Monday, February 28, 2005

Hardblog Tactics

Over at MSNBC, David "Hardblogger" Shuster is hardblogging up a storm about Lower Manhattan's controversial Freedom Tower. But more importantly he's pushing the alternative of rebuilding the Twin Towers, a questionable act in this "softblogger's" opinion.

His first post criticizes the design and engineering of the Freedom Tower, basically saying that the design isn't something to be proud of, and that it does not send the proper message to those who want to terrorize and scare our nation. He also insinuates that the monetary ties of the Lauder family (heirs of Estee Lauder's cosmetics fortune) to New York governor George Pataki played a deciding role in Libeskind's selection for the WTC site's master plan, since the architect is a friend of the family, after all.

In his next post Shuster tells us there is an evident lack of pride and confidence in the Freedom Tower design, and he proposes the only (in his mind, apparently) alternative: rebuild the Twin Towers "slightly off-set from where the old ones stood." A vote is put to the readers to choose between "America's Freedom Tower" and "A new Twin Towers."

His most recent post from last Friday indicates that 80% of the 3,483 respondents to the poll voted for the Twin Towers to be rebuilt, "stronger and mightier than ever." To Shuster, the reality is that Americans want the Twin Towers to "rise again."

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SOM's Freedom Tower montaged with the rest of the master plan in Lower Manhattan is on the left; a replica of the Twin Towers is on the right.

The desire to rebuild has been in evidence since September 12, 2001, but Shuster appears to be going beyond his journalistic limits into activism, under the guise of exposing the "truth" behind Libeskind's selection. Granted that many people don't like Freedom Tower and its surrounding master plan, but here's what I think is wrong with Shuster's argument and tactics:
  • The Twin Tower weren't loved until they were destroyed. They were a unique presence on the skyline, but they were terrible on the ground and cut off different parts of Lower Manhattan from each other. So we must ask if rebuilding the towers should be done in this regard.

  • Shuster frames his argument as either/or; either we rebuild the Twin Towers or we build the Freedom Tower. Besides ignoring other options (such as Michael Sorkin's idea of a park on the site and the distribution of building over the five boroughs), he's arguing apples and oranges, since the Freedom Tower is but one component of the WTC site's plan which spreads out the 10 million s.f. of office space over five towers, not one (or two in the case of rebuilding). And even though the Twin Towers were two buildings, they were twins, in effect acting like one entity split by a gap.

  • With quotes like "not rebuilding [the Twin Towers] is a defeat" and "Anything less is a memorial to fear," symbolism is taking priority over the improvement of the urban environment. Rebuilding them would indicate we haven't learned anything, about our situation or the people that attacked us (necessary but never the part of the equation in these arguments).

  • Influence over the Freedom Tower design does not appear to be an option, instead the argument becomes, "We don't want that. Rebuild the Twin Towers!" Perhaps Mr. Shuster needs to look somewhere in between these two. Seeing that the design of the Freedom Tower has malleability (since it never existed and is only a collection of ideas on "paper") is much better than settling for an already-designed least in my opinion. This malleability wouldn't seem to be the case, but that's due to the egos involved more than the desire to create something meaningful on the WTC site. The tower's - and the master plan's - fate aren't written in stone, so the activism Shuster proposes can possibly have effect, but let's hope it's not for his original aim.

  • But I'm not writing all this because I like the Freedom Tower design (I don't) or hate the Twin Towers (I always like the space in-between each tower and the way they anchored Manhattan on the skyline), but because I think the whole rebuilding (the site, not the Twin Towers) process needs to be open to many alternatives, not just the either/or situation Shuster poses, a proposition as dire as Bush's "you're either with us or against us."

    Update 03.13: Deroy Murdock, at the National Review Online, pushes for a reconstruction of the Twin Towers (via Archinect).

    Book Review: Universal Experience

    Universal Experience: Art, Life, and the Tourist's Eye edited by Kari Dahlgren, Kamilah Foreman, Tricia Van Eck
    D.A.P./MCA, 2005
    Paperback, 272 pages

    Taking aim at tourism, the largest industry in the world, curator Francesco Bonami compiled a diverse range of artwork for the Universal Experience exhibition at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. Filling the whole museum and its exterior, obvious pieces like Andy Warhol's Empire and Double Mona Lisa are present alongside lesser known works artists Zhan Wang, Thomas Hirschhorn, and others. Photography, film and sculpture dominate; the first two are appropriate for tourism's exposure to "the other" and its transient nature, while the latter allows the galleries to become immersive, abstractions of what the first two try to represent. The companion book to the exhibition breaks down travel to ten chaptered themes, like "Reflections in the Tourist's Eye" and "The World for a Buck." Texts excerpted from various books and articles alongside exhibition images help to explicate these categories, non-existent in the exhibition but, for some reason, seen as necessary for the book. The companion's small format (6x9"), its content, and its layout make for a pleasing alternative to large-format exhibition catalogues that tend to have a series of plates with the artwork, an introduction and perhaps the occasional essay.

    Cirque du Soleil Dormitory

    Cirque du Soleil Dormitory in Montreal, Quebec by Les Architects FABG

    As an element in Cirque du Soleil's ever-expanding campus in Montréal, the 110 residences by Les Architectes FABG continue their goal of transforming a "no-man's land into an urban treasure." Located on the edge of a garbage dump, the world-renowned troupe is a good drive from the expensive land of downtown Montréal, but with close to 2,000 personnel and a need for larger practice and performance spaces, the cheap and wide-open site is oddly appropriate. This dormitory gives residence for those trained down the street, but it also injects life into an otherwise desolate area that, no doubt, will change over time from the Cirque's presence.

    Situated across the street from Dan Hanganu's Studios and Headquarters for Cirque du Soleil, FABG had an incentive to attempt something eye-catching that would set it apart from its neighbors. The first aspect that catches the eye is the exterior paint color. Clad in flat and corrugate metal panels and metal louvers, these elements are all painted a reddish-brown, a choice that seems odd at first, like it's intentionally recalling the less-desired aspects of the surroundings. But as an option over the typical grays, or even over a mix of primary colors (a la Corbusier), the alien brown sets it off amidst its site without shunning a natural palette. As the landscaping of the greater campus fills in, the exterior should make more sense. 

    The second aspect of the design are the cantilevered bays that punctuate the cubic mass on all sides. Functionally, these replace the space taken by the inset balconies in the units at and near the corner. Looking at the plan, these units border a light well in a mass that sits above the entrance, a cafe, and other common areas. Additional residences site in a three-story, double-loaded bar to the north, and a multi-purpose conference area sits in a one-story extension to the east. This "L-shape" plan addresses the main spine of the campus while also addressing the residential area to the northwest with its mass. A recreational area across this side street contributes both to the Cirque members and the adjacent neighborhood.

    Interior images indicate that the exterior color is carried through selectively, specifically around the elevator shaft and other "public" surfaces. Otherwise the palette is subdued and the design is minimal, with butt-glazed glass at the light well allowing a view of the thin slabs, unencumbered by railings.

    In Cirque du Soleil's attempt to transform its surroundings, these residences will definitely contribute, for the better. The architects intended the boxes hung off the facade as a symbol of the tension between the individual and the collective, a gesture that gives a semblance of individual expression to the units that's grounded in Cirque du Soleil's expressive creativity.

    Sunday, February 27, 2005

    Mark Your Lucky Calendars

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    Come to TENbyTEN's RELAUNCH and "LUCK" ISSUE RELEASE PARTY on FRIDAY, MARCH 4, 2005 and your chances of a prosperous future will increase dramatically!

    ♠ Start out your evening by testing your wits at TENbyTEN's "UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE" TREASURE HUNT at the MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART's First Friday (220 E. Chicago Avenue) from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm.
    Glorious prizes will be up for grabs!
    ($7 MCA members, $14 non–members)

    ♠ Then go to our RELEASE PARTY at DARKROOM
    (2210 W. Chicago Avenue)
    9:30 pm to 2:00 am

    Live music by THE NEW CONSTITUTION

    COMPLIMENTARY COCKTAILS by Absolut Citron and FREE PSYCHIC READINGS from 9:30 to 10:30 pm Free REVIVE VITAMIN WATER chasers for the next day's hangover

    312.738.2990 or for more details

    Friday, February 25, 2005

    In a Nutshell

    In what has to be the best exhibition title I've heard in a long time, Frances Glessner and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death opens tonight at, appropriately, the Glessner House Museum at 1800 South Prairie Avenue.

    From Glessner House's web page:
    The only daughter of John and Frances Glessner...Frances Glessner Lee founded the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard in 1936 and was later appointed honorary captain in the New Hampshire state police....she noticed how often officers mishandled evidence and mistook accidents for murders and vise versa. In the 1940s and 1950s, she built stunningly detailed dollhouse crime scenes based on real cases to train detectives to assess visual evidence. She called these teaching tools the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, inspired by the police saying: "Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell."...Still used in forensic training today, the eighteen dioramas [in the exhibition] are engaging and shocking visual masterpieces. Built on a scale of 1:12, they each display an astounding level of precision: pencils write, window shades move, and every detail -- a newspaper headline, a bloodstain on the rug, an outdated wall calendar, a cartridge casing-- becomes a potential clue to the crime."

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    Amazing. Take that, CSI!

    A 1992 essay from the American Medical News by Bruce Goldfarb, "Small-Scale Tragedies," has more information and images on these models.

    (via Chicagoist)

    Magazine "Event" of the Moment

    Archinect reports on the launch of VOLUME, a project by Archis, AMO (the research and design portion of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, aka Rem Koolhaas's office), and CLAB (The Columbia Laboratory for Architectural Broadcasting).

    A press conference (VE#1) will be held on Monday, February 28 at 6:30 at the Wood Auditorium in Avery Hall at Columbia, with Ole Bouman, Rem Koolhaas, and Mark Wigley, unveiling the project.

    According to Archis' press release on this endeavor, VOLUME will exist because of the following arguable statement:
    Architecture has reached three of its most respected limits:
    - its definition as the art of making buildings
    - its discourse through scripted printed media and static exhibitions
    - its training as a matter of master and apprentice

    further saying,
    The pushing of these limits challenges the mandate and self conception of architecture. Architecture needs new modes of operation, converging the creation, the mediation and the appreciation of space.

    and that VOLUME will be a
    Global idea platform to voice architecture, anyway, anywhere, engine for architectural practice, a test ground for world class architectural thinking. An instrument of cultural invention, and re-invention. It will be dedicated to experimentation and the production of new forms of architectural discourse.

    I think what all this means is that this thing is going to be different. Not strictly a magazine, it's also a "platform," an "engine," and an "instrument." Regardless of all the jargon, it will be interesting to see what's up their collective sleeves. I'm of the opinion that the more architectural discourse the better (my favorite tagline is Loud Paper's "dedicated to increasing the volume of architectural discourse"), so VOLUME will be a welcome addition. If it lives up to its rhetorical hype is another thing... stay tuned.

    Update 03.01: A couple pages at Archinect deal with the VE#1 Press Conference, including a discussion and GSAP student George Showman's coverage of the event.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2005

    Our Surreal World

    Archinect posts some wild images of a "tennis" match staged on the Burj Dubai's helipad, from an article at This is London. Obviously a publicity stunt (though more literally too, because I don't see any harnesses on them, and the safety railing seems pretty inadequate for such a high altitude) for a tennis tourney in Dubai, the hotel, and the city itself, Andre Agassi battles Roger Federer for "King of the Skyscraper."

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    Photo by Getty Images

    But on a serious note, the image is rather surreal, as alluded to on the Archinect post. Outside of the obvious fact that two pros are volleying 700 feet above the beach on lush, bright green grass in a desert climate, I think what fools us is the background. The environment veils the water, beaches and city in a haze, so the contrast between background and foreground is great, making it appear like two images melded together.

    A similar fooling of the mind occurs in Olive Barbieri's site specific_roma 04, below.

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    On display as part of the MCA's Universal Experience exhibit, the film was taken by the artist from a helicopter flying over parts of Rome, here the Colosseum. But it's shot in such a way that the edges become blurred, flattening the context to the point that we think we're looking at a miniature. Paying close attention to the film, though, one notices that the cars and people below are moving. Even though this verifies that we're looking at the real Rome, it's still hard to shake the thought of a model when looking at Barbieri's imagery, just like it's hard to believe that Agassi and Federer are playing a leisurely game of tennis on a helipad.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2005

    Half Dose #5: O House

    Like some of his Japanese contemporaries, Kei'ichi Irie's houses have generic names that make them sound like experiments or parts of a larger set. O House is part of a portfolio that includes the C House, the W House, the Ta House, and so forth. Simplicity of materials and complexity of space seem to be a consistency for these mostly Tokyo residences on small urban sites.

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    The O House is located in the Meguro district (which borders the well-known Shibuya district), in a residential portion of Tokyo. Its most outstanding feature is a large window with a curling concrete projection on three sides. This elevated feature indicates that the living area is lifted off the ground, with bedrooms occupying this lowest level.

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    The interior is a plethora of concrete defining irregular spaces. It resembles more a museum than a house. The house was completed last May.

    - kei'ichi IRIE + Power Unit Studio home page.
    - MoCo Tokyo page on the architect's houses.
    - Architecture in the "Information Scape", their contribution to the 1996 Venezia Biennale.

    Monday, February 21, 2005

    Book Review: St. Louis Union Station

    St. Louis Union Station by Albert Montesi and Richard Deposki
    Arcadia Publishing, 2001
    Paperback, 128 pages

    Part of the "Images of America" series already featured on this page, this book illustrates the detail the series enables. Whereas other books have looked at whole cities, here the focus is on St. Louis's Union Station, not only as a building but also as a symbol of the Midwestern city's evolution last century. Tracing its history from the Old St. Louis Union Depot to the buildings current use as an indoor mall and hotel, black and white images tell its story. Local architect Theodore Link won a competition in the late 19th century, basing his design of the station on a walled town in France. To this day, the rusticated stone exterior and prominent tower have a strong presence in downtown St. Louis, its elaborate interior on par with big city stations like Grand Central Terminal. The rise of the automobile and aviation traffic could have been the end of Union Station, but a $150 million restoration in the 1980's returned the building to its former glory, even though the functions inside are different. Interestingly, a hotel has long been the structure's one consistency over the years, serving travelers traversing America in the early years and now serving tourists visiting the "Gateway to the West."

    Clinton Library

    Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas by Polshek Partnership

    The design of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center can be attributed to four parties: the Polshek Partnership for the building architecture, Ralph Appelbuam Associates for the exhibition design, Hargreaves Associates for the landscape architecture, and of course Bill Clinton for being a visionary client. When presidential libraries tend towards the traditional and bombastic, Clinton opted for a restrained high-tech architecture, with integrated exhibitions, the whole taking strides to intelligently deal with its site, situated on the edge of the Arkansas River near downtown Little Rock.

    Working with Clinton, the architects decided to situate the linear building perpendicular to the river, seemingly against the instinctive strategy that would parallel the building with the natural feature for views. By doing this, dramatic views are created to the east and west down the river, and - coupled with the 90-foot cantilever - the roughly 30-acre site continues along the water's edge unobstructed, and an arrival and celebration plaza ("scholar's garden") is created between the new structures and Choctaw Station, an 1880s renovated into the Clinton School of Public Service. Looking at the site and location plan, Hargreaves Associates exploited a 7-degree difference between the river's edge and the downtown street grid, a difference extended to the building's location.

    James Polshek, along with partner Richard Olcott, designed both a metaphorical and a literal bridge, relating to the existing Rock Island Bridge (closed since 1980 but set to open soon as a pedestrian connection across the river) and Clinton's "Bridge to the 21st Century." The library/museum is contained in the "bridge", constructed as a truss with 30' structural bays that allow double-height spaces along its length. The presidential archive is contained in a landlocked structure south of the museum, partially underground for archival reasons, though it also helps to form the plaza between it and Choctaw Station. With Clinton's desire for transparency in the final design, the architects needed to balance this desire with the needs of the exhibitions (no direct light and stable ambient environment), something they achieved with a double facade and a custom laminated glass. Mechanical systems are located under the main floor of the museum, allowing for exhibition spaces without any distracting ducts.

    Ralph Appelbaum Associates, known most for their exhibition design at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, was given the task of working within Polshek's design to exhibit the multitudes of presidential volumes and memorabilia in a manner fitting of Clinton's aims and the building design. Bound papers are collected in columnar shelves that exhibit the sheer scale of the presidency more than the content within. A canted wall acts as a timeline of Clinton's eight years, fitting with the linear arrangement of the architecture. A replica of the Oval Office at first seems out of place with the rest of the library and museum, but the way it's treated as an object celebrates its form while allowing it (internally) to keep the resemblance of its namesake. Like the rest of the museum it keeps one foot in the past while taking one step forward.

    Sunday, February 20, 2005

    This Just In

    The Chicago Sun-Times reports that this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize will be awarded in Chicago, an event that has typically taken place outside of the family's hometown.

    Not surprisingly, the festivities will be centered on Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion, designed by the Pritzker-award-winning architect Frank Gehry. The winner will be announced on April 4 with the ceremony held May 31 - one day before the groundbreaking for Renzo Piano's Art Institute expansion takes place.

    Piano - himself a winner of the Pritzker in 1998 - is expected to attend both ceremonies, the first featuring a panel discussion with him, Gehry, critic Ada Louise Huxtable, moderated by everybody's favorite PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose. Piano was actually interviewed by Rose just last week, an illuminating one-hour discussion about the architect's working methods, his four projects in New York, and his recent book On Tour with Renzo Piano. It is apparent, as the Sun-Times points out, that Rose is an architecture enthusiast himself. That should make for an interesting discussion.

    Friday, February 18, 2005

    Universal Tourist, Part II

    Continuing upstairs for the rest of the MCA's Universal Experience: Art, Life, and the Tourist's Eye exhibition, the best is yet to come. I apologize, though, for the shortage of images this time.

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    After ascending the elliptical stairs past a couple small galleries, one is immediately struck by the bright orange carpet laid across most of the fourth floor. Attributed to Rudolph Stingel, the artist responsible for carpeting Grand Central Terminal last year in a patterned graphic. Here the effect is just as jarring, adding an explosion of color to the otherwise colorless galleries.

    Michael Workman's review in Newcity talks about the orange blinding the visitor during the daylight hours as it's reflected off the white surfaces, though visiting after sunset the effect is different, yet of equal interest. With the contrast between the illuminated galleries inside and the darkness outside, the gallery windows act like a mirror, creating the illusion of a space twice as big.

    This orange-carpeted space is littered with surprisingly comfortable wooden chairs grouped around suspended monitors, intended to resemble an airport but feeling like something between an airport and a museum. Regardless of the intention, it's a great space to sit down in, not only for the film and videos but for the enjoyment of the space. Since I don't have a picture of the gallery, you'll either have to take my word for it or just visit for yourself. I definitely recommend the latter.

    Once past the orange carpet and into the southwest corner of the fourth floor, the effect of the color is almost immediately forgotten. Sitting in a mirrored space is Urban Landscape by Zhan Wang, containing hundreds of pots, pans, utensils, and other items all in stainless steel. The effect is intense.

    Stainless steel is found in other parts of the exhibition, most notably Jeff Koons's Rabbit, but here - combined with the mirrors - the symbolism isn't as subtle. We are confronted with a number of standardized objects with their ageless shine, their position based on Chicago postcards the artist saw (in 2003, the same exhibit used dry ice and irregular boulder shapes to resemble the Chinese landscape), definitely a critique of Western ideals and ways upon other cultures.

    Everybody's favorite "bean" artist, Anish Kapoor, contributes a piece titled My Body Your Body from 1993. Unlike his Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, this piece seems to absorb light rather than reflect it. What at first glance is a two-dimensional painting reveals itself over time, much like a James Turrell light installation, to be a deep abyss cut into the wall. Looking up at the skylight, it's apparent that the wall was built out to accommodate the artwork. The blue pigment is so consistently devoid of depth that the overall effect is eerie. If it were possible to reach into it I would have, but we are left to our mental constructs, which contributes to its eeriness.

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    Nearby is Vito Acconci's Convertible Clam Shelter (above), two large clams that invite interaction. A softly-glowing built-in orb and relaxing music lull the weary visitor into a relaxed state, an interesting paradox for something (visiting an art museum) that's typically seen as a meditative act. But with MOMA's recent expansion and the blossoming of museums all over the world, the experience of going to a museum is changing - towards something more akin to a shopping mall than a place of refuge - definitely something this exhibition is keenly aware of.

    Many other artists have works on display on this half of the fourth floor, from Warhol and Smithson to Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Philippe Parreno. But on the other half of this floor, only a few pieces are on display, with two of them taking up the majority of the space.

    Peter Fischli & David Weiss's Visible World collects thousands of brightly colored travel photographs from all over the world, culminating 15 years of globetrotting. These small format transparencies lie on a continuous 92-foot light table. Many images are familiar tourist sites, be them natural or man-made, though scenes of daily life are interspersed, indicating the tourist value of "culture watching", or the flaneur. The table takes up most of the space, one wall showing Andy Warhol's 8-hour ode to the Empire State Building.

    Thomas Hirschhorn's Chalet Lost History takes up one full gallery, an immersive installation made with cheap materials and containing everything from refrigerators and fans to sex objects and pages from hardcore magazines. A consistency across each of the three rooms is Egypt, be it through books, cheaply-fabricated crypts and pyramids, or the space itself, a cramped environment that in some ways replicates the tombs of past pharaohs. It's a somewhat confusing work that can be difficult to digest for some people, but its scale and immersive qualities are undeniable. Aesthetically, it's not my thing, but the act of actually moving through art I find appealing.

    To loosely sum up, Universal Experience has something for everybody. The exhibition is much like traveling to a distant land that holds a variety of objects and images to be discovered.

    Previously: Part I, Downstairs.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2005

    Universal Tourist, Part I

    Yesterday I visited the MCA for their BIG exhibition, Universal Experience: Art, Life, and the Tourist's Eye, and I must say I was impressed. Comprising all floors of the museum and its front door, it is the first exhibition to take over all the facilities since 2000's show At the End of the Century: 100 Years of Architecture. Unlike that show, Universal Experience is starting in Chicago, usually the recipient of exhibitions started in other cities. Nice to be on the giving end for a change.

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    Two large sculptural installations greet the visitor outside, Elmgreen and Dragset's Short Cut ripping up the plaza, and Thomas Schutte's Ganz Grosse Geister (Big Spirits XL), three figures hanging out on a low roof adjacent to the museum's steps. The sharp difference between the two artworks sets the stage for the variety of objects and images inside.

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    One of the greatest aspects of the MCA's otherwise banal building is the large wall visible from the plaza through the wall of glass at the top of the steps. The curators always take advantage of the location with interesting murals and 3-d objects; in this case curator Francesco Bonami lets Jim Hodge's don't be afraid (image above) greet visitors with the phrase of the title written by United Nations members in their native language. Immediately, it's made aware that the exhibit isn't solely about tourism but also about cultural interaction on different levels.

    I could go on an on about much of the artwork on display, but I'll limit myself to pieces of interest "architecturally" and the way the exhibition is laid out itself.

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    To enter the two main galleries on the ground floor, one walks under a mural wrapping the wall and ceiling by Rem Koolhaas, Robert Somol and Jeffrey Inaba, titled Roman Operating System, Project on the City (R/OS) (above). A product of their research on ancient Rome, the image is a blowup of the ancient Peutinger Table, a scroll that acted like a contemporary "Let's Go" guide. It's an appropriate, "ceremonial" archway to the exhibition's beginning.

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    Of the two large galleries on the main floor, one contains many small pieces - most notably Hiroshi Sugimoto's photograph of a wax The Last Supper in Japan (portion above) and Matthew Buckingham's 16mm film of a man following another man around Vienna - while the other contains only two: a dark space filled with suspended displays of people waking in foreign places, and a room full of child-like models and drawings that are made by people who haven't visited the place they're depicting, going by the artist's physical description. At first I was put off by the latter, wondering what it was doing in the museum, but the idea explains not only the execution of the pieces but also some psychological aspects of how we experience and remember places, be it directly or indirectly. It reminded my girlfriend Karen of Aldo Rossi work, and given the importance of memory in his work and the child-like quality of his drawings, that comparison seems appropriate.

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    Moving into the cafe, two large murals cover the walls looking towards the museum's garden beyond. NL Architects envision two scenarios involving ships: aircraft carriers turned into amusement parks in the ocean waters and large cruise ships apparently docked inland, disturbing the tranquility of an Italian city. Titled Cruise City, City Cruise, there's something appealing about these images, be it the juxtaposition of contradictory things or the sheer joy they express.

    Tomorrow: Part II, Upstairs.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2005

    Half Dose #4: Courtyard House

    Milwaukee's Johnsen Schmaling Architects are riding a nice, little wave at the moment. They're featured in archrecord2 this month and have an exhibition of their work - titled "Extending the Surface" - at I-space in Chicago until February 26.

    Archrecord2 covers a couple built projects - a penthouse pavilion (for which they won a 2004 AIA Wisconsin Award) and a prototype duplex - as well as a couple projects - a house and a parking garage renovation in downtown Milwaukee. All these are featured in the exhibition at I-space I visited over the weekend, though the project that stood out for me was the Courtyard House.

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    The one-story house in Lake Forest, Illinois (about 20 miles north of Chicago on Lake Michigan) is roughly square in plan and punctuated by two rectangular courtyards, positioned at opposite corners from each other.

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    The placement of the courtyards allows the interior spaces to have views of landscape on all sides, filling the house with greenery.

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    The exterior is similar to many of their other projects: a layered and seemingly random facade veils the house while allowing selective views in both directions, as the image above illustrates.

    - Johnsen Schmaling Architects web page.
    - archrecord2's feature on the firm.
    -'s article on the firm.
    - Europaconcorsi's page on the firm with five projects featured (Duplex 01 and 02, the Borke House, the parking garage, and the penthouse pavilion).

    Monday, February 14, 2005

    Book Review: City Planning According to Artistic Principles

    City Planning According to Artistic Principles by Camillo Sitte
    Random House, 1964
    Paperback, 205 pages

    Originally published in 1889, Camillo Sitte intended his book as a guide for locating monuments in public spaces, particularly Vienna, but what resulted is a criticism of modern city planning that valued logic and mathematical solutions over artistic considerations. He looks to Italy and its Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque spaces as ideals (especially the Piazza della Signoria in Florence and Piazza San Marco in Venice), though he realizes that simply copying historical city spaces into modern plans would not work. Although he has an apparent affection of these and other spaces, they were generated under much different conditions than his own, so he tries to learn from their principles and find appropriate solutions to specific area of concern in Vienna.

    He concludes the book with a plan for reshaping a portion of the Austrian city; along the way he generates a number of rules pertinent to public spaces, such as not locating churches, public buildings, or monuments in the middle of squares, and that nearby buildings shouldn't compete with the important building of the square. Piazza San Marco (on the cover, at left) is a telling example: the Church of San Marco is definitely the important building of the piazza, engaged with its surrounding rather than isolated in the middle of the space, with the remaining building subservient to the church via repetitious bays and other means. While these rules may no longer apply over 100 years after the book's publication, they are still a fitting way of reframing historical spaces as a way to improve contemporary spaces in a fitting manner.

    GGG House

    GGG House in Mexico City, Mexico by Albert Kalach

    Revisiting a project featured on this page about four years ago, the GGG House by Alberto Kalach (with Daniel Alvarez) is a complex design of concrete and light, inspired by the work of artist Jorge Yazpik, who has three sculptures placed in reflecting pools about the house. Both the sculptures and the house carve openings into mass, an intricate interrelationship of solid and void, each finding release in its surroundings.

    For the house, the release is its rear yard. From the solid presence at the street and entry, through the maze-like interior of tight corridors and glass bridges, to the living area overlooking the yard, this is a movement from dark to light, mass to air. Sliding glass panels at two sides of the living room bring the yard into the house, and vice-versa. Along this route fraught with existential meaning, one receives glimpses of the house and surroundings via slender openings in the thick concrete walls, while more substantial glazing is open to the reflecting pools and sculptures.

    But Kalach doesn't express the carving too literally in the house's interior surfaces. Rather, he varies the textures and formation of the concrete, while also adding stone and wood to the mix for further refinement and roughness, respectively. When glass is used, in many cases it is mullionless to almost disappear. In these and other details, the house recalls the great Carlo Scarpa, whose Villa Ottolenghi is equal parts grotto and house and an experiment in texture; in many ways it is a precursor to the GGG House.

    With the great expense required to design and construct a custom single-family house, it is no surprise that many clients are art collectors, an equally money-necessary pastime. But whereas most house designs may only use the walls for the art, GGG House is actually physically designed around the art. Pockets in the house's mass then aren't only corridors, kitchens, bathrooms, etc., but spaces specifically for the sculptures. So ultimately the carving of the house acts to explain and further the exploration of space in Yazpik's sculptures, at a greater scale and with the purpose of function.