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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Book Review: Pictures of the Floating Microcosm

Pictures of the Floating Microcosm: New Representations of Japanese Architecture by Olivier Meystre
Park Books, 2017
Hardcover, 240 pages



It's hard to deny the appeal of drawings by Japanese architects. I've succumbed, for instance, to the intricate perspective sections and plans of Atelier Bow-Wow and "Architectural Ethnography," the Japanese exhibition at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale, which was co-curated by one-half of Atelier Bow-Wow and focused on drawings by architects and non-architects alike. The two-dimensional output of Japanese architects in the last two decades is evident through their high level of detail, lack of hierarchy in lines, abundance of white space, and sometimes cartoonish qualities. But why is it like this and what are these drawings trying to express? These and other questions are addressed by Olivier Meystre in his analytical, accessible, and lavishly illustrated study on drawings and models produced by well-known Japanese architects over the last few decades.



The cover of Pictures of the Floating Microcosm is graced with a drawing (by Junya Ishigami) that would appear to embrace the qualities I describe above. But it does more than that, at least when we find the drawing in the book's first chapter (shown above). Here, the drawing is seen overlaid onto a photo of a minimal model with just a couple walls forming a corner and some furniture, itself placed near a real wall in the architect's studio. What appears to be a vignette imagining the lives of occupants both inside and outside a building becomes a layered extension of a three-dimensional model barely able to do the same. The hybrid image shows the willingness of Japanese architects to embrace drawings and models in equal parts, born in part from technology that allows them to exist equally on the page or on the screen. Likewise, Meystre's study looks at drawings, models, and sometimes photos and computer renderings -- all presented at some point in publications and/or exhibitions.



Given the time frame of Meystre's study and the type of images produced, the most influential architects on display are Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA and, before them, Toyo Ito. These three architects are hardly alone in the six chapters of Pictures of the Floating Microcosm, but their influence is apparent not only in technique, but in the fact most younger architects worked at SANAA (Sejima worked for Ito) before starting their own offices. The graphic experimentation of these and other architects ended up producing some of the most consistent and distinctive architectural imagery in recent memory. Their output is well worth a study, and Meystre has done a great job in analyzing the images as means of architectural production, while also interviewing some of the most important voices to learn how work is actually carried out in their offices. Highly recommended for those interested in contemporary Japanese architecture and architectural delineation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Today's archidose #1011

Here are some more photos from my recent Great Plains road trip, two buildings in Southeastern Wyoming: H. H. Richardson's Ames Monument (1882) in Albany County and Antoine Predock's American Heritage Center (1993) at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Ames Monument:
Ames Monument
Ames Monument
Ames Monument
Ames Monument
Ames Monument

American Heritage Center:
American Heritage Center
American Heritage Center

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Today's archidose #1010

Here are some photos of the thyssenkrupp Test Tower Rottweil (2017) in Rottweil, Germany, by Werner Sobek and Helmut Jahn. (Photography by Frank Stahl)

Rottweil Test Tower
Rottweil Test Tower
Rottweil Test Tower
Rottweil Test Tower
Rottweil Test Tower

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Today's archidose #1009

Here are some of my photos of Kansas State University's College of Architecture, Planning and Design (2017) in Manhattan, Kansas, by Ennead Architects. I stopped by my alma mater during a recent road trip through the Great Plains and will be posting more photos from the trip in the coming days.

KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD
KSU CAPD

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Summer Break

It's time to get out into nature and enjoy the summer. So this blog is going on break for a couple weeks. See you in August!

Japanese Garden

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Book Review: Sun Path House and Other Cosmic Architectures

Sun Path House and Other Cosmic Architectures by Christian Wassmann
Koenig Books, 2017
Hardcover, 136 pages



A few pages into this case study of Christian Wassmann's Sun Path House -- a freestanding backyard addition to a house in Miami Beach -- is the architect's sketch of the Great Samrat Yantra in Jaipur, India. Wassmann description of the astronomical observatory makes it clear it had a strong influence on him, both during his education, when he saw photos in a book, and at the beginning of his practice, when he visited it in person. Therefore, the link between the 18th-century sundial in India and Wassmann's aptly named Sun Path House, which is anchored -- literally and figuratively -- by a curved concrete wall that traces the arc of the sun on the summer solstice, is readily apparent. But another earlier project comes to the fore in my mind: Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye.


[Spread from Studio Christian Wassmann Studio | Image source]

Although Villa Savoye needs no description here, its three-story organization is what I hone in on, where I see the link between it and the Sun Path House. Villa Savoye's ground floor is set back, creating a turnaround for an automobile; the first floor "floats" above it, enclosing the living spaces and bedrooms; and the roof terrace features curved walls that create a sense of enclosure beneath the sky and frame views of its suburban surroundings. Likewise, the Sun Path House's ground floor is covered by the cantilevered (no pilotis needed) floor devoted to the client's master bedroom upstairs, while the roof is given over to a solarium with jacuzzi. Uniting these three levels is the curved concrete wall that was born from the solstice sun path and curls tightly to cradle a spiral stair further linking them.


[Spread from Studio Christian Wassmann Studio | Image source]

So Sun Path House can be seen as a contemporary reinterpretation of Le Corbusier's modernist villa, but on a smaller scale and in a different context. Yet I also see Wassmann's house as a convergence of the celestial and the human. With his desire to link his architecture to the cosmos, it's realistic to expect something along the lines of Charles Ross's Star Axis, where the "architecture" is ordained more than it is designed. But Wassmann intersects a rectangular volume (the master bedroom) with the curved sun path, giving the client a functional space for living and creating a tension between these cosmic and human realms.


[Spread from Studio Christian Wassmann Studio | Image source]

Sun Path House and Other Cosmic Architectures is really two books in one: a case study of Wassmann's small yet ambitious house in Florida and a monograph on his young practice (est. 2005). Other projects, mainly art exhibitions and gallery projects, are interspersed with thorough documentation of the Sun Path House. The former are short one- or two-page descriptions, while the latter includes drawings, models, and photos of the building during construction and after completion. Linking the Sun Path House and other designs are a predilection for cosmic and local alignments. The whole is packaged handsomely in a linen cover with heavyweight pages.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Ecological Living Module at the UN

This morning I visited the United Nations to see the Ecological Living Unit. The "tiny house," which was designed to be "efficient, multi-functional and engineered to operate independently," is a collaboration between UN Environment, Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture, and Gray Organschi Architecture. Below is a quick tour of the ELM with my photos.

Ecological Living Module
The west-facing facade is covered in a "Microfarming Wall" that is irrigated by rainwater that hits the angled planters but also by rainwater collected on the roof.


Ecological Living Module
Ecological Living Module
These two photos show the solar panels on the sloped roof and the sliding glass wall at the narrow, south-facing porch with its shallow overhang.


Ecological Living Module
Another sliding glass wall opens on the east side to aid in passive ventilation.


Ecological Living Module
A peek inside reveals shadow patterns from the skylight, a wood-lined interior, built-in seating, and a ladder up to the sleeping loft.


Ecological Living Module
The skylight doubles as an Integrated Concentrating Solar Facade (ICSF), which produces electricity and captures solar energy "as heat for domestic hot water, space heating, and solar cooling," per the ELM handout available at the UN.


Ecological Living Module
The north end of the sleeping loft features a translucent clerestory above an Indoor Purification Plant Wall that is meant to improve indoor air quality.


Ecological Living Module
Behind the first-floor kitchen and sleeping loft on the north side of the building is the ELM's data and systems nerve center.


Ecological Living Module
Here, the various power, water, and computer controls are efficiently packed into a small closet accessed from outside.


Ecological Living Module
The construction is primarily wood, with locally sourced plywood, LVL, CLT, framing, furring, and siding – even wood fiber insulation is used in the walls, floor, and roof.


Ecological Living Module
Ecological Living Module

Monday, July 16, 2018

Book Review: Downward Spiral

Downward Spiral: El Helicoide's Descent from Mall to Prison edited by Celeste Olalquiaga and Lisa Blackmore
UR (Urban Research), 2018
Paperback, 268 pages



If any decade could be called "the driving decade" it would definitely be the 1950s. Domestically, it encompassed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which saw the federal government pay for thousands of miles of highways, many barreling through cities. In turn, buildings downtown had to be designed and reconfigured for the automobile. One bold example, which was proposed in 1959 and built five years later, was William Tabler's "Motor-Pool Hilton" in San Francisco, which wrapped a hotel around a parking garage; people could drive up the ramp and park right next to their room. But a look at the building disappoints, since the automotive aspect driving the design -- turning it into a hybrid between a hotel and a motor lodge -- is hidden. To see a true auto-architecture around the same time, one would have had to travel to Caracas, Venezuela, to see El Helicoide de la Roca Tarpeya, a spiraling mall carved from a hilltop, where shoppers drove up the ramp to the shop they wanted to patronize.


[El Helicoide de la Roca Tarpeya, 1965. Photo: Paolo Gasparini]

I learned about El Helicoide last year when the Center for Architecture displayed the small, one-room exhibition El Helicoide: From Mall to Prison. I wrote about the exhibition for World-Architects after attending a tour given by curator Celeste Olalquiaga. My piece traces the evolution of the project designed by Venezuelan architect Jorge Romero GutiƩrrez in the late 1950s, so I won't go into too much detail here on the project's history. But suffice to say, what started as an optimistic mixed-use building -- with shops plus offices, a hotel, and a geodesic dome on the roof, all accessed by the system of ramps that made up the project's expression -- turned into its antithesis, a building occupied by the police and used as a prison housing political dissidents. The exhibition and book focus on the gestation of the building -- one of the most unique in the period but also one of the most underappreciated -- as well as its design and the larger context in which it fits, while also exploring how the project devolved in the decades following its near-completion.



With more than twenty essays in five sections -- Lost in Time, Geometric Detours, Informal Topographies, Cursed Towers, and Living Ruins -- Downward Spiral is the definitive cultural history of El Helicoide. The spiraling building was devoid of such in-depth treatment until Celeste Olalquiaga, Lisa Blackmore and others at Proyecto Helicoide devoted their energies to "promoting the architectural, cultural and social value of El Helicoide ... a global icon of the contradictions of modernity." If the exhibition's period photos, drawings, and other artifacts painted a visual portrait of El Helicoide (thankfully, many of them are published in the book), Downward Spiral enables scholars from Venezuela and elsewhere to provide depth on a building that should be known to a wider audience, both for its architectural ambition and its eventual misappropriation.


[Michael Sorkin, publisher of Urban Research, and Celeste Olalquiaga at the launch for Downward Spiral at the Center for Architecture in January. Bad low-res photo by John Hill.]

Friday, July 13, 2018

Today's archidose #1008

Here's a photo of the Amager Resource Center (2017) in Copenhagen, Denmark, by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group. The photo, by Jeff Reuben, is looking toward the waste-to-energy plant from Christiania. Although the plant is obviously functioning, the ski slope – Copenhill – that sits atop it won't be complete until later this year.

Amager Landscape

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