Friday, March 30, 2012

Working in China

The New York Times Magazine published this story on Westerners working inside Chinese architecture firms in China: 

Building the American Dream in China
(I know, weird title)
by Brook Larmer
The New York Times
March 16, 2012
"Fueled by rising prosperity and the largest rural-to-urban shift in history — some 300 million Chinese became city dwellers over the past two decades — the boom has utterly transformed the eastern seaboard around Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The fastest growth now is taking place deep in the country’s interior or on its outer edges in cities little known in the West: Harbin, Changsha, Chengdu and dozens of others.
San Francisco architect Adam Mayer in a Chinese architecture office in Chengdu:
"The pace was relentless. From designing one or two projects a month, Mayer was soon being pushed to produce one large-scale conceptual design every week. 'The deadlines were crazy,' Mayer says. 'Sometimes we’d have three days to finish a 250,000-square-meter project.' Even so, his Chinese colleagues churned out even more. 'In terms of pure production, the local staff could work faster and more efficiently than anything I’ve ever seen in the U.S.,' Mayer says, even if in some instances they saw no shame in 'literally copying designs right out of a book.' "

Photo: Wood Sculpture Museum, Harbin by  MAD Architects, from the Times.

Call for Entries

Record Interiors 2012
The editors of Architectural Record are currently inviting submissions for the 2012 Record Interiors issue. Submissions are due June 1st.

Download the entry form (PDF)

View previous Record Interiors projects

Abusive Working Conditions

Archleaks España offers inside reports by anonymous submitters about working conditions in some of the best-known architecture studios in Spain. No one may be very surprised, but the jump from word-of-mouth into print of reports about quite a few abusive employers is an overdue call to attention.

Many good architects work on the fringe of economic possibility (and others have made millions). Many dedicate themselves to their work to the same extreme lengths they expect of their employees. But the over-reliance on underpaid (or even unpaid) students and interns must be seriously examined. And not just in Spain. The site also has versions in English (with many international firms) and Italian.

The page is in its starting stages, so I would encourage everyone to honestly share their experience.

However, a lot of the comments are quite abusive themselves, using the safety of anonymity for insults and exaggerated sarcasms. The site claims to be screened. but it could well do with a lot more. And it needs work on a very sloppy web presentation.

Thanks to Fredy Massad  for the "heads up" on this.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ups and Downs

News Briefs

Alejandro Zaera-Polo Named Dean at Princeton
Architectural Record, New York, March 27, 2012
See also: Scalae, Arquitectura Viva
The comments section of the Record report has some interesting and heated debate from Princeton students and others over the appointment.


Antón García-Abril to curate Spanish Pavilion at Venice Biennial 
Scalae, March 20, 2012 (in Spanish)

Grand Canal bridge: Venice files 3.5 million euro claim for damages against Calatrava
ABC, Madrid, March 20., 2012 (in Spanish)

Claim based on construction errors. Initial budget 3.8 million euros, total cost, 11.2 million, an overrun of 340 percent. The bridge's problems require constant vigilance and expenditures, according to the suit.

Seville to sue Jürgen Mayer, architect of Metropol Parasol for cost overruns
ABC newspaper, Sevilla, March 26, 2012

Here the change in city government last May, the economic crisis, and the search to pin blame for past excesses seem to be behind the case, according to an analysis in Scalae.

Zaera-Polo: Wikipedia
García-Abril: Scalae

Friday, March 9, 2012

Press Clips

Royal Academy of Spain in Rome
Grant application deadline, March 22, 2012
Open to citizens of Spain and Iberoamérica

Beware of phony competitions!
BD Online, March 7. 2012

Mies' Tugendhat House restored again
The International Herald Tribune / New York Times, Feb. 27, 2012

Hans Haacke on Vallecas at the Reina Sofía
El País, February 17, 2012

The Whitney Biennial
Rave review by Roberta Smith
The New York Times, March 1, 2012

Jonathan Glancey bids farewell 
The Guardian, Feb, 12, 2012
With a handful of stunning images

Miniaret, Great Mosque in Samarra, Iraq

Norman Foster's Tarn Valley Viaduct

Tough Elegance in the Raval

 My article on Josep Lluís Mateo's Filmoteca de Catalunya in Barcelona appears in the March issue of The Architectural Review.  
"The Film Archive ... is a cultural beachhead in the ongoing battle for Barcelona's Raval.... The urban strategy and material texture of [the building] are well-attuned to the Raval's tough character. While Richard Meier's gleaming Neo-Purist composition, located a few blocks north, couldn't be more alien, Mateo's building is built of board-formed concrete, whose rough texture he compares to nearby peeling walls...."

Screen Play
The Architectural Review
March 2012, pages 50 - 59

Photos:  © Adrià Goula
Courtesy of MateoArquitectura

True to my take on previous works by Mateo, I express some reservations about this project, notwithstanding its adroit urban pose: chiefly, the structural gymnastics employed for a raltively simple program of lobby, offices and library (the movie theaters are underground).
View from Filmoteca office floor towards plaza.

Friday, March 2, 2012

America's Six Miillion

Reading List
Adam Gopnik writes in the January 30 New Yorker on the second largest city in the United States, with a population of over six million: its prisons.

Gopnik writes:
" was in Enlightenment-inspired America that the taste for long-term, profoundly depersonalized punishment became most aggravated. The inhumanity of American prisons was as much a theme for Dickens, visiting America in 1842, as the cynicism of American lawyers. His shock when he saw the Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia—a “model” prison, at the time the most expensive public building ever constructed in the country, where every prisoner was kept in silent, separate confinement—still resonates:
" 'I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers. . . . I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.' "
One of his interesting arguments:
"William J. Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law School [in his book The Collapse of American Criminal Justice] ... suggests that the Bill of Rights is a terrible document with which to start a justice system—much inferior to the exactly contemporary French Declaration of the Rights of Man.... 

"The trouble with the Bill of Rights, he argues, is that it emphasizes process and procedure rather than principles....  Instead of announcing general principles—no one should be accused of something that wasn’t a crime when he did it; cruel punishments are always wrong; the goal of justice is, above all, that justice be done—it talks procedurally. You can’t search someone without a reason; you can’t accuse him without allowing him to see the evidence; and so on. This emphasis, Stuntz thinks, has led to the current mess, where accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors and no protection at all against outrageous and obvious violations of simple justice. You can get off if the cops looked in the wrong car with the wrong warrant when they found your joint, but you have no recourse if owning the joint gets you locked up for life. You may be spared the death penalty if you can show a problem with your appointed defender, but it is much harder if there is merely enormous accumulated evidence that you weren’t guilty in the first place and the jury got it wrong."
His solution:
"Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures. Most of the time in the history of medicine, the best way to end disease was to build a better sewer and get people to wash their hands. 'Merely chipping away at the problem around the edges' is usually the very best thing to do with a problem.... To read the literature on crime before it dropped is to see the same kind of dystopian despair we find in the new literature of punishment: we’d have to end poverty, or eradicate the ghettos, or declare war on the broken family, or the like, in order to end the crime wave. The truth is, a series of small actions and events ended up eliminating a problem that seemed to hang over everything. There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities. Ending sentencing for drug misdemeanors, decriminalizing marijuana, leaving judges free to use common sense (and, where possible, getting judges who are judges rather than politicians)—many small acts are possible that will help end the epidemic of imprisonment as they helped end the plague of crime."
Illustration: Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, 1829.
Image from Opacity.