Thursday, August 28, 2014

Disappointed in Astoria

So, this is what Castle Hill in the Bronx gets for an EMS Station:

[Zerega Avenue EMS Station by Smith-Miller Hawkinson | Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO]

But this is what my neighborhood of Astoria, Queens gets:

[Hoyt Avenue EMS station made from construction trailers | Photo by John Hill]

What's up with that, DDC?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Today's archidose #779

Here are some photos of Brion Cemetery (1972) in San Vito d'Altivole, Italy, by Carlo Scarpa, photographed by Francesco Maria Gabriele Vozza.

Carlo Scarpa - Tomba Brion

Carlo Scarpa - Tomba Brion

Carlo Scarpa - Tomba Brion

Carlo Scarpa - Tomba Brion

Carlo Scarpa - Tomba Brion

Carlo Scarpa - Tomba Brion

Carlo Scarpa - Tomba Brion

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Briefs #19: University of Minnesota Press

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with short first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews, but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than can find their way into reviews on my daily or weekly pages. In this post are six titles published by the University of Minnesota Press.

1: Architecture since 1400 by Kathleen James-Chakraborty | 2013 | Amazon
Instead of the traditional discussion of style and analysis of space, the author aims "to reconstruct the story of how environments are created that shape experience and communicate identity through the ways in which spaces are formed and surfaces are decorated." The examples in the book, which moves chronologically and geographically from front to back (starting in China in the early 1400s and ending in the same country in present day), are diverse in terms of place (Asia and South America are afforded as much importance as Europe and North America, though Africa is the focus of only one of the thirty chapters) and architect/builder (encompassing more buildings than those designed by well known architects), making it an atypical history of architecture when compared to Sir Banister Fletcher, Trachtenberg and Hyman, and other standard textbook histories. The bite-sized chapters – thirty of them across 488 pages, or an average of 16 illustrated pages per chapter – make the book a handy reference when students and architects want to get a different perspective on buildings in a particular place and time. Further, references at the end of each chapter give the reader good places to go for more depth than what James-Chakraborty's book allows.

2: City Choreographer: Lawrence Halprin in Urban Renewal America by Alison Bick Hirsch | 2014 | Amazon
I've never been a fan of the phrase, "You can't judge a book by it's cover." Sure, you can't pass judgment on a book entirely based on its cover, but there are certain telling things that covers convey, particularly some architecture books. This book's cover has two illustrations: a photo of activity in Cascade Fountain in Seattle's Freeway Park designed by Lawrence Halprin, and a score by Halprin for a performance, most likely for his wife Anna. These two images, as the title of the book hints, have a strong relationship, as the design of Halprin's public spaces, like Freeway Park, were informed by a creative process called the RSVP Cyles (Resources, Score, Valuation, Performance) that Halprin developed in the 1960s. Hirsch, in a book based on her doctoral dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania, analyzes Halprin's methods for designing public spaces with people's actions in mind, an approach that designers should pay attention to today.

3: The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City by Eric Avila | 2014 | Amazon
"When the interstate highway program connected America's cities, it also divided them, cutting through and destroying countless communities." So says the back-cover description of this book, which brings to mind the way the Dan Ryan Expressway on Chicago's South Side separated the former Robert Taylor Homes from the neighborhood of Bridgeport, the home of Richard J. Daley, the Mayor of Chicago when both the expressway and public housing were constructed in the 1960s. In this case the expressway didn't destroy Bridgeport (as planned it would have, but it was rerouted eight blocks to the east) but it severed the white and black neighborhoods from each other. This particular example is not part of Avila's book, since the associate professor of history, Chicano studies, and urban planning at UCLA focuses on Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, and other cities where people have protested the damage wrought by highways.

4: Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History by Sigfried Giedeon | 2013 | Amazon
Sigfried Giedion wrote one of the most influential books on architecture last century, Space, Time and Architecture, released in 1941 and now in its fifth edition. If one masterpiece in his lifetime was not enough, Giedion also wrote this masterful volume seven years later on the "anonymous history" of mechanization taking hold of just about every aspect of our lives. Having covered architecture in the earlier book, here he tracks the changes in the food we eat, the chairs we sit on, the rooms we bathe in, and even the locks that secure our homes. As much a product of its time as Space, Time and Architecture, Mechanization Takes Command is, as Stanislaus von Moos states in the postscript to the 2013 printing of the 1948 book, equal parts "factographic" historical account and manifesto. I prefer to read it in the former sense, since the balance of textual and visual evidence paints a clear picture of technology's advance, even as the unbiased nature of Giedion's writing comes through from time to time. It does make me wonder if a similar "anonymous history" could be done on the computer age, on the influence of the digital in similar areas of our life. Perhaps somebody's done that and I'm not aware; if not, Giedion's reprinted book is a wake-up call for somebody to dive in.

5: The Modern Architectural Landscape by Caroline Constant | 2012 | Amazon
In the sphere of modernity, there's an inclination to partition work and expression into disciplines. Buildings are the purview of architects, for example, and the land around a building is taken care of by the landscape architect. Such a distinction is prevalent today, but this book's analysis of nine landscapes designed by architects puts a wrinkle in this partitioning by focusing on the totalizing nature of modernism to create cohesive environments, buildings and landscapes combined. Inside are the Barcelona Pavilion and Lafayette Park, both the product of Mies van der Rohe, the Woodland Cemetery of Asplund and Lewerentz, Jože Plečnik's Prague Castle, Le Corbusier's Chandigarh, and OMA's unbuilt Parc de la Villette submission, among others.

6: Pedestrian Modern: Shopping and American Architecture, 1925–1956 by David Smiley | 2013 | Amazon
Southdale Center, designed by Victor Gruen and known as the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall in the United States, opened in Edina, Minnesota, in 1956. Gruen and his influence on the shopping mall and the suburbs after World War II is well documented, but what about the architecture of shopping centers pre-Southdale? Such is the subject of Columbia University professor David Smiley's thorough and thoroughly illustrated book, which tackles the years 1925 to 1956. The history is told in six chapters that are thematic rather than chronological, with "Park and Shop" in chapter three and "The Language of Modern Shopping" in chapter six, for example. The previous ignorance of early 20th-century shopping centers from architectural study is hinted in the title, as "pedestrian" refers not only to shoppers on foot (and the environments architects created for them) but also to the relegation of shopping centers to "secondary, pedestrian status" as the back cover attests. This book shows that the latter is far from the truth, and shopping centers are as much about modern architecture as housing, office buildings, and other traditional building types of interest.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Today's archidose #778

Here are some photos of Råå Day Care Center (2013) in Helsingborg, Sweden, by Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter, photographed by Matthew Gribben.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Today's archidose, now with Instagram

Since starting the "Today's archidose" feature in 2006, when I asked readers to contribute photos of contemporary via Flickr for consideration on this blog, I've done 777 posts. Given that Flickr isn't the primary means for people to share photos online, I've decided (somewhat well after the fact) to open the Today's archidose feature to Instagram.

It basically works the same way as the Flickr instructions, but instead of joining a group, just tag your Instagram photos #archidose (I'd link to the tag here, but Instagram only allows clicking on tags that through their app) and I'll dig through them as I consider what to post. It helps that a number of proactive Instagram users have already been using the #archidose tag.

To start, here is one of my photos, of SOM's One World Trade Center as seen from West Street:

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: Building as Ornament

Building as Ornament by Michiel van Raaij
nai010 Publishers, 2014
Paperback, 240 pages

Before he took the helm at Dutch website Architectenweb, Michiel van Raaij penned one of my favorite architecture blogs, Eikongraphia (Iconography), which looked at buildings united through their resemblance to other things, things outside architecture. Projects, many not yet built at the time, were given a title that made it clear what sort of building-size iconography was in place: Gherkin, by Foster and Rocks, by Mazzanti, to name just a couple of the built projects. Michiel's comments were always in-depth and insightful, but much of the fun was in seeing the sheer number buildings being designed in such a way.

That was 5 or 7 years ago (the posts stopped in the middle of 2010), and today the prevalence of what Michiel calls "building as ornament" is much more widespread. It's hard to go a week without seeing a just completed building or just unveiled project on Arch Daily that resembles this symbol or that animal or this fruit or whatever the case may be. Michiel actually contends that we are witnessing the second generation of iconographic buildings, which are more nuanced than the attention-getting iconographic buildings of the first generation that he was covering on his blog.

While the trend of building as ornament can be grasped by many people, there is a good deal of disagreement over whether these second-generation icons are good or bad. Michiel sees them as unavoidable, not going away anytime soon. Therefore, he argues, architects should be deliberate and careful with how they design buildings as large-scale communication devices. Enter the interviews, which enable him to discuss the intentions of designing recognizable icons with eight prominent architects and two historians. There's Auke van der Woud, Denise Scott Brown, and Charles Jencks in the "iconographic detail" section; Adriaan Geuze, Michiel Riedijk, Alejandro Zaero-Polo, and Ben van Berkel in the "layered iconography" section; and Steven Holl, Winy Maas, and Bjarke Ingels in the "singular iconography" section. The interviews are bookended by two projects sections with numerous renderings and photographs of designs by other architects, and interspersed with two collage sections, one on "alphabet" buildings and one on "island" projects.

Occasionally in the interviews Michiel is met with resistance by the architects, ones who don't want to be known for designing "buildings that look like X or Y." While the author is able to clarify his intentions and then eke out some insight from his subjects, the end the chapter with Winy Maas's interview is telling of the precariousness of "building as ornament." It shows the reader MVRDV's controversial design for The Clould in Seoul from 2011, when comparisons to the destruction of the Twin Towers spread like crazy through the media, although the architects denied any intention as such (Michiel's interview happened before the design was released, and not surprisingly MVRDV did not return the author's later requests for comment). The design is a lesson in regards to the precariousness of iconography and confusion of messages across cultures; it certainly points to more nuanced design moving forward, along the lines of what Michiel is calling for.

Are we witnessing the end of icons or just a hiccup toward something else? Or to put it another way, is this book a snapshot of a brief period or a polemic for the evolution of icons? We will know in the coming years, as the answer lies with the architects (many in the book) that are fulfilling the wishes of clients around the world for buildings that stand out and get attention.

Purchase at Amazon: Buy from

Today's archidose #777

Here are a couple photos of Emerson College Los Angeles (2014) by Morphosis Architects, photographed by Riley Snelling.

Emerson College


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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mummers Theatre, RIP

While I haven't paid close attention to the fight to save John M. Johansen's Mummers Theater* in Oklahoma City, I'm disheartened to see this photo taken by Timothy Hursley last week of the one-of-a-kind building's demolition:

[Click image for larger view | Photo: Timothy Hursley]

One year before, Hursley visited the building with his sons:

[Click image for larger view | Photo: Timothy Hursley]

*Those interested, albeit at this admittedly late stage, should visit the Save the Stage Center Facebook page and The Architect's Newspaper's extensive coverage of Mummers and what will replace it.

(Thanks to Tim Hursley for sending along the photos.)

Rebel Architecture - Guerrilla Architect

The first installment in Al Jazeera's six-part "Rebel Architecture" series is on Spanish "self-build legend" Santiago Cirugeda: