Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: Two Tschumi Titles

Notations: Diagrams and Sequences by Bernard Tschumi
Artifice Books on Architecture, 2014
Hardcover, 304 pages

Tschumi Parc de la Villette by Bernard Tschumi
Artifice Books on Architecture, 2014
Paperback, 240 pages



This summer appears to be a busy time for 70-year-old architect Bernard Tschumi, at least in terms of exhibitions and publications. He has a major retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (closing July 28), and no less than three books are being released, one of them from the Pompidou on the exhibition and two of them from the publisher Artifice Books on Architecture; the latter books are discussed here.


[Page from Notations on The Manhattan Transcripts]

In the preface to Notations, a collection of Tschumi's drawings on over 40 projects, the architect clearly states he never uses the word "sketch," only "notation." The difference may seem negligible, but it has as much to do with attitude as with semantics. For Tschumi sees his drawings – done with his sketchbook (notationbook?) balancing on his knee rather than flat on a table – as "a form of notating the mind's activity." The combination of drawing in a relaxed manner anytime and anywhere (in a taxi, on the subway, by the pool) and seeing drawings as a way to articulate thoughts (get them out of the mind and onto paper) leads to a prioritization of idea over aesthetics. Hence notation, like a shorthand for ideas and concepts, over sketches, often associated with envisioning what a piece of architecture looks like.


[Page from Notations on The Sequential House]

Of course Tschumi's choice of words applies most clearly and directly to his early projects, such as The Manhattan Transcripts (top image) and The Sequential House (image above), where their theoretical and not-to-be-built nature allowed some freedom in terms of form and representation. But things changed (in more ways than one) with Tschumi winning the 1982 competition for the Parc de la Villette in Paris. In terms of drawings, we see the notations describing the three-part concept of points, lines and surfaces, as well as how events unfold cinematically along the park's promenade (image below)...


[Page from Notations on Parc de la Villette]

But further elaboration, particularly in concern to the red folies that dot the park (image below), follows, and here we see Tschumi using drawings like other architects, to flesh out ideas of form and appearance. Tschumi is aware of this, as he states in the preface that the book "is not intended to celebrate the fetishism often associated with the architectural sketch, but rather to demonstrate the conceptual sequence that makes up the architectural project."

The more than 300 drawings that convey this conceptual sequence are arranged chronologically – by start date of each project, it should be noted. There is a consistent hand throughout the book, though it is a bit more relaxed in the later projects, perhaps inadvertently expressing the reliance on younger architects in Tschumi's New York/Paris offices to flesh out the architectonic details beyond the parti stage. Whatever the case, very few architects will have their sketches/notations put into book form, and this one is as strong an argument for hand drawing as any "fetishistic" account of the still important skill.


[Page from Notations on Parc de la Villette]

There are 40-odd more projects in Notations, but whatever buildings Tschumi has subsequently been able to pull off in his career, he will always be known for Parc de la Villette (is it any wonder red defines the architect, his website, his publications, etc.?). Completed in its entirety 16 years (!) after winning the competition in 1982, the park can be considered 15 years old or 30, depending on one's view. Tschumi's ideas, while harking back to Constructivist architecture, were definitely a departure from the Postmodernism prevalent at the time of the competition. But 16 years later the "style" of Deconstructivism and the influence of Jacques Derrida's Deconstruction had waned, making the park as much a relic of its time as a forward-thinking "urban park" for the late 20th century and beyond.


[Page from Parc de la Villette with winter photo]

The book, which takes on a large, square shape akin to the grid of the folies and the red panels that cover their surfaces, is arranged conceptually rather than chronologically. The book is not so much a story about the project's realization (there are no troubled politics or construction photos – well, only three small ones – to be found) but a narrative of its ideas. Chapters are, for example, "Points Lines Surfaces," "Systems and Superpositions," "Concept of the Folie," and "Cinematic Promenade."


[Page from Parc de la Villette with notations of points, lines and surfaces]

A good chunk of the book is devoted to the red folies – the points – each one labeled (L2, L3, etc.) and documented with a photograph, plans and elevations. Each one also includes information on how it is used, something that gets at the original Deconstruction-inspired idea of the park, where meaning (program) is not absolute. A given form does not have a given program (and vice versa) in Tschumi's park, so some of them evolve over time, such as N6, which initially served as a gardening center, and subsequently was used as a restaurant, children's workshop and now park offices.


[Page from Parc de la Villette with renderings of a couple folies]

The voluminous collection of drawings, renderings, photographs and essays (by Anthony Vidler and Jacques Derrida) makes the book a similar document to Notations. It "demonstrate[s] the conceptual sequence that makes up the architectural project," but in this case on one career-making and -defining project rather than many projects over a long career.


[Page from Parc de la Villette with fireworks designed by Tschumi]

Notations: Buy from Amazon.com

Parc de la Villette: Buy from Amazon.com

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Today's archidose #768

Here are some of my photos of the Editions de Parfums Fédéric Malle store at 94 Greenwich Avenue in New York City by Steven Holl Architects.

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Modular Construction in NYC

An Associated Press story embedded on Architectural Record's website reports that the "First Modular Apartment Building in NYC Opens." The building of focus is GLUCK+'s The Stack, located near Inwood Hill Park at the northern tip of Manhattan:

[The Stack | Photograph from GLUCK+ website]

The AP article also mentions nARCHITECTS' micro-dwellings at Kips Bay and SHoP's high-profile B2 BKLYN 32-story modular apartment building, the first tower in the Atlantic Yards development, now under construction:

[B2 BKLYN | Rendering from SHoP's website]

In the article's desire to label firsts ("first multistory, modular-built apartment building to open in the nation's apartment capital") is the omission of Nehemiah Spring Creek, what could be argued as the first modular housing in New York City. Designed by Alexander Gorlin, and completed in 2008 (Phase 1, with all 3 phases completed by 2013), the project in East New York, Brooklyn, used modular units to erect townhouses rather than stacked apartments:


[Nehemiah Spring Creek | Photographs courtesy of Alexander Gorlin Architects]

I think Nehemiah Spring Creek is often left out of discussions about modular residential construction in NYC because of aesthetics – it is not as contemporary looking as The Stack or B2 BKLYN or nARCHITECTS' micro-dwellilngs – and because of scale; it seems to straddle urban and suburban conditions in its size and site in East New York, a very low-income part of Brooklyn.

One area where Nehemiah Spring Creek beats The Stack (not in terms of firsts, mind you) is in the distance traveled from factory to site. The Stack's modular units were built by DeLuxe Building in Berwick, PA, 140 miles from the site in Inwood. On the other hand, Gorlin's design was built by Capsys in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, just over 7 miles from East New York. (Likewise, B2 is being built by the new company FC + Skanska Modular in the Navy Yard, less than 2 miles away.) These numbers are just as important as those cited in the AP article on The Stack (cost of construction, time saved versus conventional construction), as they get at the value of building modular in NYC, not just for NYC.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Book Review: Two Guides

Barcelona: Modern Architecture Guide by Manuel Gausa, Marta Cervelló, Maurici Pla, Ricardo Devesa
Actar, 2013, revised and upated
Paperback, 600 pages

La Défense, a dictionary: architecture / politics, history / territory edited by Pierre Chabard, Virginie Picon-Lefebvre
Edition Parenthèses, 2013
Paperback, 320 pages



When it comes to making a guidebook, a number of factors go into impacting its usability, such as size, layout, and navigation. One area that comes to mind when looking at these two guides side by side is structure, or how the entries (buildings) are organized. In the case of Actar's guide to modern architecture in Barcelona, the many projects are grouped historically/geographically/chronologically. For its guide to Paris's La Défense district, Edition Parenthèses opted for a dictionary format, an alphabetical listing of places, architects and other topics.

The histo-geo-chrono format of Barcelona is evident in the spread below that displays the book's 22 chapters, A through V. According to the editors these chapters follow "a combination of historical, geographical and cultural criteria," such that there is plenty of chronological overlap that occurs. Chapter H, for example, is titled "Rationalist-Style Architectures" and Chapter S (one of the updates to the first edition from 2002) is titled "Urban Recycling and Functional Complexity." These thematic titles attempt to make sense of the architecture as well as the urban plans impacting developments in certain periods.


[Barcelona: Modern Architecture Guide spread courtesy of Actar]

Within each chapter buildings are numbered and given either a half-page, a full-page, or a two-page spread as in Gaudi's Sagradia Familia, below. All of these entries have data (architect, address, etc.), text and a photograph, but the full-page entries also have a drawing, and the two-page spreads have more of each. In addition to these entries, many are presented four to page with just the data and a photograph. This rational organization within the chapters creates an obvious hierarchy, with important projects getting more space. All of the entries are keyed to maps that are followed by an architects index and bibliography at the back of the book.


[Barcelona: Modern Architecture Guide spread courtesy of Actar]

The structure and layout make for a thorough guide that is packed with hundreds of buildings and a good deal of insight on the physical evolution of Barcelona. The book makes me want to visit the Catalan city even more, but it would do an even better job of doing so for lots more people if Actar splurged on a four-color printing rather than just black and white. Not only would the photographs of the buildings look that much better (some are overly dark, it should be noted), so would the many regional and urban plans (spread below) that should help explain each chapter; as grays, those plans look confusing rather than helpful. Otherwise the book is an excellent (if thick, at 600 pages) guide for architects and architecture lovers heading to Barcelona.


[Barcelona: Modern Architecture Guide spread courtesy of Actar]

While Actar's guide to Barclona is meant to be held while traversing the city, the larger "dictionary" of La Défense is a guide that can be enjoyed at a distance. Rather than discussing the place's history, architecture, landscape, and politics in a geographical or manner suited to "on-the-ground" guides, the dictionary format brings it closer to Wikipedia. This comparison goes beyond the book's format or structure, as each entry is cross-referenced with other entries, allowing ever-expanding thematic readings throughout the book. One may start with the well known "Grande Arche," (first spread below) then move on to "Axis" (second spread below) then "Zone A," and so forth.


[La Défense: A Dictionary courtesy of Edition Parenthèses]

The cross-referencing enables for readings that jump around the book, rather than prioritizing a front-to-back reading of the book. Like a dictionary, the book is in alphabetical order, and like a dictionary this is to organize entries and make information easy to find. But unlike a dictionary, the entries in La Défense range from the brief to the lengthy, using text and images to paint a highly detailed picture of one of the most interesting, if least understood, parts of Paris. So much unlike the Paris that people think of when they think of Paris (and tied to that part of Paris through an invisible axis that extends to the Louvre and is bisected by the Arc de Triomphe), La Défense is ripe for a guidebook, if anything to see how it has evolved in 50 years.


[La Défense: A Dictionary courtesy of Edition Parenthèses]

The dictionary format also allows the book to be about more than just buildings. As its subtitle indicates, this is hardly a strict architecture guidebook, though the buildings and architects of La Défense play a large part in the place's evolution. The place's politics, history and territory (landscape, planning, etc.) are also explained, but so it popular culture, sociology, economics, and art. The format creates a broad canvas for what I referred to as a painting of La Défense. (It makes me wonder what other urban districts deserve a dictionary: Rome's EUR comes to mind, as does Brasilia and the lost Kowloon Walled City.) It's not surprising that of the few Edition Parenthèses books translated from French to English, this is one of them.


[La Défense: A Dictionary courtesy of Edition Parenthèses]

Barcelona: Buy from Amazon.com

La Défense: Buy from Amazon.com

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Long Island City, Land of Storage

According to the website of Storage Deluxe, the company has two facilities (of six total) in Long Island City, with two "coming soon." Their map shows a cluster of locations (3, 4 and surrounding) in a relatively small area:
[Location map from Storage Deluxe]

To give you an idea of the architectural "merits" of their buildings, here is the one at 38-01 47th Avenue:

[Photo from Storage Deluxe]

And here is the building at 39-25 21st Street:

[Photo from Storage Deluxe]

But what bugs me, and prompts me to write this post, are the two coming-soon facilities, one of them right next to the N train at 30-19 Northern Boulevard:

[Photograph by John Hill]

And one of them just a few blocks south of the 21st Street building, at 2115 Queens Plaza North:

[Photograph by John Hill]

I've noticed these buildings as steel frames for a while, but just recently their cladding has started to be tacked on, their solid and colorful panels making it clear they aren't residential or office buildings. Instead these are the buildings that serve New Yorkers otherwise incompatible tastes for lots of stuff and small apartments.

But a closer look at the construction site at 2115 Queens Plaza North (sign on the construction fince above) reveals it will serve Uovo, which specializes in fine art storage. Here is their rendering of the facility, looking southeast from 21st Street (the Queensboro Bridge can be seen in the distance):

[Rendering from Uovo]

A look at the floor plan indicates the 280,000-sf building has Managed Storage ("Uovo's open storage area is optimized for large and small artworks [in a] proprietary management system [that] maintains precise location, condition, packing and object history details."), but also Viewing Rooms ("Fully customizable, viewing rooms range from intimate 300-square-foot spaces to New York City’s largest commercial viewing room. The latter, with its 1,600 square feet of gallery space lined with 19-foot ceilings and reinforced walls, is ideal for the display of monumental works.):

[Floor plan from Uovo]

A rendering of a Viewing Room shows some museum-like conditions:

[Rendering from Uovo]

Founder Steven Guttman decided to build in Long Island City "so it would appeal to all of Manhattan. After scouting locations, it seemed that Long Island City was the most convenient, only two subway stops from the city—it’s close to Chelsea, it's close to the Upper East Side, and it's obviously close to Midtown. So that's where we chose to build." Not to mention that according to Uovo's website, "our facility is strategically located outside of the most recent FEMA flood zone."

He points out in the same article at Artspace linked above that the building is technically two buildings (note the poché wall running up and down in the floor plan above): "It's for insurance reasons—insurance companies don’t want too much art in one place."


[Rendering of reception from Uovo]

While the concept of Uovo makes sense – offering a service for art collectors in Manhattan – I can't help but think about the large-scale intrusion of it on the urban landscape of Long Island City. At 6-to-8 stories and devoid of windows, Uovo and the other building under construction by the N train are monoliths that do little to work with their surroundings. I guess this shouldn't be surprising, since the two coming-soon facilities are designed by Butz Wilbern, an architecture firm based in Falls Church, Virginia, that has completed over 45 million square feet of self storage buildings in 20 years. Yes, they designed a facility to match McLean, Virginia's streetscape standards, but here they have failed to take account the fact these two buildings are located in a city, not on a lot adjacent to an airport or some other industrial zone.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Today's archidose #767

Here are a couple photos of the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam in Schiedam, Netherlands, by MVRDV, photographed by Klaas Vermaas.





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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Today's archidose #766

Here are some photos of the Archi-Box 6 in Wrocław, Poland, by Mikołaj Smoleński with Grzegorz Kaczmarowski, photographed by M Poplawski.

archibox 6: polegiwacz

archibox 6: polegiwacz

archibox 6: polegiwacz

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