My recent posts at World-Architects


Friday, February 16, 2018

The Projective Drawing

This morning I stopped by the Austrian Cultural Forum New York to check out The Projective Drawing, a new exhibition curated by Brett Littman with ten artists responding to Robin Evans's classic 1995 book, The Projective Cast. Head on over to World-Architects to see some photos I took and learn a little bit about the show that's on display until May 13.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Today's archidose #996

Here are a few photos of GLASS (2015) in Miami Beach, Florida, by Rene Gonzalez Architect. (Photos: Maciek Lulko)

Glass Condos
Glass Condos
Glass Condos

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Review: John Vinci: Life and Landmarks

John Vinci: Life and Landmarks by Robert Sharoff, William Zbaren
Northwestern University Press, 2017
Hardcover, 272 pages

Being a preservation architect means toiling in relative obscurity. After all, it's the details of what is being preserved – the building, the creation of a particularly architect, the place where a famous event took place or a person lived – that are at the forefront of a preservation project, not the person in charge of its restoration. Gunny Harboe, for instance, is known by just about all architects in Chicago, but outside of the city his is hardly a common name, even though he's been responsible for the restoration of buildings by Wright, Mies, and many others. Ditto John Vinci, who's restored many notable buildings but was responsible for one in particular – the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room – that I first experienced as a teenager, on a field trip to the Art Institute. I learned that the space and building it came from were designed by Louis Sullivan; that the original was demolished in the 1970s; and that photographer and preservationist Richard Nickel died while salvaging some architectural artifacts from it (a floor collapsed and buried him in the basement for three weeks before his body was found). But did I know architect John Vinci was behind the removal of the original Trading Room and its reconstruction in the Art Institute addition? Nope, not until this amazing book on Vinci by Robert Sharoff and William Zbaren.

One thing that separates Vinci's firm, Vinci Hamp Architects, from Harboe Architects and other firms specializing in preservation is that Vinci also tackles new construction – he is not just a preservation architect. With his new buildings I had more familiarity. His most high-profile commission in this vein is the Arts Club of Chicago, located one block east of Michigan Avenue in the Streeterville neighborhood. It was completed in 1997, the year I moved back to Chicago after architecture school; I took a job in the area and therefore walked by the building a few times a week. While I didn't love the building immediately (I was fresh from an education steeped in Deconstructivism and therefore found it timid), it grew on me over time, as I saw exhibitions in the ground-floor galleries and got to eat lunch in the second-floor dining room a couple times. Connecting the two floors is a stair designed by Mies van der Rohe and salvaged from the Arts Club's previous location. The stair sits in the heart of the building, paralleling the way preservation exists in Vinci's heart. The stair echoes what he did decades earlier with Sullivan's Trading Room and the Art Institute, but in a minimally modern manner that permeates the rest of the building.

Crossing Through Colors
[My 2006 photo of Daniel Buren's "Crossing Through Colors" on display at the Arts Club of Chicago, with Mies's stair in the background.]

Although the statement that preservation exists in Vinci's heart may seem a bit sappy (I'm writing this on Valentine's Day, too), it's pretty accurate – not only because of the energy he has devoted to preservation, but because of the insight yielded by Robert Sharoff's essay that starts this book. We learn about Vinci from his upbringing on Chicago's South Side (he attended IIT because it was in his neighborhood) to the 2010 publication of The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, an unfinished book by Aaron Siskind and his friend Richard Nickel that he resurrected after a nearly 40-year hiatus and completed with the Richard Nickel Committee. Vinci, like many architects in Chicago, worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill after graduating from IIT. But as we learn in the essay, he spent more time boycotting the demolition of a Sullivan building than carrying out his entry-level tasks as SOM. (Not surprisingly, he lasted only six months at SOM.)

That Vinci's portfolio spans the opposite poles of historic preservation and new construction makes him a unique architect – in Chicago or elsewhere. His understanding of history is deep – not just canonical and far from superficial – it infuses his original creations, and, Sharoff writes, "it is that which separates him from the orthodox modernists of his generation and lends his work its peculiar power and richness." That richness is captured vividly in Life and Landmarks by photographer William Zbaren. He and Sharoff have co-authored numerous handsome coffee table books over the years, such as those on Mies and St. Louis, but here they have outdone themselves. The mix of biography and monograph – the former in Sharoff's essay and the latter in about twenty projects presented in photos, drawings, and text – is far from atypical, but it's done so well that learning about Vinci's life and work is a treat. Credit for the book's quality should be extended to the publisher, Northwestern University Press, and the designer, Studio Blue, who have packaged and laid out Sharoff's words and Zbaren's photos with an attention to detail that suitably parallels the work of Vinci himself.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Today's archidose #995

Here are a few photos of House Van Wassenhove (1974) in Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium, by Juliaan Lampens. (Photos: Lukas Schlatter)

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Friday, February 09, 2018

Book Review: Neighbourhood: Where Álvaro meets Aldo

Neighbourhood: Where Álvaro meets Aldo edited by Nuno Grande, Roberto Cremascoli
Hatje Cantz, 2017
Paperback, 208 pages

Of the many countries that participate in the Venice Architecture Biennale, Portugal is one of those that does not have a home in the Giardini. As such, it ventures out into the city for a venue – not necessarily a bad thing, since it spreads out the exhibition beyond the confines of the Giardini and Arsenale and further embeds the exhibition in the city. In 2016, Portugal's contribution to the Biennale was located on Giudecca, the long island that, outside of Palladio's Il Redentore, doesn't see as many tourists as the rest of Venice. Curators Nuno Grande and Roberto Cremascoli did this for a good reason though: they wanted to draw attention to an unfinished work by Alvaro Siza, Portugal's most famous modern architect.

[Exhibition at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale | Photo: John Hill]

Neighbourhood: Where Alvaro meets Aldo occupied a portion (photo above) of Siza's competition-winning project for a residential development (the renovation of Campo di Marte) on Giudecca. Siza broke down the project into four parts and brought in three other architects (Carlo Aymonino, Rafael Moneo, and Aldo Rossi) to design other pieces. This happened in 1985, but only the designs of the two Italian architects were realized, making the meeting of Alvaro and Aldo, who died in 1997, a somewhat sad one. Well, not entirely, since the actions of Grande and Cremascoli led to the rejuvenation of Siza's building and the partial completion of it before the exhibition opened in May 2016.

[Size visiting residents of his "Bonjour Tristesse" project in Berlin | Photo: Nicolò Galeazzi]

The exhibition and book of the same name go beyond the residential project in Venice to include projects in Berlin, the Hague, and Porto. All four cities are host to Siza projects, while all but Porto are home to Rossi residential buildings. Therefore the selection of cities/projects by Grande, who is from Portugal, and Cremascoli, who is from Italy, accentuates the relationship between the two architects who were born only two years apart. Unfortunately, but understandably given Rossi's premature death 21 years ago, the book is focused almost entirely on Siza (the same might have been the case with the exhibition, but I don't recall and my photos don't capture enough to elucidate things). This situation is further understandable given the format the curators adopted: following Siza on post-occupany-type visits (photo above) to all four of the residential projects. That said, it would have been great if Siza also visited residents of the Rossi projects to further bridge the work of the two architects.

[My pamphlets from the Biennale exhibition]

The book is basically split up into five sections: "Where Alvaro meets Aldo" followed by the four projects/cities: Campo di Marte, Giudecca, Venice, 1983/2016; Schilderswijk, The Hague, 1984/2016; Schlesisches Tor, Kreuzberg, Berlin, 1980/2016; and Bouça, Porto, 1973/2016; followed by an essay by architect Vittorio Gregotti and a portfolio of photos and film stills on Siza's visits. Those who visited the exhibition, like me, and picked up the pamphlets (photo above) will not find much new; most of the essays and some of the images in the book can be found there. But, of course, the book shares the exhibitions with a wider audience – and does it in a handsome package that elevates the importance of the trips Siza made at the behest of Grande and Cremascoli.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Book Review: Built Unbuilt

Built Unbuilt by Julien De Smedt and Julien Lanoo
Frame Publishers, 2017
Paperback, 328 pages

Back in 2011, when I reviewed JDS Architects' Agenda: Can We Sustain Our Ability to Crisis? alongside a few other monographs, I described the format of Agenda as a "diary."& That book's many projects by Julien De Smedt – both on his own and with Bjarke Ingels as PLOT – were structured via timeline: a year in the life of JDS that started with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The new monograph, Built Unbuilt, sets aside a chronological format in favor of two halves: built works and unbuilt projects. Nevertheless, parts of the book have a casualness that makes them read like a diary.

[Spread from "Built"]

The first half of the book, "Built," is where the co-authorship comes across: Julien De Smedt is the architect, the head of the firm that designed the buildings, and Julien Lanoo is the photographer capturing them in context and in use. The photos come across as most important on these pages, since the words and drawings are minimal, the photos take up the most real estate (usually one to a page but sometimes, as with Casa Jura above, filling a two-page spread), and therefore the photos are the primary means for readers to understand JDS's built works. There are about 30 buildings and pieces of furniture in the book, ranging from chairs and tables to housing and a ski jump.

[Spread from "Unbuilt"]

The second half of the book, "Unbuilt," is where the monograph makes a turn toward a diary. The short descriptions, drawings, and photos of the first half give way to a first-person narrative by De Smedt called "50 Shades of Trace" (followed by the primarily visual "Introspections" that documents over 25 projects from 2001 to 2017). It is a highly enjoyable read that highlights what is missing in monographs today (and perhaps has always been missing): a point of view, honesty, a bit of modesty, stories, and reflection. Drawings and model views of the unbuilt PLOT and JDS projects accompany the chronological essay, helping to pull the reader along but also tracking the evolution of De Smedt's evolving design and visual sense.

But most important in "Unbuilt" is the acknowledgment of the importance of unbuilt projects. Architectural history is full of them (Boullee's Newton Cenotaph, the Tatlin Tower, almost anything by Lebbeus Woods), but the lessons learned on the part of the architects are usually secret. Here they are revealed for all they were worth, be it in dealing with clients, hitting deadlines, or retaining an optimistic perspective even when so much time has been devoted to designs that will never move beyond the foam cutter.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Today's archidose #994

Here are some photos of La città lineare per Santa Croce (1969) by Zziggurat (Alberto Breschi, Roberto Pecchioli) from Radical Utopias Beyond Architecture: Florence 1966–1976, which closed on January 21 at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. (Photos: Trevor Patt, who has lots of photos of the exhibition in his "Utopie Radicali" Flickr set.)


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Saturday, February 03, 2018

Window to the Heart

Window to the Heart

On Thursday the tenth annual Times Square Valentine Heart Design was unveiled. I didn't make it to the press event that morning, but I did head there yesterday afternoon. I'm glad I did, because the installation's presence is more impressive after the sun goes down – appropriately so, given its location.

Window to the Heart

Window to the Heart is the creation of ArandaLasch + Marcelo Coelho with Formlabs, with Laufs Engineering Design as structural engineer. This year's competition was curated by Design Trust for Public Space. Billed as "the world’s largest lens," the 12-foot-diameter installation was designed by ArandaLasch with 3D-printing manufacturer Formlabs "to distort and capture the image of Times Square, optically bending light – and attention – to the heart-shaped window at its center."

Window to the Heart

With this goal in mind, the resulting effect is hard to grasp during the day:
Window to the Heart

But is more understandable once the sun goes down:
Window to the Heart

Times Square Arts, which commissioned the piece, describes Times Square as "one of the world's most Instagrammed places." Going along with that, the annual Heart entices people (couples, mainly) already looking for a photo opportunity to step up to the installation and use it as a frame for their sweetheart shot. I could have taken shots like this all evening:
Window to the Heart

Though I preferred this view of the installation, where people had to awkwardly crouch in order to pose at the level of the heart cutout (intentional on the part of the designers?):
Window to the Heart

Although the installation looks like glass (as most lenses tend to be), Window to the Heart was 3D-printed at a high resolution by Formlabs using clear resin. In turn, it's profile is close to nonexistent:
Window to the Heart

Window to the Heart is on display at Father Duffy Square in Times Square until February 28, 2018.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Candela in Chicago

From January 19 to March 3, Félix Candela's Concrete Shells: An Engineered Architecture for México and Chicago is on display in Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The show is curated by Alexander Eisenschmidt and is a collaboration between UIC and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

Unfortunately, I'm unable to catch this exhibition, but the photos here, courtesy of Gallery 400, give a sense of the show and make me wish I could see it in person.

Félix Candela (1910 - 1997) is hardly unknown to architects in the United States. (He is so famous for his concrete shell structures that a trio of them in Queens were considered his work for decades until some researchers determined they were designed by another architect.) Nevertheless, his life and work deserve more attention. (I had no idea he taught at UIC for most of the 1970s, for instance.)

Description via UIC:
Félix Candela's Concrete Shells: An Engineered Architecture for México and Chicago roots Félix Candela (1910-1997) as one of the most prolific architects of the 20th century in his advanced geometric designs and lasting influence in contemporary architecture. It originated through the research of scholar Juan Ignacio del Cueto and is curated by the architectural theorist and designer Alexander Eisenschmidt. The exhibition spotlights Félix Candela’s Concrete Shells through photographs, architectural models, and plans, as well as his time as a professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 1971-1978.

Born in Spain, Candela exiled to Mexico at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, where he lived for thirty years and established his career as an architect. In the 1950s, ten years into his practice in Mexico, Candela debuted his experimental signature shell structures by designing a continuous curved surface of minimal thickness. His designs evolved as feats of architectural engineering, using hyperbolic paraboloid geometry to create numerous reinforced concrete shells. These curved and cantilevered forms were not only structural advancements but also brought new textural and atmospheric qualities to the social and communal spaces they shelter. Famous Candela structures include the Pavilion of Cosmic Rays at UNAM, Mexico City (1951); the Chapel Lomas de Cuernavaca, Cuernavaca (1958); Los Manantiales Restaurant, Xochimilco (1958); and the Palace of Sports for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

In Chicago’s built environment, parallels to Candela’s work can be seen in the experiments with concrete architecture of the 1960s, including Walter Netsch’s UIC Campus and Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City. Recently, formal influences of his innovations can be found in works by Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Ali (Azerbaijan, 2013), FOA’s Yokohama Terminal (Japan, 2002), and UNstudio’s Burnham Pavilion (Chicago, 2009).

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Book Review: Krueck + Sexton: From There to Here

Krueck Sexton: From There to Here by Krueck + Sexton Architects; introduction by John Morris Dixon
Images Publishing, 2017
Hardcover, 272 pages

I'm not exactly sure when I first became aware of the work of Chicago's Krueck + Sexton (my best guess is seeing their competition entry for the American Library in Berlin in the early 1990s), but they were one of just a handful of firms I wanted to work for when I moved back to Chicago after architecture school in Kansas. Their built work at the time, mainly houses and interior residential projects in the city, exuded Miesian modernism – but with a twist. Although cognizant of, and trained in, Chicago's modernist history (Ron Krueck and Mark Sexton both attended IIT), they were not constrained by it. The over 20 projects covering nearly 40 years of work in this monograph are testament to the formal experimentation born from those Miesian roots.

The sizable book organizes the built and unbuilt works in four chapters – Crisscrosses, Interchanges, Shortcircuits, and Combines – that correspond to formal shapes: rectangles, curves, facets, and combinations of these three. Without strictly doing so, the order of these chapters works roughly chronologically, from the firm's breakout Steel and Glass House in Chicago (1981) to the South Florida Federal Building (2014). The first is all about rectangles ("the rectangle was sacred, so we decided to sever the [U-shaped plan] into three rectangles"), while the second combines faceted shapes and "sinuous warped planes." In between are primarily built works, though unbuilt works – such as the should-have-been-built Chicago Children's Museum in Grant Park – are included where form and surface are in synergy with the buildings.

Uniting the four chapters/formal techniques is one material: glass. This is hardly surprising, given the fact Krueck and Sexton are modern architects and glass is the most modern of materials. But in their hands, glass is never strictly a flat, transparent plane. It's clear that they are aware of the material's contradictions: clear and opaque, liquid and (then) solid, flat or bumpy, transparent or translucent. Consider a couple of their best projects: the Spertus Institute and Crown Fountain. For Spertus, the firm started with designs that mixed masonry and glass, in an effort to fit into its neighbors along the Michigan Avenue streetwall, but in the end they limited the facade to one material. The faceted glass skin calls attention to itself, reinforced by the frit pattern of small white dots that also cuts down on heat gain. Down Michigan Avenue a few blocks, their design for Jaume Plensa's rectilinear Crown Fountain masterfully stacks glass bricks without any apparent frame. Concealed behind the consistent wrapper is a hidden armature that maintains the purity of the external forms. In both of these projects, glass is the main expression – but as far a departure from Miesian tradition as is possible.

Other projects, such as their numerous apartment interiors and showrooms, combine glass with stainless steel, polished stone, and other surfaces in ways that are modern yet unexpected – kaleidoscopic in some cases. These and other qualities are conveyed in From There to Here through large color photographs on matte pages. With the firm's project texts put into narratives at the beginning of each chapter, the photos and accompanying drawings stand by themselves. They are the closest many readers will get to experiencing the projects firsthand. In this regard, the large size of the photos (pages are 10" x 12.5") are all the better for getting pulled into Krueck + Sexton's geometrical creations.