Friday, August 01, 2014

Book Review: Eastwest

Eastwest: Nabil Gholam Architects edited by Warren Singh-Bartlett and Ana CorberĂ³
Oscar Riera Ojeda Publishers, 2014
Hardcover, 496 pages



Even before cracking the spine on this monograph on Lebanese architect Nabil Gholam (nba), it's clear that the book is something special. Yes, it is a large book, but beyond size alone the cover gives this impression, as it is made up of no less than three layers: blue velum comprises the outermost layer, with the title and the name of the firm embossed in silver; the second layer is a stiffer dust jacket printed with a checkerboard of images (mountains, bricks, a rainbow on a carpet, leaves, faces, sketches, etc.) on both sides, with more personal ones on the inside; the last layer is the hardcover itself, a shiny silver surface with blue text (the inverse of the vellum) that reflects a rainbow to the reader depending upon the angle of view. Immediately these physical layers reveal that nba's architecture has layers, a complexity hiding behind the modern exteriors.


[Clouds – Faqra, Lebanon]

This superficial interpretation is corroborated by historian Kenneth Frampton, who says in his introductory essay that NGA's work "defies easy classification...it may be regarded as a competent, late modern global practice ... [that is] capable of creating works that possess a uniquely grounded, local character at a variety of scales." This ability to create a grounded, local character is most immediately evident in the Clouds, a housing estate of eleven villas in Faqra, Lebanon (above spread). Called "rock nesting" in the book (each project is further titled by a 2- or 3-word phrase by the architects), the villas are perched upon stone-walled terraces that raise the wood volumes high enough to give the residents distant views.


[Platinum Tower – Beirut, Lebanon]

So if the clouds project is representative of NGA's ability to embrace and exploit the natural features of a place, what about the late-modern globalism that Frampton refers to? The title of the monograph offers a hint: "Eastwest" picks up on on Gholam's background – born in Beirut, educated in Paris and New York, taught in southern China, worked in Barcelona before starting his practice back home in 1994 – and how this crisscrossing of the globe has impacted what the 50-strong NGA produces. One way Gholam's east-west-east movement has influenced their designs for Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries is through a modern architecture that embraces local elements. For example, the Platinum Tower (above spread) that NGA designed with Ricardo Bofill (his old Barcelona employer) resembles a 21st-century residential high-rise in cities as distant as New York, but its corner loggias are so generous – a response to climate and the way people live in the city – that it could not exist in another such place as is. Further, the backlit glass gives the tower overlooking the Beirut marina a distinctive stacked-cube appearance that has made it a local landmark.


[Skygate – Beirut, Lebanon]

Across its nearly 500 pages, the monograph moves from one such project to the next, from house to tower, from small-scale to large-scale, from built to unbuilt. There is an apparent ease with which NGA shifts scales, typologies, geographies, and materials (thankfully stone is as prevalent in his design as glass). In some cases a motif or large-scale gesture reappears, bridging different projects and different places. One example is the corner notch found at the top of the Jeddah Tower (below spread) as well as taking a bite out of the Doha Oasis. But these occasional gestures do not result in a distinctive Gholam-style. Instead, working within an orthogonal modernist palette (with the occasional oval or other curve), NGA crafts designs that respond carefully to program and context. This monograph captures that skill, though with so many unbuilt projects in the mix, I look forward to the next one when Gholam and company has built that much more.


[Jeddah Tower – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia]

Purchase from Amazon: Buy from Amazon.com

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Today's archidose #771

Here are some photos of Highway A-16 Tunnel Section 4-5-6 (1998) in St. Ursanne, Switzerland by Renato Salvi and Flora Ruchat-Roncati, photographed by Trevor Patt.

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Update 07.31: Photos of the Glovelier entrance, also photographed by Trevor Patt:

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To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool, and/or
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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New Blog: Unpacking My Library

Last week I started a new blog, titled Unpacking My Library. It's basically a weeding out of books from my ever-growing library by writing briefly about one of them every day. The latest post from the new blog will show up in the left column here. Read more about the Unpacking My Library blog below.


[Unpacking My Library, the book; the first post on my new blog]

About Unpacking My Library:
Although the title of this blog is taken from Walter Benjamin's well-known essay from Illuminations, "Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting" (PDF link), my goal is personal rather than intellectual.

I have a lot of books (over 1,200 cataloged on LibraryThing) but not enough room for them, so to help me determine what books to keep and what books to give away (or sell) I'm going through my books one by one to try to determine the value each holds for me.

So at the rate of roughly one book per day I'll be highlighting one book from my library with a photograph, a description of where I got it, some words on its value (or lack thereof), and a star rating. Books will be labeled by subject, publication date, author and other keywords, but suffice to say most of the books are on architecture and related subjects.

So hopefully this exercise will help determine if a book is worth keeping or passing on to another reader for their own library. And hopefully whoever happens to read this blog will discover some books of interest in the process.

Email Subscription Problems

It appears that the email feed for this blog has not been performing properly lately, so I'm trying to get it working again. If you notice anything odd with your email subscription/rss feed it is due to me working to correct things. Hopefully the email feed will be working again soon.

Today's archidose #770

Here are some of my photos of The Living's Hy-Fi installation at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens.

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Hy-Fi

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool, and/or
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Monday, July 28, 2014

St. Mark's New Home

St. Mark's Bookshop, a staple near Cooper Union since the late 70s, was in the news a few years ago when the school – its landlord – raised rent for the sizable space to over $20,000/month. The store successfully got a rent reduction, but it started looking for a new, smaller location shortly thereafter, according to DNAinfo. That new location is 136 East Third Street in the East Village, in a just-opened space designed by Clouds Architecture Office.


[Images courtesy of Clouds Architecture Office]

I haven't ventured to see the store in person, but the photos of the space make me want to head over there right away. White bookcases peel away and undulate in plan to contain a bathroom and office space on one side of the store (see plan at bottom) and free up space in the middle for events.







I especially like the section of the bookcases, which are angled at the bottom to allow for easier browsing by standing patrons.



I've updated my NYC Bookstores post to reflect the new location of St. Mark's Bookshop.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Galeria Melissa + SOFTlab

Yesterday I found myself in SoHo so I stopped by Brazilian shoemaker Melissa's store on Greene Street to check out a colorful installation by SOFTlab.

Galeria Melissa + SOFTlab

Called We Are Flowers, to coincide with a collection from Melissa of the same name, the installation consists of over 20,000 translucent flowers attached to a suspended frame (a mylar net) that billows from the front to the back of the store.

Galeria Melissa + SOFTlab

The translucent pieces overlap to blur any distinct blue, red, orange, green or yellow pieces, bringing the installation close to what SOFTlab describes as "the enchantment of a vibrant hanging garden."

Galeria Melissa + SOFTlab

In the middle of the store the arches stay above shoppers' heads, but at the back of the store it descends into the basement level.

Galeria Melissa + SOFTlab

Here it is like a vortex of color...

Galeria Melissa + SOFTlab

as if the (underused, I feel) elliptical yellow space is drawing all of the petals to the light at the bottom.

Galeria Melissa + SOFTlab

While the effect of being underneath a canopy of colorful flowers is nice...

Galeria Melissa + SOFTlab

the play of light and color and form on the white walls is a great effect that unites installation and store/wrapper*.

Galeria Melissa + SOFTlab

*Melissa's NYC flagship store was realized in 2012 by designer Domingos Pascali and Edson Matsuo in collaboration with MW Arquitetura and Eight Inc.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Today's archidose #769

Here are some photos of the Handelsbanken in Tjuvholmen, Oslo, Norway, by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, photographed by Wojtek Gurak.

Tjuvholmen F1

Tjuvholmen F1 & Handelsbanken

Handelsbanken Tjuvholmen

Handelsbanken Tjuvholmen

Handelsbanken Tjuvholmen

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
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