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Monday, January 22, 2018

Book Review: MONU #27

Reviewed by Claudia Consonni

When reading MONU’s issue #27 on Small Urbanism, the exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, curated by Emilio Ambasz in 1972 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, immediately came to my mind. The link between the two arose from the attention that both give to objects and small things, and their relationship to the bigger scale and the environment. This is why I want to talk about the new issue of MONU through a comparison that aims at showing the similarities between the magazine and the exhibition.

[Cover from the catalogue of Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, 1972]

First, a brief introduction of the exhibition is necessary to understand the importance of the objects in the case at hand, and consequently to appreciate the link with MONU. I found a statement by Ambasz particularly exhaustive in this regard: “When I started the exhibition I knew nothing about Italian design.” He admitted further, “I had read a few magazines and seen beautiful products, so I said we should have an exhibition. It was only when I got to Italy that it became evident to me that the designers were making objects, but thinking of environments.” To demonstrate this, Ambasz commissioned a series of prototype environments, installations that would reflect upon changing domestic living patterns within contemporary society, while also facilitating the exploratory use of new materials and multimedia technology.

[Scenes from Italy: The New Domestic Landscape at MoMA, 1972 | Photos: Cristiano Toraldo di Francia]

Hence, MoMA’s show shifted the center of the discussion from production and technique to symbols and social critique, as it was encapsulated in the keywords with which Ambasz chose to define contemporary design: “landscape,” “environment,” “media,” “counter-design,” and “politics.” What emerged from the exhibition was the power of the small objects that became a cultural tool for contesting, reforming and acting on the city.

Moreover, the exhibition’s catalogue included a quote from the famous children's book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, which reminds us how important it is to take responsibilities for our actions and also that every small thing has a responsibility itself. In the first page, we read:
“You become responsible, forever, for what you have domesticated.”
“What does that mean — 'domesticated'?”
“It is an act too often neglected. It means to establish bonds.”
“Please domesticate me,” said the fox.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied.
“But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one domesticates,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things already made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so we have no friends any more. If you want a friend, domesticate me…”
“What must I do, to domesticate you?” asked the little prince.
“…One must observe the proper rites…” “What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”
Contrary to convention, the objects in the Italy exhibition were displayed in the natural setting of MoMA’s sculpture garden, while the environments were shown within the institutional spaces of the museum’s galleries. This curatorial decision was an attempt to almost cancel any sense of hierarchy between exhibited objects and environments, and to focus rather on their interaction with visitors.

[Spiked platforms under overpasses, China | Photo courtesy of Daily Mail]

Also in MONU #27, some articles focused on the relationship between the small-scale objects and the environment. Indeed, “The Democracy of Objects” by the American philosopher Levi Bryants, talks about something similar. In an interview with Bernd Upmeyer, he says that “every object is a crowd!” As a result, we should not treat the smaller elements of an object as subordinated to the larger scale object. Instead, they are on equal footing. He also added that how we design things (even the smallest ones, like a toilet door, a bench, or an overpass for example) makes a real difference in our lives socially and politically, and we should be attentive in managing this kind of power because every small object has a significant function and we are responsible for it.

Such things regarding physical elements were central also in “A Matter of Zooming,” Bernd Upmeyer’s interview with Stephan Petermann from the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). The main focus of the interview is on OMA’s “Elements of Architecture” project at the 2014 Venice Biennale. In regards to Small Urbanism, I found the research on the door, the window, and the balcony extremely interesting — particularly the balcony. Petermann describes the balcony as the physical platform between the public and private realm, so it seems to be an incredibly powerful tool for urban politics. (These days we can also see Twitter as a balcony.)

Additionally, Petermann says that by focusing on these small elements it is possible to uncover the extremely complex interplay of technology, art, culture, economy and politics in great detail. Furthermore, the responsibility of these objects is to engage with a type of deeper understanding of the fundamentals of architecture and consequently of the fundamentals of urbanism. As Petermann declared, urbanism is not separate from elements because every element has an urbanistic consequence.

[The “Balcony” room from “Elements of Architecture” at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale | Photo: Giorgio de Vecchi]

Another relationship between MONU’s new issue and the MoMA exhibition can be found in the role played by small technologies. It is interesting to know that to accompany the installations at MoMA, each designer was asked to produce a film that would demonstrate their environment’s vulnerability. Together, the environments and films refined the potential for domestic spaces to fundamentally influence inhabitants’ thoughts and actions. Small technology tools can be very powerful and useful to, and responsible for, changing spaces and their understanding.

In the MONU article “All the small things,” Benedetta Marani tries to demonstrate the strength of the information and communication technologies within the city. Her essay shows how the web has become the new arena of discussion and has often been used as a channel for participatory processes for urban public spaces. These new discussion arenas have become responsible for small-scale interventions and have had the power to change the use of city spaces with a virtuous impact on the daily life in neighborhoods.

Furthermore, we can consider the MoMA exhibition as a small initial action itself, one that had a great echo in the following years and which still exerts an influence. Originally intended to travel to museums across the United States, the exhibition opened for a single summer in New York before being dismantled and returned to Italy. Yet, despite the brevity of its public presentation, the show became a benchmark for future architecture and design exhibitions. “It’s the great ‘myth’ of design curating,” explains Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, “the show that my generation never saw, but thanks to the catalogue, and the title we regularly refer to it.” The catalogue of Italy: the New Domestic Landscape had a great impact in the following years both in Italian and American academic circles because it was the first book which attempted to chart the cultural complexity of an emerging design culture.

[Febrik, Drawing work in the studio (Play space 2005,Burj El Barajneh refugee camp, Lebanon) | Photo: Febrik]

In MONU magazine’s new issue, I found a similar procedure related to “small initial actions” that can have a big impact on a larger scale. For example, in the article “Urbanism for Refugees,” Fabio Micocci shows how small tactical actions carried out in a refugee camp in Lebanon are helpful in establishing pilot projects that could devise new procedures for the future; reshaping and adapting urban design principles to the new context of the global movement of people. Micocci touches on a crucial issue: the “right to space,” or rather space as a process of re-appropriation. Re-appropriation in this case means actions of participation in a process that involves children and adults to ensure identification with and belonging to the space. On a larger scale, “Right to space” means “Right to the city” (Henri Lefebrve, 1968).

We can consider the right to the city as the right to change and reinvent the city according to our needs. Moreover, it is a collective rather than an individual right, since rebuilding the city inevitably depends on the exercise of a common power over the processes of urbanization. The freedom to build and rebuild cities and ourselves is one of the most precious human rights — yet it is also one of the most neglected. To claim the right to the city means to claim the power to give shape to the processes of urbanization, to the ways in which our cities are built and rebuilt, and to do it in a radical way — starting from the small things.

Claudia Consonni recently graduated from Politecnico di Milano. She also obtained a master in Architecture and Museography at Accademia Adrianea in Rome. During the past two years she has been collaborating as teaching assistant at the design studio held by Lorenzo Degli Esposti that is focused on urban planning and public spaces. Since 2017, she is a member of the research collective GruppoTorto.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Closing Soon

A trio of exhibitions I visited last week: three of them are closing within the next week, while the third one closes next month. All are worth the effort.

Closes Monday, January 22
falkeis.architects: active energy building

Austrian Cultural Forum New York
11 East 52nd Street
Open M-F 3-5pm by appointment only (via email in link)

There's a double appeal to this small exhibition: learning about the design, research, and construction of the Active Energy Building in Lichtenstein, designed by Austrian architects Anton Falkeis and Cornelia Falkeis-Senn; and seeing the 11th floor of Raimund Abraham's Austrian Cultural Forum. Instead of walking inside the building and taking a few steps to the public galleries on the lower floors, one must take an elevator ride to see the drawings, model, and photos of the Active Energy Building. Tucked in the building's tapered section between the ACFNY's offices and the apartment of ACFNY director Christine Moser, it's a trip most people will never take.

Falkeis.architects' Active Energy Building is billed as "an energy autonomous building producing more energy that it consumes." In our age of climate change and dwindling resources, this should really be the goal of all buildings. Theirs does it through two systems: "PV-tracking systems and PCM-climate wings, part of a moving building envelope, harvest solar and interstellar radiation for controlling the building climate." Solar radiation is harvested for energy production and heating, while interstellar radiation (something I'm not familiar with) is harvested for cooling. Architecturally, the building's most attention-getting features are the movable PV panels on the roof and facade; their orientation is adjusted every five minutes.

After the exhibition closes at ACFNY, it will head to California and then to Germany (venues TBD).

Closes Friday, January 26
All the Queens Houses

The Architectural League of New York
594 Broadway, Suite 607
Open Fridays 2-6pm (Free. No reservations required.)

Originally set to close in December, this popular exhibition of architect/artist Rafael Herrin-Ferri's photographs of houses in the city's most diverse borough was extended for another month. It's located in the Architectural League offices and therefore is only open to the public one day a week, and for just four hours. Two long walls astride some conference tables are filled with a grid of photos; most of them are small, but a few are larger and call attention to themselves. Herrin-Ferri's photos are primarily frontal, recalling the documentarian photos of Bernd and Hilla Becher – even the skies over the Queens houses are gray, like the skies of Germany in the earlier photos.

The exhibition comes out of Herrin-Ferri's ongoing project of documenting the borough's quirky residential architecture, which he presents on his All the Queens Houses blog. He described his process to the League's Emily Schmidt in a 2015 interview: "I worried that I would miss something, maybe the best example of a classic Queens building type, if I didn’t go street by street. So I decided to be very systematic and do a house-by-house-style survey." While this seems to align his project with the spate of the "All the ___" books floating around, the name of the blog and exhibition is closer to Humpty Dumpty: "All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again." Herrin-Ferri recognizes the borough's quirkiness as attempts at making buildings more livable – and in the process making individual statements and attracting the attention of the curious through his efforts.

Until Friday, February 16
Five Artists + Architecture

Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, CCNY
141 Convent Avenue
M-F 9am-5pm

The exhibition now occupying the atrium of my alma mater's Spitzer School of Architecture presents the work of five faculty artists "that illustrate the dynamic relationship between art and architecture." The works on display include Alan Feigenberg's photographs of people in the built environment, Danial Hauben's paintings of the Bronx, David Judelson's geometric sculptures, Irma Ostroff's colorful abstract paintings, and Albert Vecerka's professional and personal photographs of buildings. The show was curated by Lance Jay Brown, professor at CCNY.

Of the five artists, I had the most familiarity with Vecerka beforehand, both his commissioned work for architects like Weiss/Manfredi (their new building at Cornell Tech is in the show) and his personal documentation of Manhattanville during its transformation into a new campus for Columbia University. The photographer lives and has a studio nearby, in Harlem, a neighborhood he has documented extensively and also displays here. But circumstances led him to photograph the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia over a dozen years ago. Those photos, anchored by a huge print (below), stand out from the rest of his work. A 19th-century ruin (open to the public) rather than a new building or piece of urban vernacular, the former prison illustrates how the world is an open canvas open to the artistic gaze – be it these five artists or any others.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Book Review: Green Heart Marina One Singapore

Green Heart Marina One Singapore—Architecture for Tropical Cities by ingenhoven architects
Aedes Architecture Forum, 2017
Paperback, 124 pages

While in Berlin last November, ingenhoven architects' "Green Heart" was on display at the Aedes Architecture Forum. Although I didn't make it to the exhibition, I did manage to get my hands on the catalogue about the amazing Marina One project in Singapore. I'm reviewing it now since the Prime Minsters of Malaysia and Singapore officially opened the project this week.

The title, "Green Heart," refers to the green space that sits at the heart of the mixed-use project that is made up of four towers with commercial, office, and residential uses. It's an amazing project that reminds me of the work of Singapore's own WOHA, though on an even-bigger scale. The buildings of both ingenhoven and WOHA in Singapore make it clear that density and vegetation go hand in hand in building sustainably.

As my subpar photos above show, Green Heart is not a typical book: it is prefaced by an extensive gatefold that illustrates the project's green features on one side and project credits on the other side. Moving from the growth of worldwide population and the development of Singapore to the cooling aspects of Marina One and designing for tropical living, this illustrated strip pulls one aspect of the exhibition – a light table – into the realm of the book.

What follows is more traditional, but not necessarily less informative: a lengthy interview with architect Christoph Ingenhoven, plenty of drawings and photographs, and interviews with Michael Ngu (architects61, local architect), Siew Leng Fun (Urban Redevelopment Authority), Kemmy Tan (M&S Private, client), and landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson (Gustafson, Porter + Bowman). Most illuminating are the interviews with Ingenhoven and Gustafson, the main design forces behind the buildings and landscape that cohere into a remarkable statement.

Those interested in purchasing the catalogue should visit the Aedes Architecture Forum website.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Heritage Trails NY, 20 Years Later

As an extension of its exhibition, MILLENNIUM: Lower Manhattan in the 1990s, the Skyscraper Museum has launched an update of Heritage Trails New York, a "digital reconstruction [of] a landmark public history project focused on lower Manhattan of the mid-1990s."

[All images via Skyscraper Museum]

The "Digital Trail" uses the original Van Dam Heritage Trails map (above) and then places the original entries (below left) and updated entries (below right) next to the map. The interactive page illustrates the changes that happened in Lower Manhattan in a relatively short amount of time – a period marked by the destruction of September 11 and the area's subsequent recovery, as well as more and more people moving into the area.

In addition to the interactive map, which works on mobile devices but is best seen on laptops and other large screens, the Skyscraper Museum created a Heritage Trails Archive. The latter is necessary, given how the physical markers spread about the area (below) have been modified and/or removed since 2000. As the archive describes it: "History is rewritten often, both by historians and by subsequent events. The brief life of Heritage Trails New York, though, was surprisingly short-lived given the considerable energy, talent, and funds expended on it." That energy is regained with the equally large effort to update the map entries, digitize it, and make it available for for the smartphone-wielding throngs descending on Lower Manhattan.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Today's archidose #991

Here are a couple photos of the Agricultural Rehabilitation Center KRUS "Granit" (1981) in Szklarska Poręba, Poland, by Stefan Janusz Müller. (Photos: M. M. Czarnecki)


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

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Due Spring 2019

Last month I signed the contract for my next book with Prestel, tentatively titled NYC Walking Tours. Due to be released in spring 2019, the book collects eight architectural walking tours (plus two new ones) that I've been giving for the last six years for the 92Y and other institutions in and around New York City.

In some ways the new book will be like an update of my first book, Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture (W. W. Norton, 2011), whose 22 chapters were organized as suggested walking routes. NYC Walking Tours will feature numerous buildings and landscapes from that book but many more that have been completed since then. Due to its structure and length, it will not be as comprehensive as my first book, and it will be more explicit in the routes – where to go, and what to look at. And of course, it will be compact and easy to carry around.

This image (something I quickly mocked up and certainly NOT the cover for the book) is a case in point: my High Line tour involves getting off the elevated park to look at a few buildings up close, including Shigeru Ban's Metal Shutter Houses, whose duplex units sit behind its namesake shutters and garage-door-like walls of glass. Other tours head to Billionaire's Row, the Bowery, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Columbia University, and Roosevelt Island, among other parts of the city where a density of new architecture warrants a walk.

I'm not posting this news here to toot my own horn. Rather, if you see posts that are a bit NYC-heavy in the next few months as I finish the manuscript...well, now you know why.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A305 at CCA

Followers of this blog probably know I like architecture documentaries, such as ACB's informative half-hour features on modern and contemporary buildings. In 2016 I blogged about some overlap between those docs and my book 100 Years, 100 Buildings, but many of them were removed from YouTube after ACB's account was terminated. (I found versions of those docs elsewhere, but many embeds in that post are still broken.)

A series of architecture documentaries that shouldn't have that issue is A305, aka "History of Architecture and Design 1890–1939." According to the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which is posting the series on their YouTube channel, "Between 1975 and 1982, The Open University broadcast a series of televised courses on the genealogy of the modern movement: A305, History of Architecture and Design 1890–1939. Through twenty-four programs aired on BBC 2, the course team aimed to offer students and viewers a critical understanding of the intentions and views of the world that fueled the modern movement, and to present some of the alternative traditions that flourished alongside it."

As part of its exhibition, The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture (15 November to 1 April), the CCA is posting one episode per week. There are eight to date, all embedded below. As more are added to their channel, I'll embed those below. The next one will be tomorrow, so if you like the episodes, check back here every Friday for another one.

A305/01: What Is Architecture? An Architect at Work:

A305/02: The Universal International Exhibition, Paris, 1900:

A305/11 (thematically combined with 02): The International Exhibition of Decorative Arts Paris 1925:

A305/03: Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Hill House:

A305/04: Industrial Architecture: AEG and Fagus Factories:

A305/05: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Robie House:

A305/06: R. M. Schindler: The Lovell Beach House:

A305/07: Erich Mendelsohn: The Einstein Tower:

A305/12: Adolf Loos:

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Book Review: OfficeUS Manual

OfficeUS Manual edited by Eva Franch, Ana Miljački, Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, Jacob Reidel, Ashley Schafer
Lars Müller Publishers, 2017
Paperback, 288 pages

In my first job in an architecture office right out of school, one of the first things I was given – before I even had my own desk – was an employee handbook. A photocopied, spiral-bound booklet, the handbook delved into the details of what was expected from me as an employee: in terms of attire, sick days, performance, smoking (none, a new rule at the time), timesheets, billing, CAD standards, and so on and so on. The manual increased over time as the 50-person firm I joined more than doubled in a short amount of time. Over that time it functioned as a means of indoctrinating new employees and providing old employees with updates. I never imagined it to be more than a dry guide to office life, something that every office has. In the hands of the Storefront for Art and Architecture and others office manuals like this one offer fascinating glimpses into the architecture profession in the United States.

[Spread from OfficeUS Manual showing office plans]

OfficeUS Manual is the third book produced out of Storefront's curation (with MIT and Praxis) of the US Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. That year, Rem Koolhaas was director of the Biennale, and he unified the normally divergent national pavilions under one theme: "Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014." Storefront focused on the imperial ambitions of US firms, tracing 100 years of American firms building overseas. I'm not familiar with OfficeUS Agenda, the exhibition's catalog, but OfficeUS Atlas, which I reviewed in 2015, is a hefty book with archived publications and profiles of the many firms working overseas. OfficeUS Manual delves into the inner-workings of some of these firms through that often overlooked document, the employee handbook.

[Spread from OfficeUS Manual showing CAD conventions]

Compared to Atlas, Manual is much more fun – at least for architects. Sure, the various clippings from the office manuals of Bertrand Goldberg, Richard Neutra, Venturi and Rauch, Höweler + Yoon, [redacted], and many others are accompanied by new, often academic essays (most of them short); but the focus is on the clippings from manuals, grouped into 71 topics. Overtime: "Although it is in everyone's best interest to complete work during regular business hours, the nature of the profession of architecture sometimes makes this impossible." Procrastination: "Any architectural office in a major western city keeps a parrot in the drafting room ... [screaming] at the employees below: 'WORK! WORK! WORK!'" Office Attire and Decorum: "Each member of the studio will be issued Office Slippers." Correspondence: "'Slang' should not be used in any written form of correspondence including email."

I could go on with the examples, but it should be clear that half the fun is relating the selected quotes to one's own experiences, be it from a similar time or many decades ago. But with only 288 pages and much of the real estate taken up by the new essays and stills from a specially commissioned film (Amie Siegel's The Architects) that peeks into architecture offices, I can only empathize with the work of the editors. Wading through thousands of pages in manuals to find the most incisive, controversial, and often humorous lines to put into the book – that is not a task I would wish on my enemies. So kudos to the editors for their work and finding a way to present and make sense of an important but overlooked element of architectural production.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

AIA's 25-Year Award for 2018 goes to...

...Nada. Zilch. That's right, for the first time in its nearly 50-year history, the AIA is not giving out a Twenty-five Year Award. I learned that news at Architect magazine and then wrote about it for World-Architects, where I couldn't help wonder what was submitted – and what wasn't.

Were these buildings submitted?

Head on over to World-Architects to read my thoughts on this year's no-Twenty-five Year Award.