U.S.A.'s Venice Biennale Pavilion Comes Home

[photos courtesy of Rain Yan Wang]

Earlier this month, the U.S. Pavilion from the 2008 Venice Biennale opened at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at the New School. Into the Open: Positioning Practice attempts to realign architectural thought towards socially relevant issues. All sixteen studies ask us to “reclaim a role in shaping community and the built environment, to expand understanding of American architectural practice and its relationship to civic participation”. Highlights include Teddy Cruz’s examination of the border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana as well as Laura Kurgan’s view of incarceration through Architecture and Justice.

Upon entering the gallery, we found the exhibition’s rhythmic series of text intensive pilasters to be a bit daunting and overbearing. The models and graphic components receded into the background as they were clearly overshadowed by the bold text. However, as the evening wore on, the exhibit’s true potential emerged. Within the niches of the display’s formal structure, patrons were invited to contribute their own personal touch. A tertiary artistic endeavor superimposed itself upon the gallery. The interactive quality served the dual purpose of contextualizing the exhibit while reminding us of the continually shifting dynamics of the social order.

Posted by Saharat Surattanont.

Hemeroscopium House

The Hemeroscopium House, by Ensamble Studio in Madrid, is a refined combination of heavy infrastructural pieces. The pieces are stacked; the resulting spaces are a house. Most awesome is the pool deck, entirely under what is typically used for highway or parking superstructures: a giant precast beam. The surreal scale of the elements--nothing except the furniture appears people-scale--reminds us of OMA's work. Yet this is almost post-OMA, in that there is a clear pleasure to living underneath a highway overpass. The deck you walk on is polished and smooth, the pool and furniture are gorgeous, the landscaping mellow. There's no brutality to this brutalism, only refinement and play. In short a place to live.

Via Architect, which also has a big gallery of pictures.

Tropolism Books: Hybrids II


Title: Hybrids II
Authors: Aurora Fernández Per, Javier Mozas, Javier Arpa
Publication Date: Autumn 2008
Publisher: a+t ediciones
ISSN: 1132-6409

Hybrids II, the sequel to Hybrids I (about high-rise mixed-use buildings), published earlier in 2008, continues a+t's beautiful large-format periodical series. Although Hybrids II ties up the year's theme in a neat symmetry--its topic is low-rise mixed use buildings--the book is in many ways an improvement over its predecessor. It continues a+t's gorgeous plans, building analyses, and geographic locating diagrams. Yet the opening essay seems to cover the same points, but does so with more specific history, and a greater ease with the material effects of theoretical play:

The development of technology and trust in prefabrication caused science fiction and urban planning to find common friends. With the development of spatial bar structures, industrial modular cities made up of three-dimensional systems were starting to be drawn, though still only on paper.

This essay covers all the points on the historical spectrum between the invention of the skyscraper (that is, as it was formulated in Delirious New York), the superbuildings referenced in the quote above, and the megastructures developed in the late 1960s by Archizoom and Fumihiko Maki.

The activity of celebrating the culture of low, city-like superbuildings is of course fraught with the danger that one will ignore its most city-deadening invention, the plinth. Denise Scott-Brown's 1968 quote is presented as a warning of painting the world with acontextual supercity buildings: "What do they all do up there in those megastructures?"

Yet in the last 40 years, superbuilding has not died. It merely needed improving. Like before, during its plinth-era incarnation, it seems to remain a tool for economically efficient consumption. Yet it has survived in many cases only by allowing the cross-pollination of programs to happen, and for public space to infect it. The easiest example of this is The Ehwa Campus Complex in Seoul, by Dominique Perrault. It is a building whose entire roof is either a sloping grassy park or a monumental stair and plaza. The plinth is indistinguishable from the surface of the earth, a hybrid indeed.

It has also become commercially unviable for a building to not be contiguous with the city. A good example is OMA's return to fine form with their Bryghusprojektet in Copenhagen. A continuation of the diagonal spatial arrangements found in their 1992 Kunsthal in Rotterdam, the project proposes a 'heaping' of different programs to create hybridization, overlap, and new connections. However it does so by being contiguous to the ground of the city at many points along its edges.

What's astonishing in this book's survey is not only the scale of the projects being undertaken (such as the 100,000 square meter sporting complex in Kuwait, or Steven Holl's Vanke Center in Shenhen, China) but the diversity of solutions being proposed by architects. Megabuilding has taken on any form imaginable, making material the the possibility in ultra-dense city-scaled structures.

Tropolism Films: Brooklyn DIY


Last week’s world premiere of Brooklyn DIY brought a motley crowd of artists, performers, and groupies to MoMa. Through interviews and photographs, the film documents the “creative renaissance” of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Employing an ambiguous timeline, the narrative favors subjective experience over specificity. However, the disjointed “mapping of memory” is grounded by focusing on a handful of seminal moments that defined the neighborhood.

Right this way for the full film review...

BUTT: A Zine Proposal


Pruned proposes a zine that goes where MONU and Pin-Up so far have stayed away: scatology and porn. As most architectural magazines do. But Pruned's proposal for BUTT magazine (not to be confused with the real BUTT Magazine, pictured, I'll let you google the NSFW link) would explore a rich terrain of issues. Namely human waste and sewage. While not as sexy to some as the real BUTT magazine, the proposal immediately brings to life many topics that have been glossed over in our infrastructural-heavy theoretical musings on the city. As a work of creative criticism, this is brilliant.

Biloxi Homes

On August 29, 2005, Katrina made landfall in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was their 9-11. In an effort to help rebuild the city, the Biloxi Model Home Program paired design professionals with families affected by the disaster. “This program approaches reconstruction that facilitates good design solutions by standardizing processes and partnership strategies as opposed to standardizing design.” Last week, Architecture for Humanity New York sponsored a happy hour honoring the volunteers who journeyed south for the “blitz build” week.

The evening’s presentation felt more like a Peace Corps event. The testimonials ranged from the hopelessness of a distressed neighborhood to the “foreignness” of the regional cuisine. The consistent sentiments were the personal bonds established between fellow volunteers. For a moment, I had forgotten that they were speaking of a US city. The stories concluded with the tale of a local resident who made a point to hug all 70 plus volunteer that came down for the week.

It became clear to me that it wasn’t just about rebuilding homes. It was about restoring a neighborhood.

Posted by roving NYC correspondent Saharat Surattanont.

Pretty Pictures: Stone Spaces #1




1. Ningbo Historic Museum by Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio. Photo by Iwan Baan, found at ArchDaily.
2. Pedreres de s'Hostal, by Josep Triay Tudurí, via Pruned.
3. The historic quarry of Denia, Spain, at Vicente Guallart.

Tropolism Books: Andrea Cochran Landscapes

Title: Andrea Cochran: Landscapes
Author: Mary Myers
Publication Date: April 13, 2009
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
ISBN: 9781568988122
Available at Amazon.

The work of Andrea Cochran can be seen, to those of us who have admired landscape design abroad, as finally completing the process of freeing American Landscape Architecture from the curse of postmodern landforms and wacky color cuteness. The work is powerful, but never unbalanced or trendy. Her outdoor spaces are clean, trimmed, and suitable for the modernist sensibility, yet they never feel like accessories to a building. Instead they reverse the relationship: the buildings are totally permeated, even subsumed by Landscape. That Landscape is the dominant piece here is not a judgment. In fact, seeing the concept so beautifully, seamlessly, effortlessly come to life leads one to believe that this particular resolution is the perfect conclusion of the idea that interior and exterior spaces are interconnected. There is more Landscape, more World than Building, so why not have Landscape's rules win? It is a conclusion that architects (and many landscape architects) fail to grasp. Andrea Cochran is way beyond grasping it: she's playing with it.

Yet her work is not simply concept, not airless, not minimal to its own death. They are spaces for living. There is air. There is messy stuff. The best example is the Curran House, an affordable housing building in San Francisco. The garden is a bamboo forest, a place to relax and congregate. Yet also included are galvanized agricultural troughs that provide urban garden space so residents may grow their own food and plants. It is a thoughtful touch that is beautifully executed with the simple, inexpensive, yet handsome troughs. Irony, cheekyness, and cuteness have been banished in favor of elegance, dignity, and reserve. Landsape is the background for fun, not a theme park.

The book Andrea Cochran: Landscapes continues this design sensibility. The photographs are flawless, rich, and will serve as references for decades. Like many landscape design books, this one has a superb plant reference guide that will help any architect successfully lift ideas (if not the overall concepts). Plan drawings of each project complete the documentation.

I am tempted to buy a second copy and write notes in the white space.

You can support Tropolism by purchasing this book at Amazon.

Starchitectural Disasters


We're rather proud of this one:

"Much like Martha Stewart's attack on the Travertine House, this house also lost its roof to a hurricane."

Utopias Reloaded


Plataforma Arquitectura has a great survey on utopian architectural visions past and present. Mostly past, showing us old favorites like Archigram and Superstudio, but introducing us to some we hadn't seen before, like Yona Friedma (pictured, prefiguring today's shipping container fetish) and Archizoom's "Aerodynamic City" (prefiguring blobstuff and Zaha Hadid). The article ends with projects by OMA and Norman Foster in Dubai, aka today's utopia breeding ground.

Furniture Friday: Kerk Apartment

Kerk_apartment_by_Stijn_Bisscheroux.jpgBehold the built in greatness of the Kerk Apartment by Dutch firm Stijn Bisscheroux. We do love it when furniture gets all architectural on us.

Via Materialicious.