannot click the pen when looking at a model or a photograph; it can only be done after finding the layout sign and then orienting oneself to the appropriate number.



The pen problem aside, Provocations is a not-to-miss exhibition, especially for the models and the new projects; Pier 55, the last project in the counterclockwise layout is great to see. The book, on the other hand, is highly recommended for the words that Heatherwick and Rowe use to explain and persuade.

Provocations

Monday, June 29, 2015

Today's archidose #846

Here are some photos of Houses Sete Cidades (2015) in São Miguel, Portugal, by Eduardo Souto de Moura and Adriano Pimenta Arquitectos, photographed by José Carlos Melo Dias.

Açores, casas das Sete Cidades / Eduardo Souto de Moura + Adriano Pimenta

Açores, casas das Sete Cidades / Eduardo Souto de Moura + Adriano Pimenta

Açores, casas das Sete Cidades / Eduardo Souto de Moura + Adriano Pimenta

Açores, casas das Sete Cidades / Eduardo Souto de Moura + Adriano Pimenta

Açores, casas das Sete Cidades / Eduardo Souto de Moura + Adriano Pimenta

Açores, casas das Sete Cidades / Eduardo Souto de Moura + Adriano Pimenta

Açores, casas das Sete Cidades / Eduardo Souto de Moura + Adriano Pimenta

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: 30 Years of Emerging Voices

30 Years of Emerging Voices: Idea, Form, Resonance by Architectural League of New York
Princeton Architectural Press, 2015
Hardcover, 304 pages



There is a certain ebb and flow to architecture, by which I mean the culture at large – practice, publishing, awards, exhibitions, conferences, etc. In one of these areas – awards – each year sees, to name a few, the naming of a Pritzker Prize laureate in early spring, a bevy of AIA awards leading up the annual convention in late spring/early summer, the WAF awards in October, and a cluster of "best-ofs" near the end of the year. About a month before the world is inundated with Pritzker hype the Architectural League of New York announces the winners of its annual Emerging Voices awards, which are given to typically eight architects/firms from Canada, Mexico and the United States. Although Thom Mayne is, I think, the only winner who has gone on to win the Pritzker, the League's award could be considered one place to look for future laureates.

This book collects thirty years of winners, giving each of them one page packed with a handful of photos/projects and a narrow column with their education, teaching positions (when applicable), notable honors, website, and an update on their practice. The last is particularly valuable for the earlier winners, who have in most cases executed a number of buildings since winning, evidenced by the photos. The one-page format is straightforward and egalitarian, giving each architect the same exposure within the chronological timeline from 1982 to 2014. (Flipping through the book reminds me of PSA Publishers' newyork-architects book from 2002 that, although marketing rather than awards, has a similar one-page format and focus on quality architecture.)

Breaking up the over 200 pages of winners are six commentaries, which address five-year chunks of the awards: Suzanne Stephens takes the first five years, followed by Henry N. Cobb, Thomas de Monchaux, Paul Makovsky, Alexandra Lange and Alan G. Brake. Although the five-year periods are basically arbitrary (five six-year chunks would work just as well, really), they allow these critics and architect to make some sense of their half-decade and together they express the changes happening within the profession and the culture of architecture over the last thirty years. Lange's piece, for example, looks to a more recent event (Denise Scott Brown's call for a retroactive Pritzker) as a means of analyzing how winners in 2004-2008 were primarily collaborative rather than single-architect (in name) firms.

In addition to the six commentaries, the book has essays by Ashley Schafer, Reed Kroloff and Karen Stein, and an introduction and afterword by Rosalie Genevro, who has served as the League's executive director for over twenty years. But it's the one-page profiles of the winners that people will gravitate to. Though compact, they are a delight to look at, be it for reminiscing on certain years, for seeing what certain architects – some of them more forgotten than others – have done over the years, or just for admiring the great work produced by the winning architects and seeing how architecture has changed over the last thirty years.



Update: On Saturday, July 11, Open House New York and the Architectural League of New York are holding OpenStudios: Emerging Voices, "an unprecedented opportunity to visit the studios of more than forty of the most inventive and exciting design practices working in the city today," all of them previous Emerging Voices winners. Visit OHNY for more information and to register.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Today's archidose #845

Here are some of my photos of COSMO by Andres Jaque / Office for Political Innovation at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens. COSMO is on display until September 7, 2015.

COSMO

COSMO

COSMO

COSMO

COSMO

COSMO

COSMO

COSMO

COSMO

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Today's archidose #844: Potpourri

Here is a miscellaneous smattering of photos posted recently to the archidose Flickr pool. Click on photos for more information, including the photographer.

IMG_9341

UP Express in the Skywalk

09.08.14 | Meander.

MAXXI Roma

Cylindrical Walkway

IMG_0106

Academy of Fine Arts

Audiovisual Campus - Diagonal 197 / David Chipperfield

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
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Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review (sort of): Solid Wood

Solid Wood: Case Studies in Mass Timber Architecture, Technology and Design by Joseph Mayo
Routledge, 2015
Paperback, 346 pages



Last week I spoke with Joseph Mayo about his new book, putting together a piece over at World-Architects that highlights a few buildings featured as case studies in Mayo's book. An excerpt:
While obviously geared toward architects, given the voluminous technical advice in its pages, Solid Wood is hardly an esoteric read. Following an introductory section where Mayo gives a short history of building in wood, speaks about the carbon-sequestering benefits of mass timber construction, details various solid wood materials and concepts, and addresses concerns of building with wood (structure, fire, etc.), he then presents the case studies in eight geographical chapters: England, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, North America, and New Zealand and Australia. For each case study he clearly describes each project's details, aided by numerous illustrations: photographs of the completed buildings, construction photographs, floor plans, detail drawings, and diagrams. Too many books limit themselves to the first (glossy photos of finished buildings), so Solid Wood is a valuable book for architects interested in designing with wood.
Head over to World-Architects to read "Designing with Solid Wood."


Friday, June 19, 2015

Tim Shot Andy Warhol (and other gems at Timothy Hursley's new website)

For as long as I can recall, the website of Timothy Hursley – architectural photographer extraordinaire – was just a splash page with some photos of the "Broken Silo" near Greensboro, Alabama. But recently Hursley updated his website so it functions as a retrospective of his photography. I spent some time digging through the photos and took screenshots of a few of my favorites and put them into an animated GIF (pardon the GIFfy graininess – the versions on his website look much better):



Head to Timothy Hursley's website to see more of his Architecture Retrospective.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: Young-Old

Young-Old: Urban Utopias of an Aging Society by Deane Simpson
Lars Müller Publishers, 2015
Hardcover, 576 pages



My review of Deane Simpson's Young-Old is published in the June 3, 2015, issue of the Architect's Newspaper. Click here or on the image below to read the review in larger PDF format.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Book Review: Saarinen Houses

Saarinen Houses by Jari Jetsonen, Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen
Princeton Architectural Press, 2014
Hardcover, 224 pages



I have never been to Finland, so the only Eliel Saarinen house I've seen in person is his own residence on the campus of the Cranbrook Academy of Art outside Detroit. It was probably fifteen years ago that I saw it, and even though I was more excited by the prospects of the newer campus buildings by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Steven Holl, and Rafael Moneo, the tour of the Saarinen House was a highlight of the visit. Though pleasantly integrated into the campus landscape, and with its own garden courtyard, it was on the inside where the house shone. Each room was distinct and designed down to the fraction of an inch, from its scale and proportions, to its windows and furnishings, much of the last built-in. It was clearly a home as work of art, a phrase used by Jari Jetsonen and Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen in the introduction to their collection of houses by both Saarinens: Eliel and his son Eero.

Jari is a photographer based in Helsinki and Sirkkaliisa is an architect who teaches in Helsinki and St. Louis, so it's not surprising that most of the houses in the book – 12 of 17 – are found in Finland and designed by Eliel, either on his own or in partnership with Hermen Gesellius and Armas Lindgren. Therefore the book presents buildings little published elsewhere, much less in one place. The whole undertaking benefits from Jari's photography, which gives the book a visual consistency with, somewhat surprisingly (like my first encounter with the house at Cranbrook), rich and diverse colors, from the tile roofs and blue interior walls of Hvitträsk (1902) to the conversation pit inside Eero's Miller House (1957) in Columbus, Indiana.

The Miller House, for Cummins Engine Company head J. Irwin Miller, was designed with Saarinen's lead designer Kevin Roche and architect and textile designer Alexander Girard. The authors call the result of their collaboration "one of the finest postwar dwellings in the United States." One then has to wonder where Eero may have gone with residential architecture if he had not died four years after the completion of that house at the age of only 51. Might he have designed a dozen more houses, like his father had, instead of just a few? If so, where would he have taken the modern "home as a work of art"? We will never know, but his houses were evidently an extension of his father's attention to detail throughout the whole living environment, something that comes across by grouping their houses in one book.