My recent posts at World-Architects


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Milstein Center Nears Completion

This week I'm busy with, among other things, preparing for a "critic's tour" of Barnard College and Columbia University that I'll be giving during next week's AIA Conference on Architecture. With that, here are some photos I took last week of the newest building on the two campuses: Barnard's Milstein Center, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The building is set to open in October.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Transport and Climate Change

Every time I fly — which amounts to three or four round trips per year — I think about how much fuel planes use to transport people and/or goods from one place to another. Combined with the fact that one plane takes off somewhere in the world once every second, I can only shake the thought out of my head lest I get paralyzed by in considering how many gallons of carbon being spewed continuously into the atmosphere. Ditto when I eat a banana — which happens most days of the week — and the thought of huge cargo ships bringing my breakfast from South America all the way to New York City.

At least I know I'm not alone. The Architectural League is putting on two "Transportation: Connection and its costs" discussions this week as part of its The Five Thousand Pound Life initiative. Both events are moderated by designer Jesse LeCavalier (author of The Rule of Logistics) and sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen. Below are details on the two discussions.

Aviation and Climate Change
Wednesday, June 13, 7pm at Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch
The development of air travel has been a primary contributor to globalization by collapsing distance and time. Since the mid-twentieth century, demand has consistently grown as flying has come to be perceived as a right of modern society. Global economies rely on transferring people, goods, and ideas with rapid speed, but what are the environmental costs of air travel?

Modern aviation is propelled by fossil fuel, consuming 5 million barrels of oil a day. The industry contributes to 2.5% of total carbon emissions and could rise to 22% by 2050 as other sectors emit less. Although aircraft are becoming more fuel-efficient and some airlines have introduced carbon offset programs, there is currently no green way to fly 8 million people a day.

As part of The Five Thousand Pound Life: Transportation series, this session will explore the future of air travel in the context of climate change. Experts in climate science, the global tourism economy, and airport design will share their work and ideas on what the possibilities are for personal and business travel with a radical reduction in greenhouse gases.

Sea Shipping and Climate Change
Thursday, June 14, 7pm at Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch
Although generally hidden from consumers, international maritime transport is the backbone of the globalized economy and accounts for approximately 2.2% of the world’s CO2 emissions. Despite its significant carbon output, international shipping and aviation emissions are not addressed by global climate-change agreements including the Paris Agreement. Greenhouse gas emissions from shipping are increasing despite improvements in operational efficiency for many ship classes and increasing emissions are being driven by rising demand for shipping and the associated consumption of fossil fuels.

The industry is likely to be affected by wide-ranging and potentially devastating climate change impacts associated with rising sea levels and increased frequency/intensity of extreme weather events. Shipping policies must be applied worldwide to be effective, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which regulates international shipping, is engaging — slowly. Last month member countries agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050, but some members believe it’s not enough to combat climate change in smaller island nations.

This session will analyze how the shipping industry impacts and will be impacted by climate change as well as where architects—and consumers – can accelerate innovation and change.

Tickets for both events can be purchased via the event links above.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Book Review: Cook's Camden

Cook's Camden: The Making of Modern Housing by Mark Swenarton
Lund Humphries, 2017
Hardcover, 328 pages

Back at the end of 1999 I took a trip with my family to London for the millennium festivities. Each day I would venture around the city looking at architecture and then join my family for dinner at a pub near the hotel. Most of my day outings focused on newer buildings, such as the Jubilee Line stations and Future Systems' Natwest Media Center, but one of the older buildings I went to see was Alexandra Road Estate, a housing project designed by Neave Brown and completed in 1979. (It's near Abbey Road, making it a two-in-one visit for architects that are fans of the Beatles.) The project is most noticeable for the long, curving concrete terraces facing a pedestrian walk, depicted on the cover of Cook's Camden, an impressive history of modern housing projects built in that corner of London under Camden borough architect Sydney Cook. Although the book tells the stories of numerous projects undertaken by different architects under Cook in the 1960s and 70s, Neave Brown's presence dominates, given that its release last year happened to coincide with the awarding of the RIBA Gold Medal to Brown, who died earlier this year at the age of 88.

In turn, having only visited Alexandra Road, my reading of the book focused on it and Brown's slightly earlier Fleet Road project (spread below). There was some overlap between the two projects in terms of approaches to stacking, unit plans, and shared outdoor spaces, but the impact of Alexandra Road has been more lasting. It was given Grade II* listing status in 1993 (Fleet Road, aka Dunboyne Road Estate, was listed later, in 2010) and its park -- also a notable work of architecture designed with Janet Jack, which I included in 100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs -- was restored just a few years ago. The latter is significant since it was spearheaded by residents, signifying the appreciation of the estate by those who live there, not just by fans of modern architecture or architectural historians like Mark Swenarton.

Three of the book's twelve chapters are devoted to Brown and Alexandra Road. Two of them tell the in-depth stories of Fleet Road and Alexandra Road estates, while the third is titled "Politics versus architecture: the Alexandra Road public enquiry of 1978-81." (An appendix also reprints Neave Brown's "The Form of Housing" essay from 1967.) This last chapter, the book's eleventh, digs into why such a lauded project -- both at the time of its inception in the late 1960s and its listing three decades later -- was seen in in interim as a "constructional disaster." One product of the three-year inquiry was the near-impossibility for Brown to gain work in the UK, even though the protracted inquiry exonerated him; his subsequent notable projects were located in the Netherlands. Those drawn to Brown after his RIBA Gold Medal award will find much to learn in Swenarton's book, though it's also recommended to architects who prefer dense low-rise housing to the residential high-rises that tend to garner more attention today.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Biennale Slideshow

Below is a slideshow of 234 photos from my trip to Venice last month for the 2018 Biennale. The photos move from the International Architecture Exhibition, FREESPACE, in the Arsenale to the same in the Central Pavilion, the national pavilions in the Giardini, some collateral events, and finally the first Holy See participation in the form of chapels on San Giorgio Maggiore.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Book Briefs #36: Biennale Publications

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with short first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews (though some might go on to get that treatment), but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than can find their way into reviews on this blog. This installment features a half-dozen books I picked up at the Venice Biennale last month.

Architectural Ethnography edited by Momoyo Kaijima, Laurent Stalder, Yu Iseki | Toto | 2018 | Amazon
I'm a big fan of the books of Momoyo Kaijima and Atelier Bow-Wow. I came across Made in Tokyo and Pet Architecture Guide Book many years ago and have since been lucky enough to obtain a few of their monographs and their amazing Graphic Anatomy. One thing linking much of their printed output is drawing, which is most pronounced in the guidebooks and in Graphic Anatomy. The thinking of Made in Tokyo — understanding a place through drawings — informs the Japan Pavilion curated by Kaijima with Laurent Stalder and Yu Iseki. The exhibition and book of the same name consist of 42 drawing projects — many culled from books such as Cities Without Ground — that illustrate how we can learn about architecture, cities and the lives within them through the act of drawing. The compact book includes drawings from the exhibition as well as detailed sections highlighted by round apertures in the vein of the magnifier in the gallery, a subtle link between exhibition and book.

Dimensions of Citizenship edited by Nick Axel, Nikolaus Hirsch, Ann Lui, Mimi Zeiger | Inventory Press | 2018 | Amazon
There are exactly seven "dimensions of citizenship" in the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale: citizen, civitas, region, nation, globe, network, and cosmos, from smallest to largest. The U-shaped pavilion in the Giardini moves in the same order, from wearable "citizen" art in the courtyard to civic and regional building materials in the first gallery to a range of multimedia displays for the large-scale dimensions in the remaining four galleries. It is an exhibition that begs for a printed companion to parse a highly ambitious and complex take on an important and increasingly indeterminate term: citizenship. The pocket-sized book delves into the seven dimensions with descriptions of each contribution to the exhibition and long, fairly academic essays that don't necessarily align with the contributions but nevertheless tackle the appropriate dimension and how it relates to citizenship. The essays were co-commissioned by e-flux architecture, and are therefore available online, but their digital forms are hardly a substitute for this handsome, portable book.

16th International Architecture Exhibition: FREESPACE | La Biennale di Venezia | 2018
As in other recent editions, the official catalog for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale is a hefty two volumes. The smaller one is devoted to the collateral events and the 60-plus participating countries, with each country given one spread to explain their pavilions: one page of text and one page of images. (Not surprisingly Italy and Venice are given three and two spreads respectively, an illustration of the political nature of such an event.) The considerably larger volume (576 pages vs. 190 pages) is devoted to FREESPACE, the main exhibition curated by Yvonne Farrell and Sheila McNamara. It suffers the fate of most exhibition catalogs: it can only illustrate what the contributors want to do (via renderings and models), not what they ended up doing (as photographs in situ). With 200 pages devoted to spreads illustrating the work of the 100 contributors (on top of the same number of pages given them for their exhibition text and images), the volume would be just as valuable without the extra spreads — and considerably smaller. Or visitors to the Biennale could buy the smaller, cheaper, condensed catalog, a suitable alternative especially when traveling home with it and other books collected at the exhibition.

Infinite Places: Constructing Buildings or Places? edited by Encore Heureux | Éditions B42 | 2018
No place is a clean slate. Eminently aware of this, curators Encore Heureux selected ten projects "that emerged out of specific encounters," transporting numerous historical artifacts (clothing, tools, musical instruments, signs, etc.) from their respective sites to the French Pavilion. In turn, the curators disassembled last year's Art Biennale exhibition as materials for this year's display. The catalog — probably the most beautiful one I picked up — has ten essays (by a sociologist, gardener, philosopher, and so on) followed by the ten projects. Most valuable in the latter are diagrams that depict timelines of the each project's history, from the construction of the original building to the changing of hands to the realization of the latest incarnation. History is a continuum, both in the project narratives and in the new architecture, which clearly expresses how these French architects are cognizant of the value of what came before.

Mind-Building | Anni Vartola, edited by Miina Jutila | Archinfo Finland | 2018
Even though libraries are much more than repositories of books — they are meeting places, cinemas, cafes, and often just places to sit or find a restroom — it's hard to shake the image of books and libraries. It's fitting then that the small Finnish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which is focused on about 140 years of library architecture in Finland, uses its own catalog as the main means of display. Felt wall panels with ledges and bands display the catalog opened to select pages. They are not alone though. Much like libraries, there are places to sit in order to listen to audio or just take in the contents of the book, which presents around 15 libraries, from 1881 to this year's opening of the Oodi Helsinki Central Library. Befitting the freedom of libraries — in Finland or elsewhere — the catalog is available online free in PDF form.

UNES-CO by Kateřina Šedá | Kateřina Šedá | 2018
The catalog to the Czech and Slovak Pavilions is a wire-bound volume with tabs and even sticky notes, meant to look like a government report. UNES-CO, by artist Kateřina Šedá, draws attention to the Czech town of Český Krumlov, which was put on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992 and has seen its historic center drained of residents and replaced by tourists and spaces (hotels, restaurants, shops) catering to them. Consisting of interviews, snippets from news stories, and plenty of photographs and other images, the catalog makes a strong case for Krumlov's UNESCO-created circumstances (a case made a bit too repetitively though) and poses a clever way of dealing with it: paying people to act "normal" in the city center this summer. The results can be watched in a live feed on the UNES-CO website.

Monday, June 04, 2018

My Venice Biennale A-Z

Last month I went to Venice for the Vernissage of the Venice Architecture Biennale. I've been covering it for World-Architects (the output of myself and my fellow editors can be found on the Italian-Architects platform), though below is a smattering of my impressions, mainly of the exhibition and national pavilions but occasionally venturing beyond the Biennale venues.

A=Argentina and Australia
2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Both national pavilions consisted, in part, of indigenous landscapes transplanted to Venice, Argentina in the Arsenale and Australia in their pavilion in the Giardini. Pictured is the latter, whose plants from around Melbourne were grown in the pavilion from seeds brought to Venice eight months ago.


The Biennale Vernissage is full of parties, but give me a relatively quiet bar that spills out onto the street, such as this one near the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, the venue of the US Pavilion's typically packed party, instead.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara kept the impressive Corderie building at the Arsenale (so named because the Venetian ship builders made ropes inside) open, making it an integral part of the exhibition but also a convenient way to zip through the building and bypass many of the contributions on display.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Diller Scofidio + Renfro were found in at least three parts of the Biennale: an entrancing video in the US Pavilion, a small model in the Greece Pavilion, and this model and accompanying video of Columbia's Vagelos Center in the main International Architecture Exhibition.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
National particapations that responded to the main exhibition's "Freespace" theme (not all did so or necessarily had to) tended to empty their pavilions to provide, well, "free space." Belgium filled their pavilion with concentric step and gave out books that explained what exactly "Eurotopie" means.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
One of the first tasks for architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara after they were selected as curators of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition was to develop a manifesto: "FREESPACE," which basically elucidates the unprogrammed spaces the Irish architects create in their own buildings. Graphic design for the term translated into various languages peppers the venue, including the entrance to the Central Pavilion pictured here.

G=Grand Canal

I can do without a visit to San Marco, probably the most recognizable space in Venice outside the Grand Canal. But even though the vaporetti are slow along the Grand Canal (routes going along the Guidecca Canal, for instance, are quicker and better to take for daily commutes), I can't get enough of the city's main water-thoroughfare. This is the view from the balcony of Palazzo Michiel, an exhibition venue, unfortunately not my hotel.

H=Hood, Robin
2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
One of the exhibits I was most looking forward to was the V&A's erection of a three-story chunk of the recently demolished Robin Hood Gardens, the housing project by Alison and Peter Smithson. The actual display -- some pieces of the facade, a guardrail from one of the "streets in the sky," and lots of scaffolding -- was a bit of a letdown.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
The Nordic Pavilion -- easily the best piece of architecture in the Giardini (it was designed by Sverre Fehn and completed in 1962) and one that seems to ask for the best in curators filling it out -- was taken over by some inflatables.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
The curators of the Japanese Pavilion, led by Atelier Bow-Wow's Momoyo Kaijima, filled the gallery with 42 drawing projects that ranged from depictions of traditional houses to panoramic countrysides. Viewing aids, such as discs with magnifiers, invite people to linger over the highly detailed drawings.

K=Kenneth Frampton

The nearly 90-year-old architectural historian received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, a deserved honor to say the least. I was in the Giardini when he received the award and when the other Lions were announced, but even from a distance it was great to hear a few of his sincere words of thanks.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
I'm a sucker for exhibitions about libraries, and at this Biennale they're found in the small Finnish Pavilion. Mind-Building finds -- accurately, in my opinion -- the best "Freespaces" in public libraries, places of knowledge but also truly public places for all to use.


Mosquitoes are the bane of my existence on every trip to Venice. Typically they keep me up at night by buzzing in my ears, but this trip it was just one mosquito bite -- it happened while eating a midday snack in the Giardini -- that did me in: the whole back of my left hand (right hand here for comparison) swelled up for three days.

N=National Pavilions
2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
As in previous years, the Biennale is split between the main International Architecture Exhibition, some collateral events, and the national participations, most of the last taking place in pavilions in the Giardini. Pictured is the Canadian Pavilion, which just turned 60 and wrapped up a restoration.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Visitors to the Dutch Pavilion confront a central space that resembles a locker room. Opening the orange lockers reveals cabinets with information inside, openings to other rooms, or doors to access them. It's the most interactive of all the pavilions -- even of the whole Biennale.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Over at World-Architects I wrote about how three of the four awards were given to displays of large photographs rather than drawings or models. Even before the winners were announced, I noticed how large-scale photos were prevalent in the main exhibition. Pictured is a room with Lacaton & Vassal's residential projects in France.

Q=Quo, Statu
2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
A highlight of Israel's In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation is a series of proposals for Jerusalem's Western Wall Plaza, with models and books (in drawers) for designs by Louis Kahn, Isamu Noguchi, Moshe Safdie and others.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
The Catalan Pavilion, a collateral event of the Biennale, presents the thinking of last year's Pritzker Prize winners through an immersive, dreamlike environment.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara mentioned in their press conference two days before the Biennale opened that they peeled away layers of history to make the skylights in the Central Pavilion an integral part of the exhibition. After that I couldn't help but notice the skylights, their tectonics, and the way participants took advantage of the zenith light.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Great Britain received a special mention for emptying its pavilion of any contents to host programs and serve as a "Freespace" for spontaneous events. Outside, they wrapped the pavilion in scaffolding and provided a roof terrace that hosts tea at 4pm every day, weather permitting. Tea in Italy is quite odd, especially on a hot rooftop under yellow umbrellas.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
The project of the Czech and Slovak Pavilion focuses on Český Krumlov in order to draw attention to the way residents have been displaced by tourists in the historic Czech town since it was named a UNESCO heritage site about 25 years ago. A simple pavilion displays live images of the town, where people are being paid to do "normal" things in the town center during the run of the Biennale. Although site-specific, the project makes a lot of sense in Venice.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
The first Holy See Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale consists of ten chapels and an exhibition pavilion on San Giorgio Maggiore. The small structures on the wooded site are a highlight of the Biennale -- not surprising given the caliber of names and the fact they are actual buildings rather than representations of them.

2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Here and there optical illusions were found in the Biennale, but none more attention-getting than the German Pavilion, where a "wall" turned out to be a freestanding walls that only appeared solid when seen from the entrance. The design makes sense, given that Unbuilding Walls looks back to the Berlin Wall and other instances of architectural division.

X, Y & Z=XYZ
2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Switzerland's Golden Lion-winning exhibition, Svizzera 240: House Tour, plays around with scale -- the X, Y & Z dimensions of space. It takes generic house plans, renditions of which are presented more and more by Swiss architects doing apartment buildings, and turns them into a funhouse at a variety of scales. It's easily the funnest part of the Biennale.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Reporting from Venice

I'm heading to Venice to catch the Vernissage of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale and cover it for World-Architects. In turn, this blog will take a short, two-week break.

Reporting from the Front


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Book Review: Exhibiting the Postmodern

Exhibiting the Postmodern: The 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale by Léa-Catherine Szacka
Marsilio, 2017
Paperback, 264 pages

One week from today the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale opens to the public. To get myself in the mindset for a trip to Venice to cover the event for World-Architects, I just read this book that takes an in-depth look at the 1980 Biennale, what is considered the first true architecture Biennale in Venice (the art Biennales date back to the late 19th century). I've known about the The Presence of the Past exhibition, curated by Paolo Portoghesi, for a while, mainly through images of the "Strada Novissima" in the Arsenale. But reading Léa-Catherine Szacka's case study of the exhibition, I realized just how narrow my understanding was – limited in large part to a superficial appreciation of the twenty Postmodern facades lining the "Strada." But the exhibition was a bit more than those false fronts, and the lasting contribution of the exhibition is much more than the coming together of numerous Postmodern architects to create a temporary street. The book does an excellent job of presenting the exhibition's background, its reality during the Biennale (with many images I've never seen before, some unfortunately too small given the page layout), and its influence since. Here are some of the more interesting things I learned in the book – things either I never knew or have forgotten over the years:

  • It was the first Biennale to be held in the Arsenale. Having been to four Biennales, I take their presence in the Arsenale for granted. But when Portoghesi encountered the long, impressive space, the military machines inside were covered in 20-30cm of dust.
  • The 1980 Biennale was highly political, both in terms of Italian politics, which greatly impacted the Biennales of art from 1968 to 1980, and the internal politics of the organizers.
  • Case in point, Kenneth Frampton was originally one of the exhibition's organizers, but he resigned three months before the show opened, due to the "collage-pastiche" direction of the show. He wrote a text critical of the event; it would have gone into the exhibition catalog but instead became the basis for his essay "Towards a Critical Regionalism" in The Anti-Aesthetic.
  • The "Strada Novissima" facades were built by set builders who worked in the film industry in Rome but were basically unemployed at the time.
  • The architects had exhibition spaces behind the "Strada Novissima" facades. So in addition to the relatively flat, full-size images created along the "street," the architects displayed projects through more conventional means: photographs and models.
  • The exhibition in the Arsenale also had a mezzanine. Paolo Portoghesi was one of the 20 architects responsible for a facade in the Arsenale, but the space behind it was given over to a stair that took visitors upstairs to an exhibition of younger architects.
  • The Presence of the Past had a display devoted to critics.Without Frampton, the critics were three: Charles Jencks, Christian Norberg-Schultz, and Vincent Scully. Meant to create intellectual debate among the positions of the various contributors via texts throughout the exhibition, the small display space that was ultimately built isolated them and made their contributions less memorable.
  • The "Strada Novissima" traveled to Paris and San Francisco in 1981 and 1982, respectively. In each city, the message and means of display were modified to suit their new contexts: in an octagonal space in Paris and a linear space with the addition of a forced perspective in San Francisco.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Film Review: The Proposal

Late last month, in a post about dancers at Casa Luis Barragán, I mentioned seeing and reviewing Jill Magid's The Proposal. I saw the documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival the same day as the post, and yesterday I (finally) posted my review on World-Architects. Read it by clicking here or the image below.

[Image: Jill Magid]

See also a couple related book reviews on this blog and my Unpacking My Library blog:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Today's archidose #1004

Here are a couple photos of Tencent Seafront Towers (2018) in Shenzhen, China, by NBBJ. (Photographs: Fernando Herrera)

Tencent Seafront Towers
Tencent Seafront Towers

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