Writing Architecture

ICA Boston Opens

Nicolai Ourousoff reviews the recently opened Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in today's New York Times. The new building, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, apparently makes maximum use of its cantilever. Another triumph for innovative design. Let's hope Lincoln Center fares as well.

Tropolism Magazines: PIN-UP

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The second entry in our, er, two-part series about new architectural magazines we like this week is PIN-UP, giving us helvetica love from the logo through the back cover Comme des ad. Published in New York, the magazine's inaugural issue features a layout suggested by its name: clean, collage like, and powered by ideas. In the dark days of architectural publications which we now live, where great aging publications like Architecture, P/A, and The Gutter have all fallen to the wayside, it is difficult to find one that is still up and running, much less remotely interesting.

PIN-UP plays both meanings of the double entendre embedded in its title. It feels casual, easy to pick up and leaf through, with great pictures art directed for a general, design-friendly audience. It also gets behind the clothes of the architect, in many figurative and literal ways, putting architects like Jurgen Mayer H., Zaha Hadid, Winka, and Charles Renfro on display as people/props to be studied, as much as the work they produce. This is to say nothing of the brilliant, phallic, tower-porn photo series, something straight out of Dutch/Matthias Vriens from 1999. The brilliant tendency of this magazine is to collapse both sides of the double entendre into a single article, as in the article about Jurgen Mayer H., constantly pictured (they are video stills) undressing or in bed in a hotel room, next to details of his buildings and installations. It is a perfect encapsulation of how architectural design consumes the lives of architects who build, particularly those famous architects who lecture around the world. Bravo.

And, as icing on the cake, they reprint an article from Beatriz Colomina in the back, her brilliant piece about Corb raping Eileen Gray's house with a mural from the 1980s. Cred building.

BTW, Comme Des, want to advertise on Tropolism?

Via Jason Thome, our own personal cool hunter.

Specifier Magazine

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This week is New Architectural Magazine Week at Tropolism. Didn't you hear?

First up is a great magazine out of Australia called Specifier. Its publication includes a lot of information on architectural building products, and relates them to projects worldwide. Kind of like Architectural Record, only not so half-assed. Specifier has only recently gone online, which is how we found out about it (thank goodness for our magazine-surfing intern). Our favorite: being able to read and see pictures of the current issue, like this article about the marvellous Metropol Parasol in Seville.

Midwest Architecture Driving Tour

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Having grown up in Lima, Ohio, I have a soft spot for any building in the Midwest by a famous architect. The Wexner Center was a gift from the heavens, in all its glorious inanity, when placed in the desert of architectural invention. Gehry's addition to the Toledo Art Museum about the same time was another gift, even though it's a blip on the radar in his oevre.

But the Midwest is at it again, building celebrity architect's buildings everywhere. Oliver Schwaner-Albright has written a piece for Travel+Leisure documenting a road trip one might take to see some of the more recent sights. Happy trails.

Tribeca: Contextual Architecture Hell

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As regular readers of Tropolism know, we have a low regard for contextualistical architecture regulations, public design review boards, and unnecessarily stringent historic preservation guidelines. We're champions of good architecture; sometimes it "fits in", sometimes it doesn't. Mostly it doesn't. And that's what makes New York so wonderful. Can anyone imagine the High Line design if it had to be "contextual"? Ouch.

So it with a happy heart that we read a letter by Carole Ashle to the Tribeca Trib expressing similar views. On the subject of the North Moore Hotel, contextual-styled par excellance:

"Most of these creations stand out as clumsy interlopers because their concept is a fakery, and has nothing to do with architecture as an art. Nothing to do with function, either. The North Moore hotel evokes anything but Tribeca, parts of an Edward Luytens’ country house perhaps, minus the quality. A contemporary building on Hudson Street near Franklin fits better with the surrounding buildings. The “contextual” has been discredited in other countries such as Britain where it’s now rightly seen as a disaster for architecture.

We can vouch for the building she refers to on Hudson Street: it's all glass, yet somehow manages to turn the entire block of staid brick warehouses into a setting for its elegant, delicately patterened facade. Sometimes it fits in by doing not-fitting-in at the appropriate scale.

Via Curbed. Photo by Will Femia.

On Smithson's Hotel Palenque

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Greg Allen posts a gorgeous piece about Robert Smithson's lecture/slideshow/fictional narrative Hotel Palenque. He includes a link to a filmed recording of the 1972 event at the University of Utah, and impressions of what it is to see this piece through the lens of a filmmaker.

Scion Competition: Beware

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Somewhere along the way, we mentioned this: Tropolism means calling bullshit.

For a grand prize of $5,000, and the opportunity to have your design built, the Scion car company will gladly accept your pro-bono design ideas for their next generation of showroom. It's one thing to hold a competition for something that will improve public urban life, like the High Line: some find even this give-away of architectural design services to be repulsive, some see it as a great way to contribute to the common good. On this point we are agnostic. However, we find it completely outrageous to hold an open design competition and to have three prizes totalling $6,500 for an international car company's private showroom. In fact, we think it's so brazenly unprofessional that we're requesting y'alls spread the word and stay away. And spread the word to stay away.

Science Fiction and the City

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Geoff Manaugh over at BLDGBLOG interviews Jeff VanderMeer in a transcription that follows Geoff's architectural imagination, swinging between hard urbanism stats to sci-fi geek. We are fascinated as much by his questions as by Mr. VenderMeer's replies. Also of note: incredible, as usual, illustrations.

Spanish Architecture Blog

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As if El Tropolismo wasn't enough, we have come across Urbanity.es, a blog about urbanism and architecture in Spain. Spain, land of El Croquis and Quaderns and a large and thriving architectural press (the center of said press in the Spanish-speaking world), deserves a corresponding number of architecture blogs.

Our favorite entry so far: this one about an MDRDV apartment building in Madrid, pictured above.

A Little Summer Break

Tropolism will be at the beach this week, looking for Richard Meier's first house. See you next week!

(If you know the location of said house, or have pictures, do send them our way.)

StreetsBlog

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Over the holiday a friend pointed us to the interesting StreetsBlog, a production of the Open Planning Project (itself a great locus of open-planning processes and public effect via the internet).

Our favorite entry so far: a piece on the Defeat of the Mt. Hood Freeway, a proposed freeway in Portland, Oregon, planned by NYC's very own Robert Moses.

Pod Living, The Old School

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In Manhattan's overheated and soon-to-be-totally-over celebrity real estate moment, apparently all that is required to sell some apartments is the inclusion of a few pieces of unique furniture in the renderings. Greg Allen writes a brilliant comparison of old skool pod living and the overhyped and underdesigned Jade by Jagger. Nuf said.

Magical Urbanism

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We've recently been taken by Magical Urbanism, a weblog by fellow Ohioan Mike Ernst. It focuses on in-depth writing about urban and planning issues in specific cities, while still maintaining the majesty and surreal imagination of a blog like BLDGBLOG. The site is named after Mike Davis' book of the same name, and is a preparation for a big trip Mr. Ernst is going to take in the fall of 2006.

It also has a gorgeous design, which a sharp-eyed reader points out is one of WordPress's standard designs.

A Few More Words On Jane Jacobs

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We here at Tropolism believe in being very clear, so we'd like to say a little more about our admiration of Jane Jacobs, just so others don't get the wrong idea.

In her time, in her context, we have unqualified admiration for her work. She was able to mobilize people to get involved in choices about urban development. She created a public appetite for good city planning. She wrote a book that captured the city in the way the urban theories of the time did not, and created an appetite for living in the city.

But a regular reader of Tropolism will know that we do not believe Death and Life is a guidebook by which New York, or any other city, should be beholden. We see it as a piece of a constellation of ideas. In fact, our one and only mention of Baby Jane up to her death was in the context of a radical interpretation of her ideas, that diversity in our cities goes way beyond far West Village townhouses. We also recognize that the problem of where to put a rapidly growing population are never really satisfied by this small-scale approach, either. We love density, brutalism, tree-lined streets, art deco, Memphis style, Modern Style, Any Style and everything else inbetween. And we still don't like the Sculpture for Living.

And so we found ourselves agreeing with Mr. Ouroussoff about how New York has outgrown JJ, both in physical size, size of population, and in the complexity of problems we face. We don't see Lincoln Center or the old WTC plaza as the best possible examples of a new kind of super-diversity, but that's the shortcoming of Mr. O. We prefer to think of glass towers by starchitects with only 24 units as an example of this, because it signals a culture with the ability to blur public and private boundaries, a culture that loves density in all its forms.

Street Ballet Contest

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In honor of Jane Jacobs, our friends at PolisCurbed (Lisackhart?) have joined forces to create the Street Ballet Contest. The intention is to "celebrate the street ballet of your favorite block", and to elicit your own spin on Jane Jacobs' neighborhood ideas.

Jane Jacobs, 1916-2006

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Jane Jacobs died this morning in Toronto.

Tropolism has mentioned her only once, but in one of our favorite entries. So much has been written about her, it seemed hardly necessary to mention her hovering over everything we do. Yet it goes without saying that a movement like Tropolismo would not have been possible without her brilliant contribution of intellectualism and urban activism. She not only changed the course of New York City's development, she inspired us to love urban life.

The Green House Exhibition

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Back in the day we announced the publication of The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture [PA Press, we're still waiting for our review copy!]. Today we see that the National Building Museum will open an exhibit of the same name, complete with full-scale model of a modern green house. The show opens May 20 and will close in June 2007.

Via Inhabitat.

Where To Put More New York

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Robert Yaro, produces a lovely piece on what New York might do to add the million to million and a half new New Yorkers expected over the next twenty-five years. Because many parts of New York CIty are already at capacity, or over capacity, he looks for what other cities have done to grow in a way that creates a livable city. Intriguing are suggestions on what places like Chicago have done (although he should be shot for using "regional visioning process" in a sentence). It reads like an internal email at City Planning, but it probably qualifies as the most useful internal email for 2006.

From the Gotham Gazette.

One

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Today, Tropolism is one year old. A year ago (technically April 22, 2005, but that's on a weekend this year, yo), in the darkness of pre-launch and pre-URL, we made our first timid post into the ether. This year April 22 is Earth Day, and so we are celebrating by giving you our favorite green-stuff posts.