Monday, October 5, 2015

Going Guerilla in Triana

Fotos © Jesús Granada
Until recently, Spain's economic crisis scarcely cut into the number of buildings I have been asked to review by different publications. But since this spring the lack of new work in the pipeline over the past few years seems to be having an impact. This modest museum in a former pottery works in the Seville neigborhood of Triana is all about the crisis, not only in terms of work but also in professional confidence, as I elaborate at the end of my article:
"...The tone of the new" facades, and their invisibility to the street, is in keeping with the modest ambitions of the intervention. The Museum is the product of a new era of moderation in public works, in striking contrast to the projects initiated before the crisis. From the nearby streets, the silhouette of César Pelli's 180-meter-tall Torre Sevilla looms, commissioned by Cajasol, a failed public savings bank. Its lower floors will soon be occupied by the CaixaForum, a cultural center run by La Caixa, the bank that rescued Cajasol, after La Caixa abandoned a more ambitious plan to house the center in the medieval ship works of the Atarazanas in the historic center. Elsewhere, the wooden mushrooms of the Metropol Parasol in the Plaza de la Encarnación, by German architect J. Mayer H., seem gloomy and underused on a warm summer day. And the court-ordered demolition of Zaha Hadid's half-finished library for the University of Seville has been completed, after the project was challenged by local residents for occupying a public park. In this climate, as the Triana Ceramics Museum would seem to confirm, architects must go guerilla, pass under the radar of public attention and commit themselves to specific, local goals."

More from my original text (the published version was somewhat garbled by my Austrian editors, as their title shows (see below)):
"For the Triana Ceramics Museum in Seville, local architects Miguel Hernández Valencia and Esther López Martín, of AF6 Architects, frame the haphazard elements of a disused pottery works with a second-floor addition that overlooks them on four sides, giving the complex a sense of unity.... "
"Hernández and López ... preserve the original brick kilns, buildings and sheds that were built, over time and with little planning, in and around an open patio. To this labyrinthine complex they add a second level that forms a ring around the patio, and arrange visitors' itineraries on both levels. The patio occupies part of a large block that is enmeshed in the barrio's urban fabric, and that includes the "Cerca Hermosa", a famous gated alley lined with modest houses...."

"Hernández and López's approach to the project was to accept and build on its chaotic accumulation of elements, adding a contemporary contribution with the distinctive facades of the second level....."

"The ceramic brise-soleil of its facades is inspired in the metal storage shelving stacked with half-finished pottery pieces that the architects found in the factory. Its "shelves" are of galvanized steel, and the clay units are custom-made in four sizes, with round centers and faceted exteriors so as to stack easily with a bit of silicone.... They left the original street facade of the building unchanged, with its small corner entrance decorated with terra cotta and painted tiles, adding only signage to a parapet, together with the motif of the brise-soleil in low-relief."

"The tubular clay units of the brise-soleil ... bring to mind unexpected references, from the polka dots on traditional Sevillian flamenco dresses to the [nearby] Triana Bridge, where cast iron circles of graduated diameters fill the space between roadbed and arch (a structural system introduced by Antoine-Rémy Polonceau on the Pont du Carrousel in Paris in 1834)."
Entry facade
Playing at Gorrillas in Triana
Triana Ceramics Museum, Sevilla, by AF6 Arquitectos
architektur.aktuell 426, September 2015, pages 70 - 79

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Product Placement 3.0

A New Yorker article from last January keeps resonating in my head. It covers advances in computers' ability to read emotions, with applications in mood-based TV advertising, car insurance (lower rates if you behave at the wheel) and other Big Brother stuff.

Here's one example:
"Not long ago, Verizon drafted plans for a media console packed with sensors, including a thermographic camera (to measure body temperature), an infrared laser (to gauge depth), and a multi-array microphone. By scanning a room, the system could determine the occupants’ age, gender, weight, height, skin color, hair length, facial features, mannerisms, what language they spoke, and whether they had an accent. It could identify pets, furniture, paintings, even a bag of chips. It could track “ambient actions”: eating, exercising, reading, sleeping, cuddling, cleaning, playing a musical instrument. It could probe other devices—to learn what a person might be browsing on the Web, or writing in an e-mail. It could scan for affect, tracking moments of laughter or argument. All this data would then shape the console’s choice of TV ads. A marital fight might prompt an ad for a counsellor. Signs of stress might prompt ads for aromatherapy candles. Upbeat humming might prompt ads “configured to target happy people.” The system could then broadcast the ads to every device in the room." 
It could also call the Thought Police.

Another bit:
Software developer and entrepreneur Rana el Kaliouby "predicted that before long myriad devices will have an “emotion chip” that runs constantly in the background, the way geolocation works now in phones. “Every time you pick up your phone, it gets an emotion pulse, if you like, on how you’re feeling,” she said. “In our research, we found that people check their phones ten to twelve times an hour—and so that gives this many data points of the person’s experience.”
Did you hear that?
" “What people in the industry are saying is ‘I need to get people’s attention in a shorter period of time,’ so they are trying to focus on capturing the intensity of it,” Teixeira explained. “People who are emotional are much more engaged. And because emotions are ‘memory markers’ they remember more. So the idea now is shifting to: how do we get people who are feeling these emotions?” "
"Sony had filed several [patents]; its researchers anticipated games that build emotional maps of players, combining data from sensors and from social media to create “almost dangerous kinds of interactivity.” "
"There were patents for emotion-sensing vending machines, and for A.T.M.s that would understand if users were “in a relaxed mood,” and receptive to advertising."
The article ends with Kaliouby musing:
“I do believe that if we have information about your emotional experiences we can help you be in a more positive mood and influence your wellness,” she said. She had been reading about how to deal with difficult experiences... “I think there is an opportunity to build a very, very simple app that pushes out funny content or inspiring content three times a day.” Her tone brightened... “It can capture the content’s effect on you, and then you can gain these points—these happiness points, or mood points, or rewards—that can be turned into a virtual currency. We have been in conversations with a company in that space. It is an advertising-rewards company, and its business is based on positive moments. So if you set a goal to run three miles and you run three miles, that’s a moment. Or if you set the alarm for six o’clock and you actually do get up, that’s a moment. And they monetize these moments. They sell them. Like Kleenex can send you a coupon—I don’t know—when you get over a sad moment. Right now, this company is making assumptions about what those moments are. And we’re like, ‘Guess what? We can capture them.’ ”
My advice: This is all based on the assumption that we are all always and willingly plugged in. All we have to do is unplug. And tape over the damn camera lens watching us on every device.

Raffi Khatchadourian
We Know How You Feel
The New Yorker

January 19, 2015

Stanley Kubrick
A Clockwork Orange

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Carvajal's Unlikely Hilton Hotel in St. Louis

Rendering, Spanish Pavilion rebuilt in St. Louis. Background, Busch Memorial Stadium, 1966. From
Or the strange fate of the Spanish Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

One of the proudest architectural moments of the Franco regime was the critical acclaim received by the Spanish Pavilion, a design by Javier Carvajal (see my other blog entries on Caravajal here).

The AIA awarded the pavilion its prize as the best work of international architecture at the Fair. It was recognized by the Rockefeller Foundation, and cited by Life magazine as “The Jewel of the Fair,” according to the Fundación Loewe, which organized an exhibition on the project for its 50th anniversary last year.

From Fundación Loewe

With its success, the pavilion attracted the attention of St. Louis Mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes, who arranged, with the collaboration of the Spanish government, to have it reassembled
as part of the redevelopment around Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch.

Opened in 1969 as the Spanish International Pavilion, with many of its original exhibits intact and three restaurants, it was bankrupt and closed within a year.

Contemporary postcards from

A 1970 article in The New York Times described its opening ceremonies:
"The pavilion finally opened in May, 1969, with 10 days of festivities. The cast of "Man of La Mancha" sang "The Impossible Dream"; Spain's Minister of Information [none other than Manuel Fraga], the Mayor of Seville and Jose' Ferrer flew in for the occasion; several hundred St. Louisans paid $1,000 per couple to dance at the inaugural "Beile de la Rosas," and as each woman sat down at the banquet a servant placed a red cushion beneath her feet."
After languishing empty for several years, local developer Don Breckenridge took over the property in 1976 and transformed it into The Breckenridge Inn, building a 25-story tower for the guestrooms in its former central patio. The hotel was taken over by Marriott in 1979, who added a second tower over the theater wing. "Through both conversions, developers kept the flavor of the Pavilion's Spanish origins, retaining sculpture and artwork," writes Bill Young of

The Breckenridge Inn. From

In 2005, the hotel was sold again to Hilton Hotels and extensively renovated, leaving little of the original pavilion except for its facade panels.


The surprising thing about this story is that the pavilion wasn't simply demolished outright somewhere along this progressive slide from cultural ambassadorship to rude commerce.

Did selling the dictatorship in the US become unsustainable in the late years of the regime? I imagine Franco meant very little to anyone in the Midwest. It is more likely that the project was doomed simply by excess ambition and poor financial projections.

Bill Young of reports that the contents of the original New York pavilion were put on display in St. Louis, "sans the Picassos". But of course there were no Picassos on display in New York. Neither Franco nor Picasso would have permitted that!

Bill Young

J. Anthony Lukas 
New York World's Fair Hit Turns Into St. Louis Fiasco 
The New York Times
June 30, 1970 

Carvajal: The Jewel of the Fair
Loewe  Fundación
October 30, 2014

Original interior. Fundación Loewe
Fundación Loewe

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Langarita and Navarro in Architectural Record

(Imagine them talking with animation instead of posing)

I profile architects and partners María Langarita and Victor Navarro in the May issue of Architectural Record. Their profile appears in a new section, Firms to Watch (link). The quotes below are from my original submitted text, as the published version got a bit diluted in the editing and cutting process.

All photos © Luis Díaz Díaz

On their Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid's Matadero Cultural Center (above):
"For Red Bull, the paintings of Philip Guston –"all his juxtapositions, the accumulations of heterogeneous things," says Langarita– helped inspire the whimsical gathering of house-like rehearsal rooms along a raised walk. The couple collected other visual references for the project, including pictures of sleds, as they studied different ways to lift the temporary structures off the earthen floor. The sleds may also have suggested the combination of bright-red exposed electrical conduits with the unfinished plywood walls."

"Our need to bring images to the project arises from working always in dialogue with others and not alone," Langarita explains. The visual cues serve as instruments in the ongoing "conversation" of the design process. The two see a similar social role for architecture, "as a tool for negotiating co-existence" and avoiding conflicts. In the Baladrar house in Alicante, for example, they gathered a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces around the main living area. "With groups of friends or families, some can play cards while others are with the children, being together without giving up what they want to do," says Langarita."

"The openness to different uses, the focus on social organization and the relative impermanence of these projects can be considered a continuation of the squatter culture of community gardens and occupied public spaces that has sprung up with the crisis in Madrid, the visible face of social protests in which many young architects have participated. Langarita and Navarro's work shares the freshness of these collective experiments, taking their lessons to the next level of deliberated designs."
Visual Cues
Firm to Watch: Langarita-Navarro
Architectural Record, May 2015

Other entries on Langarita-Navarro:

Red Bull Music Academy 
The View from Madrid
November 30, 2012 

Red Bull Music Academy
The Architectural Review
December 2012, pages 46 - 51, cover