Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review: LOT-EK: Objects and Operations

LOT-EK: Objects + Operations by Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano with Thomas de Monchaux
The Monacelli Press, 2017
Hardcover, 400 pages


[Cover via LOT-EK]

If one architecture firm deserves credit for sticking to its guns, it's LOT-EK. The duo of Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano has incorporated industrial detritus – primarily shipping containers – into their built and unbuilt projects for around a couple decades. Other architects have exploited the potential of inexpensive shipping containers, but none have done it so thoroughly and repeatedly. Projects like the 2008 Wiener Townhouse in the West Village, which I included in my book Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture, look to have abandoned the reuse of industrial parts, only to subtly reveal they are built with truck containers and ducts. About ten years later, LOT-EK has just completed Drivelines in Johannesburg, a live-work building made from dozens of "upcycled ISO shipping containers."

Whitney Studio
[Whitney Studio, 2012 | Photo by John Hill]

Objects + Operations, the duo's second monograph, focuses on works this century, be they "built, unbuilt, and in-progress; polemical, practical, and in-between." One thing I'm always drawn to with monographs is organization. Instead of organizing their projects by date, typology, or geography, LOT-EK opts for color: "Projects are sequenced along a spectrum of color, starting and ending at yellow." The choice of yellow is not surprising, given the cover of their first book, the way they use the color repeatedly, and the way yellow peppers much of the "industrial" urban environment: road signs, school buses, construction equipment, etc. But like the shipping containers they use so frequently, color is an important element: something to distinguish one container from another, one project from another, one place from another.

With color at its core, one could feasibly find a LOT-EK project by flipping through the book and landing in the right part of the spectrum. The Bohen Foundation, one of the few LOT-EK projects I've experienced in person, is red and therefore found in the first half of the book, between the orange and pink projects. The very yellow Van Alen Books, a temporary space I still miss, completes the book, a fitting place in my sentimental mind.


[Spread from book via LOT-EK]

But the book is not all projects. First, their works are situated alongside "Urban Scan," black-and-white photos that document urban environments; they are organized by geometry since color is not an option with these images. (LOT-EK's Instagram is a great place to keep up on their "scanning" of New York and other cities.) Second are short, one-page "interviews" – more conversations or statements than interviews – that express how the couple thinks and acts. Third and last are essays by co-author Thomas de Monchaux that "flow throughout the objects section of the book in seven distinct chapters." In the spread above, for instance, the documentation of Apap Open School is on the left, while an "Urban Scan" photo is on the right, above part of de Monchaux's text for his "LOT-EK" essay.

This approach to organizing and presenting the materials that make up LOT-EK's second monograph – this intertwining of four strands of content (projects, interviews, essays, and b/w images) – ultimately prioritizes gradient over compartmentalization, the latter being the norm in most monographs. But in LOT-EK's hands the monograph is a means of situating the reader within their world. Open the book to any page and the reader is confronted with a color (project) and a shape (scan), each a part of a gradient/spectrum that opens and closes in the same color and shape: yellow and circle. So readers are always oriented within the book's content, and therefore within LOT-EK's unique way of looking at the urban environment and their means of responding to it through their projects.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Today's archidose #985

Here are some black-and-white photos of UNStudio's Central Station (2015) in Arnhem, the Netherlands. (Photos: Marc Lankhorst)

Arnhem, Central Station (4)
Arnhem, Central Station (8)
Arnhem, Central Station (1)
Arnhem, Central Station (10)
Arnhem, Central Station (9)
Arnhem, Central Station (6)
Arnhem, Central Station (11)
Arnhem, Central Station (5)
Arnhem, Central Station (7)
Arnhem, Central Station (12)

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

November Talks

Just a heads up on a trio of New York-centric events taking place next month. Descriptions are courtesy the respective venues.

November 9 at the Architectural League of New York at 7:00pm:

All the Queens Houses
Photographs by Rafael Herrin-Ferri
Rafael Herrin-Ferri in conversation with Joseph Heathcott

All the Queens Houses is an ongoing photographic survey by architect/artist Herrin-Ferri of the (in)formal qualities of the borough’s attached, semi-detached, and detached houses and small apartment buildings. The survey explores the themes of identity, differentiation, and adaptation in the low-rise housing stock of Queens, often regarded as the most ethnically and linguistically diverse place in the world.

To celebrate the installation, The Architectural League will host a reception and discussion on Thursday, November 9. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., followed at 7:00 p.m. by a conversation on the changing residential landscape of Queens and the appeal of the spectacular vernacular between Rafael Herrin-Ferri and Joseph Heathcott.

More information


November 14 at the Skyscraper Museum at 6:30pm:

Mike Wallace Book Talk
Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919
Oxford University Press, 2017

Picking up in 1898, where the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gotham left off, Greater Gotham doubles down on detail to cover a remarkable period in New York City's history. Beginning with the consolidation of the five boroughs and ending just after WW1, this long-awaited sequel surveys two decisive decades that saw the city’s physical and population growth into the world's second-largest metropolis and a center of global finance. Join us as Mike Wallace discusses the remarkable book that Publisher's Weekly writes "sets a standard for urban history, capturing both New York's particularities and its protean dynamism."

The Skyscraper Museum offers 1.5 LUs for AIA Members for this program.

Reservations are required, and priority is given to Members and Corporate Member firms and their employees.
All guests MUST RSVP to programs@skyscraper.org to assure admittance to the event.

More information


November 16 at the Museum of the City of New York at 6:30pm:

Block by Block: Christopher Gray's New York
A talk moderated by Paul Goldberger

As the founder and writer of The New York Times “Streetscapes” column, architectural historian Christopher Gray wrote more than 1,450 articles between 1987 and 2014 in which he lovingly highlighted New York City’s everyday buildings with his characteristically wry sense of humor. Gray's passion for exploring the city’s design also prompted him to create the Office for Metropolitan History in 1975, a research site committed to bringing together disparate sources in individual collections about City buildings, thereby making their history more accessible to everyone, from tenants to scholars. To honor the passing of Christopher Gray (1950-2017), join us for a conversation with his friends and colleagues about his work and lasting legacy.

Paul Goldberger (moderator), architecture critic and Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair
Michael Leahy, longtime editor of Gray’s “Streetscapes” column at The New York Times
Francis Morrone, architectural historian
Suzanne Stephens, Deputy Editor of Architectural Record

Reception to follow.
Price: $15 & up, $10 for MCNY members

More information

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Einstein and Wright

I couldn't help being drawn to the fact that a note written by Albert Einsten in November 1922 that just sold at auction for $1.56 million is on Imperial Hotel letterhead.


Architects know the Imperial Hotel was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who boasted about it surviving an earthquake in 1923, the year it opened. Even with those "strong bones," the building was demolished in 1968 to make way for a larger building for the hotel.

A portion of Wright's Imperial Hotel sits in the Meiji Mura Architecture Museum in Nagoya:
Imperial Hotel

But Einstein wrote the note in November 1922, the year before Wright's hotel opened in September 1923. So what building was Einstein staying in, and why does the letterhead look very "Wright"? I'm guessing that Einstein stayed in an annex that Wright designed in 1919 to replace the old Imperial Hotel that was destroyed in a fire that year. The annex opened in May 1920 but then burned down in fires brought on by the 1923 earthquake, the same one that Wright's main hotel survived. Furthermore, with the old hotel gone and Wright's annex in place in 1922, therefore it makes sense that Wright's letterhead (he created many distinctive letterheads) would have been in place already.

If my amateur sleuthing reveals that Einstein stayed in a Wright building and wrote on Wright letterhead, so what? Well, I'm surprised that none of the articles covering the auction mention Wright, although they all, obviously, mention the Imperial Hotel. But if Wright's name were included as a piece of information in the auction (maybe it was, but I doubt it), would it have fetched more than $1.56 million? Who knows, but I'd wager that two famous names are certainly better than just one when it comes to putting a monetary value on history.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Today's archidose #984: Kinda Blue

Just a smattering of recent photos from my archidose Flickr pool that share an emphasis on the color blue. Mouseover/click photos for subject and photographer information.

Blue walk  — Le Fresnoy, Tourcoing
Oscar Tusquets Blanca - Stazione metro Toledo, Napoli
Selfridges, Bullring, Birmingham
Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo 10
RC Church of St Luke, Pinner
bild und tonmuseum 0791 Kopie

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Apple Store Opens in Chicago

Today the Apple Michigan Avenue store opens to the public. Designed by Norman Foster, the store replaces the older Bohlin Cywinski Jackson store a few blocks up Michigan Avenue. Like other recent Apple stores around the world, this one is more lightweight, transparent and outwardly simpler than older stores.


[All photographs courtesy of Apple]

The store is also a symbol of Chicago's move toward the river, something it has been doing with the Chicago Riverwalk (south side of the river, roughly between Michigan Avenue and Lake Street) and projects like this one on the north side of the river and the new CAF location opening across the river from Apple next year.



Although I've yet to see the completed store in person, these photos give the impression that the building is a good neighbor, both in the way it knits and visually connects the plaza at Pioneer Court to the riverwalk below, and in the way the construction fits into the Miesian tradition in Chicago. The latter is most pronounced in the way surfaces appear continuous from inside to outside through the super-clear laminated glass walls, particularly the steps and the wood ceiling. The photos give the impression that it feels like an Apple store, but at the same time it's a very site-specific way of inserting one into the city.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Today's archidose #983

Here are some photos of the exhibition Arniches y Domínguez: La Architectura y la Vida at ICO Museo (until January 21, 2018) in Madrid, Spain. (Photos: Ximo Michavila)

Arniches & Dominguez exhibition. ICO museum #9
Arniches & Dominguez exhibition. ICO museum #3
Arniches & Dominguez exhibition. ICO museum #8
Arniches & Dominguez exhibition. ICO museum #6
Arniches & Dominguez exhibition. ICO museum #5
Arniches & Dominguez exhibition. ICO museum #2

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Book Talk at the Skyscraper Museum

Next week I'll be giving a talk at the Skyscraper Museum on one of my new books, How to Build a Skyscraper. It will take place on Tuesday, October 24 at 6:30pm. More details below the book cover.



From the Skyscraper Museum:
In How to Build a Skyscraper, John Hill examines 45 noteworthy skyscrapers from across the decades and around the world – from our hometown Flatiron Building to the world's current tallest, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE – and highlights unique characteristics of their history, design, construction, and function. Each iconic building is described in concise text, beautiful photography, and bespoke drawings that reveal the tower's internal structure. Join us as Hill discusses selections from a book that promises to be a best-seller in The Skyscraper Museum's book store!

John Hill is an architect, editor-in-chief of the Daily News section of World-Architects.com, and founder/editor-in-chief of the popular blog A Daily Dose of Architecture, where he publishes daily articles about architecture news and book reviews. He is the author of Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture and 100 Years, 100 Buildings.

The Skyscraper Museum offers 1.5 LUs for AIA Members for this program.

Reservations are required, and priority is given to Members and Corporate Member firms and their employees. All guests MUST RSVP to programs@skyscraper.org to assure admittance to the event.

Monday, October 16, 2017

My OHNY Weekend

The 15th anniversary Open House New York (OHNY) weekend took place Saturday and Sunday, October 14 and 15. I was giving a walking tour for the 92Y on Saturday, so Sunday was the only day for me to get out and see some OHNY sites. I decided on one — well actually a few, all in one location: the buildings of McKim, Mead and White, Robert A.M. Stern, and Marcel Breuer on the campus of CUNY's Bronx Community College. (It was originally New York University, who sold the campus to CUNY in 1973.)

Here's a scan of the site plan provided by OHNY, showing the MMW and Stern buildings symmetrically facing a large quadrangle, and the Breuer buildings informally peppering an area to the south. (Only Meister Hall is labeled, but Breuer designed all of the dark buildings in that area, including, east to west, Carl Polowczyk Hall, Begrisch Hall, and Colston Hall.)


Here is a view of McKim, Mead and White's Gould Library on the left and Stern's North Hall, which serves as BCC's current library, on the right.
Bronx Community College

And the rest of North Hall, which was completed five years ago and "completes" the quadrangle first planned by Stanford White of MMW:
Bronx Community College

The interior of North Hall is clearly modeled on Henri Labrouste's Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (1851) in Paris, with a central row of columns marching down the large space and vaults spanning across to the exterior walls.
Bronx Community College

But Labrouste's delicate ironwork is eschewed in favor of aluminum column covers and Ionic scrolls.
Bronx Community College

Although not nearly as successful as its predecessor, North Hall's south-facing windows were inviting and fairly well used — for a Sunday, at least.
Bronx Community College

Exiting the west end of North Hall brought us to the Hall of Fame, a colonnaded walk that wraps the west side of the three Stanford White buildings of the original NYU campus: Gould Memorial Library, Hall of Languages, and Hall of Philosophy.
Bronx Community College

The walk was created to commemorate great Americans, with busts of noted scientists, writers, educators, and so forth alternating with the square columns. More than these busts, I was drawn to the views and the Guastavino tile vaults above the walk.
Bronx Community College

As impressive as the Hall of Fame is, it served merely as a prelude to Gould Memorial Library.
Bronx Community College

The copper dome hints at the impressive rotunda, reached via a central vaulted stair.
Bronx Community College

White designed NYU's Gould Memorial Library around the time he was designing the Low Library for Columbia University. Each building is similar from the outside, though I find the Gould's central space more appealing than Low's larger domed space.
Bronx Community College

Perhaps this appeal stems from Gould's rotunda being smaller than Low's rotunda, and therefore more intimate. I would have loved to experience the space as a library, when the walls were lined with books and the stacks behind were reached by small doors set into the shelves.
Bronx Community College

The Stern and MMW buildings were open to the public for OHNY, but the assemblage of Breuer buildings were accessible only via tours. Our fairly large group started with Meister Hall, which has a small auditorium enlivened by trapezoidal concrete walls on the side.
Bronx Community College

The facade of Meister Hall faces the campus's main quadrangle (there's a good photo near the end of Alexandra Lange's Curbed piece about the Breuer buildings at BCC), though the more photogenic side is the rear, which features a textured concrete elevation facing a sizable plaza.
Bronx Community College

Some relief from the sun (but not from the concrete) comes in the form of concrete canopies and benches.
Bronx Community College

From the plaza we cut through Breuer's Carl Polowczyk Hall to see the architect's most famous piece at BCC: Begrisch Hall.
Bronx Community College

This is clearly an example of "form follows function": the petit building contains just two lecture halls with raked seating that face each other and are accessed via a bridge or the stair seen here.
Bronx Community College

The westernmost portion of Breuer's 1960s additions to the NYU campus is Colston Hall, which is accessed via footbridges, a couple near the ground floor and a couple at the fifth floor.
Bronx Community College

When NYU buildings, Colston Hall served as a dormitory. Now as part of a dorm-free community college, it serves as office-space and for other functions.
Bronx Community College

This last photo from my visit to BCC afforded by OHNY shows an interior view toward those two bridges.
Bronx Community College

It also shows that the Breuer buildings could really use some TLC. Although the concrete finishes of the Brutalist ensemble have held up pretty well, the other elements (windows, doors, ceilings, etc.) could use an upgrade. CUNY needs to bring these modern spaces up to par with White's neoclassical landmarks and Stern's neotraditional addition to the campus.