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Kurt Kohlstedt: The Latest Architecture and News

Sin City Embellishment: Expressive or Kitsch?

09:30 - 20 September, 2018
Sin City Embellishment: Expressive or Kitsch?, Randy’s Donuts shop and sign (a “decorated shed”) by Extra Medium (CC BY 2.0). Image via 99 Percent Invisible
Randy’s Donuts shop and sign (a “decorated shed”) by Extra Medium (CC BY 2.0). Image via 99 Percent Invisible

Though the Las Vegas Strip may be garish to some, with its borderline intrusive décor and “pseudo-historical” architecture, some professional architects, most notably Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, have become captivated by the “ornamental-symbolic elements” the buildings present. The two architects developed the curious design distinction between a “duck” and a “decorated shed”, depending on the building’s decorative form. In his essay for 99% Invisible, Lessons from Sin City: The Architecture of “Ducks” versus “Decorated Sheds”, Kurt Kohlstedt explores how the architects implemented their knowledge of ornamentation in their own works and began an architectural debate still ongoing today.

Vanna Venturi House by Robert Venturi featuring playful and non-structural ornamentation. Image via 99 Percent Invisible Longaberger Basket Building image by Barry Haynes (CC BY-SA 3.0). Image via 99 Percent Invisible Guild House by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. Image via 99 Percent Invisible “Duck” versus “decorated shed, with Big Duck in Long Island (upper right). Image via 99 Percent Invisible + 5

Can't Build Up? Why Not Build Down? The Case For Subterranean Architecture

08:00 - 5 September, 2016
Can't Build Up? Why Not Build Down? The Case For Subterranean Architecture, The New York Lowline. Image Courtesy of NYCEDC
The New York Lowline. Image Courtesy of NYCEDC

While most cities strive for a sustainable level of urban density, there are limitations at play that can restrict the amount of upwards growth. In Mexico City, for example, height restrictions guide the growth outwards rather than upwards, and often the preservation of historic low-rise architecture halts expansion plans. In an attempt to mine the possibilities for alternative expansion, Kurt Kohlstedt from 99% Invisible has presented a round-up of the different ways in which architecture can instead grow below the ground surface.

Standing Out or Fitting In? How Do Architects Approach Their Context

08:00 - 1 August, 2016
Standing Out or Fitting In? How Do Architects Approach Their Context, The Royal Ontario Museum extension by Daniel Libeskind, image by The City of Toronto. Image via 99% Invisible
The Royal Ontario Museum extension by Daniel Libeskind, image by The City of Toronto. Image via 99% Invisible

All architects desire recognition of their built work; for their signature design style to be identified, or for the quality of materials and details to outshine those around it. Unfortunately, if every new architectural structure was to insert itself into its context looking to be the star, soon it would become impossible to gauge the civic relevance of the area. Some buildings, such as Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum, appear dislocated with due cause, but others stand out for the sake of standing out, turning their back on their rich historical setting.

While there can be no singular strategy for contextual integration, Kurt Kohlstedt argues that a consideration of historical context, whether eventually chosen to acquiesce with or deny, will result in richer and more engaging built environment. In his latest essay for 99% Invisible, Kohlstedt unpacks the myriad ways in which a new building can engage with what was there before, highlighting examples which successfully and unsuccessfully take up the challenge. He acknowledges the difficulty of finding the sweet spot, as many designs are unable to navigate the "fine line between contextual and contemporary."