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Lacaton & Vassal's Lesson in Building Modestly

The French duo of Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal are known for their delicate interventions, repurposing neglected structures with apparent effortlessness. Originally published on the Harvard Gazette website entitled "They Build, But Modestly," this article recounts the lessons which they offered students in a recent lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Around 1980, two young architects finished their training in Bordeaux, France, and moved to Nigeria. In that African nation’s remote regions, they were inspired by the simple structures they saw amid the stark, stunning desert landscapes. The houses were open to the air, had utilitarian thatched roofs, and were made with bits of local wood. Modesty prevailed in structures that also invited beauty.

The lessons of building in Africa stayed with Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal in their Paris-based practice, Lacaton & Vassal: use what is there, stay simple, embrace open air, and honor light, freedom, and grace. They practice social architecture based on economy, modesty, and the found beauty of environments.

Palais de Tokyo Expansion / Lacaton & Vassal. Image © 11h45 Nantes School of Architecture / Lacaton & Vassal. Image © Philippe Ruault Palais de Tokyo Expansion / Lacaton & Vassal. Image © 11h45 23 Semi-collective Housing Units / Lacaton & Vassal. Image © Philippe Ruault

Harvard's Material Processes and Systems Group Investigates Structural Ceramics

With "Protoceramics," the Material Processes and Systems Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (MaP+S) sought to investigate the architectural possibilities of a material that might often be overlooked: thin, large-format ceramic tiles designed to act as interior finishes or exterior cladding. Instead of accepting the tiles' designation as a surface finish, the team investigated three ways to use them as a self-supporting structural component as part of their ongoing experiment to produce "novel material formations with a special interest in tectonic performance." The three techniques employed focused on the acts of cutting, folding and bending.

© Martin Bechthold © Martin Bechthold © Martin Bechthold © Martin Bechthold

Free Online Architecture and Design Courses

Thanks to the increasing popularity of massive open online courses -- or MOOCs as they’re commonly referred to -- learning has never been easier (or more convenient). Sites like Coursera and edX offer free classes online from accredited and well-known universities across the globe, including Harvard, MIT and the University of Hong Kong. While some classes are more structured and include a set lesson plan, homework assignments, quizzes and the option to receive a certificate at the end, others can be set at your own pace and approached more independently.

Following our wildly popular article on Four Ways to Learn About Architecture for Free, we’ve compiled a list of upcoming online classes related to architecture, engineering, urbanism and design. So whether you’re looking to embark on a new topic or dive deeper into an already familiar subject, take a look at these free online courses after the break. 

Pro Bono Architecture and Designing for the Public Interest

Speaking of the public image of the architect, Stephanie Garlock laments that it is often akin to "Ayn Rand's Howard Roark— arrogant, individualistic, and committed to the genius of artistic vision above all." In a feature piece for the March/April edition of Harvard Magazine, Garlock explores the potential for architects to affect wider social change and move "[b]eyond 'Design for Design's Sake'."

A Matchmaker For People and Art: Kulapat Yantrasast

Last month we spoke with Kulapat Yantrasast, Co-Founder and Creative Director of the LA-based design firm wHY. On the heels of the opening of Harvard Art Museums - for which Yantrasast collaborated on the designs of the exhibition spaces - we wanted to learn more about his approach to designing the galleries for Harvard. “One of the things that I'm super sensitive about is the identify of the experience. Harvard, in particular, is a university museum.  So first and foremost it's a place for students and faculty to spend time looking at things closely. Because of that, we want to make sure that a group of 15 people can sit or stand around an art object and could really have a discussion,” Yantrasast explained.

wHY has carried out a wide range of museum and gallery projects, including the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Royal/T project and the renovation of the galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago. Read the full interview with Yantrasast below to learn more about the challenges of gallery design and how technology is affecting museums exhibitions. 

Courtesy of wHY - © Photograph by David Heald Courtesy of wHY - © Photograph by David Heald Courtesy of wHY - © Photograph by David Heald Courtesy of wHY - © Photograph by David Heald

Critical Round-Up: Renzo Piano's Harvard Art Museums

With the opening of the Harvard Art Museums a week ago today, Renzo Piano was able to finally complete on a project which, in various guises, has been in progress for seventeen years. The relationship between Piano and Harvard began with a 1997 plan to build a new branch of the Fogg Museum on the Charles River and ended, after objections from locals and then the 2008 recession, in the decision to consolidate the university's three museums (The Fogg, Busch-Reisinger and Arthur M Sackler Museums) under one roof.

With its long history, restricted space, the listed facade of the original Fogg Museum and the ultimate difficult neighbor in Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, the Harvard Art Museums project was inevitably going to cause a fuss on completion. So how did Piano do? Find out what the critics said after the break.

© Nic Lehoux © Michel Denancé © Nic Lehoux Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop

David Adjaye to Receive Du Bois Medal at Harvard

On September 30, Mohsen Mostafavi will present David Adjaye with the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal, Harvard University’s highest honor in the field of African and African American studies, at the Hutchins Center Honors. Since 2000, the Du Bois Medal has been awarded to individuals from across the globe in recognition of their contributions to African and African-American history and culture. Adjaye is one of nine luminaries receiving this year’s award, including Oprah Winfrey and the late Maya Angelou. More information about the ceremony can be found here.

Rem Koolhaas' Current Fascinations: On Identity, Asia, the Biennale, & More

In this interview, originally published in The Architectural Review, Andrew Mackenzie sits down with OMA founder Rem Koolhaas to discuss the Venice Biennale, the extinction of national identities, his fascination with Asia, the link between De Rotterdam and Delirious New York, and the future of the profession.

Your proposition for this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale asks whether national identity has been, as you say, ‘sacrificed to modernity’. Some might view this as a project of reclamation, not unlike Frampton’s regionalism. How would you differentiate your proposition from Frampton’s?

Well, Kenneth Frampton is a smart guy, but the problem is that he looked at regionalism as an antidote to cosmopolitan development. In so doing he perverted the cause of regionalism, because suddenly regionalism was mobilised as a private cause that it couldn’t sustain. However, the question of national identity is an open one. For instance, at first sight the Netherlands is a very internationalist country, but looking closely you can see an enormous return of, not vernacular, but quasi-vernacular architecture and quasi-old fortresses that are newly built with a national flavour. Look at Zaandam, and that huge assemblage of so-called vernacular buildings.

TERMES: A Robotic Swarm That Collectively Constructs Modular Structures

Termite mounds offer a fascinating architectural quandary: how is it possible that these towering structures (which include complex systems of openings, passages, large volumetric spaces, and even active ventilation systems and humidity regulation) are constructed with no centralised control or planning? The spatial complexity that these thousands of insects can collectively achieve has inspired a Harvard team to create TERMES, a project focused on programming an artificial robotic swarm to build modular structures.

Kanye West Drops In on Harvard's GSD

UPDATE: The Harvard GSD AASU has released a statement on Kanye West's invitation and visit, which you can find at the end of the post. Dean Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of the GSD, has also commented on the visit. 

Kanye West surprised students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) last night by dropping in un-announced before his Sunday night concert at the TD Garden in Boston. He gave a short motivational speech to the crowd that quickly formed in the GSD’s signature “trays.” West told the students

I just wanted to tell you guys: I really do believe that the world can be saved through design, and everything needs to actually be “architected.” [...] I believe that utopia is actually possible—but we’re led by the least noble, the least dignified, the least tasteful, the dumbest, and the most political. So in no way am I a politician—I’m usually at my best politically incorrect and very direct. I really appreciate you guys’ willingness to learn and hone your craft, and not be lazy about creation.

GSD student Sekou Cooke, writer of "Keep Talking Kanye: An Architect's Defense of Kanye West," confirmed to an ArchDaily editor that West had in fact seen his post defending West's right to speak-up about architectural issues and act as a role model for young potential architects of color. Although his visit with the student body was unexpected, West had been invited by Harvard GSD's African American Student Union (AASU). Following a meeting with the AASU’s core group of leaders—during which West led a conversation regarding under-represented minorities in the design disciplines—the star was inspired to briefly address the rest of the students. West also gifted 300 tickets to his show to the GSD. In fact, in an uncharacteristic moment of insecurity, West told the crowd of students:

Tonight, this show, if you come see it—um, I’m a bit self conscious because I’m showing it to architects. So the stage does have flaws in it. It’s an expression of emotion so give me a pass on that. 

See images and video of West's GSD visit, after the break...

Lecture: What Was Metabolism? Reflections on the Life of Kiyonori Kikutake / Toyo Ito

This lecture, brought to you by the Harvard Graduate School of Design, explores the Metabolism movement of the 1960s and its influence on Japanese Architecture through today.  Toyo Ito reflects on the life of Kiyonori Kikutake and the continued relevance of his works and ideas in today’s design culture.

Continue reading for more…

12 DESIGNERS, 12 VISIONS / Harvard GSD

Upon finishing their second film, Waterline: Chicago’s Urban River Corridor, Adam Gross from Spirit Of Space shared with us the third and final film of the series on the Phil Enquist Harvard Studio. As a walk through the students’ final designs, 12 DESIGNERS, 12 VISIONS presents the culmination of an intense research-based design project for this eclectic group of students.

Waterline: In the Studio / Harvard GSD

Special thanks for Adam Goss from Spirit of Space for sharing this great clip of Harvard GSD “Waterline” studio led by Phil Enquist of SOM.  When ArchDaily visited Chicago, our team had the chance to interview Enquist and gain some insight to his urban design and planning strategies, especially, the Beijing Central Business District and his Vision for the Great Lakes.  This latest studio is a collaborative think tank of architecture, planning and landscape architecture students analyzing the Chicago River as a way to capitalize its potential to serve as a recreation, education, and transportation component of the city.  Currently, the river is neglected and its presence is often ignored; yet, the students of Harvard are attempting to “rethink what the River means to the City” by questioning the existing relationships between River and City, and the public’s persepective and awareness of the river.  Enquist’s multidisciplinary team is working to understand the issues of the river at large and by developing a larger, zoomed out, framework, smaller interventions can truly fuse to become a cohesive citywide system.   We enjoyed listening to the students and seeing their passion for the river and its potential for Chicago, and we hope you enjoy the video, as well.  Let us know what you think about the studio in the comments below.

Harvard Reaches 50 LEED Certified Projects

10 Akron Street © Harvard Office for Sustainability
10 Akron Street © Harvard Office for Sustainability

The U.S. Green Building Council has recently announced that Harvard University has achieved a worldwide first – the construction and completion of 50 LEED certified buildings. It is also a great feat for an institution as large as Harvard. They were able to successfully coordinate a decentralized campus with separate buildings that each have their own organizational structures. Read more about the five lessons they learned along the way after the break.

New Directions in EcoPlanning Lecture Series at Harvard Museum of Natural History

Kristina Hill, Director of the Program in Landscape Architecture at the University of Virginia will be the inaugural speaker in a new annual lecture series New Directions in EcoPlanning at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.