Writing Architecture

Tropolism Books: Density Projects

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Title: Density Projects
Author: Aurora Fernández Per, Javier Arpa

Publication Date: 2007

Publisher: a+t ediciones

ISBN: 978-84-612-1335-1

Nothing brings us more joy than architectural books in the mold of those in a+t ediciones' Density Series. In Density Projects we have architectural book nirvana. The book's topic is tight: 36 projects (many of them being built) of multi-family housing, all of them recent. The layout is clear, with complete floorplans, site plans, urban situations, and verbal descriptions, all without sacrificing concept drawings and wow renderings. The book is bilingual (Spanish and English). The cross sample is primarily European and North American (although some important projects in Asia are shown, none are by Asian architects), but still incredibly diverse, with good work from architects famous and less-famous. The latest ideas in modern urban planning are presented, all balancing the concerns of environmental responsibility, great cityscapes (both additive and entirely new), and of course, great places to live.

But perhaps the greatest pleasure is that this tight (yet diverse) sample is put to good use. The authors chose to analyze them side-by-side: simple graphic analyzes of residential density, dwellings density, floor area ratios, and uses all set this book apart from most of its kind that travels across this desk. In short, they did some work, and the book was saved from being interesting-but-forgetful, instead being a useful resource for designers and theorists alike.

This book is available at Amazon.

Two-Dozen List, Tropolism Editor's Edition 2008

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Two Dozen List, Tropolism Editor's Edition, 2008. Subject to change. Click Continue Reading for Full Annotated Edition.

1. 40 Mercer: Jean Nouvel
2. 40 Bond Herzog & DeMeuron
3. 100 11th Avenue: Jean Nouvel
4. 524 West 19th Street, Metal Shutter Houses: Shigeru Ban
5. 515-517 West 23rd Street, HL23: Neil Denari
6. 366 West 15th Street, The Porter House at : SHoP (aka That Stripey-Light Building)
7. 165 Charles St: Richard Meier (aka Meier3)
8. Perry Street South and North Towers: Richard Meier (aka Meier1 and Meier 2)
9. 109 Norfolk Street, Switch Building: nArchitects
10. 385 West 12th Street: FLAnk
11. 290 Mulberry Street: SHoP
12. 184 Kent Avenue: Arquitectonica (aka The Illinois Institute of Technology)
13. One Kenmare Square: Richard Gluckman (aka Gluckman Wave)
14. 48 Bond: Deborah Burke
15. 15 Central Park West: Robert A.M. Stern
16. One York: Enrique Norton
17. 497 Greenwich Street: Winka Dubbeldam (aka Winka Wave)
18. 33 Vestry Street, V33: Winka Dubbeldam
19. 330 Spring Street, Urban Glass House: Phillip Johnson
20. West 11th Street, Julian Schnabel Palazzo Chupi
21. 166 Perry Street: Asymptote
22. Lower East Side, Blue: Bernard Tschumi (aka TschumiBlu)
23. Astor Place, Sculpture for Living: Charles Gwathmey
24. Highline 519: Lindy Roy

Notes On The Two Dozen List

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In 2005 I fleshed out an idea I first proposed in 2004: that a slew of midsized residential buildings would be built, all designed by celebrity architects. And so the Two Dozen List was born.

The mid 2000's in New York City have seen a unique confluence of money, skyrocketing real estate prices, hyper-demand, and cheap credit. The competition between developers, combined with a rise in interest in architectural design by the general public, has led to the hiring of our beloved celebutantes as brand novelties to distinguish one development from another. The moment is now passing: credit is tight, leading to projects down the pipeline being shut off. While the competition for buyers will certainly continue, it is likely that high-priced talent, or at least the famous names, will not be invited to create design masterpieces quite as often.

The similar size, shape, and sites give us a unique opportunity to compare these talents, and ask some great questions. How powerful were these architects in the development process? How well did they redefine what is possible in this context? How many boundaries did they push? How did they approach, and solve, the great problems of the New York Skyscraper: the slab and the curtain wall?

I will post my personal version of this list this week. Tropolism will begin to review the projects on my list that have not been reviewed to date. In addition, guest writers will post their own lists, here and elsewhere. Finally, we invite you to submit your own entries for a reader's choice list, which will of course be published here. Enjoy!

MONU: Magazine On Urbanism

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With an acronym title that makes us envious for not thinking of it first, MONU is difficult to resist. The production and art direction is decidedly low-res: they use only the Photoshop techniques that remind you of the punk posters from the 1980s, or the architecture school posters you made with Photoshop 1.5 in 1991 when you had access to one of the first 300dpi laser printers.

But what is truly special is the breadth of talent contributing. From artist Joep Van Leishout to the always-available (and always interesting) Teddy Cruz, the current issue alone is worth picking up. But there are also a raft of young artists, PhD candidates, and other members of the cross-disciplinary inclined.

MONU issue #8 is out now. A thumbnail of every spread in the issue is also available.

Mies Grave Stone Model

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File under ephemera: a model of Mies Van Der Rohe's grave stone, by Strangeharvest, complete with pdf so you can make your own. The text is slightly different than the rubbing I took as a wee graduate student in 1994, but the proportions are just right.

Piano Gets Smacked, Deservedly

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Today Nicholai Ourousoff puts the smack down on Renzo Piano's Broad Contemporary Art Museum, and addition to LACMA that has recently opened. From the photos in the article and the photos on LACMA's own website, we are left with a collective "HUH?". It's a little bit o'travertine, with a little bit o'Pompidou (via the 1980s). Or, perhaps bit o'Getty with bit o'Hugh Hardy (who did the awful 1986 Anderson Building at LACMA). And don't get us started on the flimsy entry pavilion, pictured. We like to think Mr. Ourousoff was channeling us when he said it:

And if to some the entrance pavilion’s flat, square canopy brings to mind a gas station, the reference falls flat. I’ve seen gas stations in Southern California with far more architectural ambition.

Football Game Space

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Strangeharvest posts a smart and fascinating essay about the history of football fields:

Sometimes the goals would be the balcony of the opponents' church. The whole landscape became transformed into game-space. Houses, agriculture, sites of worship lost their everyday meaning and became an abstract terrain whose qualities impact the possibilities of game play.

The post also has beautiful illustrations projecting this history back into contemporary boundary markings of football fields. It's a kind of immediate refictionalization of history that we love: research with material effects.

Beautiful At Barnard

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Recently the P/A Awards were announced, by whatever magazine is announcing them these days. Our enthusiasm for these awards faded not because of some nostalgia for the days of Progressive Architecture magazine. It's simply that the cutting edge of architecture has gone blog viral. By the time the print media gets to it, it's old news. The newest of the new gets chewed up and tested by the internets, and the increase in chaff is easily matched by the increase in voices talking about design.

The one highlight in this year's P/A award comes from old-fashioned great building design, from Weiss/Manfredi. It's their Barnard Nexus project, at Barnard College in Manhattan. It's not just a pretty rendering: the details of the glass curtain wall, mimicking the brick and terracotta of Barnard's and adjacent Columbia University's main building cladding, is sophisticated, beautiful, and yes, progressive.

NYC Bookstores

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Awesome NYC bookstore alert: Storefront for Art and Architecture is having a micro-bookstore in the "eastern end" of the gallery. The bookstore is curated by Storefront luminaries known for their amazing book collections (ie Beatriz Colomina).

NYC has a dearth of great Architectural bookstores, at least in terms of the scale of those to be found on the west coast. Daily Dose, which pointed us to the Storefront bookstore, has also compiled a list of NYC bookshops.

Tropolism Books: Transmaterial 2

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Title: Transmaterial 2: A Catalog of Materials that Redefine our Physical Environment
Author: Blaine Brownell

Publication Date: February 19, 2008

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 156898748X

What is the definition of transmaterial? The title of the upcoming catalog sequel from Princeton Architectural Press has us asking a lot of great questions.

Click Continue Reading for the full book review.

Observations On Unhelpful Architectural Writing

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Architectural critics, like all art critics, are stuck between bald snap judgment and the extension of art history known as architectural history. It's a strange place to be, and the critics we admire tend to create new conversations about architecture in general, through their insightful opinions (IE Paul Goldberger) or their insightful riffing on architectural history (IE Robin Evans, RIP).

Click Continue Reading for the rest of the critique of the critics.

Art: Culture In The Age Of Supply And Demand

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Sorry to be so tardy on this. Greg Allen gives us another insightful article on the effect of an Art World with lots of rich people buying up everything in sight. And he is searching for the art that is going to be around when the rich folks stick to investing in real estate.

And, he links to a huge and interesting PDF document from the Olafur Eliasson studio. Just in time for the holidays!

Tropolism Websites: Sorry, Out Of Gas

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We usually don't link to websites from architects: our inbox is filled with them, and the navigation alone usually causes us to run the other way. This one got our attention though. The CCA has launched a companion website for their imaginative exhibition Sorry, Out Of Gas. With this exhibition, CCA has taken the world of architecture to Green 2.0: seeing energy crises and environmental concerns in a cultural and recent-historical context, as a way to shape the dialogue and practices of the present day.

The website interface is simple, and the information is presented as a series of slideshows. We think the touch of having the slide transitions look like real live slides flipping forward (in the days before digital slide programs) is particularly elegant. It's a way of visiting the exhibition that is effective, and saves you the trip to Montreal. If the installed exhibition is big documentary photos on a wall, I'd rather see it online anyway.

Also presented is a work that was found in the press kit: An Endangered Species, a booklet amusingly illustrated by Harriet Russell.

Herbert Muschamp, 1947-2007

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Herbert Muschamp died yesterday in New York. While we were never a fan of his writings, we have to give the guy credit: he was consistent, loud, and all over the map. Just the way we like our New Yorkers.

Tropolism Books: Green Roof and Natural Architecture

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Title: Green Roof—A Case Study: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates' Design For the Headquarters of the American Society of Landscape Architects
Author: Christian Werthmann

Publication Date: October 1, 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1568986858

Title: Natural Architecture
Author: Alessandro Rocca

Publication Date: November 5, 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1568987218

The folks at Princeton Architectural Press have done it again: they have sent us a two-pack that again begs for a comparative review.

Green Roof is the rarest of architectural books. It is a case study of a single project (the green roof for the Headquarters of the American Society of Landscape Architects) that successfully balances theoretical concerns, models and sketches and computer renderings from a messy design process, reproductions of key construction drawings and details, documentation of the construction process, and great, informative photography of the final project. Every page is filled with useful, clear, and beautifully presented information. The photography is stunning. The project's design is fairly simple, and not the most formally interesting of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates' work. And yet the book contains a persuasive point of view (the United States need more green roof projects), with a theoretical bias (green roof projects are an integral part of modern living), a position on how the project fits into the larger urban whole, all the while being a powerfully pragmatic reference book (complete with product manufacturers and descriptions of every plant species used) for how to do a project like this, from beginning to end. After years of blah rendering-filled monographs and cheeky formal explorations, this kind of book is not only welcome, but long overdue.

Natural Architecture is a cursory survey of artists whose works are sculptures using materials found in nature: trees, branches, rocks, soil, and streams. The artists surveys are all contemporary, and a wide range of explorations and concerns are covered. Included are a few big names (Olafur Eliasson, nArchitects), but the majority of the artists are probably known only to people who follow this sort of thing. The author makes the correct decisions to show work that is post-Land Art (if there is such a thing), work that both borders on interesting vernacular construction as well as the cutting edge of contemporary art and architecture, and work that is being done by artists worldwide. While some of the images are grainy and underexposed, they do capture the ephemeral nature of works made by natural materials, and the labor and processes needed to build them. The graphic design is mostly unobtrusive, except for some titles that seem ripped from my graduating portfolio circa 1997. But these are minor points. Like many surveys of particular themes of art, this book is one of the more useful compilations, with enough breadth of images to appeal to a wide range of artists and architects.

Green Roof: A Case Study: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates' Design For the Headquarters of the American Society of Landscape Architects and Natural Architecture are both available at Amazon.