REVISION

April 28, 2010
variations yale gallery
Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes, Sol LeWitt, 1974 (source)
Where JMW Turner’s ‘Dort, or Dordrecht, the Dort Packet-boat from Rotterdam Becalmed’, Photo by Richard Caspole, Yale Center for British Art, 1818 (source)

 

Having three options rather than one to select from is better practice in architectural design. To create something useful, beautiful, and capable of managing all the contingencies a design encounters requires trial and error, because perfect solutions do not exist. This seems self-evident to any designer. But a hyperbolic strain of this belief has become increasingly common: the more options, the better. Make a hundred, blue foam variations on a cube, because ten will not do.

 

What kind of architectural subjectivity is this? Rosalind Krauss perhaps had foreseen it in her essay on Sol Lewitt in 1978. Discussing the artist’s proliferation of forms and objects from a single ‘concept’, she writes:

 

There is, in Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes, as they say, a method in this madness. For what we find is the ‘system’ of compulsion, of the obsessional’s unwavering ritual… It is in that sense design without reason, design spinning out of control. The obsessional’s solutions to problems, strike us as mad, not because the solutions are wrong, but because in the setting of the problem itself is a strange short-circuit in the lines of necessity.

 

The mind is mechanized like a script. In design, this thinking emphasizes a lateral, proliferating production over an iterative, revision-oriented one. Multiplying choice by mechanized production, the designer selects from soundbyte forms—pixel, donut, or squiggle option—and endless deformations of each. Significantly, the operative design strategy is selection rather than postulation. No longer is the architect brandishing the willful hand, in which lies a perfected, principled design. Instead, the architect has become the critic—a post-human(ist) factory that produces and reproduces culture. One moves forward by deciding what is not good rather than what is good. Conviction and will are continuously deferred.

 

Revision is another word for process. Every idea, every sentence, once it is formed, begins the process of revision.

 

Revision is another word for erasure. A revision is new, it is renewed, a re-vision, a looking again.

 

A building is revised endlessly, but it is a machine for resisting revision. You move furniture around, you fix a door handle, you add curtains, take away blinds, you add a floor. Eventually, the building is bought and someone else wants to make it their own, and it is revised again, invariably.

 

Architects are almost never able to give revisions, but one notable exception exists in New Haven, Connecticut. There, two museums by Louis Kahn—the 1953 Yale University Art Gallery and the 1977 Yale Center for British Art—face each other on Chapel Street, bookending Kahn’s career in an unreasonably poetic way.

 

In short, the program and size are very similar—gallery space, a circulation core, administrative space, a street entrance. Kahn’s British Art Center alters and perfects his first try. A too-flexible open plan is changed for an interchangeable grid. A heavy, dour façade is changed for one that opens along the street and along the sky. An inscrutable structure is changed for a clearly legible concrete frame. One likes to think that architects learn from mistakes—their own and others—but these two buildings prove that a lesson is never absorbed unless one has to contend with its final, physical manifestation. Only then can revision begin.

 

In 1977, Vincent Scully compared the two buildings, tying both back to the legacy of Mies van der Rohe’s minimalist envelopes. The 1953 Art Gallery, Scully writes, “had employed the Miesian envelope and had also fought it, as something inherited and unwanted…But now, in his last urbanistic dialogue, he turned around and… more

 

Henry Ng

 

 

Aleksandr Bierig

 

3 comments » | Guest Contributors

TRANSLATION

April 23, 2010
render sancarlino
Helsingborg Render, Luxigon, 2009 (source)

 

While architects are charged with the design of buildings, they often spend as much time designing translations—renderings that function as visual-aids for clients. Extracted from monochromatic plans and elevations, the rendering presents an idealized vision of our dreary reality. It is a world where the sun is brighter, the faces are happier, and the trees are perpetually green. A world that would seem too good to be true, if it weren’t so far into the future.

 

Large cultural projects often utilize the rendering to excite the public, and drum up private donations prior to construction. However, When the finalized project is revealed, rarely is it able to live up to expectations. Impossible overhangs are pruned, glare from the sun burns and blinds, and the trees have all died a month after planting.

 

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Francesco Borromini, 1646 (source)

 

Architectural form and the signification of a function are not necessarily consistently related. Churches are a prime example of a building type where the essential function of the building is maintained while the dominant architectural language reinterprets this function in different stylistic eras within any given cultural context. For example, Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome belongs to the Baroque period and accordingly utilises the language of the curvaceous oval which is endlessly repeated creating a highly articulated space, whereas Le Corbusier’s St. Pierre in Firminy conforms to the austere forms of the modernist paradigm. While church functions may vary and take on different roles in various contexts, the basic elements include a space for an altar and an area where a priest is able to address a congregation… more

 

E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva

 

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LOCAL

April 22, 2010
map edible
Map of Nicosia (source)
Edible Estates’ Regional Prototype Garden #3, Maplewood, New Jersey, 2007 (source)

 

Locality relies on context to determine its boundaries. These contexts need not be geographical—they may exist on psychological, economic, sensorial, familial, and temporal levels. Additionally, localities can be expressed in varying degrees of specificity. Highly specific localities emerge from commonly held concerns, desires, and experiences. In contrast, generalized localities often reflect an outsiders snap-shot of a culture or context, void of its particularities.

 

Nicosia is the only divided capital-city in the world. After the Turkish invasion of 1974, it was bisected, along with the rest of the island, into two halves: one half belonging to the Greek Cypriots and the other half to the Turkish Cypriots. Each half of Nicosia exists in a perplexing spatial limbo in relation to the other: cleanly divided, yet sutured together. Although the two sides share an island the size of Connecticut and are in undeniably close proximity, they do not share a locality. To assert that you are from Cyprus requires a clarification pertaining to which side, in order to stake claim to a particular spatial and cultural position. Maps of Nicosia typically show the road names and cultural icons of only one half (alternating, depending on which side made the map you happen to belong to), showing the other side of the city as unexplored or unknown, akin to early world maps from the sixteenth century which vaguely depicted the portions of the world that were foreign or inaccessible.

 

If you ask an outsider if the two halves of the city are local, they will likely respond ‘yes’, because on a map, these areas are adjacent. To be local to Nicosia is to understand that these adjacent halves are worlds apart.

 

In North America, the average meal travels 1500 miles from where it is grown to where it is eaten. While this sound bite does not take into account the complex scientific, economic and political factors at play in contemporary agribusiness, it does illustrate one significant and somewhat absurd side effect of our current system. But, rather than focus on indicting an industry, I would like to use my space here to describe a possibility that is related to the local food movement, but which also has broad implications for urban form.



 

As a segue, I would like to quickly introduce Edible Estates, a project by landscape designer Fritz Haeg, described on his website as ‘an ongoing initiative to create a series of regional prototype gardens that replace domestic front lawns and other unused spaces in front of homes with places for families to grow their own food’.

 

What if an entire neighborhood was full of Edible Estates? What are the implications of transforming the ubiquitous suburban front yard into an infrastructure for the production of food? I am imagining a scenario where homeowners pool their resources—quite literally sharing a portion of their privately owned property—and form a sort of consumer co-operative.

 

With a neighborhood-scaled co-operative structure in place, each lawn would not be burdened with growing a diverse range of foods. Several adjacent lawns would grow potatoes, a few more could grow spinach, maybe a particular street would grow only… more

 

Jonathan Stitelman

 

 

Aaron Plewke

 

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CASTLE

April 16, 2010
castle candid
Castle Village, Midland, Ontario, 1973 (source)

 

As a child, castles held a special place in my heart. On a family trip to England, I insisted that we stop the car at every road-side castle from London to Land’s End: the towers of London, Dunster and Tintagel in Cornwall. I asked for Lego castles for Christmas, built castles out of snow and ice when the weather permitted and pretended that my bunk bed was a castle at nap time.

 

Despite my travels through the remnants of medieval England, my most memorable castle experience was a roadside attraction in Midland, Ontario. The castle consisted of a 500 square foot gift shop engulfed in concrete parapet walls capped with tin spires. surrounding the walls was a small moat filled with murky water. Even though this castle was tiny in scale, as a child of eight, I found it incredibly imposing. Sweat beaded on my neck as we approached the entrance, the eyes of a massive plaster dragon… more

Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s Wedding, Skibo Castle, Scotland, 2000 (source)

 

For the wealthy celebrity, maintaining a desirable profile is often achieved by surrounding oneself with the ostentatious: luxury cars, expensive jewels, boats and even castles. The last of these spectacular indulgences ranks high amongst coveted locations, particularly for the hosting of special events. When it comes to celebrity events hosted at castles, weddings top the list for their grandeur and glamour.

 

High priced agreements are made between the event hosts and magazines seeking to gain first dibs on photos documenting the celebration. In order to ensure exclusive press access, celebrity hosts are required to hire security teams to limit paparazzi around the perimeter of their chosen castle. In this regard, castles themselves are no longer able to fulfill their protective role—while once they could protect their aristocratic inhabitants from entire armies, they are defenseless against the capture of images.

 

E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva

 

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RELATIONS

April 7, 2010
venezia hats
Querini Stampalia Library, Carlo Scarpa, Venice, 1961 Manhattan’s Architects Perform ‘The Skyline of New York’, Beaux Arts Ball, New York, 1931 (source)

 

I am in love with Venice. I spent this past year thinking about my ode to this iconic city. How could I design something befitting such a grande old dame, with grace, mystique… My proposition was a contextual project, where the architecture forges a deep connection with its setting, a relationship with the city.

 

This project has got me thinking about how relationships in life and architecture are so similar. I approached my relationship in the following way. I attempted to land Lady Gaga onto the site, where I hoped to woo the fickle residents of Venice with my salacious forms and sexy images. I would overcome their backwardness by making them accept my futuristic design. I was rejected by the city. Looking ridiculous was not a way to assimilate into a city with such strong character. Simple diagrams justifying a physical connection to the city could not suffice either because Venice deserved more than using the same superficial stonework as San Marco. Forcing the acceptance of the city would not sustain a happy relationship between project and city that would last.

 

My inclination towards a very passionate, if not somewhat obsessive love affair with the textures of the city, was not a deep enough connection to be accepted. It is akin to wrapping Gisele in Coreten steel whilst trying to evoke the iconic Ayer’s Rock. Caring about Venice is not enough to overcome a lack of speaking Italian, as a lover must respect the cities heritage and complexity.

 

Throughout this testing year, I came to realize that bombarding my love with a passionate barrage of materials was not going to sustain a real relationship. In despair, I began to realize what works in life, works in architecture and vice versa. I decided to look to… more

 

By now you have read about thirty captions and you are growing accustomed to the story. Foreground, background relationships, designed in accordance with natural, green, white, sentimental, nostalgic and copyist viewpoints.

 

At a certain point you remark: ‘This sentence sounds familiar. In fact, this whole passage reads like something I have read before.’ Of course: there are recurring themes, the text is interwoven with reprises, which serve to express the fluctuations of time. You are the sort of reader who is sensitive to such subtleties and you are quick to catch the author’s intentions. Nothing escapes you.

 

You are getting bored and you have seen just about everything. You openly dismiss conventional thinking and you like to be surprised by the unexpected. Anything goes, anything that frees you from the weight of the average, the burden of the ordinary, the generic. You want to be particular, exceptional. You are always searching for something new.

 

You adopt a fascination with carelessness, a tolerance for ‘whatever’ in a ‘whatever generation’ and you reclaim the right to vacate yourself. ‘Fuck context!’, you scream! Who cares as long as it is a good piece of writing/architecture. You want to free yourself from the external judgments of others, in order to stress your own artistic subjectivity, because you know that pure artistic subjectivity is the essence of everything.

 

…but as You is Me and He and She are We—I begin to realize that our own best subjective content is based and dependent upon one another—generating essence precisely out of the inessential: our context. We are one another’s template for framing our own subjective realities.

 

Damita Yu

 

 

Ina-Marie Kapitola

 

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MUSEUM

April 6, 2010
louvre baconstudio
Projet d’aménagement de la Grande Galerie du Louvre, Robert Hubert, 1796 (source)
Francis Bacon Studio, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane (source)

 

Prior to 1793 and the opening of the Louvre, in Paris, to the general public for three days of each ‘décade’ (the French Republic had at the time adopted a ten day work week), there were no public spaces reserved for the viewing of artifacts in the western world. Only the wealthy could afford to collect art, and while the upper classes were at times invited to view these private collections, the lower classes had no such opportunity (though they did have limited exposure to ecclesiastic artifacts). The opening of the Louvre, a symbolic gesture following the French Revolution, emphasized a shift in power from the ruling classes to the working classes. This same emphasis on equal access, fueled the construction of new museums in America during the 19th century.

 

With the foundation of the Smithsonian Institute, in the 1850’s, in Washington DC, the US government set about constructing a series of museums along the Washington Mall, which to this day, effectively function as extensions of the public realm—they are free of charge and of hassle. There are no ticketing booths, and aside from the bricks and mortar that shelter the artifacts, there is no delineation between park space and museum space. The Smithsonian Institute’s continued insistence on maintaining… more

 

In 1998 Francis Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews in London was donated in its entirety to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. A team of ten archaeologists and conservators spent three years dismantling the room, meticulously cataloging its 75,000 items and transporting them to Ireland. The studio was then reconstructed in Hugh Lane over a period of three years, with every detail of Bacon’s chaotic workspace faithfully recreated.

 

The studio reveals the space of a collector, chock full of artists materials including paints, brushes, stencils, scraps of corduroy pants and cashmere sweaters. This was in addition to visual sources in the form of photographs, illustrations, books, catalogs, and magazines. Also included in the studio’s inventory were seventy works on paper and one hundred slashed canvases.

 

Here the viewer of art gets a window into a world that that was not intended to be seen. A place where they may gain a better understanding into the physical context in which Bacon’s work was produced. As a space that reveals another dimension of the artist’s neuroses, an obsessive collection within a room, becomes a room which itself is part of a collection.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

1 comment » | Editorial

PAPER

April 2, 2010
nyharbor newbabylon
Remodel of Lower Manhattan, ARO and dlandstudio, 2010 (source)

 

As in the recessions of the 80s and 90s, the recent decline in building activity has led to a rise in paper architecture: architecture that is only ever intended to exist at a conceptual level, on paper. A recent example of paper architecture proposals were presented in the Rising Currents exhibition, sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art, asked five architectural teams to envision the future of the New York Harbor after a rise in global sea levels of six feet. Traditionally paper responses to real problems have led to outlandish proposals—the Blobitecture of the 90s, or the psychedelic work of groups such as Archigram in the 60s. The Rising Currents proposals, however, are striking for their restrained pragmatism. Despite accepting that the projects… more

 

New Babylon, Constant Nieuwenhuys, 1959-74 (source)

 

Some of history’s most provocative architecture exists only as images on paper, in the realm of the visionary. Why does a visionary proposal have to remain unbuilt in order to maintain a position in this genre? Many architects who produced proposals that are considered visionary have also built projects that explore similar, if not the same, themes as their unbuilt counterparts. To approach the question simply, if the project is realized then it no longer remains as an intangible dream. However, not all unbuilt projects are visionary. A range of factors separate the visionary from the unbuilt. Visionary projects typically push the limits of how space is organized and manufactured: they push the limits so far that in one way or another they present impossible propositions.

 

E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva

 

1 comment » | Editorial

 

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