Friday, December 13, 2019

The Story of New York's Staircase

The Story of New York's Staircase
Prestel, November 2019



Paperback | 10 x 10 inches | 144 pages | 100 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3791384733 | $25.00

Publisher's Description:
A public space like no other, the staircase was designed by the award-winning Heatherwick Studio to give New Yorkers and visitors a unique vertical experience. In this book, readers can witness every part of its development, from initial designs to the finished structure. They'll learn why and how the staircase came to be and the significance of its placement in the Nelson Byrd Woltz-designed Public Square and Gardens at Hudson Yards. An essay by architecture critic Paul Goldberger explores the importance of public spaces, while additional texts explain the evolution of the neighbourhood and discuss the staircase’s dramatic design. A wealth of photography follows the structure's incredible path to completion and the final result, with a total of 2,500 steps, 154 interconnected staircases, 80 viewing landings, and one mile of pathways reaching 150 feet into the air. Documenting one of the most complex pieces of architectural steelwork ever built at this scale, this book offers a fascinating, detailed, and unforgettable look at a dazzling new structure.
dDAB Commentary:
Thomas Heatherwick's Vessel opened in March 2019 with a lot of fanfare but also a good deal of criticism. Appreciation of the $150 million-plus climbable sculpture was bound up with the many aspects of the huge Hudson Yards development whose first phase it anchors. For one, although a folly that rightfully garners attention, the 150-foot-tall Vessel is surrounded by five mediocre skyscrapers that make the public space somewhat lacking. (These towers tend to make ascending it a battle against funneled breezes at times too.) Most of the criticism though was levied at access to its many steps, since it required reserving a timed ticket online beforehand (tickets were free at first but later they had fee options added to them), and at the legal language in those tickets that would grant Hudson Yards' developers the rights to any photos taken of the Vessel. The developers "tweaked" their photo policy following uproar over the latter, but Vessel and the "public square and gardens" it sits within are technically private, so access to the sculpture can be restricted at the mercy of the owners. (The only truly public component of Hudson Yards is The Shed, what's also the most liked piece of the development.)

One thing missing from this book devoted to Vessel is just that: the name "Vessel." The sculpture will eventually carry a different name, perhaps arising from a naming contest banded about earlier this year, but the book simply calls the creation "New York's Staircase." Who knows, maybe it will eventually be known just as that. Whatever the case, the book is for fans of Heatherwick's sculpture rather than its detractors. It's loaded with photographs taken since its March opening, a few drawings and models, some construction photos, some cute illustrations with walking figures, and a serrated corner that extends the sculpture's steps all the way to the book's pages. People with a genuine curiosity about Vessel will want to read the three essays, in which Jeff Chu documents the evolution of the design and some details of its overseas construction and transatlantic voyage, Sarah Medford puts the artwork and development into the larger historical and geographic context of Manhattan's West Side, and Paul Goldberger speculates on the meaning of Vessel as a 21st century public space. Not surprisingly, like "Vessel," these essays don't mention the photo rights (the book has plenty of photos that look like they might have been obtained via that photo policy though), just how "public" the heart of Hudson Yards is, or other controversial aspects of the sculpture and development. New York's Staircase is clearly a celebration of "New York's Staircase," and those who love the sculpture will find plenty to love in the book.
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Author Bio:
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Thursday, December 12, 2019

MoMA PS1

MoMA PS1: A History
Klaus Biesenbach, Bettina Funcke (Editors)
The Museum of Modern Art, October 2019



Hardcover | 9-1/4 x 10-3/4 inches | 304 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1633450691 | $65.00

Publisher's Description:
Since its inception in the early 1970s, MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens, has been a crucible for radical experimentation. Committed to New York City as well as to maintaining an international scope, PS1 has always put the artist at the center, engaging practitioners at work in every discipline from performance, music, dance, poetry and new media to painting, sculpture, photography and architecture. This groundbreaking publication captures the vibrancy of a long and venerable tradition that began with the legendary series of performances and events organized by founder Alanna Heiss under the Brooklyn Bridge in 1971.

Organized into four main sections that delve into the former school’s rich history as an art center during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s up to the present, the book features in-depth conversations between Heiss and Klaus Biesenbach, the director of MoMA PS1 from 2010 to 2018, and more than 40 recollections by artists, curators and critics closely associated with the institution—including Marina Abramovic, James Turrell, agnès b, Rebecca Quaytman, Carolee Schneemann and Andrea Zittel.
dDAB Commentary:
A couple weeks ago The Architect's Newspaper reported that MoMA PS1 would be putting its 20-year-old, annual Young Architects Program (YAP) on hiatus. This is mildly sad news, since the hiatus might only last one year, but what if it the hiatus is indefinite? The installations that annually graced the courtyard of the Long Island City institution were always something to look forward to, and they were a great barometer for up-and-coming talents in architecture — both the winners and the invited finalists. So for YAP to disappear entirely would be a significant loss to the culture of architecture in New York and beyond (the winners, if memory serves me right, were equal parts from NYC and from outside NYC).

This YAP news is relevant in regards to MoMA PS1: A History not only because the book and the installation share a host, but because there is very little said in the book about YAP; photos appear here and there but very few words, if any, address this mainstay of MoMA PS1. Each of the book's four chronological chapters (1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 1999-2019) highlight important artworks or events alongside the interviews that comprise the bulk of the book; the last chapter has one on the New York Art Book Fair, but it completely misses YAP. I'm not surprised, given that the institution that evolved into MoMA PS1 was founded two decades before the 2000 start of YAP (Alanna Heiss founded the Institute for Art and Urban Resources Inc. in 1971) and the institution is more renowned for its numerous art exhibitions than its once-a-year architecture installations.

The same year of the YAP start is when P.S. 1 (IAUS took that name in 1976 when it moved into Public School 1 in Queens) merged with MoMA to become MoMA PS1. This merger is discussed at length in the book by Klaus Biesenbach, who directed MoMA PS1 from 2009 until his departure for Los Angeles last year. So art and art-politics take precedence over YAP, echoing Glenn Lowry's comments at a public forum in 2014 on the eventual demolition of the American Folk Art Museum so MoMA could expand: "We don't collect buildings." The importance of architecture — both the existing school renovated by Frederick Fisher and the YAP installations — in the story of MoMA PS1 is obvious to any architect who has hopped on the 7 Train to visit the Queens institution. You just wouldn't know it by reading MoMA PS1: A History.
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Author Bio:
Klaus Biesenbach is Director of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and former director of MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator at Large at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Bettina Funcke is an art historian based in New York.
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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Revolution Will Be Stopped Halfway

The Revolution Will Be Stopped Halfway: Oscar Niemeyer in Algeria
Jason Oddy
Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, September 2019



Paperback | 9 x 11 inches | 208 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1941332504 | $35.00

Publisher's Description:
Of all of the Brazilian modernist Oscar Niemeyer’s many built works, his Algerian projects are among the least well known. Beginning in 1968, Algeria’s President Houari Boumediene commissioned Niemeyer to build two universities and an Olympic sports hall, as well as a series of large-scale, never-realized projects across Algeria, in an attempt to forge a modern, independent nation. In 2013, Jason Oddy produced an in-depth photographic survey of these buildings as they exist in Algeria today. The Revolution Will Be Stopped Halfway collects those images alongside archival documents and Oddy’s further research into Niemeyer’s Algerian work in order to explore the revolutionary politics that inspired and formed these buildings.
dDAB Commentary:
Think of Oscar Niemeyer and most likely Brazil pops to mind, not Algeria. Sure, Niemeyer completed some of the hundreds of buildings he designed outside of Brazil and South America, particularly during his two-decade-long "exile years" starting in 1965, but I'm probably not alone in lacking familiarity with his Algerian projects before seeing this book. I'm glad the book made its way to me, not only for it apprising me of his university and sports projects there, but for the beautiful documentation of them. Jason Oddy's photographs capture the current state (as of 2013) of the extant buildings at the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumediene, La Coupole arena, and the University of Mentouri Constantine, while drawings from the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation describe the same in the architect's lines and words.

Oddy also contributes an essay that contextualizes the late-1960s projects and recounts their creation. This lengthy essay might have spurred MTWTF, which designed the book, to alternate photos and words on the flip sides of the pages, making the book an exceptional object. More specifically, each page is glossy on one side and matte on the other, the first for Oddy's photos and the latter for his words (or captions, or the words of Samia Henni, who penned the preface). In turn, two glossy sides make a two-page spread and two matte sides make a spread as well, such that most of the book alternates between the two. A departure happens in the book's last third, where Niemeyer's drawings are found on blue-green paper. With its paper selection, wraparound cover, and lay-flat binding, the book is worth owning solely as a marvelous printed artifact -- thankfully the contents are worth the price as well.
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Author Bio:
Jason Oddy is a writer and artist whose work focuses on the politics of place. His photographic investigations of the Pentagon, ex-Soviet sanatoria, and Guantanamo Bay have been published and exhibited internationally, including at the Photographers' Gallery (London), Paris Photo, the Milan Triennale, Tropenmuseum Amsterdam, and the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations in Marseilles.
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Monday, December 09, 2019

Peter Salter – Walmer Yard

Peter Salter – Walmer Yard
Peter Salter, et. al.
Circa Press, July 2019



Hardcover | 11-3/4 x 10-1/4 inches | 156 pages | 140 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1911422075 | $60.00

Publisher's Description:
Peter Salter is an architect and teacher whose work has influenced several generations of students. The culmination of ten years of planning, Walmer Yard, in Notting Hill, is his first residential project in the UK and one of only a small number of buildings he has completed worldwide. Although modest in scale, the project is extraordinary in many ways. On an irregularly shaped site, Salter’s design brings four houses into a complex relationship with each other that is half formal, half familiar, interdependent, yet solitary. Similarly, the relationships between the core team members are more nuanced than in most architectural projects, since they all met at the Architectural Association in Peter’s unit, where Crispin Kelly (the client) and Fenella Collingridge (Peter’s current collaborator) were student contemporaries. This book documents the evolution of the project through the medium of Peter Salter’s pen-and-ink drawings and Hélène Binet’s remarkable photographs.
dDAB Commentary:
Walmer Yard comprises four houses on an irregular, L-shaped lot in London's Notting Hill neighborhood. It is most notable as one of the few built works designed by Peter Salter. I've been fortunate enough to visit a couple of his buildings, both in Japan: the Inami Woodcarving Museum from 1993 and the Mountain Pavilion in Bambajima, also completed around the same time. Seeing those standalone buildings in their respectively village and natural contexts, the prospect of a Salter building in an urban context seemed far-fetched at best. His buildings are just too idiosyncratic to appease to developers, which tend to call the shot in cities such as London, and they have formal expressions that are quite alien, if highly appealing to this architect/writer. But Walmer Yard is obvious proof that Salter pulled if off.

This monograph tells the decade-long (I first learned about it in 2006) story of Walmer Yard, designed by Salter with architect Fenella Collingridge for developer Crispin Kelly and documented by photographer Hélène Binet. With essays by the main players as well as a few critics, Salter's distinctive drawings (nude bodies and all), and dozens of large color and b/w photos by Binet, the book is a visual and intellectual treat that capably explains a project that is difficult to grasp when looking at just a few drawings or photos. Therefore the as-built plans on pages 12 and 13, following Kelly's words on the project, are very helpful in navigating the project's documentation in the pages that follow. Arranged around a central courtyard, the four houses are marked by rectangular rooms colliding with angles and curves, irregular-shaped living spaces, carefully cut vertical voids, and exterior spaces that are formed rather than leftover.

Like any work of architecture, Peter Salter – Walmer Yard could hardly substitute for seeing Walmer Yard in person (someday I hope to stay there), but it does a great job in explaining the design and capturing its distinct atmospheres. Taking in the words and images in order means continually adding layers of understanding, from the early days of the project and the even-earlier days of the key players (both Kelly and Collingridge were Salter's students at the AA) to the numerous custom details in the courtyard (those shutters!) and throughout the interiors. With its shared courtyard, private "yurt" living spaces, and carefully located windows and skylights, the project's introverted nature comes to the fore. I don't see this as a bad thing. Partly a product of circumstance, and perhaps an expression of Salter and the others involved, the project's introversion leads to an intimacy and a clear indication that this is a very special place. 
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Author Bio:
Peter Salter began his career in the studio of Alison and Peter Smithson. In the early 1980s, he formed a partnership with Christopher Macdonald, producing a series of projects known for their highly developed and evocative drawings. Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s he taught at the Architectural Association as a unit master. In 1995, he became professor and head of school at the University of East London, and is now Professor of Architectural Design at the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University.
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Friday, December 06, 2019

Almost Nothing

Almost Nothing: 100 Artists Comment on the Work of Mies van der Rohe
Christian Bjone
Park Books, June 2019



Hardcover | 8-1/2 x 11 inches | 226 pages | 215 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3038600800 | $49.00

Publisher's Description:
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) was one of the most significant and influential architects in history. His designs and buildings—to say nothing of his thought and writing—continue to this day to spark heated debates on achievement and failure in modern architecture. And he’s the rare architect whose influence and reputation spread beyond the field—which this book demonstrates powerfully.

Almost Nothing collects work by one hundred painters, sculptors, photographers, film directors, designers, cartoonists, and architects that comment on or appropriate buildings, designs, and statements by or images of the legendary architect. New York–based architect and writer Christian Bjone amplifies the selections with a commentary offering rich background information on the individual artists and the depicted art works, and the result is a striking celebration of Mies van der Rohe’s lasting influence.
dDAB Commentary:
Easily the most iconic artwork with a building by Mies van der Rohe as a subject is Stanley Tigerman's The Titanic, which depicts IIT's Crown Hall partly submerged in the waters of Lake Michigan. Is that 1978 collage one of the "comments on the work of Mies van der Rohe" collected by Christian Bjone? Yes, and it's easy to find; even though the 100 artists/works aren't numbered as in other 100 this-or-that books, they're organized by Mies's output. There's Portraits, Furniture, Buildings, and Toys, with the Buildings category listing his masterpieces in chronological order. There sits The Titanic on page 192, though I'm surprised to see that Tigerman is the only artist who tackled Crown Hall; perhaps his image was the final word on the building, not just a nail in the coffin of Modernism.

But what about Daniel Libeskind's City Edge project that graces the cover? That one's harder to find since Almost Nothing lacks an index, a means of finding artists who were inspired by Mies or addressed his work in some manner. Turns out Libeskind's three-dimensional collage is one of many artworks presented in Bjone's lengthy introduction. It's alongside many other pieces that help the author explicate certain themes in his book but that are therefore not presented alongside the other artworks in the book's chapters. A couple of these intro artworks include Mark Pimlott's Puck & Pip Restaurant in the Hague (incorrectly labeled Pip and Puck in the book), which features a column wrapped in glass mosaic whose shape echoes the plan of Mies's famous Glass Skyscraper, and Thomas Ruff's more recognizable photograph of the Barcelona Pavilion.

Of all the buildings by Mies, the one that has elicited the most artistic responses is the Barcelona Pavilion, aka the German Pavilion in Barcelona, built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, disassembled, and then rebuilt on the same spot in 1986. That same year, Rem Koolhaas and OMA paid homage to it with a curving installation at the Milan Triennale, while ten years later Paul Rudolph analyzed the pavilion's plan in diagrams notating movement through its fluid indoor and outdoor spaces. Beyond these famous names, the Barcelona Pavilion rises to the top because the Fundació Mies van der Rohe annually invites artists and architects to intervene there. SANAA installed acrylic walls in 2008, Ai Weiwei tossed coffee in the one pool and pumped milk in the other pool one year later, and a few years later Andrés Jaque put all the cleaning equipment usually hidden in the basement on display. Bjone gathers these and other direct responses to Mies's architecture as well as artworks whose relationships to the master Modern architect are more tenuous. One things for sure: artists and architects will be grappling with Mies van der Rohe's legacy and influence for a long time.
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Author Bio:
Christian Bjone graduated in architecture from University of Illinois at Chicago and Princeton University. Living and working in New York, he is the author of a number of books on architectural history.
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Thursday, December 05, 2019

OMA/Rem Koolhaas

OMA/Rem Koolhaas: A Critical Reader
Christophe Van Gerrewey (Editor)
Birkhäuser, October 2019



Hardcover/Paperback/eBook | 8-3/4 x 11 inches | 464 pages | 100 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3035619775 (pbk) | $44.99 (pbk)

Publisher's Description:
The activities of Rem Koolhaas and his staff were widely discussed even before the foundation of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in 1975. Today, many contributions on the work of OMA can be found in the international architectural press, including Koolhaas’ own writings.

The book contains about 150 selected texts—interviews, feature articles, essays, lead articles, reviews, letters, introductions, appraisals, and competition reports that have been compiled for the first time. This compilation not only provides a fresh and critical view of the oeuvre of one the most important contemporary architects, but also represents an account of the debate on architectural and urban design in recent decades.
dDAB Commentary:
Last week, when I was trying to find out a bit more about the rare first edition of Rem Koolhaas's Delirious New York from 1978 (I, like many people, have the paperback edition put out in 1994 rather than the deliriously expensive first edition), I came across a review of the book published on Christmas Eve in the New York Times. Yet, instead of being written by Paul Goldberger, who was the Times architecture critic at the time and had one month before reviewed the lesser-known exhibition, The Sparkling Metropolis, that accompanied the book's release, Delirous New York was reviewed by Gilbert Millstein, the reviewer known for giving an early boost to Jack Kerouac. I didn't know the name, but reading his review I quickly realized he was not architecturally minded, especially when he disagreed with Koolhaas's assertion that Coney Island was a "foetal Manhattan": "The men who built Coney Island could never have put up their wild fantasies of Steeplechase, Luna and Dreamland in Manhattan," Millstein wrote, taking Koolhaas's assertion too literally. Millstein clearly hated Modernism (he calls La Defense and Nanterre "nightmarish places") and therefore parts ways with Koolhaas, who has embraced the modern city in all its contradictions and messiness. Decades — not even — years later, the impact of Delirous New York won out over Millstein's misguided take, which is one of roughly 150 critical reviews, articles, and essays in this much appreciated anthology that also includes Goldberger's exhibition review from November 1978.

The critical pieces in OMA/Rem Koolhaas start around the time of Delirious New York (more precisely, it starts with a roundtable discussion over Koolhaas's and Laurinda Spear's Miami house submitted to the PA Awards in 1975) and wrap up with the equally influential S,M,L,XL two decades later. Before getting to the texts, readers confront a chronological presentation of magazine covers, exactly 100 of them spanning the same 25-year time frame. The covers — mainly European journals but also American magazines, books, and the occasional newspaper — feature OMA projects and sometimes a portrait of Koolhaas. Since they are presented chronologically, there's a convergence of important projects such as the Kunsthal in Rotterdam and Euralille in France, projects that are used to structure some of the book's ten chapters. Although the critical texts were selected by Christophe Van Gerrewey from around 600 "substantial texts on OMA published in the twentieth century" based on factors of content (e.g., "Does the author reveal aspects of the work of OMA that weren't previously under consideration?"), I'm guessing the authors of the pieces were also a factor, considering how it assembles a who's who of important architecture critics in the last half of the 20th century: Peter Blake, Kenneth Frampton, Fredric Jameson, Charles Jencks, Sanford Kwinter, Bart Lootsma, Stanislaus von Moos, Herbert Muschamp, Michael Sorkin, Deyan Sudjic, Anthony Vidler, Mark Wigley, and many, many more. But of course it's the one big name, Koolhaas, that will draw people to this big book — if they're like me, they won't be disappointed.
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Author Bio:
Christophe Van Gerrewey, School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, EPFL; editorial board of OASE and De Witte Raaf
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