The story of architectural Modernism in New York City goes beyond the familiar touchstones of Lever House and the Seagram Building.
Eighty-five years on, the little white town house on East 48th Street by William Lescaze still startles. With its bright stucco and Purist volumes, it pulls the eye away from the do-nothing brownstones on one side and the noirish sub-Miesian tower on the other. The machined rectitude of its upper floors, telegraphed by two clumsily large spans of glass block, is offset by the freer plastic arrangement of the bottom levels. Le Corbusier’s five points are in evidence (minus the roof garden), suggesting an architecture ready to do battle. Built in 1934 from the shell of a Civil War–era town house, this was the first Modernist house in New York City, and its pioneering feeling for futurity extended to its domestic conveniences. (A skeptical Lewis Mumford noted its central air-conditioning.)
On its outskirts, you'd be forgiven for assuming that Columbus, Indiana is a suburban American town like any other. But travel downtown and you're suddenly greeted with an unexpected variety of modern architecture. The small midwestern city has for the past half-century been a kind of laboratory for contemporary architecture, attracting designers as diverse as Kevin Roche and IM Pei. Children attend school in a building designed by Richard Meier, congregants attend services in a church designed by Eliel Saarinen.
The guiding principles and priorities that drive the professional practice of architecture are the subject of abundant philosophical ideas and entrenched opinions—but how can we understand the current state of the profession without sweeping generalizations? Towards that goal, OfficeUS (the experimental institution born from the US Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale) has published a book examining the realities of today’s architectural workplace culture based, like countless works of cultural studies across many academic disciplines, on the documents produced by that culture. Specifically, the OfficeUS publication compiles information from office manuals and workplace handbooks spanning the last century of architectural practice to offer a practical but insightful portrait of how architects organize, run, and view their own profession.
Digital technologies were supposed to kill the drawing. And in an obvious way they did, with CAD displacing hand draughtsmanship long ago. But drawing is more than mere delineation—measured construction drawings—or even the rendering, which has devolved into a mere marketing tool. Indeed, as Sam Jacob writes, it constitutes a fundamental “architectural act” that lies at the core of the discipline’s self-understanding.
Jacob describes a new “post-digital” mode of drawing that incorporates narrative cues, art historical allusions, and software-enabled collage techniques. It recalls Mies’s sparse one-point perspectives and de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings as well as the affected irreverence of Postmodernism. It’s a style popularized by blogs such as KoozA/rch, which was founded by architect Federica Sofia Zambeletti three years ago. We spoke to Zambeletti about the resurgence of architectural drawing and how the style could soon exhaust itself.
So much has already been written about Hamburg’s undeniably excellent Elbphilharmonie, which formally opened in January but has been publicly accessible, in part, since November. The chatter has mostly revolved around the same two talking points—the building’s on-the-tip-of-your-tongue shape and its fantastic price tag. In addressing the former, critics have called attention to the hall’s resemblance to an iceberg, an outcrop, a ship, circus tents, or the Sydney Opera House. And as for the costs, totaling $900 million, they point out how the project hemorrhaged cash, even if they have inadvertently exaggerated the figures. Having momentarily lost control of the narrative, the city felt compelled to set the record straight in time for the inaugural performance: The building cost just three—not ten!—times the initial budget.
Gillespie, Kidd & Coia's celebrated St Peter's Seminary—once voted Scotland's best modern building—has for too long been a victim of fate, left to decay after it was abandoned just 20 years after its completion. Fortunately, plans are well underway to restore the building. This article, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "Ruin Revived," explains how even in its ruined state, the dramatic brutalist structure is already showing its value as a cultural destination.
Modernist architecture, it used to be said, was inadequate because the machined materials of modern buildings wouldn’t lend themselves well to picturesque ruination. What, minus the taut skins of glass and plaster, could these stark, boxlike carcasses possibly communicate to future generations?
St. Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, Scotland, is a forceful rejoinder to that jibe. Built in 1966 and abandoned 20 years later, the seminary has settled into a state of pleasing decrepitude. Glass and plaster are long gone. The concrete remains largely intact but stained, spalled, and spoiled. Entire roofs and staircases have caved in. The only fresh signs of life are the aprons of graffiti draped all over the “interiors.” Yet, the sense of the place lingers, its noble forms still remarkably assertive—jutting forth from the dense surrounding forest—and optimistic.
After he achieved celebrity status at the turn of the millennium, in recent years the conversation around Frank Gehry has switched tones, going from near-universal admiration to widespread controversy. Yet according to Paul Goldberger, whose biography of Gehry was released in September, both adoration and critique of the architect might engender an overly simplistic interpretation of his long and storied career. In this interview originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "Q&A: Paul Goldberger on Frank Gehry's Life and Work," Goldberger delves into the many ways Gehry has been misunderstood over the years, and how his work, his psyche, and the interplay between the two have made him one of the most conversation-worthy architects of a generation.
Frank Gehry isn’t just the world’s foremost architect; he is, by all public standards, also one of our greatest living artists. Paul Goldberger’s new biography (his first), Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry, acknowledges the architect’s celebrity status but doesn’t acquiesce in it. Rather, Goldberger interrogates the peculiar psyche and restless contradictions of the man to shed light on the motivations behind the architecture. Metropolis editor Samuel Medina speaks to the newly minted biographer about defying genre conventions, unpacking the ambiguities of Gehry’s work, and giving reporters the finger.
On show until April 5th at the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey, Michael Graves: Past as Prologue celebrates the fifty-year career of one of the United States' best-known and prolific architects. Graves is known for his unapologetic postmodernism which often divides opinion the profession. However in this review of the exhibition, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "Shape Shifter," Samuel Medina finds that while it is easy to criticize in Graves' design style, it is hard to find fault with the noble intentions underlying his work.
“It’s been fifty years of more is more,” says Karen Nichols, a principal of Michael Graves & Associates, reiterating an aphorism Graves has taken a liking to in recent years. She is standing in front of an exhibition board in the retrospective, Michael Graves: Past as Prologue, which is currently on show at the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey. Nichols joined the firm in 1977, precisely the time when her employer made the fateful and rather lucrative pivot towards Postmodernism. The text on the exhibition wall behind her pinpoints The Big Break to the same year, depicting it with two like-minded projects. The first is the built Plocek House (1977), which originated the hide-the-keystone game Graves has been playing ever since. The other, the unrealized scheme for the Fargo-Moorhead Cultural Center Bridge (1977–1978), intended to enlighten the twin midwestern communities with a dose of the Enlightenment architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux’s architecture parlante.
To hear Nichols (and Graves) tell it now, it’s as if Graves were always more Venturian than Venturi, from his earliest neo-Corbusian villas, up through the pedimented temple he built for Disney in 1988. The truth is, Graves—the Cubist, the classicist, and the caricaturist—has always had a hard time saying “No.”
Formlessfinder of New York City has a vision "to liberate architecture from the constraints of form." Samuel Medina of Metropolis Magazine recently interviewed the Princeton duo on contemporary architectural practice - fittingly naming them "Formal Renegades."
“We like architecture,” says Garrett Ricciardi, with real sincerity. “We want to save architecture.” But from what? Ricciardi is one half of New York–based formlessfinder, the experimental—you might say radical—architecture firm he founded with Julian Rose in 2011, just after the pair completed a joint thesis at Princeton University. Their project, which laid out the blueprint for Ricciardi and Rose’s subsequent collaborations, advanced a daring proposition: to liberate architecture from the constraints of form.
“The basic idea of the formless is about freeing up architecture to make it about what we want it to be about,” Rose says. “The idea is that form has sort of gotten in the way,” he adds, before checking off a laundry list of offenders: parametricism, digital fabrication, blobs, minimalism. Where form has “always served to limit and control,” the formless, as the architects have come to define it, is subversive by nature. It’s an operation rife with uncertainty, producing “messy, equivocal, and, most importantly, generative” results.
Maggie's Centres are the legacy of Margaret Keswick Jencks, a terminally ill woman who had the notion that cancer treatment environments and their results could be drastically improved through good design. Her vision was realized and continues to be realized today by numerous architects, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Snøhetta - just to name a few. Originally appearing in Metropolis Magazine as “Living with Cancer,” this article by Samuel Medina features images of Maggie's Centres around the world, taking a closer look at the organization's roots and its continued success through the aid of architects.
It was May 1993, and writer and designer Margaret Keswick Jencks sat in a windowless corridor of a small Scottish hospital, dreading what would come next. The prognosis was bad—her cancer had returned—but the waiting, and the waiting room, were draining. Over the next two years until her death, she returned several times for chemo drips. In such neglected, thoughtless spaces, she wrote, patients like herself were left to “wilt” under the desiccating glare of fluorescent lights.
Wouldn’t it be better to have a private, light-filled space in which to await the results of the next bout of tests, or from which to contemplate, in silence, the findings? If architecture could demoralize patients—could “contribute to extreme and mental enervation,” as Keswick Jencks observed—could it not also prove restorative?
This summer, the drawings, theories and works of architect Lebbeus Woods are headed to the city that Lebbeus considered home. After a five-month stay at SFMOMA, the exhibit "Lebbeus Woods - Architect" will be at the Drawing Center in SoHo, Manhattan until mid-June. The following story and overview of the exhibition, by Samuel Medina, originally appeared at Metropolis Magazine as “Coming Home".
It’s all too biblical an irony that Lebbeus Woods—architect of war, catastrophe, and apocalyptic doom—died as strong winds, rain, and waves barreled down on Manhattan, his home for some 40-odd years. Woods passed the morning after Hurricane Sandy flooded Lower Manhattan, almost as if the prophet had succumbed to one of his turbulent visions. But this apocryphal reading is just one way to view Woods’s work, which, as often as it was concerned with annihilation, always dared to build in the bleakest of circumstances.
In this article originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "Urban Hopes, Urban Dreams", Samuel Medina reviews a new book on the work of Steven Holl in China. Focusing on five major projects, the book places Holl's work in the wider context of his urbanistic influences - including ideas from his own early paper architecture that are just now resurfacing.
Steven Holl is the rare architect whose concepts are equally known as his buildings. Chalk that up to Holl’s prolific output, in both buildings and monographs, and his knack for branding his ideas. Urban Hopes: Made in China (Lars Müller, 2014), a condensed reader on Holl's latest work in China, is the latest in a stream of small books that have continually repackaged the architect's growing body of work.
Anchoring and Intertwining appeared in 1996 and expounded on architectural themes and spatial notions only partially evinced by his work up until that time. In both, the buildings were few and far between, scattered between pages imprinted with “paper architecture,” the primary outlet for Holl’s creative energies in the prior decades since his move to New York in 1976. These and more titles were followed up by Parallax in 2000, a blend of philosophical, scientific, and poetic references that invest the architecture with the aura of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Holl’s idea of “porosity” made its debut here, if prematurely, where it was applied rather literally to Simmons Hall at MIT and its sponge-like facade. It wasn’t until a few years later, when the architect first got his feet wet in China, that the concept would be baptised as a core tenet of 21st-century urban design. 2009’s Urbanisms advances as much, while further recapitulating the big ideas of the previous book installments.
Read on after the break for the review of Urban Hopes
In the films of Alfred Hitchcock, things happen, but the events that gave rise to them are easily forgotten. You quickly forget how A leads to B or, say, by what elaborate means Roger Thornhill ends up at Mt. Rushmore in North by Northwest. But as the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard observed, the Hitchcockian cinema compels not with story, but with images—the open-palmed hand reaching for the door, the simulated fall down the staircase, the whorling retreat of the camera from a dead woman’s face. These stark snippets imbue the films with their uncanny allure and imprint themselves in the mind of the spectator much more effectively than any of the master’s convoluted plots.
Read on for more on the role architecture plays in Hitchcock's films
At its peak, thousands passed through its massive, light-filled atrium. Today, Bell Labs Holmdel stands empty, all of its 1.9-million-square-feet utterly without life. An iconic example of the now-disparaged office park, the campus in central Jersey, was shuttered in 2007 and vacated soon after. Years later, it remains in an abandoned, if not unkept state. The grounds are cared for, the floors swept clean, and the interior plantings trimmed, however haphazardly. (That's saying something; in the laboratory's heyday, plastic shrubbery filled its glorious central hall.)
More about the building's future, and more photos by Rob Dobi, after the break
On Friday, a nun gave warning that the Chapel of Ronchamp, considered by many to be one of the key architectural works of the last century, had been vandalized. When police arrived on the scene, they found signs of forced entry: a stained-glass window, one of many executed by Le Corbusier, was broken and a concrete trunk was missing. As Le Monde reports, the intruders had also attempted to gain entry via a door. The overall damage was, according to some, "priceless" because the stained-glass had borne an original illustration by Le Corbusier. An initial assessment from the department of historical monuments found the window to be irreparable.
In an industrial section of Marseille, tents climb up a factory wall like a canvas creeper, housing urban campers and the local homeless alike. A-KAMP47, Stephane Malka's newest installation, subtly critiques the French state's promise for universal housing as well as makes an architectural commentary - Malka cites Le Corbusier's Unite D'Habitation as inspiration. Metropolis Magazine's Samuel Medina takes an in-depth look at the project in "Hiding in Plain Sight."
Had Hansel and Gretel stumbled across one of these sugary structures, they may have taken off in the opposite direction. Dark, gloomy, and foreboding, the confectionary architecture would have made quite the impression on Jack Skellington, however. The project, by food artist Caitlin Levin and photographer Henry Hargreaves, is clearly indebted to the gothic mise-en-scène of the latter’s expressionistic underworld, a dreary, but whimsical land where one might half expect to find a twisted (gumball) doppelganger of the Tate Modern or Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI.
Find out more about the process behind this sweet project after the break