I see a convergence of sorts. It might be a coincidence but, then again, I think not. The wheels of “Pacific Standard Time”, the Getty’s juggernaut architectural assault on and about Los Angeles, have been turning for what seems like months now with exhibit after exhibit and symposium after symposium.
Is it just me or is “Pacific Standard Time” fatigue setting in? I’m not complaining. It gives me a lot of material to write about so I don’t have to just make stuff up. It corresponds with something called history, after all. But where is the self-reflexive, self-effacing, ha-haExit Through the Gift Shop wink about it all? It’s all so damn serious, isn’t it? It seems cooked up to be so monumental and deterministic. So Grand Narrative from the get-go, right out of the institutional blocks, like a marketing campaign.
The title “intern” should be banished from the profession of architecture. It’s about time. It has run its course. It’s outmoded and contributes to a culture of exploitation in the guise of opportunity. Frankly, it makes us look so nineteenth century.
More importantly, I’m tired of seeing articles decrying the state of interns every summer when “intern season” kicks in. Can we just be done with this? It’s depressing. Don’t exploit the interns! Pay the interns! No free labor! Class action lawsuit! Solidarity! FU pay me! All very well and good. However, if labor laws and ethics have not fixed the problem, maybe getting rid of the title will. It’s just a title, but it sets a bad precedent.
I pass by the Eames House almost every day at about 35 mph on my way down to PCH, the sand, the waves, the subterranean tunnels, and the tsunami zone, where LA coughs up its junk on the urban beach, where the Westside comes to its logical conclusion. Sometimes traffic is backed up so far up the hill—this is Los Angeles, after all—that I sit motionless and adjacent where the house should be, but can’t actually see it. I listen to the engine, the radio, the sound of helicopters and leaf blowers. The house is silent somewhere behind a wall of dense tropical flora.
My first actual visit to the house was when I was barely thinking about architecture. In a way it was my introduction to the possibility that someone could do architecture, that it was something one could succeed at. It was optimism on real estate once considered solidly middle class. Improbably light-weight and even painterly, like a Mondrian composition, it sits in a perfectly mundane American yard, like the delicate skeleton of a bird perched over the Pacific.
There is something soothing, even easy about vernacular architecture. It’s the territorial and spatial equivalent to Muzak. It evades and pre-dates the self-conscious identity of glitzy, cutting-edge architecture we are so familiar with today. There is an innocence to the vernacular. These are the buildings and environments of childhood.
This is apparent in the exhibition, In Focus: Ed Ruscha, currently showing at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. What captivates about the shots is that they dare to curate buildings that are usually just part of the background. They become objects of curiosity, spectacles, even.
When Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, gives a bad review there is the sense that he is essentially dismantling a building, chipping its façade apart, like breaking down some charade in defense of the public’s honor. Like a hired killer he disappears the architecture, but at the same time heightens its visibility in the culture.
This ability, to provoke in such ways, is precisely why Thom Mayne would like to bar Mr. Hawthorne from taking a crack at reviewing the new building he and his firm, Morphosis designed for the firm’s new offices.
On a recent tour of the new digs, Mayne, as reported in The Architect’s Newspaper, was overheard saying, “There are no good writers in Los Angeles” and “All local writers are horrible.” To add further insult, he wants a science writer to cover it. That should be a short review.
For more than 100 years, Cooper Union, which includes a prestigious architecture school, has been “free” (full-tuition support to all students). As such it has always stood apart, charting its own path and following its own independent mission. That Cooper Union is now dead.
For Cooper Union to have survived it would have had to remain simpleminded. And I mean this in the most flattering way.
Last Sunday James S. Russell, architecture critic for Bloomberg News and a former editor for Architectural Record, mused on his personal blog about the possible influence Paul Rudolph’s Brutalist University of Massachusetts campus in Dartmouth may have had on Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two Boston Marathon bombers who was also a student there.
Mr. Russell describes the campus as “a gigantic eerie, dozen-building concoction of grim ribbed-concrete hubris….” This is the sort of description that drives right to the heart of urban alienation. It’s Edvard Munch’s The Scream. This ability to sum up and drive the nail home is one reason he is the architecture critic for Bloomberg News. No side-stepping here.
It is a building, a building in New York City, a building erected in the dust of 9/11, a building that upon completion signaled hope for larger reconstructions, a building that presents itself to the world through the intricate patina and pocking of white bronze. White bronze. This alone conjures something alchemic, ancient, timeless.
But buildings are not timeless. They have their time. As architects we memorialize each one that resonates with the thoughtfulness of capital “A” architecture—in part because we understand what it takes to realize them.
Despite this, the Tod Williams and Billie Tsien-designed American Folk Art Museum may ultimately be doomed to the brutal translations of administrative efficiency, cruel syllogisms, that as Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of MoMA’s architecture and design department notes, are “painful.”
By now you have probably heard that UNStudio, the Dutch firm led by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, is on target to relaunch this June as an open-source web-based knowledge hub… that, by the way, will still pursue adventurous architecture. We could say they are “launching” this initiative, but it seems more accurate to say they themselves are “relaunching”.
Because of the difficult economic climate in Europe, van Berkel and Bos began to reimagine the practice along the lines of something more fluid, flexible, and agile, a knowledge-based approach to how they work within the office and how they engage the larger world. They are basing this around four topics or “knowledge platforms”: sustainability, materials, organization, and parametrics.
There’s been a lot of buzz going around about the Pritzker jury dissing Denise Scott Brown, wife and co-partner to Robert Venturi. Back in 1991 they awarded the prize to Mr. Venturi, singular…not plural to include his better half. Seems they, a different jury, also dissed Wang Shu’s wife and co-partner, Lu Wenyu way back in 2012 by granting the prestigious prize to Mr. Wang without acknowledging who holds up “the other half of the sky”, as they say in Mandarin.
The forthcoming Pacific Standard Time exhibition, A CONFEDERACY OF HERETICS: THE ARCHITECTURE GALLERY, VENICE, 1979, which runs from March 29 – July 7, 2013 at SCI-Arc, would like us to believe that there are “pivotal moments” in the architectural zeitgeist—that there are zeitgeists at all might even be worth questioning.
Pivotal moments are constructed after the fact. Zeitgeists are consumed by invested audiences and forced upon the non-cognoscenti as evidence. What we are talking about are discourses. Los Angeles, 1979 is one of architecture’s minor discourses, a pulse that warped the major discourse into something else, the anti-. By saying it is minor does not undermine its cultural significance.
In 1975 Brian Eno and the artist Peter Schmidt came out with a deck of cards designed to help artists and musicians push through creative blocks by offering alternative scenarios, methods, and perspectives. They called the set Oblique Strategies.
Think of them as a way to Dada your brain from the everyday realism in front of you to something more abstract. But this then takes you back to an alternate reality you couldn’t have experienced otherwise. They are traveling without moving. They have also been compared to the ancient Chinese book of divination, the Yi-jing, or Book of Changes. They are to be used in cases of creative emergencies.
As Mr. Betsky asserts, “Robots, connected computers, miniaturization, and etherization are taking the work out of both the social and the physical sphere.” But isn’t this just a fantasy because this has not yet happened on a large enough scale to produce a true paradigm shift? Or, if the shift has happened, then where is everybody rushing off to on the Monday morning commute? And what are all those buildings jammed in-between the roads for? Most of them seem to be for work as opposed to play.
We may all float in and out of working networks as we move around, untethered to carpeted cubicles, telecommuting, flex-timing, logging in at all hours, but we are still and will primarily be working in places designed by architects—often without access to sunlight, fresh air, or nature of any sort.
I remember February 27, 2013 because that was the day Aaron Betsky asked a good question on his Beyond Buildings blog at Architect Magazine. Not that he doesn’t ask good questions on other days…because he does…but this particular day presented architecture with the provocative title, “Architecture Beyond Work: Will Architecture and Work Disappear?”
First, we have to get something straight. This is not the VERY Large Array. This is the RATHER Large Array, the Very Large Array’s much smaller, distant—and inexpensive—cousin and the flagship piece for Art Center College of Design’s 2011 exhibition, MADE UP: Design’s Fictions (curated by Tim Durfee with Haelim Paek).
The other thing is that while the Very Large Array still exists out in its Dune-like remote setting, spread across a giant “Y” configuration in the New Mexico desert, the Rather Large Array (RLA) has all but vaporized back into the production streams from whence its PVC tubing and hardware store components came from.
A few weeks ago there was a flurry of debate about one of Zaha Hadid’s designs being copied, or at least copied in terms of its outer form. Very soon after this I discovered an interesting article in the most recent issue of MIT’s Leonardo: Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology.The article, “Hybrid Reassemblage: An Exploration of Craft, Digital Fabrication and Artifact Uniqueness” by Amit Zoran and Leah Buechley, raises some interesting points about the nature of originality, the subjective experience of making original things, and the potential for digital technology to impute this subjectivity to new and repeatable objects. In essence, the authors are discussing the position of craft, the hand-made, the personal, subjective act of making something that is singular and based on a personal process, the negotiation of decisions and risks with tools, materials, and design intentions.
In 1992, the artist, Christo, with his now late-wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, had a vision to suspend miles of silvery translucent fabric over the Arkansas River in Colorado. Would you expect anything less?
Christo usually works at such massive geographic scales—land interventions that can be discerned by satellites passing overhead. Here his ambition stretches for 42 miles (67.6 km) of scenic river with no less than a total of 5.9 miles (9.5 km) of fabric suspended over the eight different sections of the river.
From the recent information overload concerning Zaha Hadid’s Wangjing Soho being pirated in China, one might think that copying was a new phenomenon in architecture. Is this really that shocking or even worth mentioning?
It must be because, for the next few hundred words or so, I’m going to be mentioning it quite a bit. Copying can be a complicated issue. In Western culture, in particular, the status of the copy is fraught with contradictions. It is a problem that has existed since long before Walter Benjamin wrote about it in “The Work of Art in the Age of the Mechanical Reproduction”.
I remember the smog in Beijing rendering the most beautiful skies. There was an innocence to the air pollution back then, before the engines of economic development really got going.
It was just a pretty sunset, or a delicate brown haze that romantically softened the edges of things—while wrecking your lungs, of course. But, like the sand storms, pollution gave the city a different, rarified quality.
Junichiro Tanizaki’s (1886-1965) book In Praise of Shadows has been haunting me lately. There it sits on my shelf, as it has for years, ever since it was part of a reading list for an art history course I once took as an undergrad.
It’s a thin volume. Ever so slight, it easily gets lost amongst more substantial books. But every time I’ve gone through my library and thought I don’t need it anymore, I hesitate and then put it back on the shelf.
In his 2008 book, The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton argues that architecture has an extraordinary power when it comes to influencing who we are. In giving shape to our living environments, it plugs into our emotional existence. I would take it a step further and say that as we reside in architecture we so reside within ourselves, emplacing ourselves in both physical and psychological worlds.
But this is by no means a new argument. As de Botton explains in his most recent collection of essays, Religion for Atheists, the Catholics and Protestants have been elaborating on this theme for centuries. The world around us has a profound impact on how we think, feel, and perceive. Without this underlying logic there could be no architecture.