Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Grass-Roots Landmark

Reading List 1
Marta Fernández Maeso 
La Tabacalera: dos años más de experimento
El País, Jan. 21, 2012

On the experimental, community-run, horizontally-organized cultural center in the 18th-century tobacco factory, now entering a renewed 2 year convenio from the Ministry of Culture. Another manifestation of Madrid's 15-M Movement. The spirit of Spanish Anarchism rekindled?

The planned renovation of the building by Madrid architects Nieto + Sobejano to house the National Center of the Visual Arts is indefinitely postponed.

But the building has become a new point of reference on the chain of cultural centers leading from the Thyssen and Prado museums to the Reina Sofia, the CaixaForum, Medialab-Prado, Bankia's Casa Encendida, etc.

The list encompasses a chain of increasingly participative institutions stretching from the Paseo del Prado to the borders of Lavapiés.

In Spanish.

Reading List 2
Sara Schaefer Muñoz and Ilan Brat
Spanish Banks Try to Build Their Way Out of Home Glut
The Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2012

Lots of data and an outside view on the Spanish housing crisis.

Main hall of the Tabacalera, where assemblies and performances are held.
Photo by Santi Burgos
From El País

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Souto de Moura's Burgo Tower

Beinahe Nichts With a Twist
I've just posted this 2008 article that appeared in architektur.aktuell on the Burgo Tower in Porto by Eduardo Souto de Moura.
"While Álvaro Siza's local buildings portray him as the gentlemanly master of effects of reflected light and playful spatial distortion, Souto de Moura reaffirms himself with this tower as a reclusive perfectionist, establishing an island of absolute, calming order amid the unplanned chaos, the disordered, overgrown garden of Porto's urbanized suburbs."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Koolhaas at the Barbican


Through 19 February
Barbican Art Gallery

Though open since October, this major retrospective has attracted the attention of Architectural Record only now; their review is here.

And The New York Times? Michael Kimmelman is kool to the old favs of Ouroussoff and Muschamp, and his last post was on parking lots.

But Rowan Moore reviewed the Koolhaas show in The Guardian in October; the review is here.

So run right over.
And add The Guardian to your list of RSS feeds.

Note the show's location at the much-maligned Barbican, which now has it's defenders.
Is Koolhaas one?

Photo © OMA / Barbican Art Gallery
From Architectural Record's slideshow on the show

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Miralles In Depth

Reading List

Josep M. Rovira, Editor
Enric Miralles 1972 - 2000
Fundación Caja de Arquitectos
Barcelona, 2011
In Spanish. 400 pages

One of the first critical reviews of the work of Enric Miralles, edited and with a lengthy introduction by Josep M  Rovira, Professor of Architectural History at the Barcelona School of Architecture (ETSAB UPC).

Includes essays by Oriol Bohigas, Enric Granell, Peter Blundell Jones, Ricardo Sánchez Lampreave, Rafael Moneo, Carme Pinós, Antonio Pizza, Benedetta Tagliabue and many others. Published by the foundation of an architects' savings society that supports architectural research.

Available from these Madrid bookstores:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Robin Hood Gardens Demolition Countdown

BD Online has published an update on the plans to demolish Alison and Peter Smithson's Robin Hood Gardens (opened in 1972) and replace it with new housing: Robin Hood Gardens poised for demolition (January 10, 2012; free registration required).

Top, the project in 2005. Photo by John Arundel from Wikipedia, used with permission.

Below, rendering of the new proposal published in BD, presumably by "master plan architects Horden Cherry Lee, working with Swan Housing and Countryside Properties and architects Aedas." It mixes 700 "affordable" new homes with 1000 open market units, a mosque, park and other services.

Admittedly I'm a little distant from the details of all this, but haven't they heard that New Brutalism is back, and they could probably have a waiting list of arty types willing to move into the adequately-renovated original?  

On the rendering used by BD to illustrate the replacement: its only clearly obvious virtues are all that grass and the full-grown trees and the loitering extras straight out of Seurat's Grande Jatte.

BD has been leading a campaign to save the project. according to an article in Wikipdeia. Rowan Moore at The Guardian has weighed in too. But the refusal by British Heritage to list the project in 2009 marked its doom.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Backlash Against Sprawl

US Trends
Christopher B. Leinberger claims in a New York Times opinion piece published last November that American sprawl, the continuous expansion of low-density suburban development out into the countryside, is finally showing signs of collapse (The Death of the Fringe Suburb, Nov. 26, 2011).

The choice to  move back to urban centers by two generations of the middle and upper classes, together with the current real estate crisis, have finally caught up with sprawl,  according to Leinberger.

People are fed up with the handicaps of long daily commutes to work and  total dependence on the automobile, he says. As the baby boom generation (born between 1946 and 1954) retires, they are trading their suburban houses for smaller places in urban centers where they can walk to stores and activities. Those born between 1979 and 1996 are also choosing the city to settle down. Together they make up half the US population.

This trend includes more high-density development in previously low-density suburbs closer in to city centers. One-story strip malls with large asphalt parking lots are being replaced by mulit-story apartment buildings, offices and commercial centers with a much denser footprint, as can be seen at suburban Metro stops outside Washington, DC and elsewhere around the country.

Leinberger sees building opportunities here:  
"The cities and inner-ring suburbs that will be the foundation of the recovery require significant investment....  Bus and light-rail systems, bike lanes and pedestrian improvements ... are vital. So is the repair of infrastructure like roads and bridges."

He also points out that a lot of outer fringe developments, now greatly lowered in value, have a future only as slums or in abandonment -- reversing the destruction of inner city neighborhoods after WW II.

Here are some more quotes from the article:
"In the late 1990s, high-end outer suburbs contained most of the expensive housing in the United States,... Today, the most expensive housing is in the high-density, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods of the center city and inner suburbs.  Some of the most expensive neighborhoods in their metropolitan areas are Capitol Hill in Seattle; Virginia Highland in Atlanta; German Village in Columbus, Ohio, and Logan Circle in Washington. Considered slums as recently as 30 years ago, they have been transformed by gentrification."

"Over all, only 12 percent of future homebuyers want the drivable suburban-fringe houses that are in such oversupply..." 
Interestingly, Leinberger is a real estate developer, and the head of a project called Smart Growth America, "which supports walkable neighborhoods and transit-oriented development." If people like him are thinking like this, things are really changing.

Photo: Abandoned superstore strip mall in WIlliamstown, New Jersey
From the blog Ob.scene in South Jersey by Pax Romano

Monday, January 9, 2012

More on Spain's Architects in Crisis

More data on the effect of the crisis on the profession, collected by the Architects' Union (Sindicato de Arquitectos) and reported today in the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia:
  • 4,000 Spanish architects have left the country to work abroad, 7.5% of the profession.
  • Many are recent graduates "who can't find anything here (in Spain), and are highly valued for their excellent preparation and adaptability," says Union President Ignacio Bisbal.
  • Most go to France, Germany,Great Britain and other European Union countries, where their architecture licenses are recognized.
  • The average salary for architects working abroad is 24,500 euros a year, compared to less than 16,000 in Spain.
  • An additional 14% of the profession has found work in other sectors.
  • The official unemployment figure for the profession after these subtractions is 26.7%, although Bisbal assures that the real figure is higher.
  • Behind the figures: Spain's real estate industry has gone from 920,000 housing starts in 2006 to 60,000 this year.
  • Oversupply: 3,000 new architects come out of Spain's architecture schools each year, and there are 60,000 registered architects in the country, 1 per 800 inhabitants, compared to 1 per 1,500 in Europe as a whole.
  • Architects with work have seen their earnings go down: 60% report income cuts of over 20%. 
  • 18% of working architects earn less than 12,000 euros a year, and only 6.2% earn over 27,000 a year.
See my related post yesterday:
Crisis Closes Half of Madrid's Architecture Studios

Chart above is meaningless, but you get the idea.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Postwar Picturesque

Reading List
The second part of Anthony Vidler's series on postwar architectural theory, Troubles in Theory: Picturesque Postmodernism, appears in the January Architectural Review.

Here Vidler brilliantly uncovers the connections between the anti-Corbusian picturesque town planning championed by The Architectural Review's editors after the Second World War and Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction, which reduces the field of action of the picturesque from townscape to the single structure. His interpretation comes from a rather narrow British perspective. Will the third part bring in the Italians?

Here is Vidler on Nicolas Pevsner's postwar writings for AR:
"But a third act was now needed in order to bring true visual principles to technological expression: this act would bring back that most English of English traditions, the Picturesque, studied now not only in terms of landscape design but ‘in relation to the new problems of urban landscape’."

"This act would reinstate the main plot – to recapture ‘the scope and richness’ discarded by the modern revolution and to work for a re-humanisation – the building up of tradition: ‘new richness and differentiation of character, the pursuit of differences rather than sameness, the re-emergence of monumentality, the cultivation of idiosyncrasy, and the development of those regional dissimilarities that people have always taken a pride in.’ He concluded: ‘In fact architecture must find a way of humanising itself as regards expression without in any way abandoning the principles on which the Revolution was founded.’ "

Crisis Closes Half of Madrid's Architecture Studios

The Architectural Review asked me to send in a Your Views column in response to Luis Fernandez-Galiano's article on the challenges facing Spain's younger architects in the crisis. It appears in the January issue, and you can find it on the web here.

One of the alarming facts I mention is the report that HALF of ALL Madrid's architecture studios have closed due to the crisis.

This statement, by Jordi Ludevid i Anglada, President of  the CSCAE, the professional association of architects in Spain, was published in an article in the Propiedades section of El País that is not available on the web (12.04.11, p. 4). It is repeated here, in campaign material for the election of the governing board of the Madrid College of Architects last year.

José Antonio Granero, the President of the Madrid College of Architects is interviewed on the crisis in the business newspaper Cinco Días here (12.05.11).

See additional data in my entry of 01.09.12:
More on Spain's Architects in Crisis

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Barcelona Photo Gallery

Snapshots from a recent trip. What I'm often trying to do is capture an urban mood or space.

The Gothic Quarter

Near the flower stalls on the Ramblas

Almost New Year's Eve

Plaza Catalunya

I made some daytime shots too.....

On the lower slopes of Collserola

I zoomed in on the photo above and found the building pretty amazing, much more so than you would think from guidebook pictures. It's near the project by Llinás below, from where I took the picture. The lower slopes of Collserola and Tibidabo are dotted with religious institutions founded by the Barcelona bourgeoisie, but this one is actually Gaudi's Casa Figueras, known as the Torre Bellesguard (1900-09) in Saint Gervasi. Gaudi built it on the ruins of a medieval royal castle, the summer retreat of the last King of Aragon (before Ferdinand the Catholic), using as much of the original as he could (the patio and some walls) -- Catalan nationalism being one of the constant themes of his work. 

Medical clinic by Pep Llinás
Passeig de Gràcia

Church of Santa Anna

A corner in the Eixample

Kimmelman on Madrid Rio

New brief
The New York Times' new architecture critic Michael Kimmelman came to Madrid last month to review the Madrid Rio Park along the Manzanares River.

Up to now he's been covering social issues more than formal ones, and with a strong local focus. This article is no exception: he sets up the example of Madrid against the difficulties of doing large-scale urban work in New York. 

"The park ... has largely been finished. More than six miles long, it transforms a formerly neglected area in the middle of Spain’s capital. Its creation, in four years, atop a complex network of tunnels dug to bury an intrusive highway, also rejuvenates a long-lost stretch of the Manzanares River, and in so doing knits together neighborhoods that the highway had cut off from the city center."
I agree with his view that the park is notable chiefly for its social success but has, "in barren weather, anyway ... a slightly rough-and-ready air, which is what you would expect, considering that [Mayor] Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón ... ordered the burying of the M-30 [highway] before there was any plan for a park."  

Precisely: the six miles of three-lane tunnels under the river are aesthetically much more rewarding.  In the park, wide continuous promenades on both sides of the river, connected by pedestrian bridges, are handsome thoroughfares for walkers, cyclists and skaters, and serve a series of recreational areas. They roll up and around fake hillocks following a picturesque formula, cleverly diminishing where possible the presence of stone-clad ventilation shafts for the tunnels. But the Manzanares is a modest river, and its banks are reinforced with a lot of rough concrete. In my experience so far you never get the kind of view that tempts you to linger, except in the environs of the Royal Palace, which scores on its own merits and not those of the park.

The project was designed by a consortium of Madrid architects led by the firm Burgos and Garrido and with the participation of West 8.

Michael Kimmelman
In Madrid’s Heart, Park Blooms Where a Freeway Once Blighted
The New York Times, December 26, 2011

Photos by DC 
First two pictures, front and back views of a pedestrian bridge that cuts diagonally across the river, spring 2011. 
 Below, view of Cathedral (right) and Royal Palace (left( with the 16th century Segovia Bridge in the foreground, designed for Felipe II by the architect of El Escorial, Juan de Herrera. Spring 2011. 
Remaining photos from December 2011.