Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Book Review: Forty Ways to Think About Architecture

Forty Ways to Think About Architecture: Architectural history and theory today edited by Iaian Borden, Murray Fraser, Barbara Penner
Paperback, 280 pages

What at first glance appears to be a collection of forty essays on architectural history and theory is actually more focused, since the "Forty" in the title also refers to Adrian Forty, Emeritus Professor of the History of Architecture at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (UCL). Called "the UK's leading academic in the discipline," I'm ashamed to admit I have not read one of Forty's books. Of course, this may be excusable given that he's only written three books since 1986, when Objects of Desire: Design and Society 1750-1980 was released: Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture, his most popular book, published in 2000, and 2012's Concrete and Culture: A Material History. The forty contributors – academics, old students, architects, historians and critics – follow in the broad interests evident in these three books: the appreciation and understanding of design in a general sense of the word, the strong relationship between architecture and writing, and the material reality of architecture.

But before the editors present the forty essays – ordered A-Z by first name, something I found curious at first but grew to appreciate in its informality – they feature a lecture that Forty gave at the UCL in 2000. That the lecture happened 14 years before the book's publication may seem odd, but it is really not that important since, as we learn in the book, Forty is very careful with the way he articulates his ideas, be they in book form or in a lecture. He takes his time with things, such that his takes on things are thoughtful and deep and his words then become more lasting, which is certainly important for a historian. The lecture was probably chosen since it was the first inaugural lecture in architectural history at The Bartlett since 1970, when his teacher Reyner Banham gave one called "At Shoo Fly Landing." Forty's lecture, "Future Imperfect," honestly exposes his interests and approach to history, making it a perfect preface for the forty short essays that follow.

As can be expected with so many essays, the contributions are a hodgepodge in terms of subject and how the contributors chose to address Forty's forty years of teaching (yes, another play on that word/number!), though, not surprisingly, the whole leans to the UK. The highlights tend to be from contributors who discuss Forty directly in some manner, such as Andrew Saint's piece, "How to Write About Buildings?", Briony Fer's part-visual essay on Forty's photography, Murray Fraser's piece on Reyner Banham's cowboy hat, and Tony Fretton's response to Words and Buildings; or those that take a parallel approach to Forty, as in Eleanor Young's take on Colin St. John Wilson's British Library fifteen years after it opened. The essays that stake their own ground outside of any obvious relation to Forty are less appealing, since they could find their way into just about any other book rather than this one. Regardless, the short essays add up to a solid collection that, if anything, emphasizes the importance of Forty's teaching and writing and makes me want to grab one of his books and delve deeper into his ideas.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Greening the Chicago River

On a slow news weekend in October last year, the news in Chicago was all about the river, specifically a sunken barge and the filming of Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent. As ABC7 reported in regards to the latter:
Saturday morning, the five bridges from Dearborn to Columbus were raised as a helicopter flew low close to the water.

[ABC7 photograph]

With Insurgent being released in theaters on March 20, and therefore trailers and commercials hitting the airwaves and interwebs, we're finally being treated to the result of the low-flying helicopter:

[Screenshot from Insurgent commercial]

Sorry, Rahm. It looks like all your work on the Chicago Riverwalk will be for naught, as the whole river will become one big, sunken walkway.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Today's archidose #817: Facades

Here is a potpourri of facade details recently uploaded to the archidose Flickr pool. Click on the photos to learn more about each building and photographer.

Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM)

DH Skarbek

Neuer Zollhof




Horten department store, Stuttgart, Germany

CPH Architecture #34

Le Monolithe

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Today's archidose #816

Here are some shots of Der Neue Zollhof (2005) in Düsseldorf, Germany, by Gehry Partners, photographed by Wojtek Gurak.

Neuer Zollhof

Neuer Zollhof

Neuer Zollhof

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Firm Faces #21: JGMA

Many of the recent "firm faces" I've featured have been fairly humorous, evidence that architects don't always take themselves so seriously. I think that can be safely applied to Chicago's JGMA, headed by Juan Moreno.

This screenshot shows the cartoon visages of Moreno and other executives and leadership in the firm:

Clicking on any of the cartoon faces brings one to a page with a b/w portrait and a bio...but a mouseover of the photo reveals a full-color cartoon. Here, I've stitched three in the top row together and animated them with their cartoon likenesses:

I must admit, one of my first questions is, "How do they draw with those 'hands'?"

Following 432

Although far from planned, yesterday I snapped three photos of the Manhattan skyline as seen from Queens, each one of them anchored by Rafael Viñoly's 432 Park Avenue nearing completion on 57th Street.

Here it is in the morning, seen from the Court Square 7 stop in Long Island City:

Here it is in the evening, seen from the Queensborough Plaza stop in Long Island City:

And here it is a few minutes later, seen from the Ditmars stop in Astoria (Time Warner is visible in the lower-right and One57 pops up near the center of the frame, below the cloud; ):

Many people are calling 432 Park Avenue a new compass for the middle of Manhattan, but it is also true for people, like me, who live in western Queens.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mark Your Calendars, Hamptonites

Parrish Art Museum just announced three years worth of exhibitions to be held at their Herzog & de Meuron-designed building in Water Mill, New York, from next month until 2017. A few of them are architecture-related and those are highlighted below.

Platform: Tara Donovan
July 4, 2015 to October 18, 2015

["Untitled (Mylar), 2011" by Tara Donovan, at Pace Gallery, 545 West 22nd Street | Photograph by John Hill]
Tara Donovan creates large-scale installations and sculptures made from everyday objects. Known for her commitment to process, she has earned acclaim for her ability to discover the inherent physical characteristics of an object and transform it into art. Tara Donovan, the Parrish Art Museum's 2015 Platform artist, will develop a new installation that relates to the space, context, and environmental conditions of the museum. Donovan poetically transforms accumulated materials such as drinking straws, index cards, slinky toys, and other surprising objects into formations that appear geological, biological, or otherwise naturally occurring.

Platform is an open-ended invitation to a single artist per year to present a project within the building and grounds of the Parrish Art Museum. Platform invites artists to consider the entire museum as a potential site for works that transcend disciplinary boundaries, encouraging new ways to experience art, architecture, and the landscape.

Andreas Gursky: Landscapes
August 2, 2015 to October 18, 2015

[Andreas Gursky, Engadin 1995 C-print 160 x 250 cm 63 x 98½" | Image via Saatchi Gallery]
German visual artist Andreas Gursky is renowned for his monumentally scaled photographs—grand urban and natural landscape vistas and large format architecture—created from a dispassionate, omniscient point of view. Highly detailed, Gursky's images are at once dead-pan observational and transcendent. He rigorously composes his expansive views to envelope viewers with dizzying scale, detail, and color—effects he often heightens through digital manipulation of the image. Gursky has been instrumental in defining contemporary German art in the 1990s. The exhibition focuses on some of his most enigmatic images of landscape, water, and architectural detail.

Image Building: How Photography Transforms Architecture
July 30 – October 15, 2017

[Iwan Baan, Torre David #2, 2011]
Image Building explores the complex and dynamic relationship among the spectator, photography, architecture, and time through the lens of architectural photography in America and Europe from the 1920s to the present. Organized by guest curator Therese Lichtenstein, Image Building will survey the ways in which historical and contemporary photographers explore the relationship between architecture and identity, featuring contemporary photographers Iwan Baan, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff, Stephen Shore, and Lewis Baltz, and earlier modernist architectural photographers like Julius Shulman, Ezra Stoller, Samuel Gottscho, and Berenice Abbott. The influential works of all these photographers transformed our vision and concept of architecture.

What 20th Century?

First, there was the steampunk reality of No. 15 Renwick, a residential project near SoHo by ODA Architecture:

And now, in this entry (1 of 86) from the Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge Competition, there's even more of a sense that the 20th century never happened:

Perhaps, 19th-century entourage is just one way of softening the edges of modern architecture.

Book Review: Workforce

Workforce: A Better Place to Work edited by Aurora Fernádez Per, Javier Mozas
a+t, 2014
Paperback, 160 pages

[All images courtesy of a+t]

Recently I picked up a couple used books that are all about work: Nikil Saval's Cubed: The Secret History of the Workplace, published last spring, and Studs Terkel's 1972 classic Working. These two books, combined with a+t's first installment in its Workforce Series, paint a picture of how work and the workplace itself has changed over the last century or so. Being that this is a blog about contemporary architecture, I'm therefore focusing on a+t's collection of recent workplace designs, but I think the book is a bit more meaningful in my mind thanks to reading parts of these other books simultaneously. Overlap can be found, for example, between Workforce and Cubed in the former's "A short history of the development of the office" by Caruso St. John Architects; in brief text and floor plans it parallels the social history that Saval delves into at length. Both books also bring us to a situation today that is much different than the one covered in Terkel's book, which is varied in trade and venue (from farmers and nuns to auditors and baseball players), but which echoes from a time when the white-collar workforce and workplace were narrower and more well defined. Now we work from home, co-work in shared spaces and work in other less traditional ways thanks to technology, increased freelancing and the rise of the creative class. This is the context that a+t tackles in Workforce.

Like other a+t books, the meat of the issue is the projects, in this case 25 office spaces designed by 18 firms. Most of the projects are in mainland Europe and the UK, but some are found in the United States (San Francisco and New York City, not surprisingly) and there is one each in Japan and Australia. But outside a fairly wide if Eurocentric geography, the projects share many traits in common. First, they are exclusively interiors projects, not buildings (perhaps a future installment in a+t's series will feature buildings). Second, many of the buildings/containers are old and formerly industrial, with the architects choosing to leave the "old bones" exposed. Third, there is a focus on the fun or casual, such that the workplaces often feel home-like and unlike traditional office environments of the 20th century (the cover photo is a clear indication of this shared trait); no wonder that the a+t editors call this section of the book "Workspaces: from fun to focus." And fourth, shared, or common spaces are more important than the individual workspaces and often the shared spaces are the locus for the fun and casual.

The shift to environments that are fun, casual and more home-like reflects the trends that are shaping work today, most of them coming about thanks to telecommunications. Laptops and smartphones enable work to take place anywhere, so instead of intense eight-hour days (four in the morning, four after lunch), the workday is longer, less intense and dispersed. As Javier Mozas explains in the critical history that introduces the issue, "The liquid nature of the workplace," companies are responding to the implications of technology by creating spaces that put people at ease and therefore keep them in the office longer. Companies, always aware of the bottom-line, are also devoting more space for common uses (leisure, dining, circulation) and thereby shrinking workers' own desks. Common space is seen nowadays as a space of interaction, which has been elevated to an almost absurdly high status, as it is seen as the place where innovation and creativity occurs. The design of schools, with more attention given to circulation than classrooms, echoes this approach, and one could see the design of public spaces in cities today, with pop-up spaces and the like, as an extension of this thinking. Where work was, in Terkel's day, a task segmented in time and space, it is increasingly one that is fluid, leaking through the borders that have become more and more porous over the years, such that work encompasses more and more of our waking lives. It's only appropriate that architects have responded in kind to create spaces that, if anything, don't remind us of this fact.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vote for a Daily Dose

A Daily Dose of Architecture is one of ten blogs nominated in the Architecture category of the 6th Annual JDR Industry Blogger Awards. Given the list of great blogs in contention, I don't really stand a chance of winning, but if you like this little 'ol blog, head over to JDR's website and cast your vote, taking a look at the other contenders while you're at it.


Thanks to Jackson Design and Remodeling for this opportunity. Voting ends April 10 at 4pm PST.