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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Today's archidose #948: RCR Arquitectes

Today it was announced that Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta of RCR Arquitectes have been selected as the 2017 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates. Back in 2012 I featured their La Lira project, when I referred to them as "my new favorite architect." To celebrate today's good news, here is a sampling of their work pulled from contributions to the archidose pool on Flickr.

Les Cols Pavilions (2005) in Olot (photographs by Pablo Twose Valls):
camino de entrada
jardin contemplativo color

Sant Antoni – Joan Oliver Library, Senior Citizens Center and Cándida Pérez Gardens (2007) in Barcelona (photographs by Tiago Lopes Dias, Pablo Twose Valls, and Ziemowit Cabanek):
tunnel of light
Biblioteca San Antoni - Joan Olivier
Biblioteca San Antoni - Joan Olivier

Plaça Europa 31 Office Building (2011) in Barcelona (photographs by a.caland, Tiago Lopes Dias, and Jesus M War):
RCR Arquitectes (Aranda-Pigem-Vilalta Arquitectes) - Europa square Office Building, Barcelona
2011-01-28 at 11-48-47

Pedra Tosca Park (2004) in Les Preses (photographs by Tiago Lopes Dias):

Law Faculty (1999) at Girona University (photographs by Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI):
101007-04bn GIRONA - Facultat de Dret - RCR arquitectes
101007-06bn GIRONA - Facultat de Dret - RCR arquitectes

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Old+New Book Review: Camilo José Vergara

"Old + New" is a new series that pairs two books: one old and one new. Most of the reviews on this blog are fairly recent titles sent to me by publishers, but I wanted to expand the reviews to include older books from my library. To do so I'm using this series to review new books and, when appropriate, dig out an old book and include it as part of the review. This series does not replace my typical book reviews or book briefs or my Unpacking My Library blog; it merely expands how I present books on this blog.

Unexpected Chicagoland by Camilo José Vergara, Timothy J. Samuelson
The New Press, 2001
Hardcover, 164 pages

Detroit Is No Dry Bones: The Eternal City of the Industrial Age by Camilo José Vergara
University of Michigan Press, 2016
Flexicover, 304 pages

Camilo José Vergara is an American treasure. Educated in sociology and skilled in photography, he has spent the last four decades fusing these two fields to document parts of cities that have been, for lack of a better word, forgotten. Vergara has shot in and around Chicago, Detroit, New York and other U.S. cities, often returning to the same spots to capture their changes. Without him doing so, we'd be worse off, unable to grasp so easily how policies, economics, neglect, and other aspects of American life influence every little slice of land.

Take, for instance, the corner of Fifth Avenue and Monroe Street in Chicago, part of a late-19th-century housing development east of Garfield Park by developer Samuel Eberly Gross with architect L. Gustav Hallberg. Vergara photographed the intersection, framed by conical corners capped by turrets, back in 1981. About twenty years later he returned to the site to find the turrets gone but the rest firmly intact, if personalized over time. This example, as documented in the book Unexpected Chicagoland, which he made with historian and collaborator Tim Samuelson, isn't particularly dramatic, but it reveals the power found in Vergara's inability to abandon the places he documents; it seems as if he must return to the places his photos in order to trace their evolution.

(Rather than using Vergara's own photos, I've opted here to embed Google Street Views, in reference to the their role in his work. He writes on his website: "After the appearance of Google Maps (2005) and Google Street View (2007), these became important research tools, allowing me to revisit the locations of my photographs and to go beyond the frames of the images to explore the streets around them.")

[Fifth Avenue and Monroe Street, Chicago. Sometime between 1981 and 2000 the turrets were removed from the corner houses.]

Since Unexpected Chicagoland was published in 2001, Vergara has put out at a few more books, most recently Detroit Is No Dry Bones. With his appreciation of forgotten American cities, ruins, and urban change, Detroit is a natural canvas for the photographer, but the title is a perplexing one, at least to me. The answer is found on page 175 as well as in the book's introduction. A bit of graffiti – polished and precise – adorns a brick wall of the Ruth Chapel AME Church. It was done by Pink Pony Express, a Dutch design collective that adapted a scripture from the Book of Ezekiel by changing references of God to Detroit. Although intended to convey optimism about Detroit's resurgence, it adds some art, poetry and a healthy dose of confusion to the mix; this is fitting, since what's happening in Detroit this century is far from simple.

["Detroit Is No Dry Bones" on side of Ruth Chapel AME Church, East Kirby Street and Baldwin Street, Detroit]

Earlier in the book, which is organized into five chapters (Game Changers; Urban Fabric; Spirits of Motor City; Persistent Blight, Concentrated; and Conclusion), Vergara presents another sign of optimism, but one more literal: the word "OPTIMISMMMMMMMMM" written on the side of the People Mover in downtown. Instead of pink type, as on the side of the church, the type is white against a pink background – accompanied by a Pepsi logo. This corporate optimism is harder for me to digest, particularly since it was photographed from the Michigan Building, which adjoins the once-beautiful theater that recently served, famously, as a parking garage.

[People Mover seen from Michigan Building, Bagley Avenue at Clifford Street, Detroit]

So far this review might give the indication that Vergara's books are predominantly then-and-now documents of cities. That is not the case, though at times he does present places in that manner. Most of Detroit Is No Dry Bones is made up of standalone photographs, carefully described, located and dated. Furthermore, each chapter and its subchapters include text by Vergara that is as enjoyable to read as his photos are took look at. They put the photos in a larger context and also give background on individual photos, such as Cranbrook Academy's experimental dwelling at 2126 Prince Street. Best intentions on the part of the prestigious school's students led to erection of the house, but it quickly became a contemporary ruin and in 2015 was a canvas for Beau Stanton's graffiti art.

[Experimental House at 2126 Prince Street in 2011, before it became a canvas for graffiti]

I could probably go on and on picking out instances from Vergara's book that strike my fancy. Suffice it to say that the book is a great trip to go on, at least from the comfort of my New York City apartment. If I lived in the midst of Detroit's "no dry bones" – resurgent or not – or had a stronger attachment to the place (I've been through the city without actually stopping, most recently more than a decade and a half ago) the pleasure I have looking at and reading this book would be different. (My attachment to Chicago, having had lived there and its suburbs for most of my life, makes Unexpected Chicagoland more of a melancholy trip for me.)

But this is not giddy pleasure; it's pleasure in taking in something that was done so carefully and lovingly, and in being provoked to consider the circumstances behind the photos at the same time. Clearly Vergara loves Detroit, but he also loves the changes – for better or worse – that are visible on its streets, buildings and landscapes. He actually proposed, in 1997, that parts of Detroit's boarded-up buildings downtown be kept as urban park, an "American Acropolis." Residents didn't care for that sentiment, and they might not be fans of Detroit Is No Dry Bones either, since it is hardly a booster's view of the city. But beneath the whole I grasp a light, a signal of something new on the horizon, born from equal parts frustration and creativity.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Today's archidose #947

Here are some photos of the Kreeger Museum in Washington, DC. The building was designed by Philip Johnson and completed in 1963 as the residence of David and Carmen Kreeger. (Photograph: Mark Andre)

Kreeger Museum
Kreeger Museum
Kreeger Museum
Kreeger Museum
Kreeger Museum

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
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Sunday, February 26, 2017



Stagecraft: Models and Photos is on display at Columbia GSAPP's Arthur Ross Gallery until March 10th. The show combines models made Kenneth Frampton's students over the years and photos by James Ewing of the same. The latter appear to layer photos of the models with computer post-production, but the exhibition booklet illustrates that the backgrounds and other effects are all in-camera. Impressive and worth seeing in person.


Frank Lloyd Wright's Samuel Freeman House, Los Angeles (USA) 1924:

Le Corbusier's Pavilion des Temps Nouveaux, Paris (FR) 1937:

Jørn Utzon's Bagsværd Church, Bagsværd (DK) 1976:

Norman Foster's Renault Distribution Centre, Swindon (UK) 1982:

Peter Zumthor's Saint Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg (CH), 1988:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: Columbia in Manhattanville

Columbia in Manhattanville edited by Caitlin Blanchfield
Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2016
Paperback, 142 pages

In October 2016 I went on a press tour of the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, one of two buildings designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop that were nearing completion as part of the first phase of Columbia University's new Manhattanville campus. The timing was a bit odd, given that it and the other building, the Lenfest Center for the Arts, won't open until spring 2017. (A third Piano-designed building, the University Forum and Academic Conference Center, will open in 2018, to be followed a few years later by a pair of buildings designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.) No doubt, the tour took place before all of the expensive scientific equipment would move into the building, but it also sped up any positive reception of the project, which has been in the works as far back as 2002 (when SOM was hired to work on Columbia's expansion) and has seen its fair share of opposition and criticism. Bringing the press inside the Piano building before the students, scientists, and other users enabled us to see firsthand how well the building realizes the school's goals of using transparency and the street grid to create a neighborhood that is one with the city. Or so Columbia would like people to consider.

Jerome L. Greene Science Center

Around the time of the tour, Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, an imprint of Columbia GSAPP, published this book on the Manhattanville project. It consists of interviews with some of the key players (Renzo Piano, SOM's Marilyn Taylor et. al., Elizabeth Diller and Charles Renfro, etc.) a trio of essays, color photographs by Tom Harris, and nine "historical episodes." I started the book by reading the historical episodes, which span from 1916 to 2007 and tackle New York City's zoning, the adjacent Manhattanville Houses, mid-20th-century proposals for the area, Columbia's quashed attempt at building a gymnasium in Morningside Park, and the rezoning that allowed Columbia to move forward with its 17-acre campus.

Following that I read the interviews and then the essays. Broadly these contributions were respectfully informative and critical, and I'd say it's good to have both. With such a large, complex, longterm project, it's beneficial to hear from the key players behind the master plan and the buildings. At the same time, sociological and other criticisms are a key part of the project's history, so I'm glad to see they are not being glossed over. Steven Gregory's essay, "The Radiant University," is particularly helpful in this regard, since it questions Columbia's assertions (especially in regard to eminent domain), gives voice to displaced residents and businesspeople, and highlights some potential conflicts of interest.

Another highlight is Reinhold Martin's essay, "Made in Manhattanville," which delves below the street grid to the below-grade facilities that undergird the campus and allow services to remain out of sight. This subterranean plinth is a key element in the plan and one that seems to point to the need for the university to obtain every block bound by Broadway, 12th Avenue, 125th Street, and 133th Street. Without doing so, each building would not be united underground by a seven-story labyrinth of parking, loading, mechanical, and other services.

This huge below-grade "building" serving all of the above-grade buildings is also necessary for Piano's ideal of community and transparency, achieved by maintaining streets through the campus and visually opening up the ground floors to invite people inside. With the Greene Science Center, the public will be allowed to access parts of the ground floor, a situation that should extend to future buildings. This is a commendable aspect of Piano's and SOM's contributions, but to focus on it (as the tour did in part) is to miss many of the contested aspects of the project. This book therefore fills a void by presenting what the campus is as well as what transpired to make it happen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Today's archidose #946

Here are a few photos of Blob VB3 (2009) at the Verbeke Foundation in Kemzeke, Belgium, by dmvA Architecten. (Photograph: Klaas Vermaas)

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

AE34: Reclaimed Windows and Doors

Every now and then I come across small buildings that are an assemblage of reclaimed windows and doors fitted together like a game of Tetris. Many are like this glass house in, fittingly, Christiania, Denmark:

[Photo: seier+seier]

Or this Cabin in West Virginia by Nick Olson and Lilah Horwitz:

As much as I like the appearance of these sort of makeshift constructions, I figure any sustainability points gained in reusing old windows and doors are offset by the heat gain and loss of what I imagine to be single panes of glass. Hence these elements are better suited for interiors, as in Studio Boot in 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, by Studio Boot + Hilberink Bosch Architecten:

Or temporary installations, as in Bow-House in Heerlen, Netherlands, by Malka Architecture:

But easily the most ambitious project I've come across with the architectural element of reclaimed windows and doors is the Collage House in Mumbai, India, by S+PS Architects:

[Photo: Sebastian Zachariah]

Much like Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu appropriate tiles from demolished buildings for their campus structures in China, the folks at S+PS have incorporated old windows and doors from demolished buildings in Mumbai. According to Domus, where I spotted this project, the incorporation of historical elements doesn't end at the walls at the front of the house: "Hundred-year-old columns from a dismantled house bring back memories ... One finds use of recycled materials like old textile blocks, flooring made out of old Burma teak rafters and purlins, colonial furniture, fabric waste (chindi)."

[Photo: Sebastian Zachariah]

With such a strong visual statement on the street, the use of old windows and doors is as much a political expression as it is about building green.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Today's archidose #945

Here is a photo of Richard Meier's The Hague City Hall & Central Library adorned with a Piet Mondrian-esque mural as part of a celebration of 100 years of De Stijl. (Photograph: Happy Hotelier)

_DSC8371a City Hall The Hague

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Review: The Future Architect's Tool Kit

The Future Architect's Tool Kit by Barbara Beck
Schiffer, 2016
Hardcover, 48 pages

This "tool kit" geared to children ages 8 to 12 is a companion to architect Barbara Back's earlier The Future Architect's Handbook. Although I don't have that book, it appears that Beck builds upon the basics outlined in that book and includes materials for doing hands-on exercises. Specifically those materials are (as seen above) a pencil, a pad of gridded paper, a scale, and an eraser. The Handbook presented drawings of a house by fictional architect Aaron, and in turn the Tool Kit enables kids to design their own house.

Chapter one of the 48-page Tool Kit book is a review of the drawing conventions (plans, sections, elevations) described in the previous book; depending on how well a child grasps the idea, he or she might not even need the Handbook. From there Beck guides the "future architects" through the design of a house, from the site to bubble diagrams to programming to drawing plans and sections, to even building a model (spread above). Everything is basic, but that is fine. The book is not aiming for the next Robie House; instead it tries to give kids an understanding of representation and spatial thinking, and it does a good job in doing so.

That said, I must admit that there are challenges to the conventional ways of designing and representing buildings that Beck presents, particularly in regards to preteens. My eight-year-old daughter was none too excited to tackle designing a house following Beck's book, but I was blown away by the creations she made in Minecraft, which she was more than happy to play around with. That game, in which players shape environments by stacking various types of blocks, benefits from many things, especially it being first-person. That means users see the spaces they create as they create them. There is no translation from idea to 2D drawing to 3D model and beyond. (No wonder Bjarke Ingels contends that "architecture should be more like Minecraft.") With today's digital natives more comfortable with 3D graphics than pencils and paper, maybe it's time for Beck (or somebody else) to develop a digital tool kit for this generation of future architects.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Little Free Libraries

Chronicle Books, with Little Free Library and AIASF, has announced the winners of its Little Free Library Design competition. They received 300 submissions from 40 countries and selected three winners:

Judges' Choice*
Owlie by Bartosz Bochynski of FUTUMATA, London

Chronicle Books' Choice
Rachel Murdaugh of Clark Nexsen, Asheville, North Carolina

Stewards' Choice
Tree of Knowledge by CIRCLE (Ryo Otsuka, Lin Zihao), Tokyo

*Judges included Todd H. Bol and the staff of Little Free Library, Kevin Lippert of Princeton Architectural Press, Dan Cohen of Gramming for Good, Brett Randall Jones of David Baker Architects, Christina Jenkins of Project H Design, Renée Elaine Sazcı of AIASF, and the team at Snøhetta's San Francisco office.