Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review: The Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure

The Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure by Kelly Shannon and Marcel Smets
NAi Publishers, 2010
Hardcover, 272 pages

As I type this review, up to 100,000 barrels per day is being discharged into the Gulf of Mexico after a deepwater oil well blowout about a month ago. The disastrous incident brings to the fore a number of concerns, including how infrastructure -- the industrial backbone that enables a country or region to function -- is maintained and improved. The term infrastructure, popularized by now President Obama in his election campaign (PDF link) and subsequent stimulus spending, encompasses a number of types, from oil wells and other federally subsidized utilities to systems for the movement of people and goods. They all have in common a reliance upon the construction of past generations, over 100 years ago in cases like railroads. New construction, in addition to increased maintenance of existing infrastructure, is needed to address aging structures and today's environmental concerns.

Ideally infrastructure is seen as more than just the functioning of different systems, as the US and other countries move forward with improvements and new construction; it should be embraced as an important expression of a culture. In other words infrastructure should be beautiful as well as functional, it should improve the natural and human landscape of all, not just a few. The cover of this book, which focuses on one aspect of infrastructure -- transportion -- expresses the antithesis of such an approach: acres of asphalt alongside railways may efficiently move goods from point A to B, but these areas take up a huge amount of land, are disconnected from their natural surroundings, and are the equivalent of monoculture crops, destined for long-term failure from a lack of diversity and disrespect for the land they use. This book "investigates how the design of infrastructure actively influences the organization of the inhabited landscape...and suggest a typology of design attitudes as revealed in recent practices around the world." It proposes ways of moving forward by presenting the best of what is being done today.
The authors approach case studies of transportation infrastructure by placing them in one of four categories: Imprints of Mobility on the Landscape, Physical Presence in the Landscape, Perception of Landscape through Movement, and Infrastructure as Public Space. These chapters clearly shy away from typological categorizations (railroads, highways, etc.) in favor of the different ways infrastructure and landscape interact. Within each chapter further distinctions are created, so usually a handful of case studies are presented together. But separations among these groupings are vague (is there really a strong difference between the third chapter's "Montage of Distinctive Sequences" and "Constructing a Cinematographic Itinerary"?), with projects able to fit into more than one. Regardless the categories and subcategories allow the authors to explore a variety of issues and stances of how infrastructure and landscape relate. Perhaps the most important is the final chapter, where landscape becomes public space. As infrastructure infiltrates cities and vice-versa, and as aging infrastructure gives way to new uses, it is important to envision how spaces can be given over for the larger public. Projects like the Yokohama Ferry Terminal might become templates for a future where infrastructure and public space meld, where one cannot exist without the other. This and other designs collected in these pages highlight the best approaches to contemporary infrastructure design, creating an infectious optimism rooted in the combination of beauty and practicality.
US: Buy from CA: Buy from UK: Buy from

Quay Housing

Quay Housing in Zierikzee, Netherlands by Kingma Roorda Architects

Text and images are courtesy Kingma Roorda Architects of Rotterdam; photographs are by René de Wit / Kingma Roorda Architects.

This project, situated just west of the historic center of Zierikzee, links up the existing neighborhood Poortambacht to the historic town. As a reaction to the specific character of the site and as a response to today’s diverging lifestyles, the design for this new quay, parallel to a canal, is a reinterpretation of the quay typologies that can be found through the provinces of Zeeland and Holland.

The colorful metal-clad apartment buildings stand out in the adjacent sea of individual quay houses we designed earlier. Both buildings, one at the end of the Singelkade and one midway the Kanaalkade [images featured here], interrupt the quay houses. For the design of the buildings we looked at old commercial warehouses in trading cities such as Venice, Bergen, New York and Zierikzee. Like prominent Venetian families who wished to distinguish themselves with obstinate palaces, both buildings are independent building volumes. The colors and the simple shape of the windows were borrowed from Bergen’s colorful warehouse architecture. The stately Venetian palazzo is fused with the sturdy Scandinavian warehouse.

At the outside both buildings present themselves as members of one family by their signature. Inside, the buildings offer a great variety of floor plans through their specific position on the quay. The design’s aim was to give a stately expression to this collective of apartments under one roof. We have pursued a signature that distinguishes itself as much as possible from the quay houses. It was of prime importance to make his difference as large as possible.

To heighten the design’s plasticity, the façades of the buildings were elaborated by means of a partly self-supporting grid of large thresholds and thin columns made out of aluminum. This grid-like surface relief seeks to nuance the contrast between the small size of the houses and the large size of the apartment buildings. Appearing only on the public sides of the buildings the framework underlines the dignity of the buildings. Through the coastal sunlight the filmy grid creates a vivid image of the building. While the buildings are prominently present at the quays, it is possible to look far away over the area from the upper floors. Here the view goes over the seawall to the Zeeland Bridge, towards the Oosterschelde.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Geotaggers' World Atlas

This is one of fifty a hundred maps marking geotagged Flickr and Picasa photos in cities. Here, obviously, is New York City. Clusters abound towards the Statue of Liberty, near the World Trade Center site, from the Brooklyn Heights promenade, on the High Line, in Central Park, at the United Nations and in most of Midtown south of the park. No surprises. The other cities are here.

(via Coudal)

Book Review: Behaviorology

The Architecture of Atelier Bow-Wow: Behaviorology by Atelier Bow-Wow
Rizzoli, 2010
Hardcover, 304 pages


Japanese architects Atelier Bow-Wow are known as much for the books they produce as for the houses they design. The two outputs are inextricably linked -- the former researching the urban conditions of Tokyo, where the duo lives, and the latter a fairly direct product of such research on hybrid conditions, small buildings and so forth. Made in Tokyo and Pet Architecture Guide Book are the most well-known products of their research, structured like guides but presenting unique takes on the city they call home. Behaviorology collects most of Atelier Bow-Wow's built work, art installations and their research on architecture and urbanism. In its pages one can see how the houses they've designed for themselves and other clients in Tokyo respond to the unique characteristics of the city, from its irregular plots and zoning requirements to seismic concerns and the social dynamic of families today. As well it's clear the duo's talents are not restricted to the single-family house in Tokyo, as their recent commissions take them into more diverse building types within and beyond Japan.

Alongside the documentation of Atelier Bow-Wow's output are essays by Terunobu Fujimori, Yoshikazu Nango, Meruro Washida and Enrique Walker. Each focuses on a different aspect of the practice, be it their architecture, research or installations. Fujimori's text on how their research has informed their architecture is most rewarding, extrapolating the idea of "behaviorology" set up by the architects in their introduction. In it he recalls "modernologist" Wajiro Kon, an architect who observed the city to such a great extent he left the profession to devote all his time to inquiries into temporary shelters and other modern phenomena. The author also discusses his own Roadway Observation Society (ROJO), practitioners of the "eccentric gaze," which Atelier Bow-Wow certainly embodies. Yet the duo have managed to observe and design, something neither Kon nor ROJO could manage. When we look beyond Japan today we find a plethora of practices balancing design and research -- Interboro, LAR, MAS Studio, to name a few -- a sign of the complexity of conditions today and the efforts to make sense of even a small portion of them. What sets Atelier Bow-Wow apart from many of their research/practice contemporaries is their sense of humor, their ability to find and express the absurd inherent in the places they study and build.

What is missing from this monograph on the Japanese duo are their distinctive and highly detailed drawings found in both their research and design work. Focusing instead on a photographic presentation of their architecture, one needs to use Graphic Anatomy as a companion to Behaviorology; in many cases the photos actually coincide with views penned beforehand. While the presentation of their architecture is therefore incomplete, the photographs do a very good job of conveying the spatial qualities of the primarily residential work; the inclusion of inhabitants in the photos is particularly helpful and refreshing. The photos work well with the large-format of the book, a well-made document of a practice that will surely continue to surprise.

US: Buy from CA: Buy from UK: Buy from

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Today's archidose #421

2010 02 05 vila hermina c, originally uploaded by david pasek.

Villa Hermína in Černín, Czech Republic by HŠH architekti, 2010. See architektur.aktuell for an article on the building by David Pasek (in German, in English here) with photos of the interior.

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:

:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool, and/or
:: Tag your photos archidose

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Does this graphic really surprise anyone?

[Comparison of Manhattan and Walmart built areas (slightly modified) | image source]

The above is from Jesse LeCavalier's essay "All Those Numbers" at Places: Design Observer. In it, the architect investigates "the design possibilities latent not only in Walmart’s building types but also in the organizational practices — especially its unparalleled expertise in logistics." LeCavalier's essay is recommended for clearly explaining how Walmart works, its number-centric approach that makes it so BIG but also so fiercely loathed by supporters of the local, especially in cities. This last frontier, the urban market, is partly the focus of LeCavalier's piece. And while I can't say I agree with an investigation of how the retailer can be successful in cities, the power, influence and willfulness of Walmart is certainly something to be considered, not ignored.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Book Review: The Three Little Pigs

The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale by Steven Guarnaccia
Abrams, 2010
Hardcover, 32 pages

In the oft-told tale where three little pigs build their own houses of straw, sticks and bricks, it's clear which house withstands the hungry wolf attempts to "blow your house in." But what if the houses were more complex in their design, more modern, and were designed by famous architects, who would prevail? Steven Guarnaccia retells the story with Frank Gehry, Philip Johnson and Frank Lloyd Wright as the pigs, again striking out on their own "to make their way in the world." The results are no less surprising, but the journey in this carefully illustrated version is a good deal of fun for children and their parents alike.
Within the architects', I mean pigs' houses are artifacts of modern design, be it a chair, rug or even coffee pot. These and many other designs litter the illustrations, creating a landscape of modernism within the familiar story. Helpful endpapers allow the designers to be known. As the parent of a two-year-old girl I can see the myriad educational opportunities, from matching images to word association and even creating stories within the story. The addition of these elements that go well beyond the inclusion of three famous names in architecture make this book not only justifiable, but highly rewarding.
US: Buy from CA: Buy from UK: Buy from

Aptos Retreat

Aptos Retreat in Aptos, California by CCS Architecture

Photographs are by Paul Dyer.

Aptos is a small community in California's Santa Cruz County, an area marked by the beauty of the mountains and the ocean. CCS Architecture found inspiration in the natural characteristics of the 20-acre site in this residential project for a family of eight, as well as tapping into the cultural history of the place in meeting the client's desire for a sustainable home. A more accurate description for the project may be a "country compound," with the inclusion of various activities: partying, cooking, tanning, swimming, archery, horseshoes, gardening, and even wood-splitting.

The project is split into two parts: a 2,800sf (260sm) Main House and a 1,600sf (150sm) Barn, with the former further separated into two overlapping pieces. The main house's "live building" houses what one would expect, living, dining and kitchen areas with a master bedroom upstairs, and the "sleep building" includes the other bedrooms and a shared bath house. As a response to the sloping site and a way to create outdoor space, the two bars create an L-shape in plan, with the live building's roof overlapping the sleep building. This overlap gives the project its strongest gesture, though one could argue that the materials give the design its character.

Reclaimed barn wood clads the exterior walls of the main house, the roofs covered with Cor-ten steel. The two materials work together wonderfully, the former variegated from what is most likely multiple sources and the latter shifting in color and intensity in the sunlight. Any staining of the wood from the rusted steel will only improve things. The barn building, a renovated warehouse which houses the recreational components of the compound, is covered entirely in the Cor-ten steel.

Interiors are primarily wood for walls and ceilings and concrete for floors. Stone and steel extend the natural palette, which includes touches like an 18-foot (5.5-meter) long slab of walnut for the kitchen countertop. Not surprisingly, given the dramatic views of the surroundings, glass walls are abundant and operable to create a more seamless connection between inside and outside. The size of both the site and the project may seem excessive, but everything is handled responsibly, especially the architectural reuse that gives the impression the house truly belongs where it sits.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Today's archidose #420

BundschuhBaumhauer @ Torstrasse 3 , originally uploaded by d.teil.

Linienstraße 40 in Berlin, Germany by BundschuhBaumhauer, 2010.

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:

:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool, and/or
:: Tag your photos archidose

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Today's archidose #419

Here are some photos of 8 House in Southern Ørestad, Copenhagen, Denmark by Bjarke Ingels Group, 2010. Photographs are by seier+seier.

bjarke ingels group, BIG, bighouse or 8-tallet, copenhagen 2006-2010

entry. bjarke ingels group, BIG, bighouse or 8-tallet, copenhagen 2006-2010

view. bjarke ingels group, BIG, bighouse or 8-tallet, copenhagen 2006-2010

descending. bjarke ingels group, BIG, bighouse or 8-tallet, copenhagen 2006-2010

kubrick moment. bjarke ingels group, BIG, bighouse or 8-tallet, copenhagen 2006-2010

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:

:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool, and/or
:: Tag your photos archidose

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sukkah City

Sukkah City: New York City is an international design-build competition "that will result in 12 radically temporary, experimental structures being constructed in Union Square Park, NYC this fall."


Some of the rules:


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SANAA Celebration

Tomorrow the New Museum is throwing open its doors for free, in celebration of SANAA's recent Pritzker Prize victory -- awarded to them in a ceremony on Monday at Ellis Island (see coveragge at ArchDaily). Not only is admission free, building tours "by experts that were on the building’s original core architecture team" will be held throughout the day. For those who cannot make it, I highly recommend Shift, a case study on the SANAA-designed building, edited by Joseph Grima and Karen Wong, published by Lars Müller. The book features interviews with many of the players giving the tours and some excellent visual documentation of the design and construction process.

[photograph by Dean Kaufman | courtesy New Museum]
Schedule of Tours:

12:30 p.m. Jonas Elding, Project Architect at SANAA for the New Museum and co-founder of the architecture firm Elding Oscarson

1:30 p.m. Brett Schneider, Project Engineer at Guy Nordenson and Associates, Structural Engineer for both SANAA’s Toledo Museum of Art and the New Museum

2:30 p.m. Toshihiro Oki, Project Architect at SANAA for both the New Museum and the Derek Lam flagship store

3:30 p.m. Maddy Burke-Vigeland, Principal at Gensler, Executive Architect for the New Museum

4:30 p.m. Justin Davidson, architecture and classical music critic of New York magazine and winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in criticism for his work as the classical music and architecture critic at Newsday

5:30 p.m. Florian Idenburg, Chief Project Architect at SANAA for the New Museum; co-founder of SO – IL; and winner of the 2010 MoMA Young Architect Program

76 Days and Counting

Pamphlet Architecture 32 announced:

Competition theme: Resilience

By addressing the capacity to cope, the ability to bounce back, and the mitigation and management of risk, proposals are welcome that showcase a fresh understanding of the possibilities and opportunities of resilience in architecture, from the large to the small scale. Whether resilience stems from natural disaster, civil conflict, global warming, catastrophe, and so on, is the applicant’s discretion. Please visit the submission site for more details.

The winner will receive a prize of $2,500 and the opportunity to have their manuscript published by Princeton Architectural Press as Pamphlet Architecture 32. The registration fee is $25 for students and $50 for professionals.

The winner will be announced in September.

Monday, May 17, 2010

NYC Imagined and Made

Last week was the opening of The City We Imagined/The City We Made, an "exhibition about architecture, planning, and development in New York since 2001" by The Architectural League now on display at 250 Hudson Street. The storefront is one short block from the new Trump SoHo Hotel, as much a symbol as any of the city's 21st-century changes. The two sides evident in the exhibition's title are presented on the inside (made) and outside (imagined) of a snaking partition of cardboard, designed by locals Moorhead & Moorhead. Both sides are thoroughly documented, the former via color-coded sheets of paper describing major developments and buildings in the decade, the latter via volunteer photographs overseen by Esto. With this layout one cannot look at the city imagined and made simultaneously, as if the League wanted a clear demarcation between the two, even though such a fine line in reality is arguable.

[The City Imagined (top) and Made (bottom) | image source]

Where the Imagined focuses on developments like Atlantic Yards or planning initiatives like Hudson Yards, Made is a for-grabs assortment of buildings and spaces around the city that veer from the mundane to the high-profile; the range is great and subtle threads are illuminated via the arrangement of photos. What can be found in the Made images that is missing in Imagined is the messy vitality of the city. This is not a surprise, since most developments -- top-down in nature -- try to eliminate the unpredictable in their presentations and focus on the final product ... if there is such a thing. The City We Made shows NYC as it always is: in continual change. Renderings of large-scale developments showcase an architecture that never happens, because plans change, the surroundings change, and designers are dropped in favor of other designers; Atlantic Yards is the best case in point.

What also comes across in the Made images is the small scale fabric of the city, something apparently at odds with the grand Imagined developments. While this fact could come down to something as small as the preference of the volunteer photographers, I think it points to the persistence of small changes in the city's various neighborhoods in the face of high-profile developments focused in a few areas of money and potential. An infill project can carry as much weight as a decked railyard in the lives of local residents. Of course one has to wonder if the developments could learn something from "the other half," if reality could inform them with the fine-grain qualities, the messy vitality and the ongoing change that is the city, breaking down the wall between the two realms.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Today's archidose #418

A couple art installations/interventions:

Vitra Design Museum
Fernando and Humberto Campana's My Home Exhibition installation on Frank Gehry's Vitra Design Museum in Weil Am Rhein, Germany, 2007.

Stadshaard Roombeek 2
Hugo Kaagman's district heating plant in Roombeek, Enschede, Netherlands, date unknown.

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:

:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool, and/or
:: Tag your photos archidose

Thursday, May 13, 2010

NYC Guidebook Find

Even though I'm immersed in the writing of my guidebook to New York City contemporary architecture, having put a kibosh on researching what buildings will be included, I still discover little gems that manage to work their way into the book. A good example of that is Peter Gluck and Partners' Urban Townhouse, which I found on the architect's web page yesterday and saw in person earlier today. (Like just about everything else to be found in my book, this house was featured on Curbed previously, though I'll admit it's hard to keep up with a site updated so frequently.) Similar to Gluck's other recent projects, the design is an exercise in random orthogonal patterning across the facade, in this case a small-scale pixelation clearly at odds with its old neighbors.


The townhouse is on East 51st Street, a pleasant street with three- and four-story buildings, steps from the towers of Midtown. Speaking with a man familiar with the area and its residents, when the house was slowly revealed with the removal of scaffolding reactions were polar: love it or hate it. This goes along with most contemporary architecture, especially when it is inserted in the historical fabric of the city.


Here the scale of the neighboring brick buildings is directly translated into the metal panels punctuated by openings about the size of a brick. The larger scale and rhythm of punched openings is eschewed in favor of a fairly monolithic reading for the facade. These metal panels, as can be seen below, sit in front of another wall with small rectangular openings.


What may appear to be merely a show by the architect is related to the townhouse's plan. With a small lot of 18' wide by 38' deep, the stairs are located along the front wall, instead of the usual location along a party wall. The stairs zig-zag up this face and act as a buffer between the public realm and the private areas of the house with more generous glazing towards the rear of the house. This zig-zag is subtly echoed by the rectangular openings and the clustering of small openings in the facade. A multi-level bookcase occupies the inside face of the street elevation.


This townhouse may look completely at odds with its surroundings, but it tries harder to relate to its neighbors than, say, Matthew Baird's Town House fronted by a single sheet of Cor-ten steel. The opposition in both is tangible, but the brick-size scale of the openings and the layered facade (something more apparent at night) are contemporary interpretations of historical precedents, be they historical or modern. Still, people will either love it or hate it regardless of its attempts (intentional or not) at finding ways to bridge old and new.