January 18th, 2013 — 7:32pm
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


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October 31st, 2012 — 12:01am

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


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October 2nd, 2012 — 9:38pm
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


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August 14th, 2012 — 5:31pm
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


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June 21st, 2012 — 6:45pm
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


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April 22nd, 2012 — 6:21pm
Áshįįh, Looking Southwest, 2010 (Photo By Author)
Salt Lickers (source)


Salt has long been connected to pilgrimage. Ancient merchants traveled long distances to secure the mineral. Later, sites of salt acquisition themselves, became destinations, due to their cultural significance (a famous example is the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow). Sourced for its culinary and industrial applications, salt is either mined (rock salt) or harvested where it evaporates from bodies of water (sea salt). Due to its uneven geographic distribution, salt was an essential part of early economies. The Latin root sal is the origin of salary, showcasing it as perhaps the most valuable mineral of the ancient world. This is an ironic superlative considering the spice’s banal connotation as the condiment which has invaded almost every processed food and litters dining tables worldwide in canister or packet form.


Zuni Salt Lake is a formation in Catron County, located in west-central New Mexico. Sited on the south side of Carrizo Valley, the lake occupies a circular depression ringed by steep rock walls. On the crater’s floor is a shallow, seasonal body of water that, when evaporated, deposits crystals for easy collection. The lake has been an important resource materially and spiritually for autochthonous groups, notably the Zuni for whom the lake is the sacred home of female deity Ma’l Oyattsik’i, the Salt Woman.


I arrive alone at the lake at noon, driving south from Gallup on asphalt and then gravel. It is November but the day is sharp and bright. Leaving the car, I race down a ravine, cut in the circumferential hills, hoping to reach the shore but am detained by a wire fence securing the lake’s perimeter. Back up on the northern ridge, I see black cinder cones looming behind the plane of the water, with mineral deposits clearly evident along the shore. A pier juts into the water in front of a storage shed. Two adobe ruins sit nearby. The breeze is surprisingly unspiced. I stand and think about the trail from the lake forty miles north to the Zuni Pueblo and the connection of that society to this terrain. Frequently, architecture attempts to… more


All animals need salt to survive. While those ‘in the wild’ may be able to satisfy their nutritional needs with a carnivorous diet or access to natural salty sources such as brine springs or brackish water, domesticated animals are often dependent on commercial agricultural salts to maintain a healthy diet.


These compressed salt blocks, known as salt licks, are fascinating objects, arriving in countless colors, flavors, and mineral-fortified varieties to meet the nutritional needs and palates of the most discriminating of livestock—periwinkle, copper, maroon; apple, wild persimmon, sweet acorn; cobalt, magnesium, selenium… Lick by lick, the animal’s tongue carves out rounded caverns and hollows. In a gradual transformation, the block loses its angles and assumes an organic form. Both the pristine and the partially-consumed salt lick may be considered formally, as sculptural objects. Providing evidence of an aesthetic potential are the hundreds of livestock-sculpted salt works that have been submitted and exhibited at The Great Salt Lick, an annual contest in Baker County, Oregon, where salt blocks are evaluated on their formal qualities.


Curiously, a parallel exists between these unconsciously fashioned objects and works of contemporary architecture as well. Armed with software, architects are able to ‘sculpt’ buildings as desired, producing forms that appear as organic volumes instead of more orthogonal structures. This shift towards mineral inspiration can be seen in the work of Frank Gehry and Herzog & de Meuron, among others. Buildings are expressed variously on the spectrum between crystallized polyhedra and tongued subtraction. It is a surprising inversion that contemporary advances in technology allow the construction of buildings that resemble the work of livestock. While some may see this comparison as suggestive of the vacuity of today’s architecture, it is more accurately a testament to the wide formal influence of crystal formations, a trend similarly captured in the aesthetic appreciation of a carved salt lick.


Jack Murphy



Aurora Tang


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February 18th, 2012 — 3:12pm
cement house
Cement (source)
Construction Site in Seattle (source)


What is it that holds us together as a society? What is the glue that keeps us together? I asked these questions in a seminar once to provoke the question of metaphysics, for metaphysics, philosophically speaking, is largely about glue. For Plato it was a common capacity, whether innate or learned, to understand the qualities of The Good. For the nineteenth century Romantics it was The Nation, and indeed for many people today this is still the glue. But it could be also religion, or even a sports team. Often, we do not see The Glue. It is so naturalized that we fail to account for it as operative in our lives, or even if we do account for it, we fail to be able to deconstruct its potency. We believe that the harder the glue is, the better it is. This is, of course, a huge mistake, for which humanity seems to have little native resistance. Kant might have said that we have an inner capacity to be social, but he underestimated the compulsion we seem to have to over-determine who is or is not part of the social Glue. So for that reason, here and there, in one way or another, we should also try to un-Glue ourselves. This does not mean that we should go to the outback and live by ourselves. But we could ask what is keeping us Glued in and certainly resist the temptation to see the Glue of metaphysics as a universal, for that brings only tragedy.


Architects enjoy masquerading as urbanists. As a basis for any urban project, they generate a vast amount of conceptual data—historic property boundaries, gradient maps of walkability, vectors of development—aimed at illuminating trends that will provide an argument for Form. This search sometimes cadences into a figure-ground drawing where a project reveals its urban thesis. Frequently the criteria is to maximize desirable aspects of the site: delivering building users with scenic views, aligning with historical axes of the city, enhancing pedestrian routes, or providing open space for public use. Such goals are championed by those interested in architecture getting along with its context, strengthening the coherence of its surroundings. This cheery role is maximized in scenarios where single buildings are able to recapture unproductive voids or augment older buildings, thereby densifying an area, with architecture working as an urban adhesive. It is a grand act of civility when buildings behave with good manners (manners being a quality I’ve heard referred to as ‘the glue of society’).


However, just as often as the opportunity to unify arises, architects are guilty of working to delaminate tight-grained districts or, given tabula rasa, build at gigantically… more


Mark Jarzombek



Jack Murphy


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