Thursday, September 18, 2014

MTA's Contempo-Paley

50th Street Commons
[50th Street Commons | Photograph by John Hill]

On the way home yesterday I walked along East 50th Street between Madison and Park Avenues to check out Manhattan's newest pocket park, the 50th Street Commons. Opened by the MTA yesterday, the park is a public space that is part of a larger project, a ventilation facility serving the East Side Access project, which will bring LIRR trains to Grand Central Terminal when it's completed in 2022. Yes, 2022.

The small park includes planting beds on the sides, striped paving and some loose tables and chairs in the middle, and a water wall illuminated by changing colored lights at the back of the shallow space. Doors to the ventilation facility can be found in two places: cut into the curved planter bed on the right, as seen in the above photo, and in the back left corner. My first thought upon seeing the park yesterday was that the designers at MTA are giving Midtown a contemporary update of the famous Paley Park.

Paley Park
[Paley Park | Photograph by John Hill]

The similarities between the spaces are many: Each is a small pocket park; each has a water feature at its back wall; each has loose tables and chairs; each has some trees; and each has gates that lock the space at night. But the details are what make the 50th Street Commons pale in comparison. Respective to the above list, they are: Paley is a deeper space; Paley's water wall is more substantial and not capped by ventilation grilles; the chairs at 50th Street are crowded into the pinched space and the tables are too high compared to Paley; Paley's trees occupy the middle of the space, not just the edges, layering the space and creating some intimacy; and Paley's gate does not have a large overhead frame (unlike the one at 50th Street just visible in the top photo). The details of Paley result in a comfortable space that is a respite from the street, while the details of 50th Street Commons result in an uncomfortable space where people are on display.

50th Street Commons
[50th Street Commons | Photograph by John Hill]

Is comparing the MTA's "gift" to Midtown with one of the area's – if not the city's – best outdoor spaces unfiar? Perhaps, but given the similarities it appears that Paley Park was a large, and suitable, influence on the designers. Too bad they didn't learn better from what Paley offers. At the very least, I'm hoping in five years time the trees will soften 50th Street's rough edges and make the space more inviting. That won't turn it into another Paley, but it will help.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

MAS Context X Luftwerk X Marina City

[Photograph by David Schalliol]

Shortly after posting my latest "Book Brief" with a recent issue of MAS Context, editor Iker Gil notified me about a site-specific video and light installation that took place last month on the rooftop of the west tower of Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City. I had heard about Luftwerk's installation beforehand, but I had not seen any thorough documentation of the one-night event until these photos and video grabbed from a post at MAS Context.

[Best watched with sound on]

For those who like this kind of engagement of art, light, and architecture, be sure to check out the rest of Luftwerk's projects, many of which have taken place on other well known buildings, such as Robie House and Fallingwater.

[Photograph by David Schalliol]

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Briefs #20

"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 my daily or weekly pages.

1: Homecoming: Contextualizing, Materializing, and Practicing the Rural in China edited by Joshua Bolchover, Christiane Lange, John Lin | Gestalten | 2013 | Amazon
Based on a symposium of the same name at the University of Hong Kong in April 2012, Homecoming is a refreshing counterpoint to all of the attention given to China's urban building boom, which takes the form of large yet innovative housing projects by the likes of Steven Holl, but more often is symbolized by bland and monotonous, tightly packed towers. The movement of large numbers of Chinese from the country to the city makes the former ripe for some investigation, which the 15 contributors do here in the three sections noted in the book's subtitle; my favorite are the many great projects in the "materializing the rural" section. A debate between the editors and some of the contributors at the end of the book tackles the notions of urban/rural and what can or should be done with the latter.

2: MAS Context 21: Repetition edited by Iker Gil | MAS Context | Spring 2014
Chicago's quarterly journal MAS Context produces yet another XL issue with #21 on the theme "repetition"; their earlier Narrative issue, guest edited by Klaus, also clocks in at about twice as many pages as the norm. The Xerox stamp on the cover points to one interpretation of the theme, but with 18 contributions there is plenty of different approaches. The issue includes an excerpt from Bianca Bosker's book Original Copies, on "architectural mimicry" in China; Patrick Sykes's exploration of digital printing in a grotto-like creation; Livia Corona Benjamin's photographic essay on Mexico's cookie-cutter two-million home program; Camilo José Vergara's "Harlem Time Tracker," on the changes to this section of Manhattan since the 1970s; and Iker Gil speaks with astronaut Claude Nicollier about the simulation and repetition necessary in spaceflight. In addition to the eclectic and visually rich contributions, the most outstanding aspect of the issue is that each contributor was paired with a Chicago-based designer who determined the page layout, font, colors, and other design features. These pairings turn each piece into a bespoke creation belying the monotony normally considered with repetition.

3: L.A. [Ten]: Interviews on Los Angeles Architecture 1970s-1990s with Stephen Phillips | Lars Müller Publishers | 2014 | Amazon
Curators, historians and the media like to group architects together as a means of expressing a trend, or perhaps to argue for a particular approach. Most famous is definitely the New York Five (Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk and Richard Meier), but as even a rudimentary analysis of these architects reveals that Graves jumped to Postmodern historicism and John Hejduk was an architect that couldn't fit easily alongside others. In other words, architectural groups like this often don't work. The so-called L.A. Ten, "a loosely affiliated cadre of architects" in Southern California in the 1980s, is a case in point. Any formal similarities between Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss, Frank Israel, Neil Denari, and the rest were thin. But the network of architects, educators, and schools was important, as the lengthy interviews in this book make clear. Held by Stephen Phillips and students from Cal Poly, the interviews take a roughly chronological approach in recapping each architect's education, production, and relationships in the decades indicated by the book's subtitle. Fascinating at times, the book suffers from minimal editing; even though the full interviews are necessary for an oral history, shorter versions would have sufficed for a book available to the public.

4: Natural Architecture Now: New Projects from Outside the Boundaries of Design by Francesca Tatarella | Princeton Architectural Press | 2014 | Amazon
The cover of the first Natural Architecture book, published in 2007, features the amazing "stick work" of Patrick Dougherty, who received his own book treatment from the folks at PAPress a few years later. In this second title from Milan's 22 Publishing, the cover is given over to one of the Starn brothers' impressive Big Bambu installations. In both cases the cover indicates that the contents are as much art as architecture, a fact that does not reduce the potential influence of the projects that explore how materials like wood and bamboo are manipulated to create constructions that at the very least appear natural. The architects and artists here are less concerned with creating structures that are integrated into nature in terms of process (a house that is grown from the soil or trees, for example) than they are with form. This means that the selection ends up being fairly consistent regardless of who designed and built the pieces, where they're located, and what they're used for.

5: Team 10 East: Revisionist Architecture in Real Existing Modernism edited by Łukasz Stanek | Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw | 2014 | AmazonTeam 10, which supplanted CIAM in 1959, was made up of a core of architects from Great Britan, The Netherlands, France, Italy, and Greece, but nobody from Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, participating architects (outside the core) did come from Czechoslavakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Yogoslavia, thereby influencing the Team 10 discourse to a certain degree. Key among these participants was Polish architect Oscar Hansen, who was Stanek's inspiration for a conference and workshop held at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw in 2013. "Team 10 East," as in the title of the workshop and companion book, refers to the original Team 10, but it is a fictitious entity; or as Stanek puts it in his introduction with Dirk van den Heuvel: "Rather than being a retroactive manifesto, Team 10 East is a generative conceptual tool that grasps at an understanding of what was shared by these fellow travelers of Team 10." This understanding comes from five long essays interspersed with seven shorter ones in the handsome book whose size reminds me of a Readers Digest – with nicer paper, design and illustrations.

6: Shadow and Light: Tadao Ando and the Clark by Clark Art Institute | Yale University Press | 2014 | Amazon
The year 2014 marks the end of a major masterplan for the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute (aka The Clark) consisting of two new buildings by Tadao Ando, interior renovations by Annabelle Selldorf, and reconfigured landscapes by Reed Hilderbrand. This slim book celebrates the contributions of Japanese architect Ando, who started with the 2008 Stone Hill Center (which has its own book) and saw the completion of a visitor center this year. The latter was completed in July, and given that the book was ready for opening day, the photos by Richard Pare that document the building tend to be at the level of the detail rather than general views; rendering serve the latter, as do they for to express what is going on with the landscapes around the buildings. Given that The Clark is all about looking at art surrounded by nature, the relationship between the architecture and the landscape is of the utmost importance for Ando. While it may not come across so strongly in the photos, Michael Webb's essay does a good job of conveying this idea.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Book Review: Furniture by Architects

Furniture by Architects edited by Driss Faith
Images Publishing Group, 2013
Hardcover, 208 pages

The appeal of furniture for architects – both as something to use to improve a space and something to tackle as a design problem – is undeniable. But it's also been said (by Mies van der Rohe, most famously) that designing a chair is much more difficult than designing a building. Perhaps that is why architects have created so few masterpieces of furniture, especially when compared to their raison d'etre of buildings. Sure, in the former camp, the Barcelona chair by Mies comes to mind, as does Marcel Breuer's Wassily chair and Eero Saarinen's Womb chair, but the hits are few. Still, this does not stop architects from trying, especially if they have an enlightened client who is willing to pay for an architect's experimentation with furnishings, experiments that can move from the custom realm to mass production. This book collects over 80 pieces of furniture by contemporary architects, a collection that runs the gamut in terms of who, what, why and where.

[UNStudio's MYchair Lounge]

Before delving into more words about the book, I'll admit that I'm a sucker for the idea of architects designing furniture; I wrote a piece for World-Architects that surveys the designs produced by W-A member firms, such as UNStudio's MYchair Lounge (also included in the book reviewed here), and I even own a catalog on a 1980s Whitney exhibition of furniture by American architects. Like the Whitney's Shape and Environment book, I was hoping for an overview that also put today's architect-designed furniture in context. Instead, this book from Images Publishing Group is basically a catalog of products, more marketing than insightful commentary, pulling text from architects alongside photos of the pieces. Thankfully, most of the photos show the furniture in context, and only occasionally floating on a white background.

[SLHO and Associates' Modular Outdoor Furniture]

If you are looking for a source with numerous furniture designs, unlike me, then this book will do the trick. As I mentioned, it includes a wide variety of furnishing – different authors (who), different types (what), different approaches to design (why), and different contexts (where) – with names that range from the famous (Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, UNStudio) to the less-so (FINNE Architects, Griffin Enright, and Saaj Design have some of the most pieces in the book).

Aside from highlighting a wide variety of primarily good furniture designs, the book could have been improved in terms of organization and cross-referencing. Even though "architects" is in the title of the book, the furnishings are arranged alphabetically by name, an odd tactic considering how arbitrary these names can be and how this disperses an architect's pieces throughout the book. An index of architects is given at the back with simply the page numbers where their furnishings appear, but it's too little, especially when their creations could have been cross referenced, as could have similar types of furnishings (chairs, benches, dining room tables, light fixtures, etc.). Instead each piece floats in a vacuum, making the book a catalog without prices when it could have been so much more.

Purchase at Amazon: Buy from

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fall Architectural Walking Tours

The weather is beautiful in New York City in the fall, a great time to see the city on some architectural walking tours. Below are descriptions and dates of the tours I'm giving through the 92Y. Click on the links to purchase tickets.

Saturday, September 20 at 11am
Saturday, October 25 at 11am
Columbus Circle and Lincoln Square
Look at and go inside some recent buildings in the West 50s and 60s, from the Hearst Tower and the transformation of Lincoln Center to the Apple Store.
New Sod

Saturday, September 27 at 11am
The High Line and Its Environs
Trek the High Line – Phase 3 opening on September 21! – taking in the park and the surrounding buildings and step off to get a closer look at select buildings.
High Line Section 2

Saturday, October 18 at 11am
Architectural Walking Tour of Brooklyn via the G Train
Hop on and off the G train from Carroll Gardens to Clinton Hill and Williamsburg, taking in townhouses, campus facilities and other buildings along the way.

Today's archidose #782

Here are some photos of Metropolis (2006) in Copenhagen, Denmark, by Future Systems with Danielsen Architecture, photographed by Ximo Michavila.

Danielsen Architects. Metropolis #1

Danielsen Architects. Metropolis #7

Danielsen Architects. Metropolis #8

Danielsen Architects. Metropolis #9

Danielsen Architects. Metropolis #4

Danielsen Architects. Metropolis #3

Danielsen Architects. Metropolis #6

Danielsen Architects. Metropolis #2

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool
To contribute your Instagram images for consideration, just:
:: Tag your photos #archidose

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Today's archidose #781

Here are some of my photos of 35XV, a building designed by FXFOWLE Architects now under construction on West 15th Street in New York City.







To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool
To contribute your Instagram images for consideration, just:
:: Tag your photos #archidose

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Firm Faces #20: LWPB Architecture

This week's Building of the Week – a feature I curate at American-Architects, where each week a recent building from a different state is highlighted – is the Patience S. Latting Northwest Library in Oklahoma City designed by LWPB Architecture. While researching the firm and their projects for the "50x50" feature, I couldn't help noticing the way the firm faces are represented:

[Screenshot from LWPB Architecture website]

Moving the mouse across the screen (sorry, doesn't work on mobile devices) results in the people moving back and forth, retracting of the screen like two-dimensional cutouts on a virtual Rolodex:

[Screenshot from LWPB Architecture website]

The technique is reminiscent of Diller Scofidio + Renfro's flip-up project grid on their website, which was designed by Pentagram:

[Screenshot from DS+R website]

When the mouse cursor overlaps with a person on LWBP's website, a speech bubble of sorts pops up with their name (who new Norman Foster worked in Oklahoma?) and clicking on each person brings up a postcard-like view with some of stats on them:

[Screenshot from LWPB Architecture website]

While LWPB's means of illustrating the firm's principals and employees is clever and memorable, its reliance on Flash points to the question: Can this sort of thing be programmed into the HTML environment, so as to be visible and usable across devices and platforms? I'd assume not in its current form, but perhaps in other ways that retain the fun way of showing the firm's faces and therefore the firm's personality.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Monika Sosnowska. Tower

[Photo via 860-880 Lake Shore Drive]

Mies van der Rohe's 860-880 Lake Shore Drive apartments, shown above around the time of their completion in 1951, are two of the most influential towers in 20th-century architecture. Predating by seven years his Seagram Building in New York City, 860 and 880 consist of uniform facades with small, vertical I-beams in front of steel plates and clear glass.

[Facade detail | Photo via 860-880 Lake Shore Drive]

A basic expression of floor-to-ceiling glass and decorative steel meant to evoke the structural frame behind it subsequently became the go-to design for Mies and other architects in the 1960s and later, especially for office buildings. Today's urban environments of glass skins (now taut, with silicon joints rather than decorative projections) would be unthinkable without this trailblazing pair.

Monika Sosnowska Tower
[All photographs of Tower by John Hill]

860-880 are the source, and modern architecture is the subject, of Polish artist Monika Sosnowska's Tower, on display until October 25 at Hauser & Wirth on West 18th Street. The artist has taken the facade – everything in front of the structural steel, fireproofing and floors – built it at full scale and then distorted it beyond recognition. Well, almost beyond recognition.

Monika Sosnowska Tower

Walking into the large gallery space, the first view of Tower is the one above; the 110-foot-long piece is so big that I could not capture it in a single photo. My first thought was "beached whale," and while I can't say if the artist intended such a resemblance, the form and the inversion of the subject (from vertical to horizontal) does give the impression that modern architecture is dead or dying, much like a whale washed ashore is dead or dying.

Monika Sosnowska Tower

Tower's modules are those of the original facade, the rectangular window bays between the decorative I-beams, with a large pane of glass above a smaller, operable pane. Of course, glass is missing from the piece, but if we straighten out the bent construction in our minds, the regular, rectangular grid is there, vertical on one side (photos above and below) and horizontal on the other (top installation photo).

Monika Sosnowska Tower

Comparing the top view of the installation to the one above – photos from alternate ends of the piece – shows the most distinctive experiences of the piece. Where the steel is coiled tightly, as in the above photo, Tower is like a tube, a restricted view where the end is barely visible.

Monika Sosnowska Tower

But at the other end (photo below), the steel unfurls, as if the tension of the coil at the other end could not be contained. Here, the piece exposes itself in all its gruesome complexity.

Monika Sosnowska Tower

About halfway down the 110-foot length of the piece, the steel transitions from what I described as vertical to horizontal. This transition can be seen in the below photo, with the vertical windows on the right and the horizontal windows on the left (look for the intermediate mullion between large pane and operable pane to get a sense of the orientation).

Monika Sosnowska Tower

Looking at the facade detail of 860-880 near the top of the post, one question that may arise is: Why is Tower all black when Mies's original is black steel and gray aluminum? This is a good question, not only because Mies is quoted as saying "God is in the details" but because the pair of towers were replicated at 900-910 Lake Shore Drive with some minor changes, one of them being an all-black metal exterior. So with Tower's all-black appearance, Sosnowska is referencing not only the original but also its copies, be it right across the street or elsewhere around the world.

Monika Sosnowska Tower

It's easy to go on analyzing Tower in terms of the architecture of modernism (or the destruction of architecture, à la 9/11, that the mangled form also brings to mind), but intellectual perspectives on the piece are not needed to appreciate it. The thing is so big and so gnarly that it just impresses out of its size and form: the way the pieces bend as well as the way they overlap each other; the way it occupies one half of the gallery, cutting a diagonal across the room and inviting visitors to walk around it; and the way it's hardly concerned with beauty or order.

Monika Sosnowska Tower

Tower invites speculation about how it was made. While a book specifically on the piece will be released in November, one needn't see that to know it was a complicated and intensive undertaking, akin to constructing a building, both in terms of mechanical muscle and the coordination of labor needed to move the project from scale models to full size.

Monika Sosnowska Tower

So if you're in New York City between now and October 25, be sure to head to Hauser & Wirth to take in Monika Sosnowska's Tower to experience it for yourself.

Monika Sosnowska Tower

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sonic Forest

Christopher Janney's Sonic Forest: Civic Celebrations opened across the street from the Center for Architecture on Friday evening. The grid of interactive pylons will be up only until September 11, but for those who can't visit by then, one of Janney's permanent pieces, Reach NYC, can be experienced on the N/Q/R platforms of the 34th Street/Herald Square station. Below are some of my photos and video clips of Sonic Forest.

Sonic Forest
[All photos/videos by John Hill]

Sonic Forest

Sonic Forest

Sonic Forest

Sonic Forest