Friday, December 23, 2011

Ontology of the American City

Aleksandar Hemon
Aleksandar Hemon, "Mapping Home"  
The New Yorker, Dec 5, 2011. p. 40 - 49
"In the Sarajevo I knew, you possessed a personal infrastructure: your kafama [café], your barber, your butcher; the landmarks of your life (the spot where you fell and broke your arm playing soccer, the corner where you waited to meet the first of the many loves of your life, the bench where you first kissed her); the streets where people would forever know and recognize you, the space that identified you. Because anonymity was well nigh impossible and privacy literally incomprehensible (there is no word for "privacy" in Bosnian), your fellow-Sarajevans knew you as well as you knew them. If you somehow vanished, your fellow citizens could have reconstructed you from their collective memory and the gossip that had accrued over years. Your sense of who you were, your deepest identity, was determined by your position in a human network, whose physical corollary was the architecture of the city."
"Chicago, on the other hand, was built not for people to come together but for them to be safely apart. Size, power and the need for privacy seemed to be the dominant elements. Vast as it was, Chicago ignored the distinctions between freedom and isolation, between independence and selfishness, between privacy and loneliness. In this city, I had no human network within which to place myself. My displacement was metaphysical to precisely the same extend to which it was physical. But I couldn't live nowhere. I wanted from Chicago what I had got from Sarajevo, a geography of the soul."

Photo from The Guardian, Sept. 27, 2009, by Murdo Macleod

Friday, December 16, 2011

Spain Sweeps Young Architects Awards

Rowing Center by J.M. Sánchez García. © Roland Halbe

Britain's The Architectural Review also dedicates its December issue to emerging architects, and this year six Spanish firms make the cut out of a total of 16 prizes (many of the remaining prizes went to Japanese firms).

The magazine also turned to Luis Fernández-Galiano for a first-hand look at the tough situation young architects face in Spain: Survival Tactics for Spain's Harsh New Reality (free registration required).

Here are the winning Spanish firms:

Juan Creus, Covadonga Carrasco
Harbor remodelling, Malpica, Galicia
(Also joint winner of the Urbanism Prize in the 
XI Biennial of Spanish Architecture this year)

Enrique Krahe Marina
Municipal Theater, Zarfra

Zigzag Arquitectura
Social Housing, Mieres
(Also winner of the XI Biennial of Spanish Architecture)

Iñaqui Carnicero
Slaughterhouse Restoration, Madrid
(Also featured in the December Design Vanguard in Architectural Record)

José María Sánchez García
Rowing Center, Alange, Badajoz
(Photo top)

Tómas García Piriz
Biodiviversity Center, Loja

Photo Top. Rowing Center by J. M. Sánchez García.  
© Roland Halbe, Used with permission.

Foster Competition Win: Business as Usual?

News brief
Foster & Partners has won a limited competition to build a high speed train station in Ourense, a provincial capital in Galicia, located in northwest Spain.

The adjudication is one of the last made by the Ministry of Development under the Socialist government in Madrid, and is likely to be reviewed by the incoming government. While the Socialist Mayor of Ourense supports the project, Galicia's regional government, headed by the Popular Party, opposes it, calling for the future high speed train line to be buried in its course through the city. The incoming central government, also controlled by the Popular Party, has asked for other adjudications  on the Galician high speed train line to be suspended for review. 

The other six finalists were not mentioned in press reports on the competition. Financing for the 67 million euro project is to come in part from European union development funds.

Note on the news 
I wish I could see something in these renderings that would make the project seem worth the trouble. Foster's name on a blueprint these days simply isn't enough. How much longer is it going to take for politicians to catch on?

See the story in the following newspapers (selection):
El País 
Faro de Vigo
El Mundo

Renderings from the blog

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ambasz Exhibit and the Return of the 70s

News brief
Emilio Ambasz returns as the subject of a show at Madrid's Reina Sofía Museum of Contemporary Art (Emilio Ambasz. Inventions: architecture and design, through Jan. 16th).

I am sure Ambasz is charming, and he did have his moment in the 1970's at the Museum of Modern Art. He's even built something outside Seville (photo above). But frankly, I'd forgotten all about him.

The Reina's Director, Manuel Borja-Villel, has returned to the 70s as one of the last great unclaimed virgin territories of the contemporary, as are many these days. He specializing in sprawling shows full of archival documents, another burgeoning fad. All those manifestos, pamphlets, posters and other ephemera. Original documents are great in a book or on a screen, but on the wall they are sheer tedium. Is this the reaction to digital media kicking in?

But back to Ambasz: I'm judging before seeing the show, but speaking from past experience, my sense is that Borja-Villel is not quite clued-in on the subject of architecture, and takes the broad view that makes innocents fall for someone like Calatrava.

Ambasz reminds me of all those artists financed by "1% for Art" who worked on public spaces with architects in the 1980s and who fell so far short of the multidimensional seriousness of the task  (I interviewed several of them in New York at the time). Ambasz' work strikes me as flat and undernourished. Like so much art today, at best it's a one-liner, a clever ocurrencia. See for example the project above, featured in news stories on the show.

If one must return to the 70s, what about, say, Ant Farm, or mid-career Charles Moore, or James Wines, or....  On second thought, forget it.

Stay tuned for a live report from the scene pronto....

Photo:  Emilio Ambasz, Casa de Retiro Espiritual, designed in 1975.

Live report from the scene, Jan.12, 2012:
Nothing to add.
Except that the work is very James Wines (remember SITE?), or James Wines was very Emilio Ambasz. The projects still read to me as cliched self-parody, up there with the most cynical PoMo stuff, and most are for rich know-nothing clients in Texas and Mexico. Supposedly all very natural but with a lot of abstract green lawns and earth-moving. A spectacular opera under a sloping artificial park in Japan (2000), actually built it seems (though photos throughout the show are scarce, I guess to hide the fact that almost all his ideas went nowhere with the clients) is straight out of Rem Koolhaas' 1978 classic Delirious New York, and only "reads" in one direction. Most of the projects only read from above, as models.

The Reina spent a lot of money on the installation, and someone spent a lot on the models and framed drawings. Too bad they don't give the same attention to deserving local talent -- a show on Francisco "Patxi" Mangado at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid last year featured a hodgepodge of models carelessly crammed into a dark undersized basement showroom, like a fire sale.

Note: If you are confused by the model photo above, it is a view of the inside of the virtual cube, not the outside. The fact that reading it is so ambiguous shows just how boringly conceptual the conceit actually is.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Souto de Moura, Architect of the Year

Could it have been anyone else? My selection for Architect of the Year in the Ladies and Gentlemen section of the December Gentleman (Spanish edition) is Eduardo Souto de Moura, winner of this year's Pritzker Prize. (Sorry, no web version available).
"...en la última década ha encontrado su propia voz, caracterizada por rotondas formas geométricas y una contención formal que envuelve sus obras en un silencio altamente expresivo. Frente a la demanda por una austeridad más pragmática y funcional, la obra de Souto de Moura revindica valores esenciales de la arquitectura para un futuro incierto."

Runners up: Oscar Niemeyer, José María Sánchez García and
Jürgen Mayer H.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Introducing Iñaqui Carnicero

In this month's Design Vanguard issue of Architectural Record (a US publication, by the way, for those who may confuse it with the British Architectural Review), I write on the Madrid architect Iñaqui Carnicero. See the article here.
"Despite Carnicero's declarations of formal modesty, his work is by no means without a strong architectonic character. Though he has returned to the basic principles of Modernism, he discovers rich new territories to explore using the familiar formulas of structural logic and functional form.
Also in the issue is the Barcelona-based studio Arquitecturia (Olga Felip and Josep Camps), which is reviewed by my good friend Jim Russell. See it here.

Design Vanguard is an annual roundup of 10 emerging studios from around the world. Anyone can submit portfolios, converting the issue into an open competition judged by the New York editors. For prospective candidates, my own observation over the years is that the luck of the draw favors architects with solid (not to say stolid) formal and professional skills, rather than some of the supposedly wilder stuff out there. I always try to send them a couple of troublemakers anyway.

Currently Record is open to submissions for the April Record Houses issue (deadline December 15th) and the Good Design is Good Business Awards (deadline January 15th). For more information and entries, the link is here.  

Design Vanguard: Iñaqui Carnicero Architecture
Architectural Record, December 2011, pages 60 - 63.

Top photo:
Iñaqui Carnicero, 1+1=1 House, Madrid. © Roland Halbe, Used with permission.

See the Design Vanguard tag below for previous years' selections from Spain.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From the Archives

© Melchor Sarasketa
My latest backdated story, Portrait of Old Madrid, Summer 1989, long in the writing and intended as part of a book on my adapted city that I later thought better about completing, was an exercise of immersion as a newcomer to Spain, taking the idea of Paolo Portoghesi's genius loci as a literary strategy.  The photographs were taken by Melchor Sarasketa as part of the project, and are used with his permission. 
"If there are cities of stone in Spain such as Salamanca and Santiago, and cities of light such as Cordoba and Sevilla, then old Madrid is a city of earth...."

To keep on reading, click here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Present Crisis and Glories Past

Articles for readers in both Spanish and English appear this week: The Architectural Review publishes my pundit piece (they asked for something "pithy") on the effect of the crisis on Spanish architecture (The Death of the Icon, it's alarmingly called; love the Brit's apocalyptic journalistic headline craft), and a review of the show on Jean Prouvé in Madrid, which appeared in the cultural supplement of El País this Saturday (Visionario y Pragmático).

On the crisis, I make a quick survey of the debris accumulated so far to conclude, among other things, that "the profession is clearly preparing itself for a period of contained, functionalist remorse, although it remains to be seen if politicians and voters will be capable of capturing the change in sensibility."

On the Prouvé show, organized by Norman Foster for his wife's Madrid gallery, I plot the interesting connections between Prouvé and Foster himself, as captured in "the photo of an older Prouvé heading the jury for the competition of the Pompidou Center in Paris, won by Foster's former associate Richard Rogers together with Renzo Piano. The photo seems intended to mark the changing of the guard between Prouvé, one of the original masters of the Modern Movement, and the High Tech generation to which Foster himself belongs, a generation that with this project took its first steps into the limelight."

Top photo: The Niemeyer Foundation in the northern post-industrial city of Avilés, yet another Guggenheimesque cultural center that will close after just six months of operation, due to local political squabbling. Photo from The Architectural Review.

Second photo: Construction shot of the Aeroclub Roland Garros in Bac, 1936, by Jean Prouvé and the architects Eugène Beaudouin and Marcels Lods, High Tech avant la lettre. Photo courtesy of Ivory Press Art + Books, © Fonds Jean Prouvé.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Moneo Museum in Pamplona

News brief
Another private project perks up the gloomy panorama in Spanish architecture. This time it's a museum designed by Rafael Moneo for the University of Navarra in Pamplona, which is owned and operated by the Opus Dei. Situated between the university campus and the edge of the city, the project will begin construction next month.

Among other collections, the museum will house a major donation of works by María Josefa Huarte, 87, member of the Huarte family, the great patrons of the arts in Spain in the 1950s and 60s, and the archives of José Ortiz-Echagüe, author of posed, painterly photographs on popular Spanish themes in the early 20th century. Huarte's donation, some 50 works, includes paintings by Tapies, Picasso, Rothko, Palazuelo, Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida.

Ortiz-Echagüe was one of the founders of the Spanish aviation industry in the 1920's, the first director of the state-owned SEAT automobile corporation in the 1950s, and the father of the noted 1950s architect César Ortiz-Echagüe, who built a series of memorable Miesian buildings for SEAT before cutting off his career and retiring at an early age into the Opus Dei.

Source: El País, October 19, 2011 and my own research.

Renzo Piano's First Work in Spain

News Brief
Last month, Renzo Piano presented the design of his first work in Spain, the Botín Art Center in Santander. The project is sponsored by Emilio Botín, President of the Santander Bank, Spain's largest. The glass and ceramic-clad structure will project into the Santander Bay, and is scheduled to open in 2015. It will include 2500 m2 (25000 sf) of galleries and a wing dedicated to multicultural and educational activities. The head of the commission in charge of the center's artistic program is Vicente Todoli, former director of the Tate Modern, the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal and the IVAM in Valencia.

Source: ABC newspaper, Sept. 17, 2011

Update Jan. 12,. 2012
New information about the project can be found on SCALAE this month, reporting on an exhibit on the project in Santander and some of the criticism it has received.

The SCALAE page includes links to various videos about the project and from its critics, the catalog of the show, links to press coverage in Spanish. etc.

Update June 19, 2012:
The definitive project was unveiled in Santander today by Remzo Piano and Emilio Botin, as reported in El País: 
"...the cantilevered structure is literally suspended in the air to open to the sea, clad in 360,000 ceramic tiles the color of mother-of-pearl."
With public works projects halted throughout the country --Rem Koolhaas' Congress Center in Córdoba, cancelled last March, is the latest casualty -- the private sector steps in to take up some of the slack.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Frampton & Vidler on the 1960s

Kenneth Frampton and Anthony VIdler (currently Dean of Architecture at Cooper Union in New York) have published two fascinating glimpses into the 1960s English background that led to the highpoint of New York architecture and theory in the 1970s and 80s, a story in which they themselves played major roles.

In a Columbia architecture school publication, Frampton recalls his early years as technical editor of Architectural Design (AD) under Monica Pidgeon in London (1962 - 65), offering a view into his formative years before arriving at Princeton in 1966 on the invitation of Peter Eisenman, whom he had met while Peter was doing his PhD. at Cambridge.

It's essential background for understanding Frampton's American phase; I wish I'd known something of all this when I studied under him in the 1970's.

Here we find:
  • Frampton taking measured drawings of Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre; 
  • Stirling and Gowan’s Leicester Engineering Building, source of a memorable cover design in 1964; 
  • Atelier 5's Siedling Halen in Switzerland, where he stayed for a period;
  • His "ideal model",  Ernesto Rogers’ Casabella Continuita. "Needless to say, I could not come close to this ideal, above all because the publisher’s rather fixed ideas as to economic paper sizes.... This was hardly the only impediment ... since I lacked both the graphic flair and the mature cultivation that emanated from its pages;"
  • His interest in "a critical stance ... which went beyond [a] transatlantic Anglo-American cultural agenda" -- Gino Valle, Aris Konstandtinidis, Mangiaroti and Morasutti (Milan), Max Bill, Frei Otto, Jean Prouvé. "In retrospect I feel that my subsequent preoccupation with Critical Regionalism had some of its root origins in this moment, when I first began to look upon the culture of the European 'city state' with a different eye;"
  • His aim "to turn the emphasis of the magazine more towards a latter-day humanist line as was represented, say, by Joseph Rykwert’s translation of Giulio Carlo Argan’s seminal essay 'On Typology in Architecture' which we published in December 1963;"
  • Constant Neuewenhuy’s Situationist thesis 'New Babylon, An Urbanism of the Future', published in June 1964;
  • The "emerging semiotic line" of Peter Eisenman’s Cambridge thesis 'Towards an Understanding of Form in Architecture' excerpted in AD;
  • A "special issue ... devoted to the work of Pietro Lingeri and Giuseppe Terragni with a critical overview of Italian Rationalism... This was, in effect, the first attempt at recovering this lost wing of the Modern Movement since the end of the Second World War;"
  • "A soirée at the British Museum with Nigel Henderson where I first met Camilla Gray, the author of The Great Experiment, with whom I shared an enthusiasm for Russian Constructivism. This was the same Camilla in whose company five years later I would witness Berthold Lubetkin in tears before a private showing of Lutz Becker’s 1971 assembly of archival documentary excerpts of the revolution in action. Camilla would later marry the son of Prokoviev and tragically lose her life, giving birth to their child in the Soviet Union;"
  • Claude Schnaidt, "a committed left wing Swiss architect and historian whose early documentation of the work of Hannes Meyer remains unsurpassed to this day;"
  • "Being invited to tea by Hans Scharoun in Charlottenberg;"
  • "Frequent contact with Le Corbusier at 35 rue de Sevres;"
  • And Yona Friedman: "Friedman was a member of the Franco-German Group d’Etudes de l’Architecture Mobile, otherwise known as GEAM; an anarchic connection that I thought was somehow at odds with his African fairy tales, his Boolean logic and his skepticism as to the role of modern art, about which he had the provocative habit of saying, 'I think there is one art and that is cooking.' ”
He closes with a reminiscence on his successor, Robin Middleton, who as acquisitions editor for Thames & Hudson commissioned Modern Architecture: A Critical History in 1970. The book "took me a decade to complete and ... would never have been brought to its final form had it not been for the specialist scholars he linked me up with and for his own testy but pertinent editorial voice, interjecting from time to time, 'You don’t need this sentence, you’ve said it already, you don’t need this adjective, it adds nothing.' In the end, I internalized this voice and hereafter my writing owes whatever conciseness and pertinence it has to his perennial presence whenever I pick up a pen."

A more densely-packed memoir of the era is difficult to imagine, with the extraordinary range of interests Frampton brought with him to Columbia.

Peter and the 60s also come up in the first part of Anthony Vidler's overiew in the October Architectural Review of the demand for a "unified field theory" of architecture. In his brisk trot through the postwar period, he pauses long enough to offer this on Eisenman in Cambridge in 1963, already a familiar portrait:

"The most radical departure from the Vitruvian triad, however, was that proposed by a young PhD student at Cambridge, Peter D Eisenman, who in 1963 propounded his faith in ‘the formal basis of modern architecture’ in a short article in AD...."
"In his formal Dantonism, Eisenman ... went on to refuse all outside reference for meaning in architecture, exorcising symbolic, iconographic and perceptual influences or interpretation. Instead he looked at the ‘primary configurations’ of buildings considered as structures of logical discourse − their internal spatial and volumetric considerations deriving the formal ‘linguistics’ of his understanding of architectural systems from Le Corbusier’s ‘Four Compositions’, and making their implications explicit. If for Summerson form was considered only in relation to proportional systems, or for Banham it was no more than a dead (academic) language, Eisenman saw all formal systems as communicative, based on the properties of form itself: this was the only criterion through which architecture could be thought a discipline."
 Stay tuned for the second and third parts:
‘Part II: Postmodernism to Post-Criticism’ (January 2012)
‘Part III: The Global Context: New Critical Paradigms’ (spring 2011)

Both Frampton and Vidler left cold post-postwar England for well-paid faculty posts in the US, together with James Stirling, Colin Rowe, Reyner Banham, Joseph Rykwert and Alan Colquhoun
-- a major swath of the elite of British architecture (Norman Foster very nearly did the same in those tough years, he once told me in an interview), all to my very good luck as a student, and almost as important to American architecture in the long run as the wartime arrival of the continental elite -- Gropius, Giedion, Mies, Sert, Moholy-Nagy, etc.

Kenneth Frampton 
"Homage a Monica Pidgeon: An AD Memoir"
CC: Global Report
Columbia University
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP)

Anthony Vidler
"Troubles in Theory Part 1: The State of the Art 1945-2000"
The Architectural Review
September 11, 2011
(Free registration required)

Photos: Covers designed by Frampton during his tenure as AD's Technical Editor.
From "Homage a Monica Pidgeon"

See my update on Vidler's second installment:
The Postwar Picturesque
Jan. 8, 2012

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Discovering Esther McCoy

One of the interesting things to emerge about this site is that it is read as much in Spain as in the US, Britain or elsewhere.*  To make this a bridge with two-way traffic, now and then I will single out to Spanish readers some of the most interesting things I come across from outside Spain.

The first of these is a brief profile in the Design blog of The New York Times on the Los Angeles architecture critic Esther McCoy  (1904 - 1989): Arkansan-born, Greenwich Village bred (she worked as an assistant to Theodore Dreiser) and draftswoman for RM Schindler after WW II, before she started writing on West Coast architecture. There's a show on her career organized by blog entry author Susan Morgan, at the Schindler House on North Kings Road in LA where she worked, now the MAK Center for Art and Architecture (through January 8th). 

*The View from Madrid all-time audience since May 2009:

Spain ............3094
US .................2433
UK .................1275
Germany .........813
Portugal ...........429
France ............. 410

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

SelgasCano + García Sánchez in Mérida

For The Architectural Review's relaunch issue ("not a cosmetic redesign," according to the editors, "but a considered and comprehensive editorial relaunch, intended to offer critical thinking for critical times"), and joining the likes of Anthony Vidler, Joseph Rykwert, Jonathan Glancey (The Guardian), William J. Curtis, Peter Buchanan, Peter Cook, Farshid Moussavi and Peter Blundell Jones, I was invited to write on two diametrically opposed projects in Mérida, Spain: the Mérida Youth Factory by José Selgas + Lucia Cano, and the Perimeter Building at the Temple of Diana by José María Sánchez García.
"The urbanity of the Factory is kinetic, dedicated to movement, activity and intense social interaction, and this is reflected in its fluid forms, where poles of attraction power the circular, circulating movement of its plan. The Perimeter Building, in contrast, aspires to timelessness.  ... The plaza is "abstracted" from the present of the contemporary city, as the architect observes, and is a space not so much for bringing people together as for contemplation, in which we observe the presence of others in the space as part of our solitary aesthetic reverie."
Double Entendre
The Architectural Review (UK), Vol. CCXXX, No. 1376
October 2011, pages 62 - 71.
Link to article (free registration required)

Photos above:
  • Perimeter Building, Temple of Diana; photo © Roland Halbe
  • Mérida Youth Factory; photo © Iwan Baan
Photos below: © Iwan Baan; Office of José María Sánchez García

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Exhibitions: Jean Prouvé at Ivory Press

Luis Fernández-Galiano and Norman Foster get together again this fall to bring a show on Jean Prouvé to the Ivory Press Gallery in Madrid. From the web page on the show:
"From the originality of his earlier furniture to the sophistication of his later constructive systems, the oeuvre of the French genius is an example of committed engagement with prefabrication and industrialisation, and also serves as a bottomless source of inspiration.
The exhibition follows a chronological layout in ten sections, each one featuring original drawings and photographs accompanied by critical texts. The selection includes a wide range of furniture, architecture models and fragments of buildings, like his celebrated 6x6 house: a spectacular 1:1 scale prototype that is in turn a manifesto of Prouvé’s interest in lightness and prefabrication in architecture".

Exactly a year ago, the same team brought a remarkable show on Bucky Fuller to the gallery, which is run by Foster's wife, Elena Ochoa. The full-scale model of Prouvé's 6x6 house bids to match the interest of Foster's reproduction of the Dymaxion car seen there last year. 

Sept. 01 - Nov. 12, 2011
Ivorypress Art+Books Space I 
Comandante Zorita 48

To accompany the show, Fernández-Galiano's magazine AV Monografias has dedicated its latest issue, No. 149, to Prouvé.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Embryonic New New Urbanism

Babelia, the weekly cultural supplement of the Spanish newspaper El País, has published an article in which I use the interesting urban strategy of the Rafal High School, by the Grupo Aranea, to point out the overlooked crisis in urban planning that has accompanied the crisis in high-stakes architectural follies (link).

While young architects are taking another look at Brutalism, they are also taking another look at Team X planning ideas, briskly discredited in the 1970s for their glaring social failures, and replaced by the Post Modern nostalgia for the 19th century city, a model that in Spain has become an empty technical formula.

Significantly, Spanish examples of garden-city towers and low-rise clusters from the 1960s , free of streets, cars and city blocks, have generally not suffered the degradation and abandonment of their American and English counterparts, as Spain has so far lacked the underlying social conflicts that fed these failures. And in Spain, public authorities have an enormous power in determining the shape and content of urban development. So why not take another look at those wonderful ideas of the 50s and 60s for creating sophisticated spaces of local, public interaction among neighbors, free of cars and not necessary beholden to commerce or speculation?

El urbanismo de vanguardia contraataca
"Avant-garde Urbanism Counter-attacks"
High School in Rafal, Alicante by Grupo Aranea.
El País, Saturday, September 3, 2011, Babelia, Number 1032, page 18.

Photo by architect Francisco Leiva of Grupo Aranea, showing the standoff between the architects' Rafal High School and a crass urban development in the coastal province of Alicante.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Raymond Hood and the New York Skyscraper

From time to time I publish long out-of-print articles on back-dated pages of this blog. The latest is my 1993 critical-historic look at New York's McGraw-Hill Building by Raymond Hood (1931).

Here are a couple of quotes:
"The skyscraper rising out of the lower buildings of the city, like a stationary turbine in the prevailing winds (on gusty days, the building's steel skeleton groans and suspended light fixtures sway on upper floors) and the ocean liner moving majestically through the great space of the crowded harbor are images of a monstrous, fascinating power which captured the popular imagination."

"From this perspective, the reductive functionalism of the postwar American office building could appear to be an act of contrition for the excesses of the 1920s and the nightmare of the succeeding Depression."

And here's a link.

All the Usual Suspects

Luis Fernández Galiano has organized a series of lectures this fall at the Juan March Foundation by Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas, Herzog + De Meuron and Sejima + Nishizawa. The title is "Protagonistas de la arquitectura del siglo XXI" or "Protagonists of 21st Century Architecture" and the dates are October 18, 20, 25 and 27th. Entry is free.

More information:
Juan March Foundation

Friday, August 5, 2011

New Life for Utzon's Can Lis

News brief: Jørn Utzon's 1971 Can Lis house in Mallorca will open this fall as a study center dedicated to the architect, reports SCALAE. It is operated by the Utzon Foundation, based in Denmark.

Utzon's second home on the island, Can Feliz (1991-94) remains in the hands of the Utzon family.

For more on the story, the house and how to apply for a residency:
Danish Arts: News and Danish Arts: Funding.

Photo from SCALAE.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ephemeral architecture: Pope versus Protesters

News brief
Two outdoor stages for the Papal visit to Madrid in mid-August ("World Youth Day") are designed by Madrid architect Ignacio Vicens. Vicens has designed all the outdoor stages for papal visits to Spain since 1982.

Vicens is also the designer of 200 temporary confessionals, inspired in sails, that are being set up in the Retiro Park.

Meanwhile, on August 2nd, police dislodged the few remaining protesters of the "15th of May" movement in Madrid's Puerta del Sol and demolished the tents and temporary structures that have occupied the plaza for months. The ephemeral architecture of the encampment was the subject of a review in El País on June 17; its social organization was one of its most interesting features.

Protesters presume that authorities finally acted to clear the encampment in anticipation of the Papal visit, with 1 million visitors expected. The plaza was cleared without tear gas, beatings or arrests. Over the past two days protesters have been playing a cat-and-mouse game with the police to retake the plaza.

More info on Vicens' papal stage (in Spanish):
SCALAE (with images)
ABC newspaper, August 3, 2011 (interview with Vicens)
Top image from SCALAE

Puerta del Sol encampment photos copied from various web sources
  • Photo 2: Information Post, built from pallets, designed by an environmental sciences student, demolished on August 2nd.
  • Photo 3: Overhead view of plaza at height of protests.
Puerta del Sol Encampment web page:

Note added August 6, 2011:
Protesters retook the Puerta del Sol on Friady. Their main goal seems to be to re-establish an information post there.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Souto, SIza, Aalto and Mies

El País published an interview yesterday with Eduardo Souto de Moura, including some interesting comments on the relation of his work to Siza's. Here are some excerpts:
"When I was studying, the school in Oporto was highly politicized. Those were the years of sociology. And we worked to change the substandard workers' housing, called islands, that were located in the yards of bourgeois houses. We wanted to change things. We worked with neighborhood associations. … Then the Revolution of the Carnations erupted [1973]. And when Nuno Portas became State Secretary of Housing, he said that he'd support anyone with a plan and an organization. We decided to improve that housingm but we needed an architect to sign the project documents. We were all students. And so we went to find the best. And the best was Siza. Afterwards, I stayed and worked with him for five years."

"Working with Álvaro is fantastic. He's an exceptional person. Back them he had become a widower and I was still single, so we ate together often. He defended Alvar Aalto. I liked Mies van der Rohe."

"I thought then that Aalto was an expressionist. But visiting his work in Finland you understand that he was very rationalist. … But I think Mies was more radical."

"It was the period of the Revolution.  The entire country had to be rebuilt, half a million housing units were needed. And we couldn't do that feeling out the place and local customs like Alvar Aalto. We first needed a technical language to overcome the pressure of Post Modernism, a practical and efficient language. We talked about this a lot. And I thought Mies could help us more than Alvar Aalto."

What do you admire in Siza?
"His figure has marked me more than his architecture: the man, his ethics and his knowledge. He gives you the working instruments. But he is extremely demanding. He's smooth and sweet, but he wants to understand everything."

You didn't want to be his disciple…?
"It wasn't possible. I couldn't get into his head. I know perfectly well the language, the technical aspects. I know his grammar. But I could never think like him. I have other ideas. He says I am a neoplasticist, like the Mies I like. I don't have to prove anything to him, and he never wants to impose anything on me. And so we get along together very well. Working together is like playing chess."

[On Siza]: "I insist: the personality is stronger than the architect. It's very important to understand the identity, the ethics that are the consequence of this kind of obsessive architecture. He has always been obstinate. When he was building the Boa Nova Teahouse, he slept on the rocks. He knew them by heart."

Like Siza in Porto Alegre, you have also let loose a little over time.
"Yes, that's what they say. I think this began when I was designing the Oporto metro. There were no recipes there. I had to learn to take the scale of the city like a doctor examining a patient.... Doing the metro, I thought it may well be that things are not quite as Cartesian as we think. And then there's the idea of experimenting. Without  experimentation, the profession is very boring. And since the world isn't black and white, one can try different things."

Anatxu Zabalbeascoa
Eduardo Souto de Moura. "Soy realista. Creo en la reparación"
El Pais Semanal
July 25, 2011
Photo from the article
Excerpts translated from Spanish by DC

Saturday, July 16, 2011

FAD Winners 2011

Update on the FAD Prizes, whose finalists were announced in my May 14th blog entry:

The top architecture prize was given ex aequo to Mansilla + Tuñón's Atrio Hotel in medieval Cáceres, and to a pair of houses by Portuguese architect Ricardo Bak Gordon in Lisbon (photo above), as reported in El País on July 15th.

Iñaki Ábalos' renovation of the Tàpies Foundation in Barcelona won the prize for interiors, and the Aigües de les Hortes de Vilabertran Park in Figueres, by Michèle Orliacq + Miquel Batlle, won the urbanism and landscaping prize. The head of the jury was Benedetta Tagliabue.

Photo by Fernando Guerra
Courtesy of ArquinFad

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Amman Cánovas + Maruri in Carabanchel

One of the more interesting projects in Madrid's excellent public housing program of the last decade is the subject of my latest article. It appears in Oris, a handsome Zagreb-based journal, together with an interview with Rafael Moneo, a report on Eisenman's City of Culture in Santiago de Compostela, and Housing for the Elderly by Francisco and Manuel Aires Mateus, among other features.
The private terraces ... bring a much-needed permeability to the central courtyard [of the patio-block typology]. They can also be seen as a modern interpretation of the traditional Madrid street balcony, and in this sense are actually quite Baroque and theatrical in their essential role of giving individual privacy a public face.
The Public Face of Privacy
Carabanchel 17 Public Housing, Ensanche de Carabanchel, Madrid.
Amann, Cánovas + Maruri, Architects.
Oris (Zagreb, Croatia), No. 69, Year XIII, July 2011, pages 54 -61.

Photo © Miguel de Guzmán

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hadid's Seville Library to be Demolished

In September 2009 I reported in Architectural Record on the court case to halt construction of the new central library for the University of Seville, designed by Zaha Hadid. After a local court ruled against the project, the case made its way to Spain's highest court, the Tribunal Supremo, which handed down its unappealable decision late last month: Hadid's project, partially completed at a cost of roughly 4 million euros, must be demolished (El País 06.26.11).

The suit was brought by a group of neighborhood residents who objected to the construction of the building in a public park, situated near the Plaza de España and other university buildings.  The court ruled that the city's and university's decision to sacrifice part of the park for the project  --about 8% of its total area--  was not sufficiently justified. The project's backers, the court ruled, had not presented sufficient evidence for why the library could not be built elsewhere.

City and university authorities now plan to meet to find another site for the library.

Until recently, politicians in Spain have enjoyed a surprisingly free hand in making important planning decisions such as this, with minimal public comment, participation or protest. But as the case shows, this began to change even before the current crisis.

The neighbors who brought the suit were openly hostile to the Hadid design. Why is it always Hadid who attracts such hostility? Why is it always Hadid who is made to pay for the public's most reactionary instincts? There are certainly others more deserving of public ire, but these are the same who tend to become public idols.

Local politicians throughout Spain have allowed themselves to be over-dazzled by big architectural names, and the case of Hadid in Seville is no exception. But the responsibility for this fiasco in court is clearly theirs, not hers.

In my 2009 article, Hadid’s project architect for the project, Sophie Le Bienvenu, explained that the building "lifts off the ground, so that the gardens extend under it." She pointed out that it will be open to the general public. “It's an addition to the park that promotes the city’s cultural life,” she says. “The park will still be there, and people will be able to enjoy it more.”

Meanwhile work proceeds on Cesar Pelli's 43-story bank tower in the center of Seville that opponents  say will destroy the city's historic skyline, and that has UNESCO threatening to put Seville on its list of endangered heritage sites. But that's another story.....

 And on a brighter note, Jürgen Mayer H's Metropol Parasol in Seville's Plaza de la Encarnación, with its gigantic glulam domes, has finally opened. From Rowan Moore's lively review in The Guardian last March:
Oh my God, it's an icon. How very last decade. Did the city of Seville not get the memo? Big, flashy buildings are out; hair shirts are in.
Top, Photo montage of library by Studio of Zaha Hadid
Middle, Photo montage of Pelli tower from El Mundo, 06.22.09
Bottom, Photo © Roland Halbe

Saturday, July 9, 2011

New Architecture Critic at the Times

Here's a scoop from the Architectural Record web page: art critic Michael Kimmelman will be the new chief  architecture critic at The New York Times starting in the fall. Nicolai Ouroussoff is moving on to a book project, a history of architecture over the past 100 years (source).

It's common in the US to appoint non-architects as newspaper critics, but Kimmelman has some solid experience writing on architecture and urbanism, and he brings a broad cultural perspective to the job. For the past seven years he's been reporting on a wide variety of cultural themes from a base in Berlin.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Architectural Record Visits Spain

The July issue of Architectural Record is dedicated to new museum buildings. In addition to my article on the Archaeological Museum by Francisco Mangado that appears on the cover, the magazine's web page features two additional museums in Spain that I presented to the editors, both recognized in the XI Biennial of Spanish Architecture and Urbanism, as reported in my blog entry of April 19th.

The two museum are:

The Water Museum
Juan Domingo Santos, Architect
Lanjarón (Granada)
Photo © Fernando Alda

Can Framis Museum
Jordi Badia, Eatudio BAAS
(See also my blog on Feb. 17, 2010)

Followers of Spanish architecture shouldn't miss Suzanne Stephen's review of Peter Eisenman's City of Culture in Santiago de Compostela in Record's June issue. Her article concludes:
"Although it is too early to fully evaluate a complex still very much under construction, already it has become a lightning rod for debate regarding its high cost, excessive space, and ambiguous program.... As it ages, it will no doubt lose its rawness, but probably keep its brute energy. The gesture is so defiant. Its brazen monumentality and unsettling scale ravenously explore the difference between artifice and nature. Time will reveal its significance."

Added July 11, 2011: More Spanish features in Record:
Record has just published a web featurette on Oscar Niemeyer's Cultural Center in Áviles, on the northern Spanish coast (also featured in my blog entry of December 11, 2010).

And the web section of last April's Record Houses has a featurette on Antón García Abril's Truffle House, including the amusing construction video. It was also a Snapshot in the April issue (also featured in my blog entry of March 26, 2011).

All are projects I pitched to Record; the web is adding variety to architectural coverage but has managed to put us all to work for free.

Added August 15, 2011:
Suzanne Stephens reports on John Hejduk's little-known Trisca Center in Santiago de Compostela, completed in 2003, on the Record web page this month, while the August Snapshot page is dedicated to Jürgen Mayer H's Metropoli Pergola in Seville.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mangado in Architectural Record

The cover story in this month's Architectural Record is my report on Francisco Mangado's Archaeological Museum of Álava in Vitoria, Spain. 
Like his other projects, the Archaeological Museum exemplifies Mangado’s identification with the Modern movement that many Spanish architects have maintained with great vitality over the last few decades. In all of his work Mangado upholds the ideals of a functional layout and structural logic of 20th-century masters, and applies them to expressive ends chiefly through the sensual qualities of the materials he chooses and the spatial relations he establishes  between them. 
Mangado has been offering for some time what international architecture has just discovered that it needs; 3 or 4 years ago he was a very hard sell in the United States.

Archaeology Museum of Álava
Mangado and Associates
Vitoria, Spain
By David Cohn
Architectural Record, July 2011

Read full story here.

Photo: © Roland Halbe. Used with permission.