WITHIN

January 18, 2013
bedroom angora
Casa Luis Barragán, designed by Luis Barragán, 1947 (source)
East Hampton Residence, designed by Rafael de Cárdenas/Architecture at Large (source)

 

Casa Luis Barragán occupies a nondescript facade along a dead-end street in the neighborhood of Tacubaya in Mexico City, easy to miss among the other walled compounds that typify the city’s residences. Throughout the house, each main space is accessed from a small vestibular space, concealed by a door or a change in orientation, creating a procedural dissociation from the outside world. The entry sequence creates an experiential compression that releases the occupant into the larger rooms feeling as though the journey seemed longer than it actually was. This passage is reinforced with the transition from darkness into light, an appropriately Catholic ritual. Once fully inside, the house provides spaces for study and contemplation, with outdoor glimpses helping to envelope the interior. The garden, though accessible, is overgrown and obscurant, serving to fill west-facing windows with green, sealing the view. The rooftop walls are extended in height to force the view up, with the sky acting as a conceptual ceiling to the space. Barragán’s house is a zone of pure privacy, immaculately fashioned to provide him with… more

 

Following a period that emphasized the affect of architectural exteriors, Rafael de Cárdenas is turning inward to create spatial identities.

 

By unifying the arts through merging interior design, product design and architecture, he assembles spaces that speak like people—at times quietly and sometimes loudly, giving rise to varied expression. They break from the limits of the discipline, exploring a different side of functionalism, one that seeks efficient communication, through belonging—introducing a new element to an existing stylistic stream.

 

These interiors—while not architectural in the structural sense—manipulate finishes, furnishings, hardware and so on to build spaces with unconventional atmospheres, based on familiar motifs, which loosely allude to an array of narratives. For example, in an East Hampton domestic interior of de Cárdenas’ design, the retro details paired with a softness reminiscent of angora, creates a space Ed Wood might fit right into.

 

Jack Murphy

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

AUTHENTIC

November 12, 2012
pill die
Architecture Pill, Hans Hollein, 1967 (source)
Die Antwoord (source)

 

Architecture’s legacy of replication and simulation calls into question the entire concept of authenticity. In fact, one could argue architecture is not visual at all, but instead it is the assembly of physical elements to produce a specific effect that is intelligible to the mind. The act of interpreting architecture dissolves form into symbol and experience. It is odor, it is texture, it is reverb. Conventional modes of architectural representation are inadequate if we collectively acknowledge architecture’s inherent complexity.

 

So if the visualizations architects produce are incapable of accurately describing architecture, how do we as practicing architects reconcile this contradiction? Moreover, what if architects no longer relied upon conventional modes of visual representation as proof of its existence? This debate demands revival. After all, Learning From Las Vegas is approaching its 35th birthday, and parametricism remains a stylized visualization tool used by academics and architects unconcerned with everyday constraints. In other words, while an authentic architecture is a moving target, this should not discourage us from including it in our everyday discourse.

 

In the 1960’s Hans Hollein used Bau Magazine as a platform to promote the idea that ‘Everything is Architecture’, a paper-revolt with a relevance echoed by… more

 

Distance can offer a clear perspective on a subject, but it can also be obfuscating.

 

When I watch Die Antwoord videos, while seduced by the highly produced worlds that they create, I am continually met with a sense that I am missing some crucial content, owing to our respective contexts. This leaves me to wonder how I would respond to their work if I was able to meaningfully navigate the details of their cultural references.

 

This South African group’s recently released single ‘Fatty Boom Boom’ is being cast as controversial, Lady Gaga references aside, for including blackface in its video. This is a concept with American roots, that the duo—who are always in character, further complicating any interpretation of their work—claim they are unfamiliar with.

 

As representations circulate around distinct and distant territories, they may remain fixed, or they may acquire varied meanings despite sharing a common provenance. Some may engage an archetype following a transformation, when its origin is perhaps less apparent and seemingly detached, while others may make references unknowingly. Given the complexity embedded within any reference, they are ultimately unstable and call into question what is authentic.

 

Corbin Keech

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

Edited by Erandi de Silva

GHOST

October 31, 2012
mies

louis
Mies, Life Magazine, 1956 (source)
FDR Four Freedoms Park, Louis Kahn (source)

 

Implicit in Buckminster Fuller’s query of ‘How much does your building weigh?’ is an appreciation of lightness in architecture. Enabled by the capabilities of modern materials—notably the alternately invisible or mirrored qualities of glass—and haunted by the minimalist spectre of Mies van der Rohe, a certain strain of buildings innovates by eliminating their presence almost entirely. This demonstrates a collective interest in ephemerality, with architecture operating as a platform for experience through the creation of temporary structures, pavilions, installations, exhibits, environments, and conditions. Such atmospheric constructions are matched by a diffusion of inquiry into a growing number of adjacent (and admirable) topics and specializations, distributing awareness across a wide range of networked issues. Firmitas—one of the triadic Vitruvian values, normally translated as ‘firmness’—indicates an ancient praise of sturdiness, mass, and permanence. Conversely, it seems that a goal of contemporary architecture is to disappear.

 

The FDR Four Freedoms Park in New York City, designed by the late Louis Kahn, opened to the public this month. The project is Kahn’s first posthumously completed work. Kahn, in fact, was carrying the finished plans with him when he was found dead in the men’s restroom in midtown’s Pennsylvania Station in 1974, en route home to Philadelphia from India. After his passing, the project advanced only to be abandoned due to issues of civic funding. Had the architect lived longer he might have revised his ideas, perhaps questioning the singular spaces of garden and room (or, given the financial conditions, forced to face the nasty realities of value engineering). Instead, the scheme was built with mostly private funding as designed, with the addition of a bronze bust of FDR at the tip of the park, splitting the entrance to the culminating room on the water. The resultant presence is tempered with anachronism as the memorial was designed for New York in the 1970s, vastly different than today’s sanitized metropolis. The effort could be read as a test to see if… more

 

Jack Murphy

 

 

Andrew Fulcher

 

Edited by Jack Murphy

VAGUE

October 2, 2012
kawara offset
First Today series painting, On Kawara, 1966 (source) Fall Winter 2012, Comme des Garçons (source)

 

Since Jan. 4, 1966, On Kawara has created paintings of various sizes, colors and fonts, showcasing the date of their creation. These paintings are refreshingly devoid of content, serving as, if anything, a ritual reaffirmation of the progression of time or a fixation on modern sans serif typefaces. They account for nothing except themselves.

 

The date paintings emerged at an important point where artistic practice became philosophical enactment, with artists concentrating on essential qualities or singular thoughts. Kawara’s pieces echo a statement from an early John Baldessari text painting, started the same year as the first dated canvas: ‘Everything has been purged from this painting but art, no ideas have entered this work’. To me, this is the inspiring core of conceptual art—that, set off from its typical context and focused by a discerning eye, anything can become art… more

 

‘I do not feel happy when a collection is understood too well. For me, White Drama was too easily understood, the concept too clear. I feel better about Fall 2012, because it wasn’t too clear, and some people assumed things it had nothing to do with, like the Internet age.’

—Rei Kawakubo on Comme des Garçons

 

 

Continuing the postmodern ethos that meaning is subjective, Rei Kawakubo offers a fitting approach for today’s designer. Given the recent past’s requirement that every formal maneuver be justified to illicit deep reading, perhaps nowadays architects can successfully produce work that fulfills certain parameters of use, while playing freely and privately with aesthetic references? Architects embracing the undefined could provide opportunities to liberate the discipline’s creative agenda.

 

Jack Murphy

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

CANT

September 18, 2012
cctv

ship
CCTV, OMA, 2012 (source)

From Exiles, Josef Koudelka (source)

 

Impossible is not what it used to be. Once, the possible in architecture was largely defined by technical limits. Designers who challenged the physical world risked catastrophic failure. When the vaults of Beauvais Cathedral collapsed in 1284, the entire Gothic enterprise lost its nerve to build higher, thinner, and lighter – though the Church’s drive to assert its power through smaller structures continued.

 

Today, the idea of architecture constrained by material limits seems quaint. The world’s great architects follow their vision, confident that with the right engineers in their corner, there’s nothing they can’t do.

 

Consider the CCTV headquarters in Beijing: two canted towers joined with an L-shaped cantilever. Deliberately and flamboyantly massive, each of the cantilever’s arms is a thirteen-story rebuttal of the laws of gravity. To build it, every step of the construction process was analyzed and monitored, down to the incremental movements between the towers on the morning they were linked.

 

One might credit advanced technology with making the impossible possible in Beijing. But that is only part of the story. Equal credit goes to the perfect storm of circumstances that brought the project into being: an authoritarian client out to prove itself to the world. An architect with a penchant for iconic shapes. And the Olympics, providing the showcase and the deadline.

 

Described this way, the twelfth-century Catholic church and twenty-first century Chinese broadcaster have a lot in common. Perhaps the real limit of architecture, then and now, is not technical but social, even emotional: the desire that focuses political will, financial means, and technical skill on realizing the impossible.

 

‘Because the exile sees things both in terms of what has been left behind and what is actually here and now, there is a double perspective that never sees things in isolation’

—Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual

 

 

Cant refers to one of any number of secret languages used by Bulgarian masons (Meshterski), Bosnian bricklayers (Banjački), Russian or Yugoslavian criminals (Fenya, Šatrovački), or Galician knife-sharpeners and umbrella-repairers (Barallete). Its etymological parents are disputed (either from the Latin cantare, ‘to sing’, or from Celtic variants, chainnt or caint, ‘speech talk’), which seems consistent with a cant’s capacity as an orphanage of words, since most cases of argot bypass the normal etymological process by simply supplanting common-usage words with more or less arbitrary alternatives, within the original grammatical structure. In very simple terms, it’s slang. One letter away from slant.

 

Cant trades in the business of withholding, protecting. Also, sheltering the strange within the familiar. The arrangement of these four letters in a single syllable feels common enough, a word with the qualities of a turnip (hardy and bland) or a grayish brown bird. There is an ordinariness that recedes from one’s attention. Recedes, in order to hide in plain sight. In order to create a secret, safe harbor of neglect where thought, or power, can grow.

 

In architecture, it is a face that looks back, catching the eye of the viewer, while already turning away. Cant in three dimensions. But I want to return to Said’s ‘double perspective’ and Josef Koudelka’s imagery of exile: cant in two dimensions. The recurrent lilt of Koudelka’s compositions feels like the result of a hardwired penchant for the oblique. It is never gratuitously… more

 

Gaby Brainard

 

 

Oana Marian

 

Edited by Jacob Reidel

PAST

September 9, 2012
hawaii unparametric
Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii, 2012 (Photo by Ian Gold)
Church of the Holy Cross, Josef Lehmbrock, Düsseldorf, 1957-58 (source)

 

To travel across the islands of Hawaii from Southeast to Northwest—Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai—is to travel backwards in geological time. The islands, born of molten lava, formed in a linear sequence as the Pacific Plate slowly shifted across a stationary hotspot in the Earth’s mantle. As the islands distanced themselves from this hotspot, a few inches per year, their fiery volcanic growth eventually halted (the hotspot currently resides under the island of Hawaii, which remains volcanically active and continues to grow in size). Over time, harsh winds and waves tugged at the islands loose ends, while the cooling of their rocky masses dragged the islands sluggishly back into the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean.

 

The life cycle of the Hawaiian Islands is clearly diagrammed on cartographic maps as the islands increase in size as they near the hotspot. It is also readily apparent visually from the silhouettes of the island’s mountain chains. The 400,000 year old island of Hawaii, which is soft and conical in mass, contrasts sharply with the 5 million year old island of Kauai with its jagged gravity defying cliffs and canyons.

 

The agedness of these islands coincides with their commercial specialization. As the youngest and therefore tallest island, Hawaii supports significant astronomical infrastructure, including technologically advanced NASA telescopes trawling deep space. The primordial visual aesthetic of Kauai has landed the island in dozens of Hollywood films, and garnered it the nickname of ‘Hollywood’s tropical back lot’. Memorably, Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 adaptation of Jurassic Park, relied on the time worn silhouettes of Kauai’s mountains to convincingly transport his audience into an ancient land… more

 

“Instead of being the threshold to the future, the first ten years of the twenty-first century turned out to be the ‘Re’ Decade.”

—Simon Reynolds, Retromania

 

 

While the above quotation refers to current trends in pop culture, it is equally apt at describing contemporary architectural practice and its theoretical discourse.

 

As architects, while attempting to define a formal vocabulary for this ‘threshold to the future’, the 21st century, with the aid of new tools and processes such as parametric coding that allow for mass customization (Grasshopper and the like), we have invariably recycled a formal vocabulary belonging to past decades—a vocabulary associated with optimism in scientific progress that relied on cues from mathematics, physics, microbiology, and other natural sciences.

 

Parametric architecture, while conceptually tied to ideas of evolution, optimization, adaption and systematic complexity, exhibits none of these traits after its built implementation and while the underlying 3D-models might be parametric, the buildings themselves are not. In its current state, parametric architecture is not at all parametric in its physical performance—‘parametric’ merely describes an aesthetic while the architecture itself remains inert and representational, if not metaphorical.

 

There are many past forms that could have been produced with today’s technologies, including built structures that pioneer the aesthetics of incremental and complex geometry—many of which are more than 50 years old.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Viviane Hülsmeier

 

Edited by E. Sean Bailey

CARPET

August 14, 2012
oresteia
glass
Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia, Central Panel, Francis Bacon, 1981 (source)
Glass House, Philip Johnson, 1949 (source)

 

‘A mortal man to set his foot On these rich dyes? I hold such pride in fear[.]’

—Agamemnon, Agamemnon

 

‘How do you make any event classy on a budget? Red carpet. […] Oh, what’s this in my shoe? Red carpet insole. Everywhere I go, I’m walking on red carpet.’

—Tom Haverford, Parks and Recreation, Season 4

 

 

Stardom elevates a life into twin states of access and scrutiny. This condition is most evident on the red carpet, a domestic material that transforms the sidewalk into an axis of exclusive privilege. Here is the interface… more

 

If unable to tolerate the relative austerity of polished concrete or laminate flooring, a rug is the next best accessory: it smartly withdraws from the edges of a room, adding an extra dimension of complexity, forming a space within a space. Able to be repositioned, it enters into the arrangement of a room, framing or complementing other pieces of furniture. Wall-to-wall carpet, on the other hand, is a fuzzy Euclidean expanse that eliminates all spatial nuance or differentiation, establishing a condition of muted neutrality both sonically and stylistically. A rug dismisses carpeting’s sense of planar, permanent gravitas in favor of transience, versatility, and experimentalism. In this way, a rug becomes an architectural object, a condition that wall-to-wall carpet—a mere architectural finish—will never achieve.

 

Jack Murphy

 

 

Tiffany Chu

 

Edited by Jack Murphy

CONTROVERSIAL

July 7, 2012
detonater
tilted
Still from Melrose Place, 1995 (source)
Announcement for Public Hearing, 1984

 

Dr. Kimberly Shaw: ‘Well, that makes bomb number three. Don’t you love the smell of sulfur in the afternoon, Sydney?’

 

[bound and gagged Sydney only grunts and groans]

 

Dr. Kimberly Shaw: ‘What’s that? No? Well, I don’t think hell is going to smell a whole lot better, but since that’s where you’re going to spend the rest of eternity, you better start getting used to it.’

 

—’Postmortem Madness’, Melrose Place, Season 4

 

 

In 1992, Beverly Hills, 90210, the prototypical teen drama documenting the hardships of America’s wealthiest teenagers, attained the peak of its popularity, reaching an estimated 18.1 million viewers per episode. In an effort to capitalize on its immense following, its producers spun off Melrose Place, a 90210 for a slightly more seasoned crowd. The series, which followed the lives of thirty-somethings trying to reinvent themselves in a Los Angeles courtyard complex, received criticism and poor ratings in its first season, for being too timid. To remedy these perceived failings, the writers of Melrose Place concocted increasingly controversial story lines in an effort to increase viewership. Love trysts, betrayals and workplace firings, which were commonplace in the second season, were later replaced by catastrophic events such as car crashes, murders and even the walking dead. Not satisfied with individual agony, and to achieve a climax of collective suffering for their entire roster of fictional characters, the writers ultimately turned against ‘architecture’.

 

In the first episode of the fourth season, in a revenge plot not so dissimilar in psychology from those carried out by Al Qaeda in September of 2001 (or by the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City Bombing, which preceded the original air date of… more

 

Through the Federal Government’s Art-in-Architecture program, Richard Serra was commissioned in 1979 to produce a large-scale sculptural installation for the Federal Office Building in Manhattan. Formed from a single sheet of 2-inch thick Cor-Ten steel, Tilted Arc was 120 feet long and 12 feet high. Its 72 tons were balanced by gently arcing the material, which allowed it to stand independently. Positioned diagonally across the plaza, it bisected the space creating an imposing barrier, forcing users of the space to detour around the artwork.

 

Divisive in nature, from the moment of installation, there were requests for its removal. A successful letter-writing campaign brought on a public hearing in 1984. Government officials from the public hearing committee voted 4-1 to remove the sculpture and on the night of March 15, 1989, it was cut into three pieces and sold for scrap.

 

Subsequent versions of the plaza have adhered to a spirit of increasing complacency, via memorial. Since 1997, Martha Schwartz Partners’ intervention distilled the most superficial notions of Serra’s boundary, echoing it through long curving rows of green plastic seating, which curled around mounds of vegetation. A little over a decade later, the space is adequately leaky to be considered irrelevant. Enough so, as to mandate a new version by Michael Van Valkenburgh: an increasingly generic iteration in the series which mimics the greenness of Schwartz’s chair boundaries, replicated through large, organically-curving planters. The soon-to-be plaza promises to be meta-referential, imitating the original intent of Serra through shallow allusions.

 

In their broad appeal, the plazas have not nearly generated the levels of interest that Tilted Arc did. Rather than pursuing potentially controversial agendas, a series of increasingly conservative designers have diminished the site’s critical capacity by tracing past interventions to produce mediocre work that neither offends nor pleases.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Jean-François Goyette

 

Edited by E. Sean Bailey and Erandi de Silva

GIRLS

July 2, 2012
group
bench
The Group, 1966 (source)
Girls, 2012 (source)

 

Girls suffers the burden of an overwhelming critical response—a series of writings that project significant intellectual and artistic questions onto its half-hour form. Essays and reviews betray the false collision of a humorous portrait of several young women with a much larger aim: that of generational definition, or representation.

 

Following the 1963 release of Mary McCarthy’s The Group, a novel presenting the lives of eight Vassar girls who just graduated from college, Norman Mailer published a rather cruel review. He wrote, in the New York Review of Books, ‘She [McCarthy] has eight well-to-do young ladies moving through the thirties on the very outer fringe of events, and none of them has an inner passion large enough to take over the book and make it run away’.

 

If McCarthy’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignantly presented Vassar graduates resemble Dunham’s girls in their varied struggles and reflections—and share with them a vivid New York as setting for these tribulations—so Mailer’s criticisms evoke contemporary responses to our HBO program:

 

Her characters…will not look to participate in the center of the history which is being made, and they will be the victim of no outsize passion…She will take these women, nearly all finally dull, because they have neither the interest to break out of the cage of their character, nor even the necessity—the cage is not that cruel, the girls are merely premature suburbanites—and she will obey the logic of the intricately educated and dull, she will follow them through their furniture and their recipes…

 

But while Mailer assumes, perhaps falsely, that in writing, Mary McCarthy must fundamentally engage with the tradition of her form—the history of the novel and its pitfalls and ambitions… more

 

Tours of television and film shooting locations abound in New York City, introducing visitors to previously unknown places, locally celebrated spots and world-famous landmarks. Films like Manhattan, Taxi Driver, and The Godfather along with television shows such as Law and Order, Sex and the City and The Sopranos are a few, of the many, well-loved productions that have inspired this real-world format for indulging fans.
 
A likely candidate for this treatment in the near future is HBO’s Girls, a show which alternately reflects and constructs the reality of twenty-somethings in the city. The Guardian’s effort to map the show’s urban backdrops along with confirmation of the program’s eligibility as a theme for a tour, from a local operator, to the New York Times, is promising evidence that an organized excursion may soon be realized.

 

Tripping in and out of Manhattan into the surrounding boroughs, with its recession-era motifs, Girls’ locations typically avoid glossy upscale settings in favor of average or run-down spots. The validation of these sites—particularly the latter variety—is often dependent on their occupation by young adults. Is it possible that inclusion on a pilgrimage route might promise longevity to these modest venues in the form of enduring physical existence, financial success or memory? As a result of Girls‘ popularity, can the cupcake shop Babycakes look forward experiencing a similar sort of preservation and recognition as Katz’s Delicatessen? Will Tom and Jerry’s, the bar where the character Jessa has a pre-abortion drink, be guaranteed years of business serving busloads of fans? And what will become of those sites that are excluded from the tour?
 

For those locations that do make the cut, they will become nodes in a circuit—a series of spaces which create another layer in a set of unique routes, locating the stages of fictional narratives set in New York City.

 

Rachel Engler

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

Edited by Erandi de Silva

SHOPPING

June 21, 2012
prada
lanvin
Fall/Winter Prada Lookbook, AMO, 2011 (source)
Lanvin Display at Dover Street Market, London (source)

 

Rem Koolhaas and OMA*AMO, with typical cynicism and criticality, challenge the precedents of retail architecture, most famously in their longstanding collaboration with Prada. This effort revises how luxury itself may be perceived.
 
The rebranding strategy posits that since the contemporary condition is one of smooth efficiency, luxury is, among other qualities, rough and wasteful. Koolhaas and his team abandoned the majority of Prada store locations to generic fates and concentrated on three ‘epicenter’ stores in major American markets, addressing every part of the brand experience from architecture to IT operations. OMA*AMO’s studies are carried out with amazing crudeness: models bend and tilt, diagrams are blocky, and the most innovative material usage—a porous cast foam—was inspired by a common dish sponge. This sloppy bricolage is wildly juxtaposed with the sensibilities of… more

 

Richard Wagner’s concept of Gesamtkunstwerk echoes in the indefinite space between art and consumerism. Encouraging cohesive lifestyles, its spirit can be found lingering at even a geographic scale.
 
In the case of Dover Street Market, a luxury shopping emporium shaped by the art world’s influence, Rei Kawakubo’s avant hand touches all: from the designs for clothing and retail spaces (spatial configurations, finishes, fittings, scents and so on) to the selection of store locations. As urban influences permeate Comme des Garçons’ oeuvre by admitting hoodies, high-tops and other signs of the city onto the catwalk, or the chaos of a bazaar inside of DSM, Kawakubo proves that she can also exert her influence back onto the urban landscape. Her presence in a neighborhood attracts others with overlapping values, at times transforming relatively anonymous parts of the city into fresh foci. These shifts in urban programming centralize what lies on the edge.

 

Jack Murphy

 

 

Erandi de Silva