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Architecture & the merits of being a generalist

In architecture, Europe, society on May 3, 2014 at 01:10

From: Architecture & the merits of being a generalist: “Very few people connect the dots” by Lars Mensel with Reinier de Graaf, The European, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

de Graaf: Architecture is a very hermetic profession. So subjects that are very marginal in the world of architecture are often mainstream in the real world. Architecture is excellent at ignoring things that are important and instead focuses on things that are ultimately footnotes. We aggressively try to do the opposite.

The European: For instance?
de Graaf: In the 1970s, Rem Koolhaas focused on New York City. At the time, “metropolis” was a dirty word in the European architectural debate. We looked at the emergence of cities in China – which was a very unfashionable thing to do– or the expansion of shopping. The amount of square meters of shopping spaces that are being constructed throughout the world exceeds almost everything else. They are constructed without any architectural attention – and yet a whole lot gets built. Architecture, by focussing on things that might be small, beautiful and culturally accepted, contributes less and less to the built environment and instead retreats into a voluntary marginalization.

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Reposted with permission from: The European

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A Feeling of Oneness With the World by by Volker M. Welter

In architecture, biography, design, North America, psychology, uncategorized on March 2, 2014 at 20:43

From:  A Feeling of Oneness With the World: On the House of Dr. Franz Alexander by Volker M. Welter, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

Following a map for a driving tour along Palm Spring’s mid-twentieth century Modernist homes and buildings, I had just peeked at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House, the rebellious sibling from 1947 of Frank Lloyds Wright’s Fallingwater House in Pennsylvania, which was begun for the same client in 1935. Figuring out on the map where to drive to next, a house whose owner was identified as Dr. Franz Alexander caught my attention. I had come across that name some years earlier in connection with my research into Ernst L. Freud, the architect-son of Sigmund Freud. Rumour had it that Ernst Freud designed Alexander’s consulting room when both lived in Berlin in the 1920s, though I could never verify that. I decided to take a look at the house that carried the same name as the Austrian-Hungarian psychoanalyst.

The wood and steel roof of the Alexander House was a variation of an earlier experimental patented roof and wall construction or which a patent was pending. The curve of the roof on the Palm Springs house was a new experiment. White argued that it would help to passively heat and cool the interior; to soundly integrate his houses into the desert environment was a goal of his from early on. White’s characterisation of the Alexander house as a prototype of an environmentally sensitive desert home may have triggered the psychoanalyst’s scientific curiosity. Other elements of the house appear to be abstractions of the circumstances of the ‘oceanic feelings’ that Franz Alexander had experienced during his childhood, but the one that lingers is the view from the balcony: the equivalent of the gaze across the Baltic Sea, the azure dome of the sky recalling the large blue balloon, and the interior with its concave ceiling as a version of the finite universe with its curved space. In short, the desert house was the perfect setting for Alexander’s pursuit of both the scientific and the humanistic inquiries into humanity and its fate; a lifelong quest that had begun in Budapest and was far from over when Alexander settled in Palm Springs.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Water Works by Cynthia Barnett

In architecture, community, ecology, infrastructure, North America on July 30, 2013 at 17:52

From: Water Works: Communities imagine ways of making every drop count (Reimagining Infrastructure series) by Cynthia Barnett, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

On a winter’s day in Seattle, a leaden monotony hangs over the Central Business District, dispiriting to this part of downtown. Contrary to reputation, the urban pallor is not born of rain, which falls almost imperceptibly from silvery clouds that match the nearby waters of Puget Sound. Rather, the gloom rises from the cement hardscape. The busy streets are paved dark gray, the wide sidewalks beside them light gray. The skyscrapers rise in shades of gray. The hulking freeways, ramps, and overpasses: gray. The monorail track and its elephantine pillars: gray.

The gray shellac of a city repels more than the imagination. When rain flows along streets, parking lots, and rooftops rather than percolating into the ground, it soaks up toxic metals, oil and grease, pesticides and herbicides, feces, and every other scourge that can make its way to a gutter. This runoff impairs virtually every urban creek, stream, and river in Washington. It makes Pacific killer whales some of the most PCB-contaminated mammals on the planet. It’s driving two species of salmon extinct, and kills a high percentage of healthy coho within hours of swimming into Seattle’s creeks, before they’ve had a chance to spawn.

Returning some of nature’s hydrology to the cityscape can make an enormous difference —or could—as more individuals, businesses, and neighborhoods remake their bit of the terra firma. Washington State University scientists have found that streets with rain gardens clean up 90 percent or more of the pollutants flowing through on their way to the sound. Green roofs reduce runoff between 50 and 85 percent and can drop a building’s energy costs by nearly a third. Cisterns like the one on Vine Street solve two problems, reducing runoff and capturing water for outdoor irrigation—which in summer can account for half a city’s freshwater demand.

Seattle was among the first major American cities to accept that it had hit the limit. The Emerald City taps a clear mountain river called the Cedar, and a smaller river, the Tolt, to quench the thirst of 1.4 million urbanites and corporate giants from Amazon to Microsoft. The Cedar River begins in the cloud-laced foothills of the Cascade Range, flows forty-five miles south to Seattle’s iconic Lake Washington, and ultimately to Puget Sound. Seattle’s leaders had the foresight to begin buying up the river’s watershed for drinking water in the late 1800s; over a century, they’d preserved more than ninety thousand acres. At the upper reaches of the watershed, snowpack collects in winter, then fills the city’s reservoirs for the dry summer. At the lower end, the Landsburg Dam diverts the river for drinking water.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

From Disc to Sphere by Volker M. Welter

In architecture, astronomy, ecology, nature, North America, photography, space on May 13, 2013 at 21:43

From: From Disc to Sphere by Volker M. Welter, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

In October 1969, at the height of the irrational fears about the imminent detonation of the population bomb, about one hundred hippies assembled in the San Francisco Bay area to stage a “hunger show,” a week-long period of total fasting. The event was inspired by a hashish-induced vision that had come to the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand, when reading Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book The Population Bomb. The goal was to personally experience the bodily pain of those who suffer from famine and to issue a warning about the mass starvations predicted for the 1970s. From the outset, the lofty intentions conflicted with a more dreary reality. Originally, the communal fasting was to be held inside an inflatable, one-hundred-by-one-hundred-foot polyethylene pillow. The structure, dubbed Liferaft Earth, was designed by Charlie Tilford, a graduate student in engineering at Columbia University, and the participants were to live exclusively within it for the duration of the fast. But the organizers could neither secure a prominent site nor a permit for the innovative shell, which was deemed to be a fire risk, and so the event took place instead in a motel parking lot in the city of Hayward. There, a four-foot-high inflatable wall delineated a compound within which those who were fasting camped. The press and the curious lingered outside the wall, joined by the occasional participant who could no longer bear the hunger pangs, made worse by the temptations of a nearby Chinese restaurant.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

The Dream House By Robert Boucheron

In architecture, history, North America, photography, space on February 10, 2013 at 18:02

From: The Dream House By Robert Boucheron, The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

An industry of books and shelter magazines testifies to the popularity of this domestic daydream. Hanley Wood, for example, publishes American Dream Homes, which describes itself as an “annual showcase of our finest designs. . . the year’s most celebrated homes from the most accomplished designers. . . great photography and meticulous descriptions of the exquisite details.”

The photographs rarely include people, and certainly not the celebrity homeowners. That would disrupt the dream, in which the magazine reader is the happy inhabitant. The text reinforces the subliminal message, inviting the reader on a tour, and implying that all this can be yours. The expense is rarely mentioned, partly because it is obvious, but more because the dream does away with practical concerns. You could win the lottery or inherit a fortune. You could move in tomorrow!

There is nothing unclear about the drawings and photographs. The description is realistic, minutely detailed, and loaded with adjectives. The granite countertop is polished, the fireplace mantel is veined marble, the ceramic tile is imported from Italy, and the wood floor is reclaimed oak from a demolished mill. Look closer, and the lighting is too bright, the colors too intense, the glass too clear. The shadows are missing, just as the untidiness of life is missing. Where is the stray shoe, the carpet stain, the magazine left lying on the couch? The photographs, for all their apparent realism, have been carefully arranged, with hidden lights, and then skillfully edited, to remove the fallen leaf from the plants brought in as props.

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

Austin At Large by John Davidson

In architecture, community, economics, ethnicity, government, North America, performing arts, politics, space on December 21, 2012 at 17:55

From: Austin At Large by John Davidson, n + 1, http://nplusonemag.com

Austin is the fastest-growing city in the United States. More than 150,000 people moved there in the last decade and the city now has almost 800,000 residents. The greater metro area added almost half a million people in the past ten years and now has a population of about 1.7 million. This rapid growth has made Austin one of the few cities in the country where the housing market is strong and stable. The total dollar amount of single-family homes sold in Austin in October was more than $543 million, and with the population expected to keep growing and spreading into other parts of the city, the future looks good for realtors and developers in Austin.

For everyone else, the future looks expensive. Central Texas is struggling with an overloaded infrastructure and crippling congestion, which will keep getting worse unless Austin and Travis County can figure out how to build light rail, buy more buses and establish more routes, carve out more bike and pedestrian paths, and build larger highways—all of which comes with a price tag in the tens of billions. That money would have to come from ever-increasing property taxes and fees paid by current residents, and of course those living in growing neighborhoods will be hit hardest.

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Reposted with permission from: n + 1

A Traditional Artistic Training Method for Landscape Painting by David Clayton

In architecture, art, Europe, history of art, nature, religion, visual arts on November 24, 2012 at 01:04

From: A Traditional Artistic Training Method for Landscape Painting – How We Can Apply This Today by David Clayton, The Way of Beauty, http://thewayofbeauty.org

Thomas Girtin trained in England in the late 18th century and trained for three years from the ages of 14-19. He was apprenticed to the established artist Edward Dayes and began by doing supporting work (grinding pigments etc) and by watching his master painting. Only later he was allowed to copy his master’s work. He was expected at this stage to pick up the idiosyncrasies of his teacher’s style as a necessary stage in the longer term goal of his emerging with a similar but independent style. From the start he was given talks about art and especially the moral purpose of art. Consistent with academic theory and following Joshua Reynolds in his Discources given to the Royal Academy, Dayes announced that the artist only selects the best parts of the natural world in order to reflect an idealised Nature. In addition, Girtin was expected to read in order to form his taste.

For his painting training, he would be introduced to colour by being asked to colour prints (so don’t hesitate to photocopy and colour-in today!). He then progressed on to his own landscapes by working in the studio and creating amalgamations of different works by Dayes and others and drawings and sketches.

In painting from nature, he would start to observe and sketch doing either line drawings or broad tonal renditions depicting scenes using sweeps in monochrome; through this he could start to control the sense of space by changing the intensity of shadow according the to distance from which it was viewed. He would also do repeated studies of individual items – bushes, trees and so on – both from works of others and direct from nature.

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Reposted with permission from: David Clayton (The Way of Beauty)

“Architecture” by Georges Bataille (1929) by The Mass Ornament

In architecture, culture, society, theory on October 21, 2012 at 00:10

From: From the Golden Age of Media Criticism: “Architecture” by Georges Bataille (1929) by The Mass Ornament, http://themassornament.com

Architecture is the expression of the true nature of societies, as physiognomy is the expression of the nature of individuals. However, this comparison is applicable, above all, to the physiognomy of officials (prelates, magistrates, admirals). In fact, only society’s ideal nature – that of authoritative command and prohibition – expresses itself in actual architectural constructions. Thus great monuments rise up like dams, opposing a logic of majesty and authority to all unquiet elements; it is in the form of cathedrals and palaces that church and state speak to and impose silence upon the crowds. Indeed, monuments obviously inspire good social behaviour and often even genuine fear. The fall of the Bastille is symbolic of this state of things. This mass movement is difficult to explain otherwise than by popular hostility toward monuments, which are their veritable masters.

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Reposted with permission from: The Mass Ornament

The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism by Mark Anthony Signorelli and Nikos A. Salingaros

In aesthetics, architecture, art, civilisation, culture, education, nature, society on October 7, 2012 at 04:01

From: The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism by Mark Anthony Signorelli and Nikos A. Salingaros, New English Review, http://www.newenglishreview.org

We who live in the Western world at the present time continue to suffer under the reign of a great tyranny — the tyranny of artistic modernism. The modernist aesthetic, which dominates our age, takes a variety of forms in the respective arts — in architecture, a lack of scale and ornamentation combined with the overwhelming deployment of materials like glass, steel, and brutalist concrete; in the plastic arts, a rejection of natural forms mixed with an unmistakable tendency towards the repulsive or meretricious; in literature, non-linear narrative, esoteric imagery, and an almost perfect lack of poetic form and diction. Yet common now to the practice of all these arts are certain primal impulses which may be said to form the core of the modernist aesthetic — a hostility and defiance towards all traditional standards of excellence, discovered over millennia of craftsmanship and reflection; a notion of the artist’s freedom as absolute, and entirely divorced from the ends of his art; and, as Roger Scruton has so clearly demonstrated, a refusal to apply the category of beauty to either the creation or the estimation of artwork. Standing behind this aesthetic is an ideology supported by nearly the entire institutional structure of the Western world — the universities, the publishing houses, the galleries, the journals, the prize committees, the zoning boards. Books that evince a fidelity to modernist principles are the ones that get published. Buildings that conform to the brutal codes of modernism and its derivatives are the ones that get built. Whatever creative efforts spring from other sources of inspiration other than modernist aggression are invariably ignored and dismissed as something antiquated or reactionary. This is the great totalitarian system of our times — the dictatorship of modernism.

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Reposted with permission from: New English Review

The Panel: Utopian architecture by Fenella Kernebone with Professor Robert Fishman

In aesthetics, architecture, art, audio, Australia & Oceania, culture, Europe, history, interview, nature, North America, philosophy on October 2, 2012 at 07:07

From: The Panel: Utopian architecture by Fenella Kernebone with Professor Robert Fishman, By Design, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

Since the end of the 19th century people have struggled to build better cities, free of the slums and smoke that were part and parcel of the industrial revolution. Architects saw that the industrialised world was one of enormous possibilities with room for visionary ideas to escape the problems of the day, be it a shortage of housing, urban decay or pollution. Their utopian Modernist dreams imagined cities in the sky and housing towers set amongst green landscapes.

As part of RN’s theme week about perfect worlds, we’re revisiting several of those dreams for urban utopias as imagined by four visionary architects: Frank Lloyd Wright; Le Corbusier; Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin — the husband–wife team behind Canberra — as well as the town planner Ebenezer Howard, who created the garden city movement.

Listen to the broadcast

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

 

Featured Essay: Dubai – A City Manufactured by Curiosity by Bilal Khbei

In aesthetics, architecture, Asia, culture, economics, Featured, politics on September 23, 2012 at 07:10

Featured Essay: Dubai – A City Manufactured by Curiosity by Bilal Khbei, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Reposted in full with permission from: e-flux (Marianna Silva)

It is hard to distinguish individuals in a crowd. Citizens of the Gulf states appear to the visitor as crowds, with their identities as individuals momentarily suspended. Such a crowd is slightly different from the kind described by Elias Canetti. This is a crowd perceived as such by a visitor conscious of his individuality against the multitude. The crowd exerts no control over this visitor, nor does it repress his personality. Rather, this visitor exerts a form of authority—engaging in an exchange of power with the crowd. For him, the citizen is imprisoned within the crowd, incapable of assuming the authority of an individual.

Visual encounters between citizens and visitors take place primarily in neutral public spaces where the visitor’s behavior is less restricted. By entering a hotel lobby, for instance, the citizen declines the possibility of establishing authority and becomes helpless. The citizen can be neither a soldier nor a noble person, but is also incapable of becoming a barbarian, an indistinguishable part of a great multitude—a grain of sand along the seashore, as Ernest Renan described barbarians. Barbarians for Renan are numberless; they tirelessly procreate despite the numerous deaths they suffer. Furthermore, their deaths complement their procreation, which is why they appear countless to Renan and other nineteenth-century European racialist thinkers.


Burj Al Arab Hotel Dubai Lobby.

But this is not how the visitor perceives the citizen of the United Arab Emirates; this citizen is part of an absent crowd. In public he appears isolated and weak—lonesome in a colonized land. The citizen appears to be performing the role of an individual, summoning a display of mannerisms in the hope of finding a place for the national costume in public space. This “uniform” is a national disposition, or perhaps an assertion of loyalty to an identity in spite of knowing it is restrictive. It is a form of reconciliation between a constructed identity and a possible connection to a formalistic modernity. The modernity experienced in hotels is superficial, and this citizen seems to imply that his costume is but one extra mask in a stage full of masks.

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The Architecture of Evil by Roger Forsgren

In architecture, ethics, Europe, government, history, society, war on September 13, 2012 at 18:43

From: The Architecture of Evil by Roger Forsgren, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

For the commission to do a great building, I would have sold my soul like Faust. Now I had found my Mephistopheles. He seemed no less engaging than Goethe’s.

—Albert Speer

Someone designed the furnaces of the Nazi death camps. Someone measured the size and weight of a human corpse to determine how many could be stacked and efficiently incinerated within a crematorium. Someone sketched out on a drafting table the decontamination showers, complete with the fake hot-water spigots used to lull and deceive doomed prisoners. Someone, very well educated, designed the rooftop openings and considered their optimum placement for the cyanide pellets to be dropped among the naked, helpless men, women, and children below. This person was an engineer, an architect, or a technician. This person went home at night, perhaps laughed and played with his children, went to church on Sunday, and kissed his wife goodbye each morning.

The technical professions occupy a unique place in modern society. Engineers and architects possess skills most others lack — skills that allow them to transform dreams of design into reality. Engineers can convert a dry, infertile valley into farmland by constructing a dam to provide irrigation; they have made man fly; and architects have constructed buildings that reach thousands of feet into the sky. But these same technical gifts alone, in the absence of a sense of morality and a capacity for critical thought and judgment, can also make reality of nightmares. Ferdinand Porsche, the engineer who designed the Volkswagen — an automobile that revolutionized personal travel for the common man — also designed a terrifying battle tank that helped kill millions of Russians on the Eastern Front. Wernher von Braun, who would later design the Saturn V rocket that brought American astronauts to the Moon, designed the V-2 rockets with which the Nazis terrorized Antwerp and London in the waning months of the Second World War.

Few men better exemplify this danger than Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. From bold, looming edifices, to giant swastika banners, to the intimidating searchlights of the “cathedral of light” piercing the night sky around one of the Nazi Party rallies at Nuremberg, Speer’s designs became icons of Nazi megalomania. He shared with the dictator a vision of a redesigned Berlin that, when the Third Reich conquered the world, would be a lasting monument to its power for ages to come. “Your husband is going to erect buildings for me such as have not been created for four thousand years,” Hitler told Speer’s wife, reflecting both the scale of their shared ambition and the shared admiration and peculiar friendship that developed between the two men over the course of the war.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

Toward a Dissident Architecture?

In architecture, civilisation, philosophy, politics on June 8, 2012 at 21:02

 

Toward a Dissident Architecture? by Thomas de Monchaux, n + 1, http://nplusonemag.com

In the kind of rapid development we see in China, architecture as understood by architects can be seen as a nicety, not a necessity. It may be that, in such a context, Wang’s most instrumental building to date is his least precious: the Vertical Courtyard Apartments in Hangzhou, produced between 2002 and 2007. With an articulated plane that folds up and across the building’s façade and section, and slight alternating rotations to every other floor plate through that section, the building reads more like a stack of house-sized objects than a seamless monolith. In a recent interview with the Architect’s Newspaper, Wang recalled, “I wanted even those people living 30 meters high to still feel like they were living in a small house where they could live around a small courtyard and plant their own trees. From below they can tell people on the ground that ‘those are my trees and that’s my house.’ It provides an identity for people to feel like it’s their own house. It’s more than just blank windows in apartment buildings that can’t separate neighborhoods. It’s a basic right for people.”

What is the relationship between architecture and people’s basic rights? By the standards of human rights held to be universal by those who believe in them, much of what prevails in China falls short. What are the possibilities and responsibilities of design in such a context? We can see, perhaps latently, one possible answer in the language the Pritzker citation uses to describe Wang’s work: “frank,” “collaborative,” “message-sending,” “unpredictable,” “careful,” “spontaneous,” “responsible”—these are all qualities that one would want in, say, the lively and free citizenry of a functional democratic republic.

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