The Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI) and Keeping It Modern grant are dedicated to supporting new methods and technologies for the conservation of Modernist buildings.
This article was originally published on Metropolis Magazine as "Why Architects Need to Get Dirty to Save the World."
Of all the terrarium-like experiments included in Lydia Kallipoliti’s The Architecture of Closed Worlds: Or, What Is the Power of Shit? (Lars Müller/Storefront for Art and Architecture), Biosphere 2 is the most infamous. A steel-and-glass structure baking in the Arizona desert, it represents the hope and hubris of re-creating Earth on Earth. The project was launched by an alternative living group with a taste for theater, and tanked by disastrous management by Steve Bannon (yes, him). As such, it illustrates the risky arc that courses through Kallipoliti’s 300-page volume—visions of utopia bending toward ultimate failure.
I meet architect and educator Ralph Knowles on an unseasonably warm autumn day, even for Southern California. He greets me in shirtsleeves (his shirt is a tropical pattern of vines and branches) and leads me to a seat on the balcony of his condo. The building—a retirement community—is fairly new, but mature oak trees line the quiet street. As we talk about his career, the California oaks form a poignant backdrop. For more than five decades, Knowles, 88, has argued for an architecture that hews closely to nature’s forces and rhythms.
This November, the Manetti Shrem Museum on the University of California, Davis, campus opened to the public. Designed by New York City–based SO-IL with the San Francisco office of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the museum pays homage to the agricultural landscape of California’s Central Valley with an oversize roof canopy. The steel members of the 50,000-square-foot (4,650-square-meter) shade structure, nearly twice the size of the museum itself, reference the patterning of plowed fields and create a welcoming outdoor space for visitors. It is both expressive and practical, but getting that balance wasn’t easy.
SO-IL, founded by Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu in 2008, has a portfolio filled with smaller projects, installations, and exhibition-related work. The Manetti Shrem Museum is easily the firm’s largest work to date, demanding a rigorous design-build process while maintaining a strong conceptual vision. In short, it required architecture.