Writing Architecture

Tropolism Books: House: Black Swan Theory and AT-INdex


Title: House: Black Swan Theory

Author: Steven Holl

Publication Date: May 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1-56898-587-9

Title: AT-INdex

Author: Winka Dubbeldam

Publication Date: June 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1-56898-535-5

Not only do the folks at Princeton Architectural Press send us lots of books to review, but they have a sense of humor.

Recently we received copies of the two books listed in this review. The two books are polar opposites, and all but begged us to do a comparative review.

Click Continue Reading for the goods...

Hudson Yards Draft Strategic Framework Plan


Dear Diary,

Next time I do a master plan for anything, please be sure to run it by Lockhart Steele first. Just the other day, I was looking at Curbed, and I saw his brilliant, whithering criticism of the beyond-stupid Hudson Yards Draft Strategic Framework Plan. Of particular note: he noticed the glaring stupidity of the Plan's attempt to compare a development site with the size of the open spaces in New York, as if the entire site would be open space. What can we say, Lockhart is good.

He didn't mention one important point, but he's probably just leaving something for me to write about. That the Plan is obviously constructed so that one conclusion can be reached: building around the High Line is too expensive, and therefore it should be just knocked down. What architect can't see that this is the most interesting part of the High Line? FxFowle, we had so much faith in you up to now.

Rudolph Road Trip


Today's New York Times gives us a road trip to Paul Rudolph's work between here and Boston, and includes updates on the conditions of the buildings. It also divulges a lot of details about the people who inhabit them. It also includes, shockingly enough, actual addresses and directions to said buildings. Time to call the garage and have the car ready.

Ever since Modern Architecture In Europe went out of print, and the internet, er, happened, guidebooks to famous buildings have been few and far between. The AIA produces a few for major cities, but they are hardly comprehensive. Road tripping across the country means long expanses of no handheld device internet access, which means all that online information is useless, unless you print it out. Until someone finds a solution for this, we'll have to print out articles like this one.

Olafur Eliasson Lecture Report


A report on a lecture at the NAI appears in translation at Eikongraphia. Of particular interest is the discussion around Olafur's focus on being critical of the marketplace, and the difficulty he has working with architects.

Via Greg.org.

Tropolism On Gridskipper


On Gridskipper today: an article asking writers about architecture what they think the ugliest building in New York is. Of course, we picked the Whitney, but as we make plain, ugly has never been a perjorative for us.

Photo by Hagen Steir on flickr.

Lectures: The Cliff Notes


We love it when a weblog hits their stride. Do You Want Some Coffee? has been summarizing, and making informed commentary, on some of the lectures it lists, offering something unique to online architectural discourse. It's fascinating, and brilliantly useful. Architecture lectures, like many lectures, disappear without this kind of public note-taking. It's a way of seeing what's happening in lectures without having to be at each one.

The best example of this is the post about a recent symposium on Building Information Management (BIM). The post gives us the takeaway up front, and places the conversation in the world of other conversations.

Tropolism Fact Correction

Tropolism stands corrected. The smashup panes of glass at IIT, subject of one of our very first posts, were replacement glass from a 1970s renovation. The source of this is a press release describing the origin of the panes. The same press release we linked to in our original post. Whether our fact checker simply neglected to read the last sentence of the press release, the one that would have made our little rant entirely moot, or the release was post-tropolism revised, is not important. Mies' glass was long gone by the time the demolition derby came to town.



The exhibition "Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines", on view now at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, is in our world the perfect exhibition: about rare architectural publications, and curated by Beatriz Colomina. The show is only up until February 24th, so rush down. There can never be enough architectural book love.

Until you get there, you may soak up the magazine goodness at the show's excellent (and simple, yo. Take note architects!) website. Mr. Ourousoff from the Times has also reviewed the show today.

Vanishing St. Louis


Continuing our love to websites documenting vanishing St. Louis we bring you, er, Vanishing St. Louis, a new site devoted to documenting threatened landmarks in the St. Louis area. Such a small city can't afford to have too few of these websites: they're implosion happy in that town.

On Argumentum Ad Hominem And Rem


We mentioned a little while ago about our allergy to argumentum ad hominem. It flared up in full force upon reading Philip Noble's latest column in Metropolis, so much so that we had to reach for our medication. Mr. Noble makes plain his love of the OMA-designed IIT Student Center in Chicago, but still can't bring himself to like Rem Koolhaas. The complaint gives us the so-whats. I can't say I care to care about any architect I'm not personal friends with. The list of Rem Infractions listed in the article make his argument ring of an inferiority complex that should stay in therapy sessions. However, the crux of his argument brings ad hominem to a whole new level, and something worthy of debate:

Can I not, one might also ask, separate the tics of a genius personality from the work of a genius? No, I would proudly respond, I cannot. And neither should you: when a building is itself leveraged on the personality of its builder—as it always is in the case of Rem and so many others who need not be mentioned here again (okay: Peter, Zaha, Richard, Danny)—then that personality, tics and all, becomes part of what one must assess to understand the finished work.

While we at Tropolism prefer to see buildings as most people do--apart from the journalism and gossip that surrounds their making--and entirely focus on how the body of the building interacts with the life of the city, we do agree that it's possible to gain insight into the artistic will of an architect by understanding their personal eccentricities. But what does that give us, except some more Understanding? Understanding is the booby prize. In a hundred years, IIT will still exist in some form, and the slights received by journalists from Rem in the late 20th and early 21st century will seem like trivialities. It is a rare occasion (I cannot think of a single occurence) when our squabbling is not outlived by the buildings we produce, and their effects on urban life. Besides, there are so many other conversations in the city, it's difficult to focus on a few rants, particularly from architects.

Via Greg.org.

Tropolism Books: Tom Kundig: Houses


Title: Tom Kundig: Houses

Editor: Dung Ngo

Publication Date: January 3, 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1-56898-605-X

This monograph for architect Tom Kundig is another example of how the approach to architectural works can be perfectly suited to the work itself. The five houses in this monograph are filled with obsessive details, raw materials, and blackened steel with the fabrication markings left on it. The monograph format is filled with obsessive photographs of the details, sketches, and diagrams, bringing the richness of the materials to life.

On a diagrammatic level the houses are for the most part unremarkable spaces: most of them are simple boxes. Yet it is the abundant detailing that causes a functional upending to most of the spaces. Instead of easy-access doors, the houses contain concrete cabinet doors, heavy corten steel doors, giant corten plates as house shutters, and over detailed and under bright light fixtures. The effect would be maddening--enough to warrant me not even writing this review--if it were not for the fact that many of the details serve to disrupt domestic smoothness. In a world of expensive houses, creating a simple space with domesticity-resistant details is a brilliant subversion of the task of delivering a well-built house.

This is not to imply that Mr. Kundig is this conceptual about his work, or that he thinks of his houses as anything less than the perfect home. For everyone. The Studio House, with its egg-shaped lights, egg-shaped wheels, egg-shaped fireplace, and egg-shaped soap dish, is reminiscent of the scene described in Adolf Loos' essay "The Poor Little Rich Man": a house filled with everything for living, designed by the architect. Nothing more will fit.

Yet the crafting of these pieces is beautiful and precise, while maintaining the patina of heavy construction. In the rest of the houses, the detailing is less precious but more outgrageous, by being brought to the scale of architectural device. It is pitch-perfect. In the Chicken Point Cabin (pictured after you click "Continue Reading", an entire glass facade opens by an ingenius pully system. The impossibly picturesque setting for the Delta Shelter is let in through huge sliding shutters, essentially double-height walls that can be hand-cranked to shutter the house (from a nuclear blast, one can only suppose. It's beautiful anyway.) The Hot Rod House has a beautiful winding stair made entirely out of blackened steel: an element of rawness winding through the house. The devices become more sophisticated in each house. We look forward to the next monograph.

B.E.L.T.: Built Environment In Layman's Terms


While cleaning out old bookmarks today, we hit upon B.E.L.T. (B.E.L.T.: Built Environment In Layman's Terms), which we had apparently urgently bookmarked twelve months ago.

The weblog documents many of the hidden treasures in greater the St. Louis area, that wonderful crossroads between the south, the southwest, and the midwest. Because St. Louis is a very small city that a century ago was competing with Chicago for midwest dominance, so living there is like living in your great-grandmother's attic: there are unique treasures everywhere, decaying and long forgotten. We should know: we lived there for five years, when we attended Washington University as an architecture undergraduate. The architectural treasures of St. Louis span from the World's Fair of 1904 (The Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, which gave Washington University most of its original buildings), to the mid-century midwest modernists, to the modernist prototype department stores, to art deco inspired Route 66 motels, to a few scattered inspired post-structuralist architects in the late 1980s. The treasures are in many cases rapidly disappearing. We're glad that B.E.L.T. is there to document it.



BLDGBLOG points us to a gorgeous site hailing from London called StrangeHarvest. I like to think of it as an English cousin of BLDGBLOG, reflecting an appetite for constructed environments and their relationship to nature. Case in point: the post about astroturfing Texas Highway medians from the January 1971 issue of Texas Highways, whose current manifestation is TexasFreeway.com. This stuff keeps us warm at night.

Unique to StrangeHarvest are some original visual artworks. Our favorite: the highway collages.

VV Takes on Wolfe


One of our allergies is to argumentum ad hominem. That is, attacking the people making the argument as a way to discredit the argument. It avoids discussion of merits, thereby turning an issue of substance into an issue of morality. With regards to architecture, this is a particularly slippery slope: so much of an architect's creative abilities are personal, non-rational, idiosyncratic. It's difficult to discuss architecture without slipping into a little ad hominem from time to time. We despise it anyway.

Today's Village Voice seems to imply that author Tom Wolfe is making ad hominem arguments against the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and other supporters of 2 Columbus Circle and 980 Madison Avenue, (two projects we've taken preservation positions on). The article doesn't make the accusation directly (itself drifting into ad hominem by accusing Mr. Wolfe of launching his attack to save his career), but the implication is that his characterization of the LPC in the Times was simply an attack on the LPC's members. The Times piece in particular seems to spend a lot of time on Anthony Tung's career shifts. Our request: create an argument about what the LPC should be doing, and stick to that.

Tropolism Books: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces


A few months ago, my brother sent me a book from my long-forgotten Amazon.com Wishlist: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. The joy of receiving it was matched only by the pleasure in reading it.

Most of you know the story: William H. Whyte wrote the book in 1980, an outgrowth of his work as the director of the Street Life Project (which he founded in 1971). This group diligently recorded how people use public space. Moveable vs Fixed furniture. Placement of trees. Places to eat. Relationship of shops to open space. Sight Lines. They recorded. The book reads like a manual for making good public space, written by anthropologists of American Urban Natives.

The book isn't a scientific treatise, or an unbiased state-sponsored report, even though all of the techniques used to gather data have a long track record in the science community. Yet concealed in the trappings of scientific data, Mr. Whyte makes palpable the perceived cynicism on the part of corporate and urban architects toward the use of public space. The data is brilliantly and swiftly put to use. In addition, there is a bias against anything that would prevent people from sitting on a low ledge (spikes, bars), yet the section called "The Undesirables" seems to describe passive, friendly, capitalist ways of keeping drunks away from your nice public space. What is powerful about these biases, aside from what you may think of their merits, is that they enter the conversation about designing public space at its source. The book is about the details that make public spaces in the city thrive.

This book can be purchased at Amazon.

Pamphlet Architecture Call For Entries


We here at Tropolism love our fledgling underground architectural publications. We have ever since we were wee students reading old issues of Oppositions and Pamphlet Architecture issues #12-15.

A publicist for the latter publication reminded us today that the call for entries for the next Pamphlet has been extended to January 16, 2007. For details visit the brilliantly super-simple Pamphlet Architecture website. Tell them Tropolism sent you.