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Friday, December 09, 2016

Book Review: MONU #25

MONU #25 - Independent Urbanism
Mindaugas Reklaitis


[All images courtesy of Bernd Upmeyer/MONU]

Sociologist Wendy Griswold wrote in her book Cultures and Societies in a Changing World that "the social world always changes first, with culture lagging behind." This phrase highly impressed me and I started to collect pieces of evidence to prove or reject this idea personally. And while I was reading MONU's most recent issue, #25 on Independent Urbanism, Wendy’s insight was following me in every single page, treating urban environment as an expression of collective culture.



Independent Urbanism focuses on countries that recently established or regained their independence, and analyses what consequences this huge social transformation brought to their cities and urban environment. In the wide geography of the case studies, starting with the Baltic countries, former Yugoslavia region and finishing with Taiwan, you can find many particular and unique examples of urban euphoria, challenges, difficulties, successes and failures influenced by independence. The majority of articles in Independent Urbanism are highly related with the historical perspective, which describes the fresh cultural path to the present urban reality of newly developed countries. Each story is interesting, unique, and opens different urban horizons in specific social, cultural and geographical contexts.

But on the other hand it is possible to perceive the historical similarities: usually each country had long years of oppression with diverse urban strategies and plans, then together with the independence enormous social transformations happened, leading to a difficult and peculiar period of time for development of the new country and its culture.



If you are a reader of this MONU issue who lives in a post-soviet or post-oppression country, then you probably know what it means to become independent, what the challenges are that you face and what consequences all this brings – because it is a part of your everyday life or at least very recent past. But it is extremely useful to know that your country is not alone and many others are dealing with similar challenges, which are widely represented in Independent Urbanism. For example: the discussion of who is making development decisions in the city of Skopje, politicians or urban planners and architects; the construction of a new history, which never actually happened, attempts to invent one’s own identity, and attempts to escape the USSR history in the cities of former Yugoslavia, where kleptocracy is widely spread under the title of neoliberalism; the emigration challenges in Prishtina; the top-down decision making by foreign investors and the political elite in Belgrade; the public space transformation difficulties in Vilnius; the ecological ethic questions in Solana Ulcinj; the cultural and architectural import in Georgia; or the embodied democracy in the architecture of Prague. This is only a small part of the great stories I found in MONU's most recent issue, which provides an opportunity to learn from others, compare cultural and urban development in different countries or towns, and collect knowledge for future discussions.



If you are a reader who has always lived in an independent country, then every article may open even more layers of interest, starting with the history and finishing with the urban realities and potentials of emerging young countries. Together you can feel the spirit of freedom in impressive photo reportages from different newly developed countries.

But in such cases I usually ask myself – so what? What shall or can I do about that? Is there any solution for all these urban challenges and struggles, which are widely and professionally described in Independent Urbanism? Fortunately, I can say - yes! At the very end of the magazine I found great inspiration in the article "The Potential of Weak Urbanism." It opens the possibilities and a new attitude to the urban reality that young independent countries are facing. This article finalizes the whole MONU issue, brings the stories together in one narrative, and opens a new perspective to an alternative urban future. This is the reason why MONU’s new issue should be in your must-read list: it is neither about the urbanism of the past nor about the urbanism of the present, but actually about the newly emerging and next generation of urbanism, which we still have to perceive.



Mindaugas Reklaitis is an architect. He is interested in the critical space practice and is a PhD student at Vilnius Academy of Arts researching on how an interactive and performative artistic approach can be used as a research tool of urban environment. Currently he is doing an internship in a Copenhagen-based artist office.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Today's archidose #933

Here are photos of two public toilets in Shodoshima, Japan, each photographed by Ken Lee.

Hideyuki Nakayama Architecture, 2016:
Public toilet, Shodoshima, Japan
Public toilet, Shodoshima, Japan
Public toilet, Shodoshima, Japan
Public toilet, Shodoshima, Japan

Tato Architects, 2013:
Public toilet, Shodoshima, Japan
Public toilet, Shodoshima, Japan
Public toilet, Shodoshima, Japan
Public toilet, Shodoshima, Japan

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Restoring Justus van Effen

On Monday I attended the lecture and award presentation for the 2016 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize at the Museum of Modern Art. This year the biennial award was given to the team of Molenaar & Co. architecten, Hebly Theunissen architecten, and Michael van Gessel landscapes for the rehabilitation of the Justus van Effen complex in Rotterdam, designed by Michiel Brinkman and completed in 1922. The project sits in the Dutch city's Spangen neighborhood, surrounded by fairly traditional rowhouses, some of which were created around the same time.


[All photos: Photo: Molenaar & Co. architecten/Bas Kooij, courtesy of WMF]

Like the Hizuchi Elementary School in Japan, which won in 2012, I was not very familiar with Justus van Effen before the announcement of the award (only through a+t's 10 Stories of Collective Housing). But like the project in Japan I was thoroughly impressed with the project as presented the other night. Both of the buildings clearly deserve their respective WMF/Knoll prizes – both for the thorough restorations but also for bringing wider attention to the projects. As mentioned by jury chair Barry Bergdoll on Monday, the attention for the 2012 prize led to the Hizuchi Elementary School being put on a stamp in Japan. (Coincidentally, a 2000 competition image presented by Molenaar & Hebly put Justus van Effen on a stamp.)



This year's award is the fifth WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize, but the first given to a housing project; the first four projects were public facilities: schools, a sanatorium, and a library. That Justus van Effen was and remains a social housing project (fully at first but now only in part) appeared to be an important point for the jury, which included Bergdoll as well as Jean-Louis Cohen, Kenneth Frampton, Dietrich Neumann, Susan Macdonald, Theo Prudon, and Karen Stein. I'm guessing Frampton played a part in pushing a social housing project, but the fact Cohen lives in the building (and therefore had to recuse himself from the judging) was also important: he was able to give first-hand input into the restored building.



Brinkman was given a two-block area for 264 dwelling units and bundled the blocks together, defining the perimeter through continuous four-story buildings. Portals provide access to the interior of the block, where a central building breaks the block into two and further buildings define smaller outdoor spaces. The creation of these well-scaled, communal spaces is commendable, but what made the building influential in the mid 20th century were the second-floor walkways that rung the whole perimeter on the courtyard side, connecting all of the duplex units atop the buildings (below the duplexes were two floors of single-story units).



Architects Joris Molenaar and Arjan Hebly presented the restoration project on Monday in three respects: changes to the Spangen neighborhood over time, the technical challenges of the restoration, and the interiors/units. Promoted by the liberal elite in Rotterdam, Justus van Effen was created as an experiment in high-density affordable housing and a means of beautifying the city. Molenaar described it as a "social worker's paradise." But starting in the 1970s, the once forward-looking project became a backwards one, since it hadn't had any upgrades in the interim. Combined with the area's decline, the project underwent a first restoration in the 1980s, but these were misguided: the replacement of the concrete walkway with a precast structure and ripping out the original wood frames for aluminum ones, for instance. Even with these changes the project was deemed a historical landmark. But this century, with the desire to improve the Spangen neighborhood, it was determined by the owner, Woonstad Rotterdam, that another restoration was needed, one that would bring back the qualities of the original.



Although the postage stamp linked above may seem to be just a clever means of representation in a competition, it was used to express how the architects felt about the project: its architectural merits were as important as its urban planning merits. The latter concerns the project's site plan and its influential elevated walkways, but Molenaar and Hebly were also enamored by the brickwork, the windows, and the interiors. The 1980s restoration covered the brick with white paint, so the latest restoration unearthed the original's distinctive yellow brick. The aluminum frames were swapped out for hybrid wood frames that are fairly common today, which also reintroduced the mullions. The landscape, which was turned into hardscape in the 1980s, was made green again.



The interiors, as illustrated here, were cleaned, stripped of superfluous additions, and brightened. Further, insulation was added to the walls and solar panels top the whole project; two of the project's means of achieving energy neutrality. The 1980s restoration transformed the 264 units into 164 units, while the latest restoration reduced that number by only ten. Now, thirty percent of the units are social housing (with subsidies for families, most of which are migrants). All of the people who lived in the building before its most recent restoration had the right to return after the construction was completed, but as pointed out by Molenaar none of them returned; he chalked it up to people not wanting to move again so soon. Whatever the case, the restored project is a desirable place to live (for architectural historians like Cohen, at least) in an area that is seeing a much-needed resurgence.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Book Review: Contemporary European Architecture ATLAS

Contemporary European Architecture ATLAS: European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture Mies van der Rohe Award 1988-2015, edited by Celia Marín Vega, Marina Romero
Fundació Mies van der Rohe, 2016
Hardcover, 864 pages


[All photos © Adrian Pedrazas, courtesy of Fundació Mies van der Rohe]

In the course of the EU Mies Award's 27-year history – from 1988 to 2015 – 2,881 projects have been nominated from 38 countries. Juries of the biennial award have selected fourteen prize winners since its impetus shortly after Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion was reconstructed in 1986, as well as selecting eight emerging architect prize winners since 2001. Catalogs have accompanied each of the fourteen cycles, highlighting the winner, the finalists, and shortlisted works, but nothing to date has attempted to tackle the whole archive – all 2,881 projects. Perhaps spurred by the 2013 book and 2014 exhibition that celebrated the EU Mies Award's 25th anniversary, the Fundació Mies van der Rohe has published Contemporary European Architecture ATLAS. The huge volume presents all of the projects, but it does it in a way that attempts to make sense of the geographies, typologies, and chronology of the prize.


[The 864-page book's colorful fore edge]

The task of organizing the thousands of projects into a coherent presentation (done by graphic designer Núria Saban Prat) is hinted at by the cover and the book's fore edge; the former is a rainbow of colors overlapping each other in apparently random curves, while the latter reveals stacked blocks of colors: green, red, orange, etc. Color is used to express a project's typology, which means that the book is arranged in terms of type: 22 building types (e.g. culture, health, mixed use, infrastructure, and office) grouped into four thematic sections: Housing, Society, Structure, and Production & Consumption.


["Order of things" spread showing the color-coded typologies at top grouped into the four thematic sections at bottom.]

The projects are then further defined in terms of keywords, such that the culture typology consists of cultural centers, museums, and so forth. These keywords combine with the chronology of the cycles to determine precisely where a project is located within the book. To distinguish between nominees, shortlisted works, finalists, and winners, the projects have a set amount of real estate: 1/8 page for nominees (1/4 page for featured nominees), 1/2 page for shortlisted works, single pages for finalists, and two-page spreads for winners. Only winners and finalists include descriptive text, such is the large number of projects and thrift of space even in a book this size.


[A project spread showing two shortlisted works on the left and the bookmark key on the right]

A few graphic elements layer some information over what's on the page: running across the top of each page are black bars that correspond with the years projects on that page were nominated; and running up and down the side of the pages with their colored edges are black bars that correspond to the country and white circles whose size relates to the quantity of projects per program per country. Large amounts of information like this would otherwise lead to a cluttered page, but to remove text from the page the book comes with large bookmark key, where one side is for the left page and the other side is for the right page. After figuring out where exactly to place the bookmark (about a 1/4 inch from the edge), it's easy enough to use though not always necessary – sometimes only to decipher the code of the ever-present black bars and white circles.


[Spread with 2015 winner of the EU Mies Prize: Barozzi / Veiga's Philharmonic Hall]

Accompanying the projects are a few essays, none more helpful than Dietmar Steiner's "My Barcelona and the EU Mies Award." Having served on the jury multiple times, the Austrian architect is in good position to give some personal insight into the prize. At one point he relates: "The best choice for 2001 would have undoubtedly been Tate Modern by Herzog & de Meuron, or the Lucern Cultural Centre by Jean Nouvel. But Switzerland prevented this." They prevented it by refusing to ratify a cultural agreement with the EU, a move that disqualified the country from participating after the 1998 cycle, when Swiss architect Peter Zumthor's Art Museum of Bregenz won. In 2001 the Mies van der Rohe Award became the official architecture prize of the European Union, locking in the cultural agreement that has meant no Zumthor or Herzog & de Meuron buildings (among others) have been in the running since. While this means the EU Mies Award is as much political as it is architectural, the creativity of the architects and the buildings they produced in the continent's cities is undeniable. The ATLAS provides a taste of this while piquing interest in the award's future cycles.

European Contemporary European ATLAS is available for purchase at www.shopmies.com.

Monday, December 05, 2016

ACB and '100 Years, 100 Buildings'

I've been a fan of ACB's (Art & Culture Bureau) half-hour architecture documentaries ever since I discovered them back in 2006. The series, directed by Richard Copans and Stan Neumann (individual docs are directed by them but sometimes by others), does an excellent job at explaining important buildings through location shooting, architectural models, interviews with the architects, and thoughtful narration.

When it came time for me to research the projects in my recently published book 100 Years, 100 Buildings, I watched all of the relevant ACB documentaries. From the 100 in my book, there are (now) 14 buildings that overlap, each of which is embedded below. For more ACB architecture documentaries, visit their YouTube playlist, where 59 of them are found as of today.

1923 Notre Dame du Raincy | Auguste Perret | Raincy, France


1926 Bauhaus Dessau | Walter Gropius | Dessau, Germany


1929 Barcelona Pavilion | Ludwig Mies van der Rohe | Barcelona, Spain


1950 Johnson Wax Buildings | Frank Lloyd Wright | Racine, Wisconsin, United States


1952 Säynätsalo Town Hall | Alvar Aalto | Säynätsalo, Finland


1964 Yoyogi National Gymnasium | Kenzō Tange | Tokyo, Japan


1971 Phillips Exeter Academy Library | Louis I. Kahn | Exeter, New Hampshire, United States


1977 Centre Georges Pompidou | Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers | Paris, France


1982 SESC Pompeia | Lino Bo Bardi | São Paulo, Brazil


1996 Therme Vals | Peter Zumthor | Vals, Switzerland


1997 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao | Frank Gehry | Bilbao, Spain


1999 Jewish Museum Berlin | Daniel Libeskind | Berlin, Germany


2000 Sendai Mediatheque | Toyo Ito | Sendai, Japan


2013 Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art | Amateur Architecture Studio | Hangzhou, China

Friday, December 02, 2016

Book Review: Two WTC Books

9/11 Memorial Visions: Innovative Concepts from the 2003 World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition by Lester J. Levine
McFarland, 2016
Paperback, 248 pages

One World Trade Center: Biography of the Building by Judith Dupré
Little, Brown, 2016
Hardcover, 286 pages



At first blush it makes perfect sense to review these recently published books together. After all, each one addresses a major element – if not the two most important elements (or two of three if we consider Calatrava's Oculus) – of the sixteen-acre World Trade Center site. Further, it appears the publication of each book was timed to the annual anniversary of September 11th, in this case fifteen years after the terrorist attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers. A fair number of books on the original WTC came out in the years after 2001, followed by books addressing redevelopment and Daniel Libeskind's winning master plan. But these two books are the only recent ones I'm aware of on the architecture of the WTC site, so it makes sense to bundle them together.

That said, the differences between the two books – and their subjects – situate them as nearly polar opposites to each other. One is focused on the memorial, specifically the 5,200 memorial ideas that did not win the competition and therefore were not built; the other is about the realization of the site's most prominent tower, what has become the tallest building in the western hemisphere since its 2015 completion. Along these lines, one presents individual efforts to cope with a horrific act, while the other documents a design that results from collaboration: of architects, engineers, clients, and builders. And, of course, one is about making money while the other one is not. The content of each book reflects these differences.


[Spread from One World Trade Center, which was designed by DBOX]

Judith Dupré should be a familiar name to architects as well as laypeople who are fans of architecture, particularly tall buildings; her oversized book Skyscrapers: A History of the World's Most Extraordinary Buildings was first published in 1996 and was most recently revised and updated in 2013. (Fittingly, Dupré wrote Skyscrapers in the World Trade Center.) Although One World Trade Center does not approach the 18-inch-high paper size of Skyscrapers, it is nevertheless a big book – all the better to take in the large color photos but also the timelines and other parts of the book that pack lots of information onto the individual pages.

As the title makes clear, this is a book about One World Trade Center (1WTC). Nevertheless it contains chapters on the other parts of the WTC site: the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, 7WTC, towers 2-4WTC, the Transportation Hub, St. Nicholas, and Liberty Park, many of which the author discussed in her book talk at the Skyscraper Museum I attended back in June. With this extra content, the book is the most complete book on the rebuilding efforts to date, not just a biography of 1WTC. Regardless, people will buy this book because of its namesake subject – and they will not be disappointed.

Five of the book's twelve chapters are devoted to 1WTC. From these handful my favorites are "Evolution of the Tower's Design: 2003-2005," "Into the Blue: Designing One World Trade Center," and "Construction Timeline: One World Trade Center." The first and third are particularly helpful in our amnesiac age, since they remind us how the tower design changed from a Libeskind to an SOM, and how the nearly ten-year construction unfolded. Throughout, Dupré is very positive about the building (she likes it much more than I do), but that does not mean she isn't critical when warranted. A sidebar on the value engineering that stripped the spire of its cladding is a good case. Nevertheless, this is a biography that celebrates a building, one whose 2015 completion made it feel like the WTC site was finally closer to completion rather than closer to the destruction that warranted the project to begin with.


["Twin Piers" memorial entry by Charles Upchurch and Fred Bernstein | Image via wtcsitememorial.com]

While Dupré contends she was "the only writer given unfettered access to the Port Authority’s site and archives" for creating her book, Lester J. Levine, a management consultant and poet who lives in North Carolina, was at the mercy of an outdated website and many hours spent tracking down the authors of notable memorial submissions when it came time to collect a small fraction of the 5,201 entries to the 2003 World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition for his book. The winning memorial, "Reflecting Absence" by Michael Arad with Peter Walker, was completed on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, so Levine's book doesn't exist to proffer a preferred alternative – a what should have been – for the site. Rather it tells the stories of the people who submitted designs that share some innovative ways of approaching memorials.

If a book can be judged by it cover, I was not optimistic about 9/11 Memorial Visions. It's hard to imagine the cover scheme, with glass panes suspended from two St. Louis Arch-esque structures, existing on the WTC site. Further, the quality of the renderings shows just how far we've come in the last dozen years when it comes to computer graphics. That said, I was amazed to find myself liking the book a lot – though not necessarily liking many of the 180-plus schemes that Levine chose to focus on. But there is something to be said for highlighting designs that are a strong departure from the minimalist, Maya Lin-inspired visions that now predominate when it comes to memorials. Like others, I'm drawn to abstraction over figuration in memorials, but who's to say I wouldn't like a memorial with lots of color, or one that was all about sound, or one based highly on technology if it were given the chance?

With Levine's focus on the stories behind the entries, it's the words in his book that take priority over the images. His laid back, conversational style makes the stories accessible, and it allows entry after entry to be read easily in order; it's like they are pearls on a string and he pulls the reader along one after the other. He groups similar approaches (color, sound, and technology, as mentioned, among others) into a dozen chapters, but all entries are unique. Yet what stands out above the variety of designs is the diversity of voices: architects and artists are represented but so are musicians, students, scientists, even a truck driver. The World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition was open to all, and with a major event so fresh in people's minds at the time, it became a means for all sorts of people to cope with the loss and its repercussions. So kudos to Levine for digging through the entries, discovering the voices behind a sampling of them, and prompting us to reconsider what memorials mean to people in the 21st century.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Today's archidose #932

Some more photos from my recent trip to Berlin, this time two housing projects by Bruno Taut that are part of UNESCO's "Berlin Modernism Housing Estates" listing. The photos were taken during an architectural tour, "Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism," given by Carsten Sauerbrei of Berlin's architekTour B.

Falkenberg Garden City (1913-1916):
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism

Hufeisensiedlung (1925-1930):
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism
Bruno Taut's Colorful Modernism

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Today's archidose #931

Here are a few photos of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (1984) by James Stirling Michael Wilford and Associates, taken by me (on my smartphone) on a recent trip to Stuttgart, Germany. See more photos in my Flickr set on the building.

Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

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