My recent posts at World-Architects


Monday, May 22, 2017

El Helicoide

Head over to World-Architects to read my recap of the small but illuminating El Helicoide: From Mall to Prison exhibition at the Center for Architecture. The show focuses on the El Helicoide building in Caracas, which was built as a mall in the late 1950s but never used as such; it now functions as a prison – an illegal one at that.

The exhibition will be joined in the summer by the book From Mall to Prison: El Helicoide's Downward Spiral, published by Urban Research; it will be celebrated with a book talk on July 13th at the Center. Further, a complementary program, Modern Architecture and Design in Venezuela, will be held with exhibition curator Celeste Olalquiaga and others at the Center on May 30th.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Storefront's ARTIFACTS

On Tuesday, May 23, the Storefront for Art and Architecture is holding its spring benefit, ARTIFACT, at Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan. Storefront will be honoring Denise Scott Brown and Murray Moss, and will be launching New Artifacts, specially commissioned pieces by Adam McEwen, LOT-EK, and Murray Moss with Lobmeyr.


ARTIFACT takes place from 7pm to midnight at Federal Hall, 26 Wall Street. Tickets can be purchased here. Although it's the same evening as my book talk at the Skyscraper Museum, there's plenty of time to do both – that's my plan.

Friday, May 19, 2017


Anish Kapoor's Descension is on display at Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1 until September 10th. I visited yesterday and made a short video of it (turn up the volume for best effect):

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Today's archidose #964

Here are some of my photos of Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge by Marvel Architects.

Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Reminder: '100 Years, 100 Buildings' Book Talk

On Tuesday, May 23 I'll be giving a book talk at the Skyscraper Museum in Lower Manhattan. The event takes places from 6:30pm to 8pm and is free. Head to the Skyscraper Museum website to reserve a ticket.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Book Review: The Experience of Architecture

The Experience of Architecture by Henry Plummer
Thames & Hudson, 2016
Hardcover, 328 pages

Although usually overshadowed by form, material and technique when it comes to books on architecture, experience seems to be making a comeback. Recent years have seen a few books with an emphasis on experience: Architecture and Movement: the Dynamic Experience of Buildings and Landscapes by Peter Blundell Jones and Mark Meagher, The Space Within: Interior Experience as the Origin of Architecture by Robert McCarter, and Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives (review forthcoming) by Sarah Williams Goldhagen. Add to those Henry Plummer's The Experience of Architecture and there's a small-scale trend taking place, one where ideas from the 1970s are popular once again.

[Spread with Pierre Chareau's Maison de Verre]

This book being authored by Henry Plummer means "experience" is firsthand; as in all of his books, his own beautiful photographs accompany his words. It's clear that for Plummer the camera is a tool for capturing not only what he sees, but also how he experiences spaces. As the spreads from The Experience of Architecture here reveal, he trains his lens on details, paths, frames and vistas. To put it another way, he's not interested in overall shots of buildings or the images that make them recognizable; he'd rather hone in on the parts of buildings that people interact with: the paths they choose, the mechanisms they operate, or the steps they ascend or descend. More than his other books I've reviewed previously, the text and the photographs in The Experience of Architecture work together extremely well, only occasionally departing ways (his descriptions of buildings not accompanied by photos – and therefore not visited by Plummer – don't hold up as strongly in their arguments as those that share both words and images).

[Spread with traditional Japanese architecture]

Plummer's argument for designing what he calls "truly actionable spaces" – spaces that invite people to respond creatively and promote them from "patients" to "agents" – plays out across five chapters: "Floors of Agility" on the surfaces we traverse; "Mechanisms of Transformation" on the opening and closing of doors, windows and other membranes; "Spaces of Versatility" on ambiguous spaces that invite multiple uses; "Depths of Discovery" on residual spaces and layered surfaces that provoke our curiosity; and "Fields of Action" on "open forms" that open up possibilities. In each chapter the author-slash-photographer lays out his ideas on each theme and then presents in loosely chronological order some examples that fit. He moves from traditional precedents (towns of Greece and Italy, Japanese dwellings) to some fairly obvious names (Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis I. Kahn, Carlo Scarpa, Maison de Verre) as well as some surprising ones (Wharton Esherick, ) that crop up repeatedly. His frames of reference could be seen as fairly small, but it's hard to argue with the quality of the spaces he describes and depicts – some strong arguments for architects to enrich the spaces that people live, work, and play in every day.

[Spread with Carlo Scarpa's Ca' Foscari in Venice]

Friday, May 12, 2017

Today's archidose #963

Here are some photos of the Socio-Cultural Center of Costa Nova (2015) in Costa Nova, Aveiro, Portugal, by ARX Portugal. (Photographs: José Carlos Melo Dias)

Costa Nova, Centro Sócio-Cultural. ARX Portugal
Costa Nova, Centro Sócio-Cultural. ARX Portugal
Costa Nova, Centro Sócio-Cultural. ARX Portugal
Costa Nova, Centro Sócio-Cultural. ARX Portugal
Costa Nova, Centro Sócio-Cultural. ARX Portugal
Costa Nova, Centro Sócio-Cultural. ARX Portugal
Costa Nova, Centro Sócio-Cultural. ARX Portugal

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

What Will the OPC Look Like?

Last week the Obama Foundation unveiled the initial design by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners (TWBTA) and Interactive Design Architects (IDEA) for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), located on a portion of Jackson Park on Chicago's South Side. The design consists of three buildings – two low and one tall – arranged about a central plaza that faces west. Images were limited to some model shots and a rendering looking north across the plaza toward the tall museum volume. Not surprisingly, much of the criticism of the initial design has focused on the museum "tower," which readers of Blair Kamin "are likening it to a Mayan temple, a pyramid or a mausoleum ... [and] view the design as an opaque and self-important structure, not a beacon of transparency."

[Rendering of Obama Presidential Center by TWBTA and IDEA]

One side effect of unveilings like last week is that, even if renderings appear clearly as renderings, people think that what they'll see is what they get. Yet architectural designs go through sometimes dramatic changes from concept design to the final design that is built. One case in point is TWBTA's own Logan Center for the Arts on the University of Chicago campus, about a half-mile west of the OPC site. Like the OPC, the firm's 2008 Logan design featured a tower – a top-heavy one at that:

[Rendering of Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts by TWBTA, 2008]

In a short Building of the Week feature at World-Architects, the architects responded to my question about any changes in the project with: "As the project moved forward, the design evolved, but ultimately the concept didn’t change. This was based on a tower and a field. ... The tower became simpler than the competition entry which had a cantilever at the top." That change in the tower design is clear when comparing the above rendering to a photo as completed (note: rendering is from the northeast, while the photo is from the northwest):

[Photograph of completed Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts by TWBTA, 2012 | image source]

The final design of the Logan Center tower makes it clear that TWBTA design from the inside out; the openings, sections of curtain wall, and outdoor space relate to particular functions housed in the tower. And as Kamin states in his article about OPC's tower, "The contents of the museum and their display still must be worked out by the architects and the exhibition designers, New York's Ralph Appelbaum Associates." So it's highly likely that the "Mayan temple" will resemble something else – or more likely have an unanticipated appearance, in the manner of Logan – as the design advances toward construction.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hursley at Garvey|Simon

Last Thursday I ventured to Garvey|Simon gallery in Chelsea for the opening of Timothy Hursley: Tainted Lens, which is on display until June 10th. Hursley, who is based in Little Rock, Arkansas, is known to many architects for his documentation of Rural Studio projects as well as works by prominent architects in the South and Midwest. Yet in addition to his architectural photography, Hursley has consistently produced a diverse range of fine art, such as his many photos of the so-called Broken Silo near Greensboro, Alabama. A selection of his fine art photographs make up the exhibition at Garvey|Simon.

Hursley (at left in the above photo) usually presents the Broken Silo as four photographs side-by-side, rather than one individual photo; it's like he's portraying the four architectural elevations of the damaged structure. If the silo were intact and operational, only one photo would be necessary, since the cylindrical form would appear the same from all vantage points. In essence, the tornado that damaged the silo turned it from a building into a piece of architecture and therefore, in my interpretation at least, made it worthy of Hursley's attention.

Another thing the Broken Silo photos make me consider is that no image exists alone, be the subjects architectural or fine art. In the case of the former, a building is understood through multiple photographs, substituting the actual experience of a building for those unable to visit; in turn, multiple fine art photographs work together to create a theme and tell a story. Such is the case with Hursley's photos at Garvey|Simon, though one photo, behind the reception desk (above), stands out for its lack of a companion. It's fitting that the photo depicts two caskets – the solitary end we all face. Nevertheless, the caskets, oddly positioned on model train tables, are paired, subtly reiterating the multiples evident elsewhere on the gallery walls.

The photos that garner the most attention depict the brothels in Nevada. Previously Hursley's photos were collected into Brothels of Nevada: Candid Views of America's Legal Sex Industry from Princeton Architectural Press in 2003. A few of those photos are on display at Garvey|Simon, though there are also some more recent photos, from when Hursley revisited the sites of his originals. Again, the arrangement of multiple photos (above) allows for numerous interpretations and for certain formal characteristics to come to the fore.

Nevertheless, the individual photos, when looked at closely, hint at the potential narratives of the predominantly empty rooms. I was drawn to the above photo of a brothel in Hawthorne, Nevada, which is ripe with multiples – ashtrays and timers – but also has an ethereal green glow coming from an unknown source. Like the Broken Silo, the brothel photos and other series reveal how Hursley hones in on subjects that are mundane yet extraordinary and draws our attention to things that would be otherwise overlooked.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Book Briefs #29

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with two- or three-sentence first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews, but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than can find their way into reviews on this blog.

Ellen Kooi Above Rotterdam: One Glass Tower by Wiel Arets & Nine Situations by Katrien Van den Brande edited by John Bezold | Actar | 2016 | Amazon
Wiel Arets Architects' B' Tower is the subject of this book, which is unlike any other architectural case study. A collaboration between Arets and artists Ellen Kooi and Katrien Van den Brande, the book presents glimpses into the tower's units through Kooi's photographs and Van den Brande's stories. I was drawn primarily to the photos. Although obviously staged, the images reveal scenarios that activate the modern and often bare spaces of the five apartments portrayed. Ironically both the photos and the poetic words between the apartment spreads embody a way of thinking and interacting with the surroundings that is so much more artistic than the mundane, day-to-day lives often depicted in photos and writings about buildings.

Figures in Stone: Architectural Sculpture in New York City by Robert Arthur King | W. W. Norton | 2017 | Amazon
In a trailer to the documentary short Stonefaced, architect and educator Robert King describes modern buildings as "faceless." This phrase refers to the lack of detail in boxes covered with glass and metal, but it can also be taken more literally, since modern buildings are not adorned with the carved animal and human faces that King is enamored with. When I try to recall a relatively recent visage on a building, all that comes to mind is Charles Moore's Piazza d'Italia, where the architect himself spews water into the basin. But on King's turf, New York City, I come up with nothing. We must go back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries to find such representations and King has done just that, producing two books in the process – Faces in Stone and Animals in Stone – that are collected for the first time in a single volume. The figures take center stage in large photos – usually one to a page – but the book also includes small photos of the buildings they adorn, addresses, subway information, and helpful maps. With all this extra information, readers can venture out to see in person the faces that often go overlooked but which King has carefully trained his camera on.

MIT: The Campus Guide by Douglass Shand-Tucci | Princeton Architectural Press | 2016 | Amazon
My first, and so far only, trip to Boston was about five years ago. Although I made it to Harvard's campus, I didn't have the time to visit MIT, which is home to a number of notable modern and contemporary buildings, such as Aalto's dormitory, Saarinen's chapel, and another dormitory, by Steven Holl. As much as I like to visit a place with an architectural guide, I'm not sure this one would have made the ideal companion at MIT, even if it were around at the time. At 400 pages, it is a hefty guide, split into two halves: eight "portals" that paints a historical portrait of MIT, and eight "walks" that highlight different areas of MIT's campus on the left bank of the Charles. The second half – the true guide – is as verbose as the first half, with one walk consisting of basically standing in one point on a bridge and getting an overview of campus. The merits of the book include some beautiful photographs and a map, the latter of which visitors can carry around in lieu of the heavy book that is better suited to reading before taking a trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Thinking the Contemporary Landscape edited by Christophe Girot, Dora Imhof | Princeton Architectural Press | 2016 | Amazon
Last year, when I wrote a forthcoming book on modern landscape design, one of the most helpful resources was Christophe Girot's The Course of Landscape Architecture, a large-format book that covered the subject from prehistory to the present. Though not exhaustive, Girot's critical takes on the projects in the book got me excited for this collection of essays edited by the Swiss landscape architect and professor with art historian Dora Imhof. The seventeen essays, composed into three sections (landscape reframed, landscape composed, landscape rethought), "look at the profession of landscape architecture as it reacts to new challenges posed by both societal and environmental change and considers new fields of action." It does this with some heavy-hitting contributors: James Corner, Adriaan Geuze, Girot himself, David Leatherbarrow, Saskia Sassen, Charles Waldheim, Kongjian Yu, and numerous others. It's a diverse collection that is deep and thought-provoking but will also, as the editors admit, "raise more questions than it will bring answers."

Transmaterial Next: A Catalog of Materials That Redefine Our Future by Blaine Brownell | Princeton Architectural Press | 2017 | Amazon
Most books that collect multiples of certain things, such as buildings, partition them into chapters defined by typology or some other characteristic. That applies even more to a catalog such as this fourth Transmaterial book by architect Blaine Brownell. Here the chapters are material categories: concrete, metal, glass, digital, and so forth. But the small tabs on the edge of the cover hint at two more layers of definition. On the right side are such qualities as interfacial, intelligent, repurposed, and transformational, while on the left side are three broad categories: material, product, and process. Each of the more than 100 entries is defined by one of each, so readers can hone in on certain applications or qualities and find them fairly easily. Nevertheless, I can't help but continue to think that information in the Transmaterial books (previously I reviewed Transmaterial and Transmaterial 2) would be better in digital form – where entries can be cross referenced and changes made more easily – rather than in printed matter.

Wright Sites: A Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright Public Places edited by Joel Hoglund | Princeton Architectural Press | 2017, Fourth Edition | Amazon
2017 is the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's birth, which is being celebrated with exhibitions, publications, and other events. It's as good a time as any, then, to release the fourth edition of Wright Sites, which features 71 built projects open to the public in the United States and Japan. Most numerous, obviously, are the US buildings (all but three of them), which are organized alphabetically by state. The buildings are documented with photos, descriptive text, addresses, contact information, and details of public access. Six suggested itineraries at the back of the book are especially helpful for people planning trips to visit multiple Wright buildings. For those interested in a more comprehensive view of Wright's oeuvre, the fourth edition of William Allin Storrer's indispensable Complete Catalog will be released in June, but Hoglund's slimmer Wright Sites is handy for carrying around to the relatively small number of Wright buildings open to the public.