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.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Unsustainable Monarchy
 Presenting Royal Face as a Representation of State, in the tradition of portraits from the times of Velázquez and Goya.
Source: El Periódico del Golfo

Following up on my recent post, The Other Face of the Spanish Monarchy, about the tensions during the recent ceremonies proclaiming Felipe VI the new King of Spain, I translate almost in its entirety an analysis by Javier Pérez Royo of the fatal historic vulnerabilities of the Spanish monarchy. The opinion piece, titled Monarquía insostenible, appeared in El País on June 27. 2014:
The problem of the Monarchy is not the Republic. It comes from the Monarchy itself and from the political system derived from the Founding Laws of General Franco that made the Restoration possible.

The Spanish Monarchy lacks any legitimacy of its own. Its store of legitimacy was exhausted by Carlos IV, Fernando VII, Isabel II and Alfonso XIII [monarchs from the 17th - 20th centuries, three of whom were deposed]. As a result, it is a species threatened with extinction that, if it is to survive, must not make any mistakes. As long as members of the royal family did not commit any visible errors, the institution was not put into question. But when errors could not be hidden, all the alarms went off. And hence the abdication. The first threat to the Monarchy has not come from the Republic, but from within the royal household.

What throws the survival of the Monarchy into doubt is not so much its errors as tbe exhaustion of the political system used to carry out the Transition, which was designed to guarantee the Restoration. Its objective was the Restoration. The instrument for this was the transition from dictatorship to democracy. At the end of the 20th century, it couldn't have been done any other way. But the objective was the Restoration, to which end an instrument was designed: the type of democracy that would permit a Restoration without risk.

There is a continuity between the Spanish constitutions of 1845, 1876 and 1978. All three, which cover almost the entire history of constitutional government in Spain, were guided by a distrust in the protagonism of common citizens in the political management of the country. In all of them, the Monarchy was the expression of this lack of confidence....

This is the reason why Spain has not reformed its Constitution. In order to reform the Constitution, the principle of democratic legitimacy cannot be held back. If it is, the link between the legitimacy of the Monarchy's origins and the legitimacy of its exercise will erode to the point of disappearing, and the political system will collapse. That is what has happened here in the past and I'm afraid it will occur again.

And I don't think the new King can prevent it.... A parliamentary monarchy cannot survive if the political system over which its is erected is rotten and, as a consequence, loses its legitimacy. Juan Carlos I and Felipe VI don't have the same responsibility that Alfonso XIII had for the decomposition of the First Restoration, but their position is almost as unsustainable.
But in reply to this, it should be pointed out that there are no major revolutionary movements taking violent action in the streets as in the time of Alfonso XIII, and none of the massive popular demonstrations that pushed along the democratic process during the Transition. The Monarchy can coast on a great deal of inertia for a good while yet, as can the political system with its endemic corruption scandals. People complain, but the government has not served up cadavers and violent repression as during the time of Alfonso XIII. Police have started charging demonstrations and swinging clubs. I hear they are preparing water cannon. Rubber bullets are infrequent and I haven't seen any tear gas. And demonstrations are still tiny.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Day in Turin

On assignment in Turin , I spent a few hours having a good look at the city, this time with my new cell phone camera, lightweight and capable, though many photos came out rather gloomy or muddy.

It is a city of lovely 19th century arcades. Seems very French, but you find them too in the old Palazzo Reale.

They are very civilized, especially with a nice pastry shop and cafe. Nothing like the lifeless arcades of the Federal Triangle in Washington. Or the Mussolin-era arcades on the Via Roma in Turin.

(How I miss the rich desserts you don't find in Spain).

And I love the neon. But I also felt a bit hemmed in.

The overall effect is like the perfect postmodern city of the Tendenza. Surprising how few stories are on top of the arcades. And how much space they consume in the buildings (my hotel was in one). Inside, the buildings have large patios, often with rich gardens.

I found a couple of these monumental covered galleries as well. So grand!

Even the famous Fiat plant in Lingotto is like a long gallery, especially as it now houses an enormous shopping concourse on its main level, together with a hotel, congress center, and the Pinoteca Agnelli (closed, it was Monday). (Here is where my new little camera started to disappoint me.)

The ramps at each end. Cars were driven up to the rooftop test track for a spin after assembly and then back down again. Couldn't figure out how to get up there.


Someone told me that this was Agelli's heliport. Don't know. The Pinoteca building on the roof is by Renzo Piano.

I walked around the neighborhood between Fiat at the River Po and found some surprisingly well-crafted working class housing, from the 1950s and 60s, I would guess. What happened to Italian architecture? My latest theory: too much Marxism, sociology and massification destroyed the schools, and architects lost their sense of building craft. The only figure that this system produced was Tafuri.

 I made it to the center of the old city the next morning, to the Piazza Castello, with this little chapel by Guarini. The urban complex of the square, in the middle of the Roman and Baroque city, and especially the Palazzo Reale, was fantastic, but I didn't manage to document it with decent photos.

The palace is composed of endless wings that bend about to form urban spaces, a miniature, labyrinthine city in themselves. On one side they enfold the Cathedral and its chapel of the Holy Shroud. On the other they wrap around two sides of the Piazza Castello, old brick constructions with early examples of those double-height arcades, from the 17th century. Behind them, the royal gardens, now in restoration. And on the far side of the plaza, behind the regular brick arcade and facade, an opera hall built after the Second World War (maybe 1970s?). The newer main palace, in stone, steps back from the north side of the plaza with an entry court and wrought iron fence of its own, but it turns out to be permeable to the gardens behind it and to the streets around the cathedral. So you have this snaking line of wings and arcades, and all this stuff happening behind and around them.

Source: The Map Shop

It was delightful to see how seedy and rather skin-deep the palace actually was on its garden side.

Are the origins of the plaza in a fortified castle with walls and moat? In the middle of the plaza is the medieval Palazzo Madama, with what looks like a late Baroque facade stuck on the end looking back to the Via Garibaldi.

The Baroque city - ignore the red lines. Source: La Torino Barroco
View of Guarini's San Lorenzo (1668-80) from the arcade of one of the Royal Palace's old brick wings.

Together with the new opera, another stranger intruding on this square is a Mussolini-era tower towards the Via Roma. I did rather like it:

Source: Antiestetica: La torre arraogante

Neither did I manage to photograph well Guarini's fabulous red brick Palazzo Carignano, where the first parliament of a unified Italy met. Here are views of the interior and details of the brick courtyard, and a facade shot I found on the web. The swelling main facade manages to include an oval rotunda open to the patio on the ground floor and sweeps of curving staircases on each side. He really was the Frank Furness of his day:

Source:Townhouse 70 Torino
Update August 3, 2014
Here's the project that brought me to Turin, the new Porta Susa High-Speed Train Station.
See my blog report on the station here. It's very much at home with the arcaded streets of the city, the long boulevards and Lingotto.

Photo: DC