Saturday, April 12, 2014

Foster Cancels Planned Foundation in Madrid

Site of proposed foundation. Source: Palacetes de Madrid

El Pais reports that Norman Foster has dropped plans to establish his private foundation in a Madrid palace dating to 1912, after Madrid's Heritage Commission ruled against some of his proposed modifications and additions to the protected building.

The Foundation, currently registered in London, would house Foster's personal archives and organize exhibitions, debates and publications on architecture, urbanism, design and art.

In a letter to the city, Foster stated that he is reconsidering "the suitability of the location". His office has declined to make further comments.

Foster currently organizes an annual architecture show in his wife's Madrid art gallery, Ivorypress, which has featured Ron Arad, Buckminster Fuller, Jean Prouvé, Zaha Hadid and Foster himself.

Another architect's personal foundation seems to be in the works in Madrid, that of Emilio Ambasz. Last year, the City of Madrid ceded a building near the Prado Museum that Ambasz plans to demolish for a new building of his own design. Fore more on that story (although the less said, the better), see El Pais, March 6, 2013 and December 12, 2013.
Ambasz proposal from El Pais

I would gladly trade Ambasz's furry green building on its overly-promintent site for Foster and his palace, discretely located in Madrid's leafy embassy district, with its pavilions and whatnot in the garden. With any luck, though, Ambasz's project will go nowhere. And let's hope that Foster, once properly begged to and groveled before, will reconsider.

Bruno García Gallo, Ángeles García
"Norman Foster Drops Plans to  Create his Foundation in Madrid"
El País, English edition
April 8, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

Siza's Boa Nova Tea House to Reopen

Alvaro Siza's Boa Nova Tea House on the rocky shoreline of Leça da Palmeira, in Matosinhos, outside Porto, which has stood empty for several years and was badly deteriorated, has been restored. The town of Matosinhos ceded the building to the local non-profit Casa da Arquitectura (ACA), which commissioned Siza for the restoration. Chef Rui Paula will open a small restaurant in the space, scheduled to begin operations in June. The Tea House, which was completed in 1963, is one of Siza's first works. It is a classified National Monument in Portugal.

This is one of my favorite places, and I was shocked to see it empty and falling apart two years ago. When was it that I actually had tea there, after a long hike up the coast? Now things look better, though the idea of an ambitious chef aiming for a Michelin in this tiny shrine seems a bit out of place. Everything was so much smaller in the 1960s! And the worn wood furnishings, the rustic feel, its intimate hold on the rocks, the sense that it had to be put it back together every springtime after being lashed by winter storms.


"CASA DA ARQUITECTURA assina contrato de arrendamento da Casa de Chá com o Chef Rui Paula"
Casa da Arquitectura webpage, no date

"Casa de Chá da Boa Nova reabre em junho"
Matosinhos Cámera Municipal webpage
March 17, 2014

Abel Coentrão
"Chef Rui Paula desafiado a conseguir estrela Michelin para a Casa de Chá da Boa Nova" 
March 17, 2014


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Strange Times for the COAC

Strange times for the COAC - the architects' professional association in Barcelona, the Col·legi d'Arquitectes de Catalunya. Its headquarters, located on a prominent plaza facing the Barcelona Cathedral, is now festooned with a large, publicly sponiored advertisement, entirely covering its facade, that seems to be promoting, in the guise of a historic anniversary, Catalan independence.

The marquee below the poster is by Picasso, another in-your-face gesture, this one from the Franco years, when the artist was an official no-no.

And the COAC's exhibit space, apparently too valuable to be dedicated to architecture exhibits these days, has been turned into an ersatz gift shop. 'All very tastefully, done,' I suppose they imagine. Why don't they just lease it to Foot Locker?

Photos by DC, March 14, 2014

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Virtual Reality Blues

sydney kramer business insider oculus rift
William Wei, Business Insider
Mark Zuckerburg on his latest purchase, Oculus, goggles that immerse video game players in virtual reality, as reported in Business Insider
"After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home."
And an April Fool's Day post in The Guardian on InstaWindows for refurbishing England's public housing:
 "If you're addicted to adding filters to your Instagram snaps, and wish you could always see the world in grainy high contrast or with that sun-kissed glow, help may be at hand. As part of the government's Happy Homes initiative, which will see swathes of ailing council blocks retrofitted with colourful cladding panels and wood-effect flooring over the next five years, tenants will also be given the chance to transform their windows with the application of a tinted filter."
"'The Instawindow is designed to transform even the bleakest views of post-industrial wastelands into picture-postcard visions that you'll be dying to share with your friends,' says Daisy Faropoll, head of brand at Happy Homes. 'Whether you prefer that permanent sunset look, or like your colours super-saturated, our range of filters caters to every mood. And with an easy-peel backing, you can keep mixing it up and curate your own personalised viewscape each day.' "
As always, parody and reality are never far apart.
Permanent sunset … The window filters are designed to transform even the bleakest prospects into 'picture-postcard views you'll be dying to share with your friends'
The Guardian

Post edited April 11, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Entresitio in Record Houses

© Roldand Halbe
It's April, Record Houses time again, and once again a house in Spain is among the eight works selected. Known as "#house#1.130" (a rather ungraceful moniker in my opinion), the Spanish work is by Estudio Entresitio, with partners Maria and José Maria Hurtado and César Jiménez. See the full story in Architectural Record here.

The article begins,
"The interweaving of indoor and outdoor spaces recalls the condensed landscapes of classical Chinese gardens in Suzhou: tightly framed vistas are crossed in close succession by multiple spatial events–glazed pavilions, light wells, bridges, terraces, beds of vegetation, a covered pathway angling slightly out of view."
 And for an idea about what it's all about:
"The ribbons of greenery, which extend below-grade to the light wells and run up a ramp to the roof, are just one element in the design's multidimensional knitting together of inside and out. In its first proposal to the client, the architect developed this strategy even more intensely. It was based on a honeycomb of hexagonal rooms and patios that was systematically distorted in size and shape according to programmatic requirements. Each distortion created adjustments in adjacent hexagons, following a mathematical system known as a Voronoi diagram."
#house#1.130 by Estudio Entresitio
© Roldand Halbe

Down the Garden Path
#house#1.130 by Estudio Entresitio
Architectural Record, Record Houses, April 2014

Photos © Roldand Halbe
Used with permission

© Roldand Halbe

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Latest Koolhaas: Antidotes to Extravagance

OMA/G-Star Rawptionm from The Guardian
A good one-line architecture joke, followed up by an even better follow-up: OMA Partner Reinier de Graaf, on the firm's new headquarters for the Dutch jean and denim-wear manufacturer G-Star Raw in Amsterdam, quoted by Oliver Wainwright in The Guardian:

"Our initial idea was to clad the frame in bits of Somali shipwrecks, as the equivalent of stone-washed jeans. But we were told that the stone-washed look was going out of fashion."

De Graaf explains that the work, together with recent projects such as the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and the mega-multi-use towers in Rotterdam, form part of a major shift in the firm towards more generic designs, "an antidote to the formal extravagance of the 90s.”

Wainwright continues:
"[Graaf]  recounts the legend of a memo, sent by Koolhaas to the entire office from a far-flung hotel, which set the new agenda: 'Use 90 degrees only. Good luck, Rem.' " 

Oliver Wainwright
Rem Koolhaas's G-Star Raw HQ is like 'two brands having unprotected sex
The Guardian
March 25, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

Iwan Baan, "52 Weeks 52 Cities"

My interview and profile of the Dutch architectural photographer Iwan Baan, Retratos okupa de la arquitectura, appeared this past Saturday, March 21st, in Babelia, the weekly cultural supplement of El País.

In the article, we talk about his current show, 52 Weeks, 52 Cities at the Marta Herford Museum in Germany, where he brings together a year's worth of images from every corner of the world, both documentary photography of vernacular enclaves and architectural photography.

What interests me about his work is his way seeing architecture as it is seen and used by its users, and in its larger context. Instead of sterile, beautfully composed sculptures, buildings become a support and setting for everyday living. As I say at the end of the article, he portrays how we okupy them (a word taken from the squatter movement in Spain), just like we okupy natural and urban environs.
"Su obra nos muestra un nuevo mundo, algo extraño y a veces tremendo, con tanta miseria tan extendida. Pero a pesar de los desafíos que retrata, su visión es más bien optimista. 'Es alucinante ver la capacidad que tenemos para inventarnos la vida, a veces bajo condiciones inimaginables," observa. "Aunque existe una línea de trazo muy fino por la que no se debe idealizar la vida de los habitantes de una ciudad como Lagos. Con esas condiciones, en cualquier caso, la gente construye lugares muy particulares, y están muy orgullosas de ellos. Ver eso me parece fascinante. Su vida allí se convierte en una toma de postura ante los desafíos a los que se enfrentan. Han encontrado una fórmula que funciona, ha creado un lugar donde se puede vivir.' "
© Iwan Baan
Photo top:
House K
Sou Fujimoto, Architect
Osaka, Japan

Second photo:
Floating School
Kunli Adeymi, Architect
Makoko, Lagos, Nigeria

Iwan Baan
52 Weeks, 52 Cities
Exhibition and catalog
MARTa Herford Museum
Herford, Germany
Dec 8, 2913 - Mar 30, 2014

Iwan Baan

Monday, March 17, 2014

Philip Roth on Popular Culture

"The power in any society is with those who get to impose the fantasy. It is no longer, as it was for centuries throughout Europe, the church that imposes its fantasy on the populace, nor is it the totalitarian superstate.... Now the fantasy that prevails is the all-consuming, voraciously consumed popular culture, seemingly spawned by, of all things, freedom. The young especially live according to beliefs that are thought up for them by the society’s most unthinking people and by the businesses least impeded by innocent ends."
Philip Roth

Not sure I entirely agree, unless we can consider The Stones as high art with all the consequences. But it does open a debate.

Daniel Sandstrom
"My Life as a Writer"

Interview with Philip Roth
The New York Times
Sunday Book Review

March 2, 2014

Philip Roth in 2012
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Bald Beauty of Nefertiti

In the latest issue of his mimi-magazine Circo, Emilio Tuñón remembers Alejandro de la Sota, quoting in turn José Antonio Coderch on "The Bald Beauty of Nefertiti."
 "Coderch referred to "bald beauty" as the beauty that is the result of extracting each and every hair on the head of the queen, pointing out that this extraction was undergone 'in pain'. For architecture that would share the beauty of Nefertiti, formal renunciation implies the rejection of the unnecessary, even though the unnecessary is not necessarily without interest."

"In a certain sense, when Coderch talks about pain in relation to beauty, he appears to be talking about the renunciation of many things that he was sincerely interested in, in favor of the search for a beauty that was essentially out of reach."

"And it is precisely for this reason that bald beauty represented, for many Spanish architects of the second half of the 20th century, a melancholy renunciation of what might have been but wasn't to be, accompanied by a painful rejection of anything that wasn't really essential. A rejection, with an aroma of radical, aristocratic imposture, accompanied by a certain poetic air of feigned pain."
Emilio Tuñón
"I would prefer not to"
Circo 194. 2014

Head of a Meritaton Princess
Amarna Period
Egyptian Museum, Cairo 

Translation: DC

Saturday, February 22, 2014

William S. Burroughs II
"You are not paid off to be quiet about what you know. You are paid not to find it out." 
William S. Burroughs

Quoted in:
Barry Miles
Call Me Burroughs
Twelve (Hachette Book Group), New York, 2014

Reviewed in:
Ann Douglas
King of Cool 
The New York Times Book Review
February 23, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

What is Wrong with this Picture?

Ai Weiwei vases

The headlines in The Guardian:

Miami painter thought $1m Ai Weiwei vase was Home Depot-style pot
• Maximo Caminero smashed Chinese artist’s vase at museum
• Act was ‘spontaneous protest’ in support of local Miami artists

The facts: 
Ai Weiwei shows, in the new Pérez Art Museum in Miami, a group of Han Dynasty vases, over 2000 years old, that he has painted in bright colors, i.e. defaced. They stand in front of a series of photographs showing him dropping another Han Dynasty vase and smashing it to bits. This is art.

Local artist Maximo Caminero sees the installation, picks up one of the vases, and smashes it. This is a crime. He goes to jail.

And Weiwei condemns him, because the vase "was not his property".

Richard Luscombe  
The Guardian
February 18, 2014 

Nick Madigan Ai Weiwei Vase Is Destroyed by a Protester at Miami Museum 
The New York Times 
February 18, 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pier Vittorio Aureli: Less is Enough

Reading List
I cannot resist reproducing in full Luis Fernández-Galiano's review of three books by the young Italian theorist Pier Vittorio Aureli, published in Arquitectura Viva 158.  

Pier Vittorio Aureli ‘Less is Enough’

Luis Fernández-Galiano
he architect and professor Pier Vittorio Aureli has just published an electronic book, Less is Enough, with Strelka Press, the editorial branch of the research institute promoted by Rem Koolhaas in Moscow, and the launching of this lucid and timely tract on austerity and asceticism gives a good excuse to look at his two previous works, The Project of Autonomy (2008) and The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture (2011). Co-founder of the collective DOGMA, Aureli has taught extensively outside Italy – at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam, the Architectural Association in London, and Yale University –, which explains why texts strongly rooted in the political and architectural debates of his country appear first in English. The two being reviewed here are meticulously edited by Joan Ockman (The Project...) and Cynthia Davidson (The Possibility...), who have managed to present the author’s ideas in limpid, pedagogical English prose.

The Project of Autonomy is a convincing description of the ideological debates in Italian architecture of the 1960s, a stimulating intellectual panorama that Aureli analyzes under the prism of the Rome-born philosopher Mario Tronti, whose political thinking he relates both to the architectural proposals of the Tendenza gathered around the Milanese Aldo Rossi, and to the utopian designs of Archizoom and Superstudio in Florence. The current senator Tronti was half a century ago the driving force and theorist of ‘operaism’, a radical Communist movement that would also involve the young Toni Negri, and which in time would bring about Autonomia Operaia. Aureli links the autonomy of the political, as defended by Tronti – who strove to reconcile the ideas of Karl Marx with those of the jurist of Nazism Carl Schmitt – with the autonomy of the architectural, as advocated by Rossi through the categories of type and place; and also connects the view of the philosopher of ‘society as factory’ with the No-Stop City of Andrea Branzi and his Archizoom companions, who proposed a zero degree of architecture that owed much to the urban ideas of Ludwig Hilberseimer, rediscovered at the time by a colleague of Rossi, Giorgio Grassi. This political and poetic landscape of Messianic effervescence – set against liberal democracy and the old guard represented by Bruno Zevi, Giulio Carlo Argan, and Ernesto Nathan Rogers – culminated and ironically also came to an end with two exhibitions, the one curated by Emilio Ambasz at the MoMA in 1972, and the Triennale di Milano directed by Rossi in 1973, a melancholy epilogue that Aureli duly records, while showing his dismay at the de-politicization of postmodern society.

Similar sentiments and anxieties inspired The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, an effort to define the political and the formal in architecture through the opposition between the city with limits and urbanization without them, polemicizing with the urban theories of Cerdá, Hilberseimer, Archizoom, and Koolhaas, and finding in the late work of Mies the best expression of an ‘absolute architecture’: an archipelago of well-defined forms rising on clear-cut plinths in the amorphous, unlimited sea of urbanization. Aureli finds the origins of this strategy in the work of four architects – Palladio, Piranesi, Boullée, and Ungers – who confronted the city project from the angle of architectural form, and combs through their work from a viewpoint closer to theory than to history. Defending the Greek polis against the Roman urbs, and thus nomos against lex, Aureli, like Tronti, resorts to Carl Schmitt to explain limits from the optic of political differentiation between friend and enemy, and to support well-delimited places and forms in the city over the systems and indefinite flows of urbanization, which has imposed its economic logic everywhere.

In his latest work, Aureli questions the current clamor for austerity, pointing out the ambiguity of its ascetic component, which can be both a tool of oppression and a form of resistance. Going through the history of monastery life, from the hermits and the abbeys governed by the Rule of Saint Benedict to the altissima paupertas of the Franciscan reform, and stretching the story to include the bohemian poverty of Baudelaire, the precarious life of Walter Benjamin, or the simple room proposed by Hannes Meyer as an alternative to the Existenzminimum, Aureli censures the monastic minimalism of Pawson, the pastoral humility of Zumthor, and even the asceticism of Steve Jobs for its pseudo-religious spiritual aura, and encourages us to replace the Miesian ‘less is more’ with ‘less is enough’, making the shedding of material things the basis of a life freed of the anxiety of production and possession. With his determination to bring into the current debate the political dimension of more ideologized times, Pier Vittorio Aureli has acquired a voice of his own, a voice that deserves to be heard.

Arquitectura Viva 158

From the introduction to Less Is Enough
"Asceticism ... allows subjects to focus on their life as the core of their own practice, by structuring it according to a self-chosen form made of specific habits and rules. This process often involves architecture and design as a device for self-enactment. Because asceticism allows subjects to focus on the self as the core of their activity, the architecture that has developed within this practice is an architecture focused not on representation but on life itself – on bios, as the most generic substratum of human existence." 
 Pier Vittorio Aureli
Go to Strelka Press, publishers of Less is Enough

Becoming Political
Markus Miessen in conversation with Pier Vittorio Aureli
Build, 06/2008

Quote from the interview above:

"How can knowledge be transferred and produced in a meaningful way today?"
"By learning to not be hyperactive. This is a criticism that I address first to myself, every day. To not produce too much, to not design too much, to not travel too much, to not promote too much, to not network too much, to not be everywhere all the time. In short: to learn again to be sedentary and laconic. To learn that refusal, omission and inaction are also positive ways to do something." 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Manuel de las Casas 1940-2014

The architect Manuel de las Casas (Talavera de la Reina, 1940) died last Saturday, February 8 in Madrid, after a relatively short illness. A charismatic teacher at the Madrid School of Architecture for over four decades, and founder of the School of Architecture at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Toledo, he designed works that were pioneering in the fields of social housing, the revitalization of the traditional city, and the integration of contemporary architecture in historic contexts. He received Spain's National Architecture Prize in 1999 for his University Health Sciences Center in La Coruña, and the Gold Medal in the Fine Arts from the Ministry of Culture in 1995.

I first met Manuel in the 1980s, soon after my arrival in Spain, as the author, together with his brother Ignacio, of the social housing developments of Palomeras, Orcasur and Albufera Avenue, projects launched by the central government to mitigate the inhuman conditions of the numerous shantytowns that still surrounded Madrid in those years. With his abundant beard, deep voice and steady gaze, Manuel was for me the personification of a new generation of Spaniards dedicated to the task of building a modern, democratic and socially-equitable country during the exciting years of transition following the end of the Franco regime. The idealism and high aims of the moment are reflected in the sobriety and dignity of these projects: the buildings of Palomeras, with their grand interior halls lined with galleries, like traditional Madrid corralas, creating community; Orcasur, a miniature city of regular blocks; or the square volumes of Albufera, spread out across the hilltop of the Altos de Vallecas, not without a certain monumentality – all today in excellent condition. Later, Manuel's daughter Iciar, also an architect, took me to see the housing block of Cabeza del Moro in Talavera, organized like a traditional Plaza Mayor surrounded by galleries, an early –and truly urban– formulation of the "patio-block" housing type that has come to dominate the dense new planned developments of Madrid.

Another memorable encounter with Manuel was our trip together to Zamora to see his King Alfonso Enriques Institute of Spanish-Portuguese Studies (1997), where he had introduced, among the ruins of a medieval convent, a series of new elements, clad in oxidized steel, of a startling contemporaneity. This work, together with his Agriculture Department Building in Toledo of 1992, still constitute a model of how to integrate new and old without resorting to a superficial mimetism.

On this same trip, I was witness to Manuel's pride and generosity as a teacher, as he took me to see works by up-and-coming young architects that he followed with great interest. He showed me Luis Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón's Museum of Fine Arts in Zamora, their first built work, then still under construction, and the Fair Pavilion by Javier Revillo and María Fraile. We also stopped at the Labor University, a 1950s work in an eclectic historicist style by Luis Moya, for whom his father had worked as technical architect before working for Manuel on his first built work, the Pedro Mora House en Talavera (1964-71).

Last December, the Toledo School of Architecture inaugurated the Manuel de las Casas Chair in Architecture, a ceremony in which Manuel, in his last public appearance, presented this first project to the audience, returning to his roots as a student in the organicist architecture of the early 1960s – and offering us a master class in the human values of architecture, in contrast to the frivolities we find in so much supposedly ambitious architecture today.

David Cohn
Manuel de las Casas, una arquitectura con rostro humano
El País, February 10, 2014, page 41.
 Translated by DC

See also:
Antón Capitel
Manuel de las Casas, arquitecto de referencia
El País, February 8, 2014

Articles on Manuel de las Casas by DC 

King Alfonso Henriques Institute in Zamora
Architectural Record, July 2000, pages 106 - 113 

El anexo como abordaje 
Centro Universitario de Ciencias de la Salud, A Coruña 
Pasajes de Arquitectura y Critica 14, Feburary 2000, pages 20 - 28 

Building as Landscape 
Lérez Cultural Center, Pontevedra, Spain 
World Architecture 73, February 1999, pages 80 - 83 

Acero Rojo, Pizarra Verde, Vidrio Luminoso 
"Red Steel, Green Slate, Luminous Glass" 
Congress hall an Auditorium, Pontevedra 
Pazo de Congresos e Exposicións de Pontevedra 
Exhibition catalog 
Xunta de Galicia, September 20, 1997 

Block en Form einer gespreizten Hand 
Public Housing, Alcobendas 
Bauwelt 17/18, May 9, 1997, pages 926 - 931 

Public Housing, Alcobendas, Spain 
World Architecture, October 1996, pages 134 - 135 

Entwerfen für die Peripherie: Der Realismus des Manuel de las Casas 
Designing for the Periphery: The Realism of Manuel de las Casas 
Bauwelt 28/29, July 29, 1994, pages 1596 - 1599 

Büros in der Akropolis 
Consejeria of Agriculture, Toledo, Spain 
db - deutsche bauzeitung, October 1993, pages 25 - 29 

The Poetics of Place: Three Projects by Manuel de las Casas 
Geometría 14, December 1992, pages 101 - 112