Thursday, November 13, 2014


"To go underground is a frequent strategy for architects, planners and engineers seeking to minimize the impact of new facilities and infrastructures on the scarce open spaces of a city. But what usually happens to the trees?"
This month The Architectural Review carries my article on a neighborhood library in Barcelona by BCQ Architects, a local firm headed by David Baena and Toni Casamor.  I also published a different version of the same article last month in architektur.aktuell of Vienna. (The article from the Review should be available on the web to subscribers shortly; I'll update when it's up). 
"BCQ Architects ... folded the building into the retaining walls that separate a small raised public park from the surrounding neighborhood, and converting its roofs into planters that are large and deep enough to permit trees to grow to maturity....  The overall result is a building that blends into its surroundings, adding sectional complexity and interest to the encounter of the raised park with the street below it, through a series of planted piers set at different angles and levels, and alternating with sunken light wells dropping below grade."

I can't resist noting that both article titles are mine.

Taking Root
 Joan Maragall Library, Sant Gervasi, Barcelona, by BCQ Architects
The Architectural Review, Volume CCXXXVI, Issue 1413
November 2014, pages 68 - 7

Under the Trees
Joan Maragall Library
architektur.aktuell 414, September 2014, pages 62 - 73

Photos Courtesy of the architects. © Ariel Ramírez 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Baroque Space

The corridor as a Baroque paseo. Photos: DC

The architect Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra invited me last year to contribute an essay for a book on his Seville Congress Center, which has just been issued by the Madrid-based publishers La Fábrica. The assignment gave me an opportunity to explore some ideas about Baroque space in contemporary Spanish architecture that I have been mulling over for years - ever since one of my early essays on Madrid.

Since this is a book one may not find everywhere, I am permitting myself a more extensive quote from the first pages:

"Turning over in my mind the apparently amorphous, intuitively-shaped, and thoroughly contemporary spaces of the Seville Congress Center, walking through them again and again in my memory, I have come to the conclusion, although only in the form of a hypothesis, that the quality or principle that governs their organization is essentially Baroque. Not that I can be precisely certain what Baroque space might be. But what I mean is this: an architectural space conceived in terms of the processional, from the point of view of both the people moving through it and those in a position to observe them (positions that, in contemporary democratic space, are fluid and interchangeable), an architecture of movement and changing viewpoints, related also to Le Corbusier's "promenade architecturale", but interpreted with a particular austerity and elegance, and a particular conception of urban space, that I find elsewhere in Spain, and that I associate with the Baroque spaces of the Spanish Counter Reformation, and with certain painters of that period such as Velázquez and Zurbarán (an idea that Juan Daniel Fullanondo, for one, might not have found entirely preposterous)."
"This theory first occurred to me in one of the secondary spaces of Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra's design, on the first-floor of the ramped entry wing, in the corridor that gives access to a series of meeting rooms. In any other country, this corridor would most likely be utterly inconsequential, a space conceived solely in terms of its functional efficiency, without aesthetic pretensions, an anonymous space of transition designed as if the people who used it were senseless integers, considered only in terms of their quantity in movement, in order to determine the required capacity of the corridor and hence its width."

"In the Congress Palace, this corridor is very high in proportion, and bathed in indirect natural light from above. Instead of being characterized by the noisy incidents of purely functional space, it is notable precisely for its absence of event. The architect has stripped the space to its essential condition as a recorrido or paseo: a stretch of space that extends in a straight line for the purpose of allowing and directing the movement of people along it. That movement is given shape and measure by the regular rhythm of the structural beams that pass over the corridor, and the regular spacing of the doors to the meeting spaces on one side, with their projecting signage, just like an avenue lined with regularly-spaced trees. This rhythm is underlined by the uncluttered planes of the remaining surfaces, and the marked inflection of the space as a single-loaded corridor, with a long blank wall opposite the line of doorways. This wall is like the garden wall of a large estate along which such an avenue might extend (what comes to my mind is the brick rear wall of Madrid's Botanical Garden along the Avenue of Alfonso XII), a surface that receives and diffuses natural light, giving material presence to the very air the space contains, while modeling the beams in subtle shading as they regularly cross the space over our heads, as well as the people moving along the corridor ahead of us, or talking in a group around a doorway."

"This is certainly not an entirely Baroque concept – we can find it in the streets lined with columns of Roman cities in North Africa, in the neoclassical city, and even in the tree-lined country lanes and roads that, in the era before the automobile, could be found anywhere in the world. But the distillation of a common functional corridor to this elementary condition, that of a luminous space that is rhythmically marked for movement through it, does strike me as true to a long Spanish tradition dating to the Baroque. The very absence of event that characterizes its spatial materialization is paradoxically full of presence, as in the luminous but dark backgrounds of certain portraits by Velázquez or Zurbarán, in that peculiarly Spanish mixture of hard realism and other-worldliness."

"If this line of argument were to be supported solely by the example of a minor corridor it would be of little consequence. But as I studied the project I came to recognize many other processional spaces on a much grander scale...."

Intercambiando Miradas / Exchaning Glances 
Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra
Palacio de Congresos de Sevilla 
Seville Congress Center 
La Fábrica, Madrid 2014, unpaged
Spanish and English texts

Saturday, September 6, 2014


Photos DC
Still catching up on August publications: near the beginning of the month, the German weekly Bauwelt published my article on the Biology Faculty Building at the University of Alcalá by Héctor Fernández Elorza, boldly built of exposed cast concrete.

Faculty office

 "Though it would be incorrect to describe Elorza's work in any way as Scandinavian, the sense of drama and mystery suggested by the Biology Faculty building does seem to invoke that atmosphere of surreal symbolic reference suggested by some of Asplund's works. It also brings to mind the darker, mask-like architectural drawings of John Hejduk, as well as some of the Brutalist-period work of Marcel Breuer – a bit of existential angst brought out of the twilight and mists of northern Europe and into the unforgiving extremes of sun and shadow of the Spanish meseta."

Eine Maske für Labor
The Masked Laboratory
Faculty of Cellular and Genetic Biology, University of Alcalá, by Héctor Fernández Elorza
Bauwelt 29-30.14, August 8, 2014, pages 15 - 21, cover

Puttin' on the Ritz

Vinoteca Vegamar Selección
Photo © Diego Opazo

Architecture Record's annual interiors issue this month features a wine boutique in Valencia, Spain by architect Fran Silvestre and interior designer Andrés Alfaro Hofmann. I made a trip down to see it, and my story is posted here.
"...the prominence Silvestre gives to the visual impact of seemingly airbrushed, polished surfaces over other qualities such as texture or spatial richness reflect the aspirations of his clients, sharing with them a particular idea of glamour. In the case of Vegamar, Silvestre notes that the firm was previously known for a table wine, sold mainly to local restaurants, and their new outlet represents a bid to attract a more demanding clientele."
Silvestre and Alfaro Hofmann also designed a Record Houses house in Valenica, which I reviewd in the April 2013 issue. My blog entry for that article is here.

One of the fun things I did working on the piece was to look up the lyrics to the original Irving Berlin song. There are actually two different versions. The one I remember, as sung by Astaire, goes like this:

Have you seen the well to do
up on Lenox Avenue
On that famous thoroughfare
With their noses in the air?

High hats and narrow collars
White spats and fifteen dollars
Spending every dime for a wonderful time

If you're blue, and you don't know where to go to
Why don't you go where Harlem flits? Putting' on the Ritz
Spangled gowns upon the bevy of high browns
From down the levy, all misfits, putting' on the Ritz

That's where each and every lulu-belle goes
Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus
Rubbin' elbows

Come with me and we'll attend their jubilee
And see them spend their last two bits
Puttin' on the Ritz

That might have been okay in the 1930s, but it turns out there is a PC version. I wonder when that came along. Did Berlin write it as well? It goes like this:

Have you seen the well-to-do,
up and down Park Avenue
On that famous thoroughfare
with their noses in the air
High hats and Arrowed collars,
white spats and lots of dollars
Spending every dime
for a wonderful time

...and so on. 

New rich or wannabees, all of 'em, and in Valencia too, having a blast.

Putting on the Ritz
Architectural Record
Record Interiors, September 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Rust Belt Chic

© Hisao Suzuki

For their August issue, Architectural Record also sent me to review the Pierre Soulages Museum in Rodez, France, by RCR Architects. The link is here.

RCR (Ramón Vilalta, Carme Pigem and Rafael Aranda) is based in Olot, near the Pyrenees in Catalonia. This is their first museum, and perhaps their most prominent work to date, although they have been working, and publishing, for decades, mostly with houses and other small-scale projects in and around Olot. Their best-known project there is the restaurant Les Cols, which I wrote about in Record Interiors in 2003 (page 136).

From AR. © Pep Sau
I think their interest in thick steel plate comes from Richard Serra and Donald Judd, and an early stint in Japan has left its mark. But they have invented their own particular brand of minimalism, and always push that vision further.

The pictures so far don't really convey the experience of this work. Ramón is undertaking to take more, but the sequence of large independent white galleries embedded in a relatively open space of contrasting dark galleries, clad entirely in metal plate and with northern light, is hard to capture.

© Hisao Suzuki
Perhaps the plan gives a better idea.

From AR

The picture does convey something of the harmony between the architecture and Soulages' work. RCR are good dance partners, playing the perfect supporting role.

I was lucky enough to coincide in Rodex with my old friend Hisao Suzuki when he was taking these pictures, and we rode back together to Barcelona, crossing Foster's Milau Aqueduct on the way.
Fade to Black 
Architectural Record
August. 2014

For a more personal view of the Pierre Soulages Museum, I add some of my own photos. They are best for showing details and an idea of texture and the effects of reflected light on the metal surfaces.

Here for example is the entry canopy, seen from outside and in:

The entry to the restaurant was across this very Japanese reflecting pool, enclosed in a screen. The over-sized gravel is basalt:

Sidewalks are edged with a thick flange of steel plate:

The stair rails are composed of three solid tubular bars of steel fused together:

 Can you see that? It fits perfectly into the hand.

Window frames -actually working structurally as well- are formed by paired plates of 6mm steel separated by a reveal:

The all-metal galleries receive a full blast of northern light through screened windows with window seats between the deep flanges that separate each pane of glass:

From this space, the high, white galleries are alluring sanctuaries:

One small complaint: the architect-designed toilets. If you need a sign indicating where to flush, something is wrong. Flush button completely hidden when seat is up. Maybe there are some things architects should leave to the specialists:

Finally, it was hard to get a good general view of the building. Here's a distant approximation from the other side of the park, and from the rear:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

No-Frills High Tech in Turin

Photo: DC
My second article appearing this month is on the Porta Susa High-Speed Train Station in Turin, Italy by Silvio d'Ascia, for Architectural Record (see story here).

I talk about the project's references to traditional train sheds and 19th century glazed commercial galleries, its "no-frills " high tech detailing, and its aspiration to become an urban meeting point. D'Ascia is a Naples native based in Paris, 5 hours from Turin on the same trains that stop at his station.
"The exaggerated length of the building—it is far longer than functionally necessary—echoes other features of central Turin: its boulevards with monumental arcades and its leafy avenues lined with mature trees. Its great length also recalls one of the city's most famous landmarks, the 1923 Fiat Factory at Lingotto, more than 1,600 feet long, with a test track on its roof. In 1989, Renzo Piano converted the building into a multiuse commercial and cultural center, creating an urban amenity for the city's working-class district and Turin as a whole. As the Porta Susa concourse fills out with activity, this role as a thronging pedestrian thoroughfare is one it can aspire to as well."
Porta Susa High-Speed Train Station
Photo from Architectural Record © Giovanni Fontana

So the work fits right in with my report on the urban peculiarities of Turin, which I have updated accordingly. See my blog entry A Day in Turin.

Crystal Palace
Architectural Record
August 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Typologically Rooted and Thermodynamically Tuned

Contemporary Art Museum, Zhuhai, China, 2013 -
I kick off August with an introduction to an issue of the Spanish magazine AV Monografías dedicated to the firm of Ábalos + Sentkiewicz. 
"In the new, thermodynamically-tuned practice of Iñaki Ábalos and Renata Sentkiewicz, the aloof, prismatic volumes of the Ábalos and Herreros era, heirs of Alejandro de la Sota in their technical directness and formal austerity, have evolved into buildings that grow like organic tubers, mushrooms and trees, or emerge as eccentric landforms at a macro-urban scale, while inhaling cooling downdrafts and exhaling ascending columns of heated air."
The couple is now in Boston, where Ábalos is head of the architecture department at Harvard, and their portfolio of projects has become international.

Project Highlights:

Solar Tower (Subsidized Housing), Sociopolis, Valencia

High Speed Train Station, Logroño, Spain, 2013

Contemporary Art Museum, Zhuhai, China, 2013-

Performing Arts Center, Taipei

Tour Port de la Chapelle, Paris (project)

My 2500-word essay explores the dialectic in the firm's concept of "thermodynamic beauty":

"The firm has taken on the current mantra of sustainability ... not as a call for formal restraint, nor as merely a set of technical standards unrelated to the theory and methodology of design. Instead, they are treating the issues raised by sustainability as something of a paradigm shift in the way that architecture is conceived. They refer to this new paradigm under the general theme of the thermodynamic..."
"A second critical concept, which Ábalos makes reference to with terms such as "beauty" and "the picturesque", also underlies this new work. The firm adapts these 18th century aesthetic categories as a dialectical position, which they counterpose to the merely rational management of the quantified data that largely comprises what was formerly known as the design problem. Beauty, and the search for new forms of beauty, represents the dimension of subjective cultural and experiential values that the architect brings to the table, to begin the process in which the design solution is wrestled from the multiple and sometimes conflicting parameters of the design problem."

Una sostenibilidad alternativa
An Alternative Sustainability

 Introduction to issue
AV Monografías 169, 2012, pages 6 - 13.

Tour Porte de la Chapelle

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Irina Shipova, 1968 - 2014


Working for magazines from everywhere, I often never actually meet face-to-face the people I work with. I've been collaborating with Speech, the Russian journal that comes out two times a year, since it´s fourth issue, in 2009, thanks to a recommendation by Roland Halbe, but I never actually met Irina, its founding editor, or Jan Skuratowski, who worked beside her on every issue. Now as I am preparing my contribution to the first issue of Speech without her, I found this memorial written by another collaborator, Bernhard Schulz:
April 26, 2014 after a long illness passed away the chief editor of speech: Irina Shipova.

Getting ready for the latest issue of the Architectural journal speech:, released under the direction of Irina Shipova. This is the last issue of speech: to be delivered by Irina Chipova.

Altogether, there have now been 12 issues of speech: (you could call them ‘magazines’, but a better word would be ‘books’). The first was published in the middle of 2008; the new architecture journal quickly acquired a knowledgeable readership. Like all previous issues of speech: the current, 12th, issue is devoted to a single overarching theme.

Irina Chipova was born on October 26th 1968 in Moscow, where she went to school before going on to study at the History Faculty at Moscow State University. She submitted her diploma work in 1991. Meanwhile she had spent a year working at a children’s library and then another at the Shchusev Museum of Architecture. This was a time of preparation for the independent path that she was to follow subsequently. But first she worked for three years at the Central House of Architects in Moscow. Then, in 1997, she took an important step – deciding to leave Russia and move to Germany with her husband and son. She learnt German in Rostock before coming to Berlin in 1998, where her second son was born. 

Working as an architecture critic, she started gathering around her the circle of fellow-thinkers who would subsequently prove so invaluable to her. In 2004 Irina started working for nps tchoban voss, where, as head of the PR department, she was instrumental in helping present and explain the firm’s architectural ideas and projects. 

That same year, Irina took part in preparing Moscow-Berlin, an exhibition at the Shchusev Museum of Architecture in Moscow, and in 2007 she wrote ‘Moscow. Art and Design’, a handy guide to contemporary architecture and interior design in Moscow.

Irina’s work for other publications gradually gave way to the idea of creating a new journal dedicated to the state of contemporary architecture. The concept developed by Irina Chipova involved taking a single theme, a single building type, or a single architectural objective and subjecting it to comprehensive examination, beginning with an excursion into history and continuing with numerous examples of buildings from countries all over the world, accompanied by interviews with leading architects and comments from authoritative experts. Underlying the publication was a graphic concept in which text and images were to be of equal importance as sources of information, with equal weight being given to two languages, Russian and English.

The above concept was established at the very beginning of the journal’s life and it is perhaps the most surprising aspect of Irina Chipova’s work for speech: that the concept never required reworking. The diversity and balance of the various forms of contribution were a strong point of the new publication, as were the involvement of knowledgeable authors from different countries and the high quality of the photographs selected for inclusion.

While working on the journal, Irina was asked, as an experienced publisher, to produce the catalogue for the exhibition at the Russian Pavilion at the 12th Architecture Biennale in Venice in 2010. Irina coordinated this enormous volume of work as a ‘one-woman team’ in Berlin, with help from her colleagues in Moscow. She maintained numerous contacts with her circle of friends back home, and they responded with love and admiration for her kindness, talent, and professionalism.

From the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Irina found herself increasingly hampered by serious illness. Nevertheless, she continued working on speech:, without in any way compromising on the publication’s established standard of quality. Until her final days, she worked in bed on editing texts and captions for the issue which you have in your hands. She was unable to let a single important detail slip through her fingers. Her supreme professionalism, which never let the journal’s authors get away with vague phrasing, and her understanding of layout, which resulted in a substantive relationship between text and photographs, were unfailing. After a protracted illness, Irina Chipova died at home in Berlin on April 26th, 2014, a few days after submitting the final proofs for the 12th issue of speech:. 

She was only 45 years old.

It was her unflagging enthusiasm for her work and her incredible resolve which enabled Irina to see the completion of this 12th issue of ‘her’ journal.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Quick Impressions of Zurich

While in Zurich to see Shigeru Ban's work (see previous post), I had some time to walk around. After years in the south of Europe, those sharp church spires were kind of worrisome.

I started to get into the Protestant mood inside one of the churches near my hotel (the white one in the foreground of the photo above). In the photo below, the red in the back is not a Rothko, but a weave. To my weak eyes it's just as effective. And those shadows! A good argument for white walls and no stained glass. The Artist may not be Present, but Something definitively Is:

This same church had a very interesting sun-clock.

Keeping up with the north-south schtick, I was surprised by quite a few middle-European beauties. The flaxen hair, the careless posture and awkward limbs, the fair skin, the baby fat that seems ready to ripen right through to a prompt plumptitude.

And a bit of romantic Sturm und Dram, up on the heights of the Zurich ETH, near the hospital. As he looked for solace down by the wheels, she was admiring the view of those needle-like spires over the balustrade. What on earth happened to her foot? And she's pregnant!

Whoever dumped red paint on this fellow, it's a great improvement. Another interesting couple there, off to the right. He's dressed for banking, but she's wearing cutoffs.

Many women of all ages are very sharp dressers. It seems that the sense of style of the old European bourgeoisie lives on in places like this, God bless it. I am especially rueful over quite a few bohemian-looking women in their 70s, still with their long hair, hats, jewelry and tight jeans. Is that how Joni looks now? In a different league, but remarkable nonetheless, I managed to grab a shot of this elegant lady:

And this elegant gentleman:

As well as a group of pensioners outside a café:

Finally, I am a sucker for great light effects, here on the main boutiqued shopping street, the Bahnhofstrasse. LuxuryStoreWindowGlass, as the Germans might put it, is great for these:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Shigeru Ban in Zurich

From AR. © Shigeru Ban Architects
For their July issue, Architectural Record sent me to Zurich to report on Shigeru Ban's Tamedia office building. You can see the full article here.

The interest of the project is its exposed timber structure of laminated Austrian spruce, which supports all seven floors:
"Workers fitted the structure together without any metal connectors whatsoever, hammering the rounded ends of the beams into place on the columns with large, soft-headed mallets."
Frm AR. © Nelly Rodriguez
I especially enjoyed getting into the details of this conceit:
"Ban treats the wood like a high-tech material... Fabricated in a shop using computer-controlled laser cutters, the structural elements include doubled cross beams with their rounded ends, oval spacer beams that run perpendicular to them, and columns, each a single piece 17 inches square that rises the full height of the building (more than 65 feet)."
"The key to the structural design ... is the joint where these three elements come together. The oval spacer beams fit through oval holes in the ends of the cross beams, fixing them to either side of each column. The oval shape is crucial, because it produces a rigid "grip" joint rather than a weaker "pin" joint that a circular connector would create...."
Frm AR. © Shigeru Ban Architects
Inside Job
A finely crafted timber office building for a Swiss media company makes a strong statement from within
Tamedia Offices, Zurich by Shigeru Ban
Architectural Record
July 2014
Frm AR. © Nelly Rodriguez

From AR © Didier Boy De La Tour

Lobby, cardboard tube furniture by Shigeru Ban. Photo DC
See my next blog entry for photos from around Zurich.