Thursday, May 10, 2018

Alberto Campo Baeza: Body and Soul

All photos © Javier Callejas

Sports Pavilion
University of Francisco de Vitoria, Madrid
db - deutsche bauzeitung
April 2018, pages 24 - 31; cover


Alberto Campo Baeza describes his gymnasium, built for the Legionaries of Christ's Francisco de Vitoria University in Madrid, as a "container of light," and he has submitted every detail of its design to the realization of this idea.

Large planes of translucent glass, which make up the upper sections of two of its enclosing walls, facing northwest and northeast respectively, flood the interior with indirect skylight.

Campo Baeza has muted all possible visual distractions in the interior, and finished every surface in white, in order to cede protagonism to the play of light across them. They receive and scatter the light, converting it into a spatial presence as palpable as the air itself. When we visited the building on a cloudy winter day, the interior seemed brighter than outside, as Campo Baeza proudly pointed out. The space collected and concentrated the light in a way that nothing around it could match.

The general massing forms a striking duality, in which the gymnasium and the narrow slab of the classrooms rise to the same height from either end of a common base.

This singular massing recalls the relation between Campo Baeza's Caja de Granada bank headquarters in Granada (2001), another "container of light", and his adjacent  Museum for the Memory of Andalucía (2010), where the low base ends in a spectacular, extenuated vertical slab at one end, which rises to the height of the bank on the other side, creating a conceptual spatial containment between them, although the two buildings are actually misaligned. Here the compositional idea is more condensed and conclusively realized.

Drawings courtesy of Albeto Campo Baeza

If there was something of the formal extremism of Boullée in the Museum in Granada, Campo Baeza also displayed a skillful use of stripped-down Beaux-Arts spatial organization in the plan, bringing to mind as well the compositional strategies of Post Modern proto-minimalists such as Aldo Rossi. We find these strategies here as well.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Brick at Bankinter

Photo: DC

Rafael Moneo with Ramón Bescós, Bankinter bank headquarters, Paseo de la Castellana, Madrid, 1972-76

I am a brick fan, and look at these!

Machine-pressed brick, a technological throwback from the 19th century. I think it was Emilio Tuñón who told me years ago that they came from an old factory discovered somewhere in Valencia that still had one of the old resses running - I wonder if it was runninf on steam!

The press produces those sharp crisp edges and smooth faces. The bricks have "frogs" or indents on the top and bottom to receive the mortar, so they can fit tightly together and hardly show mortar at all on the facade. The bricks match those of the palacete that Moneo preserved on the site, although on the older building, with its heavy stone trim everywhere, there's not much brick in evidence.

Moneo here runs a thin line of tinted mortar into the horizontal joints, and leaves the vertical joints empty – the opposite of Frank Lloyd Wright at the Robie House in Chicago, where he rakes the horizontal lines deep to catch shadows, and fills the vertical joints flush to the face of the brick, and tinted the same color, which breaks the brickwork into continuous horizontal bands, like the overall composition of the house itself.

Francisco de Asis Cabrero and Rafael Aburto do something similar with the Roman brick of the National Trade Union Building (1949-56) on the Paseo del Prado in Madrid, one of the references for Moneo when he designed Bankinter.

Here Moneo shows off the thickness of the wall with those staggered jambs, like the window openings in a Romanesque apse, but then he adds those supper-modern and refined bronze lintels and sills -- like the thin concrete slabs that slice through the thick brick walls of his Roman Museum in Mérida.

Moneo used the same brick for the Atocha Train Station, with all the joints morterless, if I recall. I'll have to take another look at the Roman Museum. I remember being disappointed that the bricks of the arches weren't filed down into wedges calculated to match the circumference of the arch, as would have been the case in the United States in the 1880s, but that was perhaps too much to expect.

This is "dressed" brick, designed specifically for facades. It's not the brick you find when you take down the plaster in the kitchen of your old brownstone. It's a veneer that doesn't carry any structural load. In the 1970s, many of these beautiful dressed-brick facades were marred by sand-blasting and re-pointing in botched restorations. I'm not up on the techniques used today in restoring them, but I suspect that things have gotten better.

I hope to go back when the light is right (in the morning) to take a picture of the building as a whole, although it is rather impossible to get a good angle. It appears to be in pretty good shape, looking a little staid from today's perspective but still quite elegant. And so tiny! It is really crammed in there behind the old house, a very tight fit, like an overgrown garden addition.

Foto: Francesc Català.Roca, from Arquitecturas Bis 23/24, July-Sept. 1978, p. 16

This is the work that made Corrales and Molezun's Bankunión instantly out of date. It's Spain's version of the Post Modern, which Moneo practically invented. It's contextual and provocatively historical –those brick walls and bronze bas-reliefs in the upper spandrals, by Francisco López Hernández– without renouncing the modern.


Friday, February 2, 2018

Jefferson's University of Virginia, Charlottesville in winter

Peter Maverick, engraving of Jefferson's plan of the University of Virginia, 1826. From the University of Virginia Library, Digital Collections. Source: Wikipedia

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Fragments from an autumnal Vienna: the sentinel figures atop the cornice of the Museum of Natural History, near our hotel; figure of a saint at a local church; Fischer von Erlach's baroque library, embedded in the Hapsburg palace complex; apples in a market, for a bit of color.

Schloss Belvedere, Vienna and its tricky garden axis. Looks complete from above, but it is broken into three parterres at different levels, with fountains interrupting movement down its center. Realized by Dominique Girard, a pupil of Le Nôtre.

Otto Wager's Church at Steinhof.

Finally, red velvet and leopard-print rugs: the bar at the old Bristol Hotel, still purporting to be a 5-star establishment, located across the street from the Opera on the Ringstrasse.

I was surprised that so many of the classic Viennese cafés are tucked into hotels. They reminded me of mid-town Manhattan, circa 1950, with the tripartite wall sconces with little lampshades and the rugged floors and upholstered walls, cozy places for a cold winter night after the opera (Café Sacher, in the Hotel Sacher). Though I suppose the influence goes the other way. Admittedly I missed some other famous ones. But I'll stick with the grand old cafes of Italy, Spain and Portugal. Except for the pastries. (Below, Mary's picture of the café in the Hotel Sacher).

See my related post on the Karl Marx Hof.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Karl Marx Hof, Vienna

Karl Marx Hof, Vienna
Karl Ehn, 1927-30
Visited November 8, 2017

Beside the rhetorical arches, which seem a bit over-exposed at this point, the interior courtyards are impressive in their own right.

We did housing block studies like this at Columbia under Kenneth Frampton. His models were mainly Dutch, but the corner turns here bring it all back.

The complex is about a kilometer long and includes baths, a laundry, a kindergarten and a medical clinic, all inside the blocks facing intermediate streets that cross through them. The multi-arched section is only a single volume deep, with a large park on one side and rail and metro connections on the other. It is flanked by two long courtyard blocks, each spanning intermediate streets. The lot is irregular, so the volumes taper as the extend outwards in each direction. and the volumetric massing becomes simpler, less original but still very fine. Brick is used sparingly as accents in the window strips and around the openings into the blocks. The complex has been beautifully restored.

I imagined the setting to be much more gritty, but it is leafy and suburban, near the end of a streetcar line in a prosperous-looking neighborhood. I guess I was too much influenced by  "Night Porter" - it's where Dick Bogart's character supposedly lives, in a cramped flat. (The flats reportedly range from 30 to 60 square meters).

Photos: DC and Mary Dreyer

Source: Hilary French: Key Urban Housing of the Twentieth Century, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, London, 2008

Far reaches of block, exterior view

Laundry and baths
Additional images and data can be found at the link below. Photos include pre-restoration views:
Tamás Perényi, Tamás Niczki, Zsófia Dankó, Boglárka Szentirmai
Multi-Apartment buildings
Department of Residential Buildings
Budapest University of Technology and Economics

 For more on my visit to Vienna, click here.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Bot Slave

 After posting images of the Karl Marx Hof housing project in Vienna on Facebook, around November 10, today I received the following email from my dormant Pinterest account:

"New ideas for you in Karl marx"
"We found some Pins we think might be right up your alley"
With of course images of the venerable.

I couldn't help myself, I answered the email. And it answered back. The conversation went like this:
Me: "Stupid bot."
Bot: "Thanks for reaching out! A little robot is sending you this auto-reply since we don't check this account. For how-to information, our Help Center is a good place to start."

If you have a conversation with a bot, is it a conversation? I guess it depends on how many other bots are listening in, and what they do about it: NSA, FBI, Facebook thought police, etc. etc. Hello, everyone.

I spent the day filling out forms, official documents required every year for the Foundation Amelia Moreno. I'm feeling somewhat like a bot myself.

Have you noticed how much time you spend filling out forms under the supervision of a bot? The truth is, we are at the service of the bots. We are at their beck and call, we are their humble, obedient wait staff, and no indiscipline will be tolerated. Talk back to a bot and you will be hauled into line: fill out the form, stupid. Stick to the program.