New York-based architect Eran Chen (b. 1970) was born and grew up in Be'er Sheva, Israel where his Polish-born grandparents, Holocaust survivors, settled right after World War Two. Early on the original long Polish surname was abbreviated to short Chen, which is pronounced “Khen.” In Hebrew, it stands for charm. After four years in the army, following high school, Chen studied architecture at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, the top architecture school in the country. Upon graduation in 1999, he ventured to New York to gain professional experience. He was hired by Perkins Eastman, a global New York-based giant of over 1,000 architects. In just a few years Chen was made the youngest principal in the company to oversee the design of his own diverse projects, including several competition-winning entries. By then he got married, became a father, a licensed architect, and settled in the city that he now calls home. In 2007, Chen decided to strike on his own. He focused on working with developers on residential projects, mainly in New York, as well as other major cities in the US and around the world. Many of Chen’s projects are situated in dense urban places. They are about reinventing the familiar living typology of buildings as extruded boxes. We met at the architect’s busy Manhattan office of over 100 young, ambitious architects helping Chen to make our cities more livable. We discussed his concept of vertical urban village and the truly democratic idea that every apartment, no matter where it is positioned in the building, can be turned into a penthouse.
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Where does originality and independent thinking come from? The answer is prosaically straight forward – from an inquiring individual, and an experimental environment wouldn’t hurt to stimulate it. Rem Koolhaas is credited with fostering such an environment, both through building his practice, Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), a 300-architect network of seven global offices, and teaching at Harvard’s GSD, as well as lecturing all over the world. Koolhaas now has eight partners. One of the eight, since 2008, is Shohei Shigematsu who heads OMA New York since 2006. The studio originally numbered just a handful of people and over the years has grown into a large practice of 75 architects with a focus on projects in North America.
Meeting with many leading, independent Chinese architects and visiting their built works throughout China in recent years has shaped my understanding of their contributions as regionally sensitive, poetic, photogenic, and even seductive. Yet, so many of these projects can be confused as being produced by a single, narrowly-focused practice. These works are often small in scale and built far from urban centers where ordinary people could benefit from them most. There is a lack of diversity and risk-taking. The following excerpt from my interview with Beijing-based architect Li Hu on his recent visit to New York overturned my doubts and gave me much hope for China’s urban future.
“Architecture Should be About What It Can Do, Not What it Can Look Like”: In Conversation with Michel Rojkind
Born in 1969 in Mexico City, Michel Rojkind was educated in the 1990s at the Universidad Iberoamericana, while also performing as a drummer in Aleks Syntek’s popular rock band la Gente Normal. He opened his practice Rojkind Arquitectos in 2002. Among his most representative built works are Foro Boca for the Boca del Rio Philharmonic Orchestra in Veracruz, a newly expanded film complex Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City, a pair of factory additions for the Nestlé Company in Queretaro, and the Nestlé Chocolate Museum in Toluca, all in Mexico. We spoke about how his architecture engages with people, why architects should assume roles that extend beyond architecture, and the importance of generosity and not worrying about designing everything 100%.
The following excerpt from my interview with Rojkind completes a series of conversations that I conducted in Mexico City while preparing my exhibition “Something Other than a Narrative” from the Architects’ Voices and Visions series at Facultad de Arquitectura Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM.
What is architecture if it does not understand its context? Architecture is shaped and curated by the area it lives in, showcasing the culture it embodies. The more of this identity it embodies, the more meaningful (and sometimes prominent) it becomes.
December of 2018 was a month of prosperity for Lebanese architecture: Hashim Sarkis was announced curator of the 2020 Venice Biennale and Lebanese-born Amale Andraos and partner Dan Wood of WORKac were selected to build the Beirut Museum of Art. The museum, a dynamic assembly of contoured geometries (not entirely unlike their work at Miami's Museum Garage) located in the heart of Beirut City, will house permanent and temporary exhibitions across 12,000 square meters. WORKac's winning scheme was chosen for its ability to “reveal the cultural possibilities of integrating art, architecture, and landscape within a dense urban setting and as a means to re-imagine how we can live, learn and share together.”
A month after the event, the various nominees of 2018's World Architecture Festival have returned to their home cities, leaving the fanfare of the year's event in Amsterdam as a memory. But that's not to say it's not left a lasting impact.
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa—or Zeitz MOCAA for short—recently received first place in ArchDaily's Refurbishment in Architecture awards, with its striking design transforming a formerly derelict industrial building into an iconic landmark in South Africa’s oldest working harbor. Developed by the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and designed by Heatherwick Studio, the mixed-use project is now “the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.” To celebrate the award, we sat down with group leader Matthew Cash to discuss the challenges faced during the project, its cultural importance to Africa, and the practice’s interest in refurbishment as a whole.
Moon Hoon, an architect based in Seoul’s Gangnam district, created a series of fantastical, detailed “doodles” for the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Titled Doodle Constructivism, his installation is a powerful display of architectural illustration that merges widely contrasting ideas such as peaceful urbanism with mayhem. In his Shelfish Architecture drawing, he creates a sort of housing structure, which looks like a cross between an apartment building, a mushroom, and an alien.