My recent posts at World-Architects

      

Thursday, November 16, 2017

In Berlin

Posts on this blog will resume next week. In the meantime, head to World-Architects to see my posts on the World Architecture Festival taking place this week at Arena Berlin.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book and Exhibition Review: Harry Seidler

Harry Seidler: The Exhibition: Organizing, Curating, Designing, and Producing a World Tour by Vladimir Belogolovsky
Oscar Riera Ojeda Publishers, 2017
Hardcover w/slipcase, 272 pages

Harry Seidler: Painting Toward Architecture curated by Vladimir Belogolovsky
Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, CCNY
September 26 - November 22, 2017



Just as Vladimir Belogolovsky recounts a few times in Harry Seidler: The Exhibition that he learned about architect Harry Seidler (1923-2006) in 2010 from Emilio Ambasz, I first became aware of Seidler at a precise time. Although I don't recall the exact year, I was working on a proposal for a residential tower while employed at an architecture firm in Chicago. Faced with the need to do something creative with balconies, I stumbled upon the high rises Seidler had designed in Sydney. His work was a powerful precedent, since it was simultaneously logical and sensual, repetitive and flowing. This is evident in such projects as Horizon Tower, a 43-story tower completed in Sydney in 1998.

The same combination of logic and sensuality can be applied to Belogolovsky's take on Seidler. It's evident that the curator was immediately smitten with the architect's work, but his appreciation and documentation of Seidler's oeuvre – in the exhibition and the book documenting the same, as well as in the earlier monograph, Harry Seidler: LifeWork – is treated logically. For instance, he traces certain qualities of Seidler's architecture to a number of influences: "confidence, social purpose, and a methodological and collaborative approach to design from Walter Gropius; residential types, the power of concrete, and the warmth of wood from Marcel Breuer; standardized building systems and expressive structural language from Pier Luigi Nervi; sculptural fluidity and lyrical forms from Oscar Niemeyer; and a profound understanding of how our eyes react to visual phenomena from Josef Albers." This last influence is a particularly important one since it gets at Belogolovsky's overarching theme: that Seidler's architecture was most heavily influenced and indebted to art rather than architecture.


[Vladimir Belogolovsky, at right, with Harry Seidler's widow Penelope Seidler, at center, at Harry Seidler: Painting Toward Architecture]

The phrase "painting toward architecture" is not Belogolovsky's; he admits that it came from Henry-Russell Hitchcock's 1948 book of that name. In that book Hitchcock describes Theo van Doesburg's 1923 painting Space-time construction #3 as one of the most direct influences on modern architects, since the artist was "working consciously and directly toward architecture." Belogolovsky sees the painting's influence in the house Seidler designed for his parents in the late 1940s, when they managed to lure the Austrian-born architect from the United States, where he had gone to architecture school, to Australia, where his parents had just moved. (It's interesting to speculate what would have happened if his parents were not successful in bringing Harry to Australia, where he became, in Belogolovsky's words, "the first architect in Australia to fully express the principles of the Bauhaus in that country" and whose "architecture has become an integral part of the Australian identity.") The house resembles the work of Gropius, who he studied under at Harvard, but the incorporation of a colorful mural signals something in Seidler wanting to break free from the rectilinear confines of Bauhaus architecture.



In Belogolovsky's hands, the influence of colorful, abstract art is most overt in the design of the traveling exhibition and the book documenting it. The slipcase of the latter, for instance, is simply yellow with red lettering, while the binding is blue, and the end papers echo these three colors. The palette of yellow, red and blue permeates the design of the exhibition, here visible at City College, where it on display until the day before Thanksgiving. The colors cover the bases for the models and the hanging canvases for the black-and-white photographs, and they make up the lines on the floor and walls that break the exhibition down into smaller zones. Stepping into the CCNY exhibition space, although a bit too large and spread out compared to earlier venues, is to step into the realm of Seidler and his artistic influences.



Belogolovsky met Seidler's wife, Penelope Seidler, not long after Emilio Ambasz informed him about the architect. He proposed to her a modest exhibition in the lobby of one of Seidler's Sydney buildings, but she countered with the proposal for a world tour, a daunting prospect that only the most punishing curator would immediately agree to, I'm guessing. Whatever the case, that meeting launched what would become an exhibition traveling to more than 20 cities on 5 continents. One would think Painting Toward Architecture would have started in Sydney, home to many of Seidler's buildings, but instead it opened in Estonia in October 2012 and would not reach Sydney until stop #12 in November 2014. While this may seem counterintuitive, it gets at the heart of what makes a traveling exhibition so special: it introduces a subject (Seidler) to an audience not very familiar with it (most people outside of Australia).



With the LifeWork monograph published in 2014, Belogolovsky's next book on Seidler – a logical undertaking given the amount of time and effort the curator has expended on the subject – needed a different format. Harry Seidler: The Exhibition presents Painting Toward Architecture as an important subject in its own right. Although he contends that the book is "not about its subject, Australian Modernist architect Harry Seidler," Belogolovsky's book does inform readers about the architect's life and work very well. He does this through a transcript of one of the many lectures he's given on Seidler, timelines of his life and buildings, selected quotes, and essays on various aspects of Seidler's life. These materials are in the minority relative to the documentation of the exhibition, but they work together in a way that learning about the architect is a byproduct of learning about the exhibition. Of course, the book only goes so far in conveying what's inside the exhibition; so those in and around New York City are urged to head to City College before this leg of the traveling exhibition closes on November 22nd. Where it goes from there, I just don't know.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Art in the Open

On Friday Art in the Open: Fifty Years of Public Art in New York opens at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY). On display until May 13, 2018, the small but visually dense exhibition (designed by Tsao & McKown) covers notable displays of public art in New York's public spaces from 1967 to the present. Though described by curator Lilly Tuttle in today's press preview as "not comprehensive," the exhibition's four parts touch upon just about all of the major pieces of public art executed in those years.

Art in the Open

Art in the Open does so first in the corridor, where a timeline along one side leads visitors to the exhibition proper and briefly presents important pieces of public art. Those included in the other three sections of the exhibition – Art in Public, Art in Place, and Art in Action – are highlighted by bands of tape with the name of the respective section. Based on the bit of corridor captured below, Richard Serra's controversial Tilted Arc is not included, while Richard Haas's Arcade at Peck Slip, for instance, which started in 1976, is included in Art in Place.

Art in the Open

Although there is an order to the main three sections of the exhibition, the overall presentation is thematic rather than chronological. First up, Art in Public presents works that capture how art moved from galleries to public spaces in the late 1960s, a practice that continues to this day. With works like Hank Willis Thomas's The Truth Is I See You installed in MetroTech Commons in 2015, the art in this section does a better job in provoking thought than engaging with its context.

Art in the Open
Art in the Open

That engagement comes to the fore in Art in Place, which focuses on such site-specific projects as Haas's painted buildings in South Street Seaport, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates, Agnes Denes's Wheatfield in Battery Park City, and the MTA Arts & Design program.

Art in the Open
Art in the Open
Art in the Open

Although many of the artworks throughout the exhibition are temporary, Art in Action, the last section, focuses on pieces that are "participatory or performative in nature" and therefore fleeting by nature. My knowledge of public art is pretty good, but I'll admit most of these are new to me. Mierle Laderman Ukeles's Touch Sanitation Performance, which involved the artist shaking the hand of each of the city's 8,500 sanitation workers in 1979 and 1980, stands out among these.

Art in the Open

Given my architectural interests, I found myself most drawn to the second section, Art in Place. Not surprisingly, I already knew about all of the nine artworks in this section. Five of them are part of the MTA Arts & Design, formerly known as the Arts for Transit program, which involves artists in beautifying old stations (e.g. Roy Lichtenstein at Times Square-42nd St) and new stations (Xenobia Bailey's Funktional Vibrations at 34th St-Hudson Yards). These are permanent artworks that I've seen in person; in turn I honed in on two temporary pieces on display.

Art in the Open

In the lean years between the creation of landfill next to the World Trade Center for Battery Park City and the actual construction of Battery Park City, the site was a setting for public art. Most famous is Agnes Denes's Wheatfield, thanks in part to the photographs juxtaposing stalks of wheat in the foreground and the Twin Towers in the background. Alongside these photos, Art in the Open reveals some documents that led to the 1982 installation, including invitations made from paper and wheat.

Art in the Open

Easily one of the most famous public artworks in New York or any city in the last fifty years is Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates, which took over the paths of Central Park in February 2005. Like Wheatfield, I did not see the saffron-colored torii in person, but like that earlier artwork The Gates was documented thoroughly – enough that no less than three books were published on the project.

This last fact made me take a closer look at the artworks displayed in the corridor's timeline, only to realize that many of them are subjects of books: Rachel Whiteread's Water Tower, Richard Serra's Tilted Arc, and the MTA Arts for Transit program, among others. Especially when it's temporary, public art must make a great subject for a book – a memento of a sculpture, event or some other display of art in the public realm. If only MCNY would have made a book documenting the artworks they put on display – a venue for adding some depth to the otherwise brief presentations – Art in the Open would be even better.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

A Library Lined with Books

Recently MVRDV, with the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute, completed the Tianjin Binhai Library, a "cultural center featuring a luminous spherical auditorium around which floor-to-ceiling bookcases cascade."


[All photographs by Ossip van Duivenbode]

As should be clear in just a quick glance, the sphere and cascade are bringing the library a fair amount of attention on the internet. As described by MVRDV, "The undulating bookshelf is the building’s main spatial device, and is used both to frame the space and to create stairs, seating, the layered ceiling and even louvers on the façade."



MVRDV's Winy Maas calls this space "cave-like, a continuous bookshelf" and "a new urban living room." Furthermore, "The bookshelves are great spaces to sit and at the same time allow for access to the upper floors. The angles and curves are meant to stimulate different uses of the space, such as reading, walking, meeting and discussing."



Here, I'm zooming into the above photo to point out a couple things:


First, as might be obvious even from a distance, most of the books on the "continuous bookshelf" are images of books, not actual books. The difference between the two is clear in this close-up: the real books have library stickers at the base of each spine, while the book-images don't have that detail. Also, the latter looks flat in comparison. Ironically, if all of the real books went away, the cascade of books would still look full, since the book-images serve as a backdrop in the shelves with real books.

Second, and the main point of this post, is a question: is it a good idea to store books on the same surface that people walk upon? Although the person above is standing in an area where the books are only an image (due, I'm guessing, to the grilles at that level), the shelf below is clearly accessible; as are others above and below. With the photos portraying the building in its brand-new state, this doesn't appear to be an issue. But over time, as more and more people go to the Tianjin Binhai Library "to see and be seen," in Maas's words, the books will accumulate dirt from people walking by them. I hope the maintenance crew is up to the task.

That said, I love the idea of a central public space surrounded by books and knowledge – even if most of that knowledge is superficial image rather than text.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Book Review: Obra Architects Logic

Obra Architects Logic: Selected Projects, 2003 - 2016 by Jennifer Lee, Pablo Castro
B Architecture Publisher, 2016
Distributed by Idea Books
Hardcover, 416 pages



Like many others, I'm guessing, I first heard about Obra Architects, the duo of Jennifer Lee and Pablo Castro, in 2006, when they won MoMA PS1's Young Architects Program (YAP) and realized BEATFUSE! in the museum's Long Island City courtyard. Writing about it that summer (without having seen it in person, unfortunately), I described the wood and mesh construction as "more substantial coverage" than previous YAP installations and "a happy medium" between more open structures and blobby forms, the two evident poles at the time. More than other YAP winners before and since, Obra took the shade consideration of the competition to heart and produced something that actually looks like a respite from the summer heat.


[BEATFUSE!, Long Island City, Queens, NY | Spread from Obra Architects Logic]

Close to ten years later I got reacquainted with the work of Castro and Lee when they contributed Casa Osa in Costa Rica as a Building of the Week (BotW) at World-Architects. After two years of doing state-by-state BotWs, I opened up the feature outside of the US for 2015, highlighting American firms producing buildings overseas. Casa Osa was the first in that series and a promising start. The New York-based architects exploited the benign climate of Costa Rica by designing the vacation home with outdoor living spaces covered with generous roofs and connected by exterior walkways. Only the bedrooms, bathrooms, and a few other spaces are enclosed.


[Casa Osa, Cerro Osa, Costa Rica | Spread from Obra Architects Logic]

Obra was one of the many firms included in OfficeUS, the exhibition in the US Pavilion during the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale (yes, the one curated by Rem Koolhaas), which prompted me to expand the scope of the 2015 BotW. Although US firms working overseas seems like a recipe for corporate offices like SOM and KPF, Obra fits right in for a couple reasons: young firms today are adept at working across physical boundaries, and the duo has roots that stretch well beyond the United States. Casa Osa is one example of Obra working overseas, but almost all of the selected projects in Obra Architects Logic are located outside of the US: Argentina, China, Costa Rica, Italy, and South Africa.


[SanHe Kindergarten, Beijing, China | Spread from Obra Architects Logic]

Nine projects – a handful of them built or under construction – are featured in Obra Architects Logic. Just like their design for the SanHe Kindergarten is arranged in triads, the nine projects are separated into three groups of three, accompanied by three essays (by Peter Lynch, Nader Tehrani, and Jean Louis Cohen) plus an interview with Zhou Yi and an essay by Castro. With a linen cover, heavyweight off-white paper, and a simple design of words and images, the book is a handsome object that elevates the importance of the images, be they photographs, drawings, watercolors, or scans from Obra's sketchbooks. Thankfully the words that accompany them are intelligent, insightful, and a necessary part of a lovely monograph.


[Acoli nuovissimo, Ascoli Piceno, Italy | Spread from Obra Architects Logic]

Monday, November 06, 2017

Me, Talking Skyscrapers

Last month I spoke at the Skyscraper Museum about one of my recently published books, How to Build a Skyscraper. For those who couldn't make it, below is a video of the talk.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Today's archidose #986: PJ Edition

Today is the #saveatt protest over Snøhetta's plans to disfigure Philip Johnson's iconic AT&T Building. Before heading there to observe and maybe partake, I raided my Flickr pool (as well as photos of people I follow and my own photos) to collect images of other Philip Johnson buildings. So here's a smattering of 18 buildings presented in chronological order. Mouseover or click photos for information on the photographers.

Johnson House, Cambridge, MA, 1943:
DSCN1090

Glass House and Brick House, New Canaan, CT, 1949:
Dots Obsession

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 1953:
MoMA

Roofless Church, New Harmony, IN, 1960:
Roofless Church

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, 1963:
Philip Johnson-WASHINGTON-The Pre-Columbian Collection Pavilion-Dumbarton Oaks-1963

New York State Pavilion for the New York World's Fair in Queens, NY, 1964:
nyc - world's fair grounds 1

Kreeger Museum in Washington, DC, 1967:
Kreeger Museum

Albert and Vera List Art Building at Brown University, Providence, RI, 1971:
List Art Building

Hagop Kervorkian Center at NYU, New York, NY, 1972:
nyc - summer 2013 misc buildings 9

Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at NYU, New York, NY, 1973:
nyc - bobst library 2

Thanks-Giving Square, Dallas, TX, 1976:
Philip Johnson, Thanks-Giving Square, Dallas, 1976

Fort Worth Water Gardens, Fort Worth, TX, 1974:
Forth Worth

Study (Glass House), New Canaan, CT, 1980:
Philip Johnson's Studio

Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove, CA, 1980:
"Crystal Cathdral - los Angeles, CA - Architect Philip Johnson"

Republic Bank Center (now Bank of America Center), Houston, TX, 1983:
American Gothic

PPG Place, Pittsburgh, 1984:
glass castle.

Da Monsta (Glass House), New Canaan, CT, 1994:
Philip Johnson's Da Monsta

Gate of Europe, Madrid, 1996:
torres KIO, Madrid

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool
To contribute your Instagram images for consideration, just:
:: Tag your photos #archidose

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Disfiguring a PoMo Icon

On Monday Snøhetta released renderings of their proposed renovation of 550 Madison Avenue, better known as the AT&T Building, designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee and completed in 1984. The main rendering reveals that a section of the pink-granite base facing Madison would be removed in favor of a wavy glass wall exposing the innards of the lower floors, including diagonal steel bracing located just behind the facade.


[Rendering: DBOX, courtesy of Snøhetta]

The main argument for what is effectively a disfigurement of a Postmodern icon is, in the words of Snøhetta, that "the recognizable top of the tower will remain a fixture of the New York City skyline." Even though the oft-called Chippendale top of the AT&T Building is its most recognizable feature, it is not a separate entity from the base. Base and top are two parts of a total composition, one that emphasized weight and aperture at a time when glass and skin were the norm.



To reacquaint myself with Johnson's building, which I walk by a fair deal but don't actively engage with very much, during my lunch hour today I walked around the building, snapping these photos with my phone. Rounding the corner at 55th Street and Madison Avenue, I was surprised to see a sidewalk shed wrapping the base. Did work on the Snøhetta plan start already?



Perusing the NYC BIS (Building Information System) for 550 Madison Avenue, I could see a bunch of permits pulled for interior work (sprinklers, non-bearing partitions, etc.) as well as one for Local Law 11 facade repairs, but I didn't see anything for work to be done on the base. The early-August permit for Local Law 11, which is required every five years to ensure pedestrian safety, is most likely the culprit, especially since the sidewalk shed permit was pulled one week later. Setting aside the sidewalk shed, it's worth comparing the base of the building today with it as originally built. Here is a photo by Mary Ann Sullivan that shows the arcade that faced Madison Avenue and wrapped around the building to the POPS (privately owned public space) and annex on the west side of the tower.



The change from arcade to enclosure happened when AT&T sold the building to Sony, who hired Charles Gwathmey's firm "to transform the structure into the world headquarters of its music entertainment division and motion picture group." The changes, completed in 1993, included "enclosing the soaring, 60-foot-high arcades flanking the north and south sides of the original building with aluminum-framed bay windows [to] recast the previously open spaces as two entertainment retail stores." Here is a model of Johnson's scheme from around 1979 showing the arcade wrapping around 55th Street toward the open POPS on the west side of the tower.



Instead of arcades, there are now narrow walkways with banners signaling the POPS:


And instead of open, the POPS is capped by glass walls at the ends:


How did this happen? Per Jerold Kayden at APOPS, "[In 1992] Sony proposed to eliminate 10,560 square feet of arcade ... and to replace it with 6,050 square feet of indoor retail space, much of it along the Madison Avenue frontage. ... [Sony also offered to] enlarge its covered pedestrian space, located at the rear of the building and connecting East 55th and 56th Streets ... and to render it climate controlled. ... Sony also proposed to ... replace the AT&T Infoquest Center with its own exhibit center, called SonyWonder Technology Lab, in the annex."

In other words, Sony moved around some of its legally required public space and conditioned some of it to gain city approval, which they obviously got. But Sony sold the building in 2013 and therefore removed its Wonder lab, so the once-crowded POPS is now a pretty abysmal space, even during a weekday lunch hour:


All of this backstory is to bring a couple things to the fore:
  1. Charles Gwathmey was the first architect to disfigure the AT&T Building, doing it when the building was not even ten years old.
  2. The character of the building that Snøhetta is responding to in its attempt to "transform the base into an inviting street front" is more Gwathmey's doing than it is Johnson's original.
With these points, the strongest position a preservationist could take would entail opening up the arcades and POPS to Johnson's original. The Snøhetta plan actually goes part of the way there: "550 Madison’s proposed public space will be converted to an outdoor garden, providing a verdant landscape with water features and trees as a respite from the dense urban fabric of Manhattan."



Ultimately, the biggest argument used by people opposing Snøhetta's renovation plan is that base and top are wed together (the above photo tries to show that) and that the wavy glass skin would obliterate that relationship. But since the building is not a NYC landmark, the changes by Snøhetta for Olayan and Chelsfield are not subject to public review. Nevertheless, one preservationist "has submitted a formal request for evaluation to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for both the building’s exterior and interior lobby" (Gwathmey did not touch the latter). Furthermore, there are a petition and protest (Friday, November 3 at 1pm) aimed at derailing Snøhetta's plans. Too bad opposition to Sony's plan, if any, didn't achieve the same back in 1993.