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Portugal’s Eduardo Souto de Moura Wins 2011 Pritzker Architecture Prize


Portugal’s Eduardo Souto de Moura, who has designed soccer stadiums, museums and office towers in his home country, is the winner of this year Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest honor for architects.

Among his best-known buildings are the soccer stadium in Braga, Portugal, where European soccer teams fought for the championship in 2004; and the 20-story Burgo Tower office block in his native city of Porto, built in 2007. Souto de Moura, 58, has also built family homes, cinemas, shopping centers and hotels and since setting up his own office in 1980.

Jury Chairman Peter Palumbo said Souto de Moura “has produced a body of work that is of our time but also carries echoes of architectural traditions,” according to a statement today from the Hyatt Foundation, which awards the prize.

“He has the confidence to use stone that is a thousand years old or to take inspiration from a modern detail by Mies van der Rohe,” the statement said.

Souto de Moura worked for fellow Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza for five years before founding his own company. Siza won the Pritzker Prize in 1992.

Other previous winners of the prize, which is worth $100,000, include Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry. The Hyatt Foundation established the prize in 1979 to honor a living architect.

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This looks like a job for Frank Gehry

YOU build it, will they come? That’s the basic question motivating plans to develop grand culture centres in otherwise derelict urban neighbourhoods. The idea is savvy: hire architects to build something beautiful (or at least something big), and then let the related businesses follow. This approach to urban rejuvenation—dubbed the “Bilbao effect” after Frank Gehry’s transformation of the Spanish city—has yielded some success stories, such as DC’s Penn Quarter (thank you Abe Pollin) and Minneapolis’s Mill District (the Guthrie Theatre is something else). Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District has essentially applied economic shock paddles to an entire area. But what about Dallas?

More than 30 years and $1 billion in the making, the Dallas Arts District is a 19-block area of museums and performance halls. It glitters with impressive buildings, including the handiwork of four Pritzker prize winners (I.M. Pei, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas). But Blair Kamin, the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, is not impressed. Alas, despite the “architectural firepower”, it is an “exceedingly dull place”:

There are no bookstores, few restaurants outside those in the museums and not a lot of street life, at least when there are no performances going on. Even some of the architects who’ve designed buildings here privately refer to the district as an architectural petting zoo—long on imported brand-name bling and short on homegrown-urban vitality.

Part of the problem is that Dallas lacks urban density, particularly in this area, so inevitably fewer people are milling about. Another hitch is that the buildings themselves are essentially competing beautiful fortresses—designed as grand monuments, not inviting public spaces. Some locals complain that they are clearly built for folks who drive in for a bit of culture and then drive away. Mr Kamin suggests that plans for a new park, which will bridge a sunken freeway and connect the district with a buzzier neighbourhood to the north, should create more pedestrian traffic when it opens in late 2012. Otherwise, he warns, Dallas may have just created “the dullest arts district money can buy.”

But surely it is possible to spend even more money to create an even duller arts district. Let’s take a moment to consider Saadiyat Island, the sprawling arts development taking shape in Abu Dhabi. Like the arts district in Dallas, Abu Dhabi has imported a series of bling-bling names for some serious starchitecture. Frank Gehry has designed the new $800m outpost of the Guggenheim (pictured top; 12-times the size of the New York flagship and in need of a new art collection by 2015); Jean Nouvel, the Pritzker-winner who designed the Guthrie Theatre, is creating the Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre; Norman Foster is designing a museum of national history; and the matter of density may be solved by new luxury resorts and villas. As for bookstores and cafe culture, surely the mesmerising mess of the Gehry building will make it impossible to read and unnecessary to caffeinate.

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has been in the news a lot lately, owing to a possible boycott of more than 130 artists over the working conditions of those charged with erecting these modern temples. But setting aside this public-relations disaster, which could significantly hamper the Guggenheim’s work in filling this museum, the Saadiyat complex poses a larger question: will people come? Is it enough to build these gigantic monuments to modernity (in an otherwise not-so-modern and remote place) and assume that the razzle-dazzle will lure the tourists? Dallas’s experiment illustrates the flaws in developments that consider the needs of architecture at the expense of people. A culture district without the glue of wandering pedestrians (or an atmosphere of working artists; or let’s face it, streets) may struggle to earn its keep.

Via The Economist

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Winners of the 2011 Skyscraper Competition

eVolo magazine has run a tidy little competition for the last five years, inviting architects to innovative new skyscraper typologies. Today, the winners of the 2011 Skyscraper Competition were announced and we’ve got a recycling wind turbine, an energy- and water-harvesting horizontal tower, and a re-imagining of the Hoover Dam.

Jury members included SOFTlab principals Jose Gonzalez and Michael Svizos, architecture critic John Hill, Mitchell Joachim of Terreform One, CarloMaria Ciampoli of Live Architecture Network, and a host of other working and teaching architects (see the full list here).

FIRST PLACE: ‘LO2P Recycling Skyscraper’ by Atelier CMJN (Julien Combes, Gaël Brulé)

“The idea behind this skyscraper is to recycle the old cars and use them as building material for the new structure. The building is designed as a giant lung that would clean New Delhi’s air through a series of large-scale greenhouses that serve as filters. Another set of rotating filters capture the suspended particles in the air while the waste heat and carbon dioxide from the recycling center are used to grow plants that in turn produce bio-fuels.”

“The idea behind this skyscraper is to recycle the old cars and use them as building material for the new structure. The building is designed as a giant lung that would clean New Delhi’s air through a series of large-scale greenhouses that serve as filters. Another set of rotating filters capture the suspended particles in the air while the waste heat and carbon dioxide from the recycling center are used to grow plants that in turn produce bio-fuels.”

SECOND PLACE: ‘Flat Tower’ by Yoann Mescam, Paul-Eric Schirr-Bonnans, and Xavier Schirr-Bonnans

Imagined for medium-size cities where vertical skyscrapers do not fit the skyline, the flat tower is a “new high-density typology that deviates from the traditional skyscraper. The medium-height dome structure is perforated with cell-like skylights that provide direct sunlight to the agricultural fields and to the interior spaces. The dome’s large surface area is perfect to harvest solar energy and rainwater collection.”

THIRD PLACE: ‘Reimagining the Hoover Dam’ by Yheu-Shen Chua, United Kingdom

This project merges the programs at the current Hoover Dam — viewing platform, a bridge, and a gallery – into a “single vertical super structure.”

There a long list of honorable mentions, and we’ve highlighted below some especial favorites (clockwise from top left):


‘Sports Tower’ by Sergiy Prokofyev and Olga Prokofyeva, Ukraine

‘RE:pH Coastscraper’ by Gary Kellett, United Kingdom

‘White Cloud Skyscraper‘ by Adrian Vincent Kumar and Yun Kong Sung, New Zealand

‘Seeds of Life Skyscraper’ by Mekano (Osama Mohamed Elghannam, Karim Mohamed Elnabawy, Mohamed Ahmed Khamis, Nesma Mohamed Abobakr), Egypt

‘Waste Collector Skyscraper’ by Agata Sander and Tomek Kujawski, Poland

‘Hopetel: Transitional High-Rise Housing’ by Asaf Dali, United States

Via Architizer.com

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David Chipperfield talks about his design of the Neues Museum in detail


“Finally the Neues Museum is finished. The official handover of the building,newly restored by David Chipperfield,is to take place in early March. The museum,originally built in the mid-nineteenth century,has been in ruins since the end of the Second World War. Its rebuilding is the last of the restoration projects on the city’s Museum Island. ARTS.21 took an exclusive tour,accompanied by the architect and the head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Hat tip to Architects Talk

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Vinoly completes UCSF research facility

Transitional spaces at stem cell building encourage ‘cross-pollination of ideas’

The Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regeneration Medicine Building at the University of California (UCSF) hosted a grand opening yesterday to celebrate the completion of a challenging construction project.

Designed by Rafael Vinoly Architects with executive architect the Smith Group and DPR Construction, the new facility will act as the headquarters for the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research, analysing complex scientific data at the earliest stages of human and animal development.

Located on a steeply sloping hillside, the site posed multiple challenges for the design team. A solution was found in the creation of a raised serpentine structure supported by steel space trusses springing from concrete piers, minimising space excavation and incorporating seismic base isolation to absorb earthquake forces.

The main laboratory area is arranged in four split levels set in stepped stages working in harmony with the sloped nature of the urban hillside. Each of these levels is topped with a cluster of offices and a green roof-space planted with wildflowers.

An external network of stairs and pedestrian bridges takes advantage of San Francisco’s temperate climate, with internal stairs and break rooms providing a base for the ‘cross-pollination of ideas’ among scientists. Interior glazing maximises visual connectivity while plentiful glazing on the south-facing side affords widespread views to the wooded slope of nearby Mount Sutro.

Rafael Vinoly Architects is currently pushing forward on two long-awaited projects in London, UK – work has now recommenced on 20 Fenchurch Street (the Walkie Talkie) and the £5.5bn redevelopment of Battersea Power Station has been approved by Wandsworth Council.

Hat Tip to World Architecture News

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‘Lake Wobegon’ in the sky: Apartment high-rises are above average, but nothing special


Fueled by a growing shortage of apartments and fears that condominiums will lose their value, Chicago’s apartment building boomlet is a welcome shift from the brutal recession years, if only because it will help keep struggling architects off the unemployment rolls. Yet as two new apartment towers reveal, the design consequences of this anticipated construction surge are complex and, in some ways, troubling.

The towers have much in common. Both were designed by the workhorse Chicago firm of Solomon Cordwell Buenz and were financed before the market turmoil of 2008. Both rise just west of the Wells Street elevated train tracks, a placement that makes you wonder whether their residents will ever get a good night’s sleep. And both have names that strive desperately to make them sound hip.

One (left) is called 215 West, which is shorter and snappier than its actual address, 215 W. Washington St. The other, two blocks to the north, is named 200 Squared, reflecting its location in the 200 blocks of North Wells and West Lake Streets but also suggesting (unintentionally, no doubt) that the building is crammed with ex-math majors. Fortunately, the architecture is better than the names, though nothing here is going to turn heads like the boldly undulating balconies of the Aqua hotel and residential tower.

This Lake Wobegon, all-the-buildings-are-above-average quality was predictable. These are apartment buildings, where budgets and architectural ambition tend to be considerably lower than corporate office buildings or condominium towers. If an apartment high-rise turns out not to wreak havoc on the cityscape and to give us some decent design in the bargain, then we have every reason to tolerate it. And that, with some notable exceptions, is what these buildings deliver.

Rising 50 stories and designed by SCB’s Drew Ranieri, 215 West is composed of three distinct parts, each housing a separate function. A ground floor lined with storefronts nicely addresses Washington Street. Above it rises a 600-space parking garage and, above the garage, a thin apartment slab housing 389 apartments. Most skyscrapers save their visual drama for the top. Here, it comes near the bottom.

Due to a difference in the size of their floor plates, the slab’s eastern end cantilevers over the garage by 25 feet. Indeed, the slab would seem to be in danger of falling off the garage were it not for the presence of a big steel truss (above) that reassuringly joins it to the rest of the building. The truss also gestures to the exposed structure of the “L.”‘Lake Wobegon’ in the sky: Apartment high-rises are above average, but nothing special

‘Lake Wobegon’ in the sky: Apartment high-rises are above average, but nothing special

The 42-story 200 Squared (left), designed by SCB’s Jim Curtin, is a more pleasing variation on the three-part theme.

Above its glassy, still-to-be-finished ground floor is a 547-space garage, outfitted on two sides with narrow ribbon windows and handsomely corrugated metal panels. Above the garage rises another thin slab, this one housing 329 apartments. It is noticeably glassier than its counterpart at 215 West because its columns, unlike its barely visible floor slabs, are hidden inside. The slab is divided into four wafer-thin layers, including a hard-edged plane of concrete that confronts the “L.”

Any detailed consideration of these buildings must begin with a glaring contradiction: By virtue of their downtown location, they will encourage people to walk rather than drive. But their parking garages contain far more spaces than their residents will ever need. Their extra, or “non-accessory,” spaces invariably will make it easier for people to drive, limiting or even canceling the buildings’ energy-saving benefits. Memo to City Hall: Stop green-lighting these garages on steroids.

All those extra spaces also make the garages ridiculously tall — 12 stories at 215 West, 10 stories at 200 Squared (left). Thankfully, though, the high-rises don’t give us a repeat of the brute towers plopped atop faceless parking garages that marred River North over the last decade.

Their proportions are pleasingly vertical. Their bottoms and tops subtly interlock. Their slabs, which cover only a portion of their sites, create welcome openings in the Loop’s thicket of high-rises, letting daylight filter down onto the streets below. And their ratio of glass to concrete is high enough, especially at 200 Squared, that the high-rises don’t look like concrete hulks.

Still, these buildings suffer from the blandness bug. The grid patterns of their painted concrete walls, an SCB visual trick that’s become tiresome, lack the rich sense of depth and texture that uplifts the Loop’s office buildings. Even the big move at 215 West, its large steel truss, comes off somewhat feebly, its fire-proofing and light-colored paint making it look indistinguishable from the building’s concrete.

215 West has more serious problems at ground level, notably its failure to strike up a convincing relationship with its richly textured Victorian neighbor to the east, a post-Chicago Fire office building called the Washington Block. The Washington Block, which holds down the corner of Washington and Wells, looks marooned. Its brick side walls are artlessly exposed to the passers-by. It’s as if the architects couldn’t move the building, an official city landmark, so they decided to dwarf it instead.

The worst damage comes along Wells, where an outdoor, curving parking ramp (left) that serves the tower’s garage brings a discordant touch of car-happy Sun Belt cities to the pedestrian precinct of the Loop. The ramp replaces a surface parking lot, meaning that a critical opportunity was lost to flank the Washington Block with a building of complementary scale. The architects have decorated the ramp with perforated metal, but that’s nothing more than perfuming the pig.

The interiors of both buildings are skillfully done and reflect SCB’s decades of experience in this genre. Each has a spacious, tastefully designed two-story lobby. Amenity floors provide indoor exercise areas and access to outdoor decks.

The apartments — $1,350-a-month studios to $5,000 three-bedrooms at 215 West, and $1,450-a-month studios to $2,750 two-bedrooms at 200 Squared — have floor-to-ceiling glass that takes advantage of the surrounding open space. At both buildings, glass is thicker than normal to shush the racket of the “L.”

The architects and the developers — Jupiter Realty Co. and Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers at 215 West, and Midwest Property Group Ltd. at 200 Squared — haven’t produced any masterpieces in these buildings, but they haven’t saddled us with any eyesores either. Let’s hope that they and other design teams learn from the strengths and shortcomings of these apartment buildings and reach higher in the next wave.

Via Chicago Tribune City Scapes

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Is New York Architecture Past Its Prime?

The Center for Architecture currently has, on exhibition, a piece called the “liquid wall,” the winner of a competition for “innovative” material for building exteriors, as part of a show called Innovate/Integrate, which will be on display until Jan. 15.

Displayed in the back of the soaring concrete-floored gallery two floors below street level, the liquid wall has the clean, white, sculptural appeal of something from a movie that takes place in the future; it’s made of an elegant poured-concrete grid and glass panels, each of which frames what looks like a semi-transparent garden hose that snakes up and down several times as you watch the display. This cladding has never actually been used on a building, but according to the curator, everything chosen for the contest could feasibly be used as one.

The liquid wall is made possible by Ductal, a fortified concrete strong enough to bear weight in thin, sculptural forms.

In the prototype, water runs through the hoses, making a passive solar collector that can heat the building. The winning design is the central attraction of the “innovate” part of the exhibit. The “integrate” part of the show is meant, according to A.I.A. New York’s president, Anthony P. Schirripa, to teach the public about modern construction, which requires much more collaboration between architects, engineers and builders, and more technologically advanced modeling than it once did.

A few New York City projects qualified: Yankee Stadium for its Building Information Modeling, the Barclay Center for using 4-D Visualization, Beekman Tower for its B.I.M. Consulting, HOK’s New York office for Integrated Project Delivery, the World Trade Center for 4-D Scheduling. (The fourth “D” being time). All were honored for one of three things: construction management, construction logistics, or construction technology.

In other words, not the actual building, so much as the way of visualizing it, and not the architecture, so much as the construction method.

“There are a lot of projects in here that are New York based,” said Sara Hart, the curator of Innovate/Integrate. “But that—the liquid wall—is a use of Ductal that you see almost exclusively in Europe; same thing with the Corian-clad building upstairs.” (Corian is a non-porous surface material that can be heated and molded; it’s popular for kitchen and bathroom countertops.)

“Corian’s been trying to get people to use it as an exterior,” Hart said. “It’s a beautiful material and I think eventually … but you need a client.” She paused. “I think it will happen. I don’t know if it will happen in New York first.”

THIS KIND OF DOUBT ABOUT NEW YORK’S willingness to create space for really new ideas in architecture and building design and construction is not a new thing. Among architects it’s axiomatic. Despite a long history of innovative building, New York, for a number of reasons, hasn’t produced much in the way of interesting architecture in the last 50 years. And in the course of a conversation, Hart became more explicit.

“We just don’t like to try new things,” Hart said. “And so the construction industry is very conservative, and so are clients.”

She blames the city’s “opposition to everything” for some of this, but especially that of unions operating in the engineering and construction sectors. If a project demands a complex facade, it will likely be built overseas, as it was the case of the 2002 facade of the Burberry building. The components were completed in Germany, by Germans, shipped here, and assembled on-site.

And when the company tried to bring German craftsmen to do the installation, the unions wouldn’t allow it. “So to get the quality they wanted, they had to handpick some New York construction people and train them, the German way,” Hart said. “There are some non-union jobs that happen in New York, but it’s—clients don’t want the hassle; they don’t want the bad publicity. In other states it’s different. New York is different than the rest of the country.”

New York’s last great period of architectural achievement, during the 1950s and ’60s, was bolstered by a massive postwar public works and jobs drive fueled with money from the federal government, which made possible public-facing projects like the United Nations complex and Lincoln Center. It was also a period in which architects like Frank Gehry, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius were designing buildings with distinct and memorable profiles, like the Guggenheim Museum, the Seagrams Building, and the Pan Am Building for corporate clients, in those days when expressions of corporate power on such a scale were applauded by the public with an almost jingoistic fervor.

It didn’t last. Possibly the last and greatest moment in this period was the construction of the World Trade Center, the world’s tallest buildings, and in many ways as the culmination of that postwar corporate aesthetic.

To say that architecture gave up on New York would gloss over several projects that garnered significant attention. Philip Johnson did the AT&T Building (now Sony) in 1984 and the Lipstick Building in 1986, and Trump Tower went up in 1983—but when these buildings were not hated by the public and derided by critics as kitsch, they also didn’t add up to anything in the development of a new idea of a New York style; they were more like hodgepodge of eccentricities.

“We went into the, sort of, post modernist phase,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, director of the Department of Real Estate Development at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation, “but in some ways it was the same building, just dressed up differently.”

BEGINNING IN THE 19TH CENTURY, FEATS OF ARCHITECTURE and engineering were possibly the central element in the identity of New York City around the world. The Brooklyn Bridge, of course, is not strictly architecture but once it was built, in “a literal and genuinely religious leap of faith in 19th-century American engineering,” as John Perry Barlow wrote, it helped to establish the city as a center for what Edwin Burroughs and Mike Wallace defined in Gotham as “skilled intellectual labor.”

The Beaux-Arts style in architecture was not originally New York’s, but students who went to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris around the turn of the century brought back ideas of the kind of architecture they believed was needed, not to establish New York as an innovator, but to make a statement about the kind of city New York intended to be.

“In the establishment of the modern state during the nineteenth century the role of the Beaux-Arts must be viewed not so much as a cultural phenomenon but as a political operation,” wrote Leon Kirier in Architectural Design, responding to a 1975-76 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art called “The Architecture of the Ecole of Beaux-Arts.” The New York Public Library (1911), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1902), the original Penn Station (1912), Grand Central Station (1913), and other buildings in the style were a “an instrument of domination in the hands of the bourgeoisie.” The elaborate monumental, white neo-classical buildings were the sort of landmarks that defined the city as an international intellectual capital, and not just a commercial backwater of Western Europe. It’s what made us not Australia or Canada, and made New York a city that could compete on its own terms with London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Berlin.

New York was the center of international fascination, if not approval, once its skyscrapers started going up, and the collection of early tall buildings began to form the dizzying skyline that became the signature of the city. The most famous buildings—the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building—were for the most part not received as art, but as a bold statement, “a celebration of self-advancement within the American economic system,” writes William Curtis in Modern Architecture Since 1900. “Here was a ‘Cathedral of Capitalism.’” According to Curtis, Le Corbusier was repelled by the buildings, but drawn to the romantic skyline, and either way impressed feat of finance, technology and management; he described Manhattan as “the workhorse of the new era.”

The reaction of European architects to the developing idiom of New York continued along those same lines in the following decades: they saw a certain artistic emptiness, but found in the audacity of what the city could accomplish something quite amazing, and in the use of technology, awesome.

In a 1946 essay, “Returning from America,” Marcel Lods wrote, “Encounters are violent, rapid, sometimes brutal…but what power, what plenitude!”

“The French now feel themselves a little ‘flat,'” Lods went on, in an eerie echo of what is often heard, in certain circles, in New York these days. “They now feel exhausted by eternal negotiations, perpetual saying of ‘it’s impossible,’ or ‘that’s not done,’ finishing with the inevitable ‘that’s not done in France.'”

“It is necessary to conduct the evolutions, not submit to them,” Lods wrote, “Whereopon we can draw a solid lesson from our American friends.”

“They have pushed mechanization and the equipment of the building site as far as possible.”

Similarly, in a 1957 issue of Architectural Review dubbed “Machine Made America,” the editors called America “a success story—the story of how America is adding sheer quantity to the preexisting qualities of modern architecture. In terms of quantity, the U.S. is now the homeland of the modern movement, and quantity, backed by wealth, industry and technical skill, is the prerequisite of architectural quality today.”

Anthony Vidler, writing about the same 1975 Beaux-Arts exhibit, wrote, “In Europe modern architecture forged itself not only as an aesthetic but a social movement; it was the expression (however misplaced in retrospect) of social democracy, sometimes even socialism in action—it was avant-garde, and progressive, when the idea of progression was not a cheap dream of cars and suburbs.”

“But in America, this was never the case,” he wrote. “When finally the Modern Movement was imported to the U.S. (by the mechanism, it is interesting to note, of an exhibition [in 1932] at the museum of modern art [sic]), it was as International Style, not movement….Americans, always uncomfortable with the brief, and temporary, identification of modern style with the social premises of the new deal [sic], were now relieved to see the divorce between art and society ratified by the art exhibition.”


THE DIVORCE DID NOT ENDURE. The postwar “urban renewal” money dried up, and sites once lauded as expressions of the city’s postwar ambition decayed, like much of the city, strapped with debt. Great architecture is the expression of a city’s self-assurance, and by the late 1960’s that self-assurance was in short supply. There were economic factors: by the 1970’s New York was widely regarded as a sort of hellhole by the rest of America. And of course, everything about the commercial ambition and values of the generation that returned from World War II was under interrogation.

“By the 1960s, we knew that urban renewal was a failure, we knew it had taken the heart and the gut out of cities,” Ada Louise Huxtable said in an undated interview with WNET.

What could seem more demonic to the mind of the mid-to-late 1960’s than these giant, disruptive and sometimes rather brutal buildings? The cold International Style, and the top-down planning that had defined development in the city for decades, had been by that time, to put it mildly, rejected.

Jane Jacobs published her magnum opus, The Death and Life of American Cities, in 1961 and subsequently formed a coalition that before long had some influence over what was built in New York.

“I would say that people my age, and perhaps, I think, everybody here who was born after the Second World War, has grown up and come of age in the intellectual shadow of Jane Jacobs,” architectural historian Jennifer Hock said at a recent forum at CUNY’s Graduate Center. “I think that when we think about the city we are almost instinctively wary of the excesses of the post-war redevelopment program.”

Where the city’s architectural elite had not taken this point of view it became even more defensive, its processes even more secretive, conducted with the minimum of press. Buildings were designed in boardrooms and made possible in backroom political deals. The buildings that resulted looked like what they were: a rebuke to the counterculture, to the street level, and to the public sphere.

“With the decline of the city in the ’70s you saw a decline in architecture,” said Chakrabarti. “If you look at the great buildings from the ’50s and ’60s in New York—you look at the Seagram’s building or Lever House,” he said. “They were buildings that were opening up out to the city in a certain way. There was a big plaza; there was a sense that the city flowed into the building.”

“New York in the ’70s then—because of crime and physical decline and all that—went into a defensive crouch,” he said. “If you look at the Ford Foundation or—Skidmore did the Bank of New York building downtown—[there’s] an inward defensive focus.”

The post-’60s buildings displayed a “fairly repellent facade on the street,” Chakrabarti said. “And so I think—then Modernism started really getting questioned, as a consequence.”

Meanwhile, architects looking to build something bold, or experimental, or sweeping, learned to look elsewhere for locations. Reflecting, in 2009, on the death of Charles Gwathmey, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote of the 1970s, “The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom that had become virtually impossible in New York.”

For a number of years, no one in New York seemed particularly concerned about the architectural profession. In the 1970s New York wasn’t growing much of anything. The city of the 1970s and 1980s established a different kind of international position, rooted in neighborhoods like Soho and the Village. Out of Jane Jacobs’ New York we had given the world Bob Dylan, and much of what continued to make New York special in the minds of its citizens and the world drew from that template. It was drawn against, and not from, the built environment of the city.

As Alex Garvin, urban planner and professor at Yale, articulated it, “The attitude that existed around the turn of the century in New York, when we were building skyscrapers and everybody was trying to go higher and higher; that world—’we can do everything in New York’—has evaporated.”

In the popular imagination, the removal of power to the private sphere, to a sort of secret society that ran the town, was reflected in the popular culture in the seriously conflicting points of view of the power elite in movies like Wall Street and Working Girl, one a parable of outrageous and self-destructive greed, the other an epic journey, undertaken on the Staten Island Ferry with the World Trade Center looming in the foreground. What’s secret becomes an object of fascination. The New York Observer began publishing in 1987 as a rather earnest community newspaper, distributed in the lobbies of doorman buildings on the corridors of Fifth and Park Avenues and Central Park West, and quickly became the newspaper of record for a certain set, fascinating because it told the stories that weren’t supposed to be told about ambition and power in New York.

THAT THE CITY ULTIMATELY TOOK THIS version of the story of New York to heart was probably never more evident than when the last Great Urban Renewal Monument, the World Trade Center, came crashing down on the financial district.

Both Garvin and Chakrabarti attribute the sudden communal sensitivity to architecture in the city to Sept. 11, when, for the first time in a long time, in considering what to build on the site of the World Trade Center, New Yorkers wanted something to make a statement about the city after the attack.

“I think that the process really began in an odd way,” said Garvin, who at the time held the position of Vice President and was in charge of planning for the city-state agency created to manage the redevelopment of Ground Zero. “We held a public hearing at Pace [University]. Pace had a huge auditorium. And the first time the public ever had a chance to express themselves about 9/11—to the great astonishment of the press I might add—were all these people who said there are other considerations and we want something great.”

The change at the time was actually palpable. At another public hearing, held at the Javits Center, booing erupted when proposals for the site were presented. “The audience of 5,000 New Yorkers from every walk of life were not just being contrarians; they were expressing a collective demand for urban and architectural greatness, scaled to the magnitude of 9/11,” wrote Joseph Gioviannini in New York magazine.

It was as if, for the first time in decades, New Yorkers needed their city’s architecture to say something about the city; to illustrate how it would see life after 9/11.

“Making the city whole again is a way of making ourselves whole,” Gioviannini wrote in the same article. “The Parthenon, the Pantheon, and any number of Gothic cathedrals all provoke a sense of wonder, and even if the belief systems that created them have collapsed or changed, the stones still speak to our eyes, body, and spirit.”

But the groundwork had already been laid by the boom in the real estate market that was suddenly making it feasible again for developers to find anchor tenants for large, impressive buildings. Once again, corporations wanted their logos down on the street level, and had the cash to make it happen.

At the same time, on a smaller scale, a crisis in luxury residential property inventory was looming. Prices on a Classic Six on those corridors where the Observer began its distribution were going through the roof. It became important to create something elsewhere that still had cachet. Bringing an architect to Soho or Tribeca to build a condominium building that would sell units for well upward of a million dollars became a rather common practice. In part, it was because architects elsewhere were doing things that really interested the city’s elite.

For example, Garvin dates the very beginning of that sensibility to 1997, the year that the Guggenheim Bilbao was completed. “The incredible splash of Frank Gehry’s museum in Spain,” Garvin said, “just grabbed people’s imagination.”

“We began to have what later became starchitects, and I think the combination of the two really changed the way New Yorkers thought about architecture and the development community,” Garvin said.

The two phenomena, the sudden public interest in ambitious building and the market for architects in smaller projects all over town, fed the growth of each other.

“At some level, [it was] some kind of aftereffect, or byproduct, of 9/11,” Chakrabarti said. “The stuff that was making its way into the papers every day—Richard Rogers and Norman Foster were becoming household names. You’d hear them on the subway.”

Behind the scenes something else had changed as well. Rudolph Giuliani and George Pataki, mayor and governor at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, fearing the inevitable election of former Nader Raider Mark Green as mayor would create conflict about building on the Ground Zero site, created the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, an entity suffered by the Port Authority, owners of the Ground Zero site, and developer Larry Silverstein, who held the 99-year lease on its former buildings, all of whom assumed they would get to decide what was built at Ground Zero as of right. The LMDC, an almost impossible creature of both the city and state’s semi-private development corporations, virtually guaranteed the city itself would have little to say in the redevelopment of the 16-acre site downtown.

In fact, the mayor was to be a Republican billionaire with a self-funded campaign and a group of civic-minded friends with big plans.

“I think [City Planning Commissioner] Amanda [Burden] significantly shifted the conversation into better design,” Chakrabarti said. She encouraged “the use—not so much of brand name architects—but forcing architecture to be innovative, whether it was a really well-known architect or whether it was a small and up-and-coming firm like SHoP. Right? So I think she was really critical at that point.”

There had also developed, as there often does after enough time has passed, a reconsideration of what had happened in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and with it, not necessarily regret, but a certain wistfulness about what could have been in the intervening decades.

“Forty years ago, Jane Jacobs’s anti-modern architecture movement was launched from this neighborhood, and a good thing it was, too,” wrote Herbert Muschamp in a positive 2003 review of Richard Meier’s glass Perry Street towers, residential buildings with large glass windows in which the stars of the moment, from Calvin Klein to Martha Stewart, were to buy apartments based purely on blueprints, and which had just been built in the West Village, Jacobs’ former home and the cradle of the preservation movement. “But the crusade also led to a contempt for architectural values, a reactionary climate that has benefited no one.”

Chakrabarti cited the Meier towers as a third watershed moment for architecture in the early years of the decade. “I think the development community really took note,” he said. In a pattern that later become almost a cliche, “Someone had hired a very well known architect for a very modern building, and, economically, was fairly successful.”

And though New York had developed plenty of technology in those 40 years, it was not in the building trades. Ouroussoff wrote, in 2009, “A half-century ago American engineering was the envy of the rest of the world. Cities like New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans were considered models for a brilliant new future. Europe, with its suffocating traditions and historical baggage, was dismissed as a decadent, aging culture. It is no small paradox that many people in the world now see us in similar terms.”

It helped, too, that real estate in New York kept booming.

“All of those things kind of converged, to make a kind of perfect storm—in a good sense,” Chakrabarti said. “Right at the outset of the 21st century.”

THE CITY’S BUILDING PROJECTS WERE, AND ARE, AT THIS POINT tabloid-worthy, but interest in architecture hasn’t translated into satisfaction; in fact, it has meant that New Yorkers have become acutely aware of the complications of building in New York.

“I think what people are rightfully skeptical about is the sausage-making of, you know, the physical fabric of our city,” Chakrabarti said.

The World Trade Center site is possibly the best case study, in recent memory, of that sausage-making.

“They see a design for something called the Freedom Tower,” Chakrabarti said. “And, you know, at one point it’s this twisting thing, and it looks quite beautiful—it looks quite elegant. And then suddenly there are security concerns, and it becomes sort of bunkerized. And then there’s glass put on the bunker.”

“What you see is rarely what you get,” he said. The appealing renderings come out “and people have certain expectations that are quite high for what will be delivered, and then what gets delivered falls short of that.”

“Some of them are remarkable and some of them are not,” Garvin said of the attempted architectural feats in the last decade. The Frank Gehry I.A.C building, in far west Chelsea, “I think is something that everybody had responded to very positively.”

But that’s not true of a “great many other things,” he added. “I don’t think Jean Nouvel, for example, had the same kind of effect. I think the reaction is just what you said, ‘ho-hum.’”

Buildings, so many of them, have gone up, but, like Innovate/Integrate curator Sara Hart said, that hasn’t made New York a destination for contemporary architecture. Too many of the practices are outdated, and the people who make the buildings are conditioned for caution. Luxury buildings by big-name architects are “wonderful to look at,” Chakrabarti said, but not truly innovative. “True innovation is really about revolutionizing the process by which buildings are made in a city like New York.”

And that, after all, is what New York’s enduring architectural voice had been from the start.

Echoing, again, the implications of the A.I.A. exhibition, he said, “The reason we are well behind places like Europe, Japan, other places, is that we have very calcified processes, both in terms of development, and construction, in terms of delivering innovation.”

The liquid wall will not, if or when it is realized, debut in New York, and there’s no particular sign that developers or their clients will, or want, to innovate.

Part of what’s happened is that building in New York now is almost entirely developer-driven, and developers are more likely to consider factors like liability, and what they build is usually dependent on what the client wants.

“The majority of developers want to do things the way that they’ve done them for 40 years, because it’s been successful for them,” Chakrabarti said. “The majority of the construction trades and the contractors want to build things the same way because that’s what works for them. So anytime anyone sees anything that in anyway looks different, all the alarm bells go off.”

That has taken control away from the architects themselves, as has the way building has changed in recent years. Construction is more integrated.

“Everybody works on the project at the same time,” Hart told me at the Center for Architecture. “It’s not linear anymore, where [there is] design, structure, mechanical, and then building. Everything is happening all at the same time.”

“Architects have, by and large, allowed that to happen,” Chakrabarti said. “Since the ’60s and ’70s [they] have shrunk from responsibility, liability, from risk taking; and have basically let other players completely, sort of, take over their field.

“Until architects are, sort of, ready to step up to the plate, and take risk and actually challenge the way things are built and developed, they [architects] are going continue to be in these sort of subservient consultant rolls.”

The field will change now that the boom is over. The thing to think about, Chakrabarti says, is what the legacy of it is, what we learned, “and how do those lessons get extrapolated to things other than luxury condos.”

Chakrabarti doesn’t seem entirely pessimistic about post-boom building.

“I have, this year, a hundred students, about 40 of whom are architects who are also studying development because they want to go out and be their own clients,” he said. They want to “get out of this position of ‘architect-as-consultant,’ and into something where they’re actually taking ownership.”

If that were to happen, then, Chakrabarti said, “real innovations can occur, in terms of the development and construction process that will, in turn, get us more innovative architecture.”

Credit to CAPITAL, This is How New York Works

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Ground Zero mosque likened to Superman’s HQ

Do you agree?  As a building design professional what is your critique of this design?  This author is not interested in your political views on whether you agree the mosque should or should not be built.

Hat tip to UK Telegraph.

Futuristic designs for an Islamic centre and mosque near the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York have been unveiled to widespread expert acclaim.

The sketches showed a 16-storey building wrapped in a honeycomb of abstract shapes.

The building was compared by some to the Fortress of Solitude, the crystalline headquarters of Superman depicted in comic books.

Others suggested that some of the shapes resembled the Jewish symbol of the Star of David. The company behind the development pointed out that the hexagram is also used in Islam, as the Seal of Solomon, as well as in Christianity and other religions.

Sharif El-Gamal, the developer, said: “We want to have a marriage between Islamic architecture and New York City. We want to do something that is green and cool.”

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Calvin Klein Shop Designer Pawson’s Stripped-Down Buildings Inspire Monks

John Pawson poses for a portrait in a minimalist interior. The architect, who designed the Calvin Klein flagship store in Manhattan, is the focus of a career survey at London's Design Museum through Jan. 30, 2011. Source: Gilbert McCarragher/Design Museum via Bloomberg.

The Calvin Klein store in Manhattan seems an unlikely inspiration for a monastery.

Yet Trappist monks leafing through a book were so taken with the look of the Madison Avenue flagship that they hired its architect John Pawson to build their monastery in the Czech Republic — and won him critical acclaim.

“Architecture is one thing, what happens inside is another,” says Pawson, 61. “They saw a space which they thought could be used as a church. They saw the two tables on which sweaters were displayed as being altars.”

After a 29-year career — designing a home for author Bruce Chatwin, a bridge for Kew Gardens, London, and airport lounges for Cathay Pacific — Pawson is getting his first U.K. solo show, at London’s Design Museum (whose future building he will revamp). He became known as a guru of minimalism, after his 1996 book “Minimum,” and is now moving into the public spotlight.

We meet at the exhibition — an array of sketches, wall photographs and maquettes. At its core is a contemplative room, with benches on either side, and an arch that lets light dapple through — a flashback to the monastery at Novy Dvur.

Pawson has a quiet elegance that masks undercurrents of anxiety. He wears pressed gray trousers with an open-neck white shirt, and twice stops our conversation to check the new displays. “The storm before the calm,” he says.

His understated ethos clashes with the global trend in “starchitecture” — look-at-me buildings by big names.

The Baron House in Sweden, dating from 2005, is designed by John Pawson. The architect is known for his minimalistic buildings. Source: Fabien Baron/ Design Museum via Bloomberg.

Personality Cult

“I’m very fortunate to be in an age where architecture has gotten noticed,” he says. “I’m not complaining that there’s the cult of the personality, because it enables me to build.”

Born in Halifax, Yorkshire, Pawson tried his hand at the family textile business, then moved to Japan. He taught English at a university and visited the studio of architect Shiro Kuramata. Somewhere along the line, he caught the building bug.

He enrolled at London’s Architecture Association, and left after three years without collecting his degree. Since 1981, he has made his way as an architect.

“Calvin Klein and working for him changed people’s perception of me, so I became the man that did shops,” he says. “Before that, I was the man that did galleries, or people’s flats.”

The Czech monastery takes up a good third of his show. Everywhere else are traces of past projects, built or not.

London Refuge

The Sackler Crossing, a footbridge designed by architect John Pawson in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew outside London. Pawson is the focus of a career survey at the Design Museum in London through Jan. 30, 2011. Source: Richard Davies/Design Museum via Bloomberg.

Pawson’s project for the late Chatwin occupies a corner of a neatly labeled archive table. In a 1984 essay, Chatwin wrote that Pawson makes “simple, harmonious rooms that are a real refuge from the hideousness of contemporary London.”

In Manhattan Pawson worked with Klein, who he finds energetic and interested: “He’ll sit for 12 hours and focus on a window detail, which, to be honest, I can’t do.”

One project that never happened was Pawson’s 1998 plan for fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld’s house in Biarritz, France. The circular sketch for the tennis court was rejected in a letter from the Chanel maestro (included in the show) who wrote “I hate everything ‘round.’”

Lagerfeld is “an amazing raconteur and an amazing mimic, and also, like me, obsessed,” says the architect. Yet designers “want to have done it themselves, really.”

Next is Pawson’s mission to move the Design Museum into its new base at the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington. Beyond that, he has one objective: “Get the quality better.”

“John Pawson — Plain Space” is at the Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD through Jan. 30, 2011. Information: http://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/2010/2010-john-pawson or +44-207-403-6933.

(Farah Nayeri is a writer for Muse, the arts & leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Hat tip Bloomberg

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A green answer to Vanity Fair’s architecture poll has its own blindspot

Renzo Piano's California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Credit: Tim Griffith.

When Vanity Fair recently released the results of a survey ranking the most significant pieces of architecture of the last 30 years — with Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, topping the list — the poll was met with extended grumbling. Some people griped about the many architects, including Richard Meier and Daniel Libeskind, who voted for their own work (Vanity Fair indeed!); others noted that the average age of those polled seemed to be around 70.

But the biggest complaint, by far, was that the results seemed completely to ignore green architecture, arguably the biggest single movement in the field since the emergence of modernism a century ago. In response, Lance Hosey, a writer and an architect who worked for years at William McDonough + Partners, a Virginia firm known for a commitment to sustainable design, organized an alternative survey for Architect magazine in which he polled a number of leading green architects and others. (Hosey e-mailed me earlier this month asking if I’d take part in the voting, which I did not.) He used the same format as Vanity Fair: He asked each voter to name the five most important green buildings since 1980, and separately the single most significant sustainable building finished since 2000.

The results were released Tuesday. The winner in the first category was the Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, a building by McDonough + Partners that relies on solar panels, among other green-design features, to produce 30% more energy than it uses. (Hosey swears his old affiliation had no impact on the results, though the voters did include one current McDonough employee, Kira Gould. Unlike Vanity Fair, Architect has no plans to publish the contents of each ballot; Hosey did tell me, though, that one architect in the poll gave every one of his votes, six in all, to his own work.) Renzo Piano’s California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which is topped by an undulating green roof made of native plants, was named the most important sustainable building since 2000.

I don’t have any issues with the winners of Hosey’s alternative survey: I admire both the McDonough and the Piano buildings, and I can understand the desire to confront the obvious limitations of the Vanity Fair project. (Similarly, given the way the Vanity Fair poll was set up, the Guggenheim Bilbao struck me as entirely deserving.) In the end, though, I have the same basic problem with Hosey’s effort as I did with the first poll: Asking voters to nominate single buildings necessarily produces results that give a skewed view of the way architecture — and more important, the way we think and write about it — has evolved in recent years.

Among critics and architects alike, there has been a rising understanding that architecture is not just about stand-alone icons but is tied inextricably to urban planning, real-estate speculation, capital flows, ecology and various kinds of networks — and similarly that architecture criticism means more than simply writing about impressive new landmarks, green or not, produced by the world’s best-known firms.

Indeed, sustainable design and its champions deserve significant credit for helping architecture as a whole adjust its values and move toward a wider, richer sense of how to measure its progress and chart its signal achievements. In that sense, it seems to me that Hosey wound up falling into the same trap as the Vanity Fair tastemakers whose shortsightedness he hoped to correct.

Maybe, in other words, the most important achievement in green architecture over the last 10 or 30 years is not a single building at all. Maybe it’s a collection of schools or linked parks or the group of advisors brought together by a young mayor somewhere. Maybe it’s a new kind of solar panel, a tax credit or a zoning change. Maybe it’s tough to hang a plaque on — or photograph for a magazine spread.

— Christopher Hawthorne, via Los Angeles Times (blog)

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