My recent posts at World-Architects


Friday, March 23, 2018

Stephen Shore's "Uncommon Places" Today

Over at World-Architects I did a write-up of Image Building, an exhibition that opened last weekend at the Parrish Art Museum. Some of my favorite images in the exhibition, which "explores the many connections found among viewer, photographer, and architect, from the 1930s to the present," are by Steven Shore. I didn't include him in my write-up, so I'm focusing on him here, specifically his Uncommon Places series from the 1970s. Sparsely populated, and with rich colors and tones, his photographs exude Hopper-esque qualities.

When thinking about what to say about his photos, I decided to jump into Google Street View and find the locations, so see how much they've changed. It was not a hard feat, given that Shore labeled his photographs as the intersections where he took them. Even if via an app instead of in person, it was fun to come across the same spots that he depicted back then. Below are nine of his photographs and nine embedded Street Views. In some cases, the differences between then and now are not very great, as in the first photo, but in many there's only one building or other element that spans the last 40-plus years.

Church Street and Second Street, Easton, Pennsylvania, June 20, 1974

Second Street, East and South Main Street, Kalispell, Montana, Aug 22, 1974

Thirty-First Avenue and Crescent Street, Queens, New York, October 28, 1974

Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974

West Fifteenth Street and Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, May 15, 1974

Broad Street, Regina, Saskatchewan, August 17, 1974

Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975

West Market Street and North Eugene Street, Greensboro, North Carolina, January 23, 1976

U.S. 93, Wikieup, Arizona, December 14, 1976

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Map Review: Concrete Chicago Map

Concrete Map Chicago edited by Iker Gil
Blue Crow Media, 2018
Double-sided, 16.54 x 23.39 inches

Think "Chicago architecture" and most likely concrete doesn't spring to mind. Brick, as in the Prairie houses of Frank Lloyd Wright, for sure. And steel, of course, in the towers of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and his followers. But think deeper: Frank Lloyd Wright designed the masterful Unity Temple in Oak Park, which left its concrete frame exposed. And before his influential 860-880 Lake Shore Drive apartment towers, Mies built the Promontory Apartments in Hyde Park, which likewise exposed its concrete structure. Although these two concrete buildings are not included in Concrete Chicago Map, they signal that the material was not completely alien to the Windy City. It would take architects working in the 1960s and later — those looking to move beyond the restrictions of these two, ever-present giants — to fully explore concrete's potential across Chicago and its suburbs.

The indefatigable Iker Gil — architect at MAS Studio, editor-in-chief at MAS Context, and associate curator of this year's US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale — edited the Concrete Chicago Map, which consists of a map on one side and an alphabetical list of its 52 buildings with photos of 20 of them on the other side. The latter is accompanied by Gil's short introduction, which calls out two other architects (not Wright and Mies) whose work stands out in the second half of the 20th century: Bertrand Goldberg and Walter Netsch.

Netsch, one of SOM's more idiosyncratic designers, was responsible for the masterplan and many of the buildings at University of Illinois at Chicago. A quick scan of the map reveals clusters of buildings at UIC Circle campus but also at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Apparently concrete was embraced most enthusiastically at academia more than elsewhere in Chicago.

Goldberg designed Wilbur Wright College, but he is best known for Marina City, whose concrete "corn cobs" were recently landmarked. His Prentice Women's Hospital, unfortunately, was less appreciated and met the wrecking ball in 2014. This fact is pointed out by Gil, in effect turning the map into an argument for preserving buildings that might meet a similar fate if they're not appreciated for their architectural merits.

[St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital by Perkins+Will. Photo © Jason Woods for Blue Crow Media]

As somebody very familiar with Chicago architecture, Concrete Chicago Map, though handsome, provides few surprises, making it ideal for travelers less versed in its architectural wonders. But surprises there are: Errol Jay Kirsch's expressionistic mass of concrete in Oak Park, the bastion of Wright, and Salvatore Balsamo's Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Northbrook, to name just two. The latter is not nearly as striking as any buildings by Goldberg or Netsch or even Jeanne Gang, a contemporary architect who fully embraces the material. I point it out since it's located in the suburb I called home for the first 20-odd years of my life (it's actually just a few blocks from the architect's office I worked at in high school), but somehow I never noticed it. This building reveals how Concrete Chicago Map extends well beyond the academic bastions of concrete and those notable examples in around the Loop, and it shows how some great architecture is right around the corner from where we live or work — we just have to know where to look. Too bad this map wasn't around for me back then.

[Science and Engineering South by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Photo © Jason Woods for Blue Crow Media]

Concrete Map Chicago and other maps can be purchased at Blue Crow Media.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Nice Adaptive Reuse

Yesterday, a nice pool struck my fancy. Today it's this adaptive reuse project: a creamery in Buenos Aires.

According to Hitzig Militello Arquitectos, who were inspired by precious stones and the below-zero, granite-slab preparation of the ice cream, "The new diamond-like structure dialogues morphologically with the pitched roofs of a 20th century chalet." Covered in metal tiles and glass panels, the expansion is clearly contemporary but cleverly wed to the original. I like, for instance, the way two of three dormers on the side of the original are brought inside the expansion.

These photos reveal how the spaces flow between new and old...

... and how even the second-floor seating area overlooks the shop area through the dormers, their glass replaced with glass guards.

Lastly, the elevation and section drawings show how new infiltrates the whole old building, in those faceted windows on the left, and the spaces that carve deep into the original house.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Nice Pool

Earlier today I was posting a project to World-Architects – L'Accostée House by Bourgeois / Lechasseur architectes – and was particularly taken with one aspect of it: the lap pool. Located on the first floor of the three-story split-level, the pool is tucked into the hillside, away from exterior windows. But it's far from a dark space.

[Photo: Adrien Williams, courtesy of v2com]

The narrow windows on the left, in the photo above, borrow light from an adjacent living space, but it's the white space beyond the wood ceiling that is most intriguing. There, as the photo below reveals, is a tall space, where the compressed feeling of the pool opens up dramatically.

[Photo: Adrien Williams, courtesy of v2com]

To understand how this triple-height space works, look at the plans below, where I added blue. The pool is a simple rectangular volume, but where it extends up three floors it grabs light from outside through narrow windows at the end, while also providing a view into/from the hallway on the second floor.

[Floor plans | Drawing: Bourgeois / Lechasseur architectes; blue added by me]

Sure, this pool cost more than if it were kept low across its whole length, but the added expense appears to be well worth it.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Today's archidose #999

Here are some photos of Art Museum & Library, Ota (2017) in Gunma, Japan by akihisa hirata architecture office. (Photographs: Ken Lee)

太田市美術館・図書館, Art Museum & Library, Ota, Gunma, Japan
太田市美術館・図書館, Art Museum & Library, Ota, Gunma, Japan
太田市美術館・図書館, Art Museum & Library, Ota, Gunma, Japan
太田市美術館・図書館, Art Museum & Library, Ota, Gunma, Japan

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Archidose[dot]org Update

Just some URL news: Yesterday was the last day for my URL. I'd had some issues with my webhost in recent years, and it got to the point where most of my blog stuff had moved to Blogger. So without much need for my own server and URL, I decided to ditch Everything here remains the same, though some of the images may be broken (many of them already were, due to my webhost problems). I'll be moving those images to Blogger in the coming months, but feel free to email me if you see a post with broken images.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Book of the Moment: Castelvecchio

One of the highlights of a semester spent in Italy nearly 25 years ago was a visit to Carlo Scarpa's Castelvecchio in Verona, Italy. With that, I'm super-excited to learn about Richard Murphy's new book, Carlo Scarpa and Castelvecchio Revisited, put out by his own (I'm guessing) Breakfast Mission Publishing.

[Cover and spreads courtesy of Breakfast Mission Publishing]

Some description from the publisher:
Carlo Scarpa worked on the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona intermittently between 1957 and 1975. It is perhaps his most important project. His work there draws on all his remarkable skills. It demonstrates how to work creatively within a building which already possesses a complex history. It is a magnificent example of his highly personal language of architecture, not least his incredible eye for detail and mastery of the crafting of materials. And it contains a museum exhibition which is as radical and timeless today as the day it opened in 1964 and has served as an inspiration to museum designers ever since. His most extraordinary achievement is where all these themes coincide in the astonishing display of the equestrian statue of Cangrande, perhaps the most remarkable setting for a single work of art ever made.

This book analyses not just Scarpa’s work as we find it today, and in great detail, but also introduces the reader to the complex history of the building as well as sequences of Scarpa’s own highly revealing drawings; witnesses to a brilliant curiosity and holistic approach to design where the art and architecture are completely complimentary.
Visit Breakfast Mission Publishing to read more about the book, look at even more spreads than the handful below, and buy it: £70.00, which includes postage and packaging to anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Book Review: Michael Graves: Design for Life

Michael Graves: Design for Life by Ian Volner
Princeton Architectural Press, 2017
Hardcover, 240 pages

Ian Volner's biography on Graves did not start out as such. As he explains at the beginning of Design for Life, and recounted at a book talk at Rizzoli Bookstore in New York late last year, it was first "imagined as either an oral history or a memoir," eventually taking the latter form. But Graves died at the age of 80 in March 2015, not long after Princeton Architectural Press accepted Volner's book proposal. So the journalist had to switch gears, penning a slightly critical biography that is aimed at a general audience and benefits from his 40-odd hours of interviews with the late architect and conversations with many colleagues, contemporaries, and critics. I'll admit to not being very excited to read a bio on Graves; after all, I was trained to basically abhor Postmodernism. But Volner's writing – critical but also compassionate of his subject – swayed me, turning my disinterest into captivation.

In telling the story of an individual's life and work, biographies tend to be chronological affairs, a necessary fact that can push them toward becoming dry accounts on the order of "this happened, then that happened..." Yet Volner, who has a knack for writing great sentences (e.g., "[Graves's] soft-hued vision of the world – the cerulean blue that filled his paintings and graced the handle of his iconic Alessi teakettle – grew from a deeply ingrained feeling that to be humane was a fundamental artistic duty"), structured his book in a way that departs slightly from the norm. Most of it is chronological, if thematic, but the first chapter takes place in 2003, when Graves went from being able bodied to wheelchair-bound. This does not give anything away, since most people – at least those interested enough in the architect to read a biography on him – knew he got around for the last decade of his life in a wheelchair. But by diving head first into Graves's disability, one of many important instances in his life, Volner plants a seed that pulls the reader toward those later years detailed at the end of the book – through his education, travels, and early modern phase; through his transitional collage-like phase "when he wasn't sure what he was doing," in the words of Eric Owen Moss; and on to the fruitful decades of PoMo and product design he is best known for.

In one of my notes from Volner's talk at Rizzoli back in November, I (or he or somebody in the audience, I can't recall) wondered if Design for Life is the first biography of a postmodern architect. Is it? Probably. This is partly because Volner managed to actually get it done (he admits in the prologue that "from the moment he or she sits down to write, the biographer's goose is pretty well cooked"), but also because biographies on architects are a rarity (searching for "architects biographies" on Amazon yields such titles as Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty rather than actual biographies on architects). Sure, there are bios on Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright (including a short one by Volner), and Philip Johnson, but outside of those personalities only Paul Goldberger's 2015 bio on Frank Gehry comes to mind as another recent example. So instead of asking if this is the first biography on a PoMo architect, maybe the more important question to ask is, "Will this be the last?"

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Today's archidose #998

Here are some photos of Città de Sole (2016) in Rome, Italy, by Labics. (Photographs: Trevor Patt)


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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Book Review: Empire, State & Building

Empire, State & Building by Kiel Moe
Actar, 2017
Hardcover, 264 pages

Exactly four weeks ago, news broke that JPMorgan Chase would be tearing down its 52-story headquarters at 270 Park Avenue in order to accommodate its 15,000 employees in a new 70-story tower on the same site providing an additional 1 million square feet of floor area. If all goes to plan for the bank, the act would enter the history books as the largest purposeful building demolition. Given that the building was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for Union Carbide and completed in 1961, the demolition would also mean the building's useful life lasted less than 60 years – a long time for buildings in general but hardly long enough for one totaling 1.5 million square feet. Arguments against the tower's demolition have focused on the role of SOM senior designer Natalie de Blois, the quality of its design and the mystery as to what would replace it, and the wastefulness of tearing down a building with so much embodied energy. This last point is relevant to the book here, which examines the life a nearby Midtown site now home to the Empire State Building.

[Spread via Issuu]

The spread above illustrates the roughly 220 years of building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, from a farmhouse in the early 1800s, to mansions and townhouses later that century, to the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at the turn of the century, and to finally the Empire State Building. The ups and downs of the red line coincide with building and demolition, and the sharp drop in 1930 illustrates how the pair of hotels was torn down to make way for the Empire State Building, which was erected in just over one year. While that speed is amazing, given the building's height and size, so is the fact the hotels only lasted four decades. The architectural life of the Waldorf-Astoria would have been much longer, but it was located on a portion of the island that changed from farm to residential to commercial as the city advanced north. In other words, the site's eventual future as an office tower arose from trends beyond yet encompassing the site's footprint. The same cannot be said of the area around 270 Park Avenue, which has been commercial since at least the 1950s; JPMorgan's actions are rooted in the area's recent rezoning, not just their needs. These circumstances, combined with the embodied energy of 270 Park, make that building's proposed demolition so unsettling.

[Spread via Issuu]

Would things be different if Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, read Kiel Moe's Empire, State & Building? Maybe not, if he limited himself to the text, which is unnecessarily obtuse for such a broadly appealing topic. This book is clearly written by and for academics, though the illustrations – archival photos and original drawings, such as the map above – are aligned with a book accessible to a wider audience. But Moe wants to expand the scope of architects' influence to encompass territory, communication, and speed, the "three great variables" that architects are no longer agents of, at least according to Michel Foucault. An analysis of the materials and energies taking part in the numerous buildings situated at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street should convince architects of the importance of these variables, if not wholly, then maybe that they should be responsible for them. If not, architects reading the book will come away with a couple new words: emergy, which may seem like a mashup of "empire" and "energy" but was coined by ecologist Howard Odum as the amount of available energy required for a product or service; and exergy, referring to available energy. Moe describes emergy as "a form of scale analysis," and while he admits that the permanence of buildings is an illusion, it behooves architects to better understand energy inputs in a building's construction, operation and demolition, and perhaps also emergy/exergy ratios.

Matt Shaw, in an editorial at The Architect's Newspaper, makes one of the few arguments for 270 Park's demolition and that it should be done "correctly," so materials are salvaged and reused in newer buildings and they set a precedent as more mid-century towers are demolished to make way for newer, taller, "greener" buildings. A commendable argument, and one that is geared to how (some) architects already think about embodied energy. Expanding this thinking to encompass emergy, exergy, and their ratios – which, Moe writes, "accounts for complete historical inputs, current use, and potential for future feedback" – wouldn't necessarily dissuade 270 Park's destruction, but it might ensure that its replacement will last as long as the Empire State Building.