Sunday, April 29, 2012

The EuroVegas Threat

Playboy Club Sands Macao, owned by Sheldon Adelson

For those following the negotiations for the building of EuroVegas, a  multi-casino-and-hotel complex in Madrid or Barcelona, the April 9th issue of The New Yorker has a profile of Sheldon Adelson, the casino operator who hatched the deal. The article portrays the emergence of Macao as the world's biggest gambling capital, feeding off the booming Chinese economy and dethroning Las Vegas, which has been hard-hit by the ongoing American economic slump.

This weekend, Madrid's Club de Dedates Urbanos (Urban Debates Club) put the propsoal on the table for public discussion. A three-hour video of the first day is available on their web page here.

I won't go into all the details of the negotiations, which have been widely covered in the press. Articles on the subject are collected on a special page at El País: EuroVegas.

I find it hard to believe that politicians are taking this seriously, and  everyone else is taking it so calmly. But I also find it hard to believe that the proposal will actually get anywhere. It stinks like a sure-fire failure -- or an outright ripoff of public funds with the collusion of gullible public authorities, always ready to lower their trousers when a wad of bills gets waved under their noses.

Manuel Vicente offered a biting critique of the spectacle a couple of weeks ago in his Sunday column in El País on April 15th:
"…the forces of greed are once again prepared to introduce another damaging virus into this country. It's called Eurovegas, by Sheldon Adelson, a dude who takes Spaniards for idiots. In the middle of the economic crisis this macaroni promises us casinos, roulette wheels, whores, gangsters and skyscrapers in middle of the wasteland, as long as politicians, in exchange for hypothetical jobs, are prepared to lower their pants. This surfer dude carries a plague, similar to that of the red palm weevil, and he demands the same advantages enjoyed by this bug: nothing about controls, so he can nest at his ease, like a boil on the neck of future speculators, who, once they've filled their sacks,  will leave this desert of brick to the mercy of the foxes and lizards." (Translation by DC)

Added June 5, 2012 
Sign a petition for government disclosure of negotiations over EuroVegas organized by Thanks, José Selgas. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Martin Filler on Koolhaas

Martin Filler, probably the best all-round architecture critic currently working in the United States, on Rem Koolhaas in The New York Review of Books: THE MASTER OF BIGNESS.

The lengthy article, reviewing the recent show on Koolhaas at the Barbican Center in London,  includes interesting tidbits about Koolhaas' background, mentions his new book on Japanese metabolism, and offers an overview of his career. But the limitations of its North American perspective are finally disappointing.

Typically, Filler is unable to appreciate Koolhaas' fascination for Wallace K. Harrison, Nelson Rockefeller's architect -- the most genuinely American cultural phenomena tend to be under-appreciated at home. He offers the usual politically-correct tisk-tisk-tisking about Koolhaas' work for the Chinese "dictatorship" (precisely the kind of lock-step intoning of American foreign-policy positions in the supposedly "liberal" American press that makes one wonder what they mean by "freedom of thought"). And of course Filler doesn't even register Koolhaas' enthusiasm for East Berlin prefab apartment slabs and other architecture of the Soviet era. (And this just when similar US projects like Pruit-Igoe are getting a second look by a new generation).

Koolhaas remains the most interesting architect on the contemporary scene, the best conceptual thinker we have, an essential point of reference -- only Gehry comes close. I was able to discuss this recently with the Madrid architects Federico Soriano and Pedro Urzaiz and their students, who invited me to crit a student research project in their seminar on Koolhaas for a Master's Program in Design at the ETSAM (School of Architecture, Polytechnic University of Madrid).  We were looking at his project for the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and his ideas on preservation at the Venice Biennale of 2010 (covered on the web page Design Boom).

Although I must confess, true to my contradictions, that I am quite relieved to learn that Koolhaas' project for a convention center across the river from historic Córdoba has been canceled, as announced in  El Pais last March. "Oversize Me" architecture is fine for places where there is no there there, but Córdoba.....

Some fun bits from Filler's article:
"Following his father’s example, the young Koolhaas initially turned to journalism and screenwriting. In 1963, when he was eighteen, he began working for De Haagse Post, a right-liberal weekly.... He then studied at the Netherlands Film and Television Academy in Amsterdam (which his father headed...), and later co-wrote an ultimately unproduced movie script, Hollywood Tower, for the soft-porn director Russ Meyer, auteur of such camp classics as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)."
 "With a plethora of bizarre new architecture engulfing them, baffled Beijingers have devised a new architectural lexicon recalling the wry coinages long perfected by witty Berliners, who, for example, have dubbed the glass dome of Norman Foster’s Reichstag renovation ... die Käseglocke (the cheese cover). Thus the two-legged CCTV colossus has become colloquially known as da kucha (big pants crotch)."
 (See also my blog entry on the Koolhaas show at the Barbican in London)

Photo by Philippe Ruault from the Barbican show, featured in the NYRB article

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hello, Barbarella

Plexiglas exterior
My story on selgascano's latest building in Cartagena, Spain is featured in the April issue of The Architectural Review (not on open web until next month but visible to subscribers here).
"In newspaper photos of Spain's Queen Sofía inaugurating the Batel Auditorium and Congress Centre in Cartagena, Spain last March, the moiré patterns thrown off by the thin piping of her suit play a nice riff against the backlit translucent plastic walls and lime-white rubber floors of the building, designed by José Selgas and Lucia Cano of the selgascano studio in Madrid. In fact, everyone looked terrific strolling up and down the long entry ramp to the concert hall."

"....unlike many of their predecessors, selgascano take realism and solemnity out of low-cost tech –its overtones of deprivation or asceticism– and approach it instead as a liberating opportunity for playful invention."

Plane Sailing
The Architectural Review
No. 1382, April 2012, pages 30 - 39

More night views

Security at the opening

The building can be a knock-out under daylight too:

The Plexiglas in the light of day:

A shower of multicolored rebar arches over the service entrance, where men in black suits and things in their ears hover during the inauguration:

View of the entry ramp from the auditorium entry:

Far better of course are the photos by Iwan Baan featured in the Review. Selgas told me that Baan took over 3,500 shots of the building. His secret: a handheld digital camera. I can't resist including a few of below, all © Iwan Baan:

The Ambigú. © Iwan Baan

Main auditorium. © Iwan Baan
Access to balcony seating. © Iwan Baan

This was my "Barbarella" moment -- or was it "Blow-Up"?
Featuring the Eero Aarnio bubble chair.  © Iwan Baan

Other views of the city
While in Cartagena, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking into the light:

Towards the waterfront

Approach to the waterfront

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Big Rethink

As part of its new editorial direction, the British journal Architectural Review has invited Peter Buchanan to present The Big Rethink, a series of 12 ambitious essays that set out to redirect the course architecture for our time.

One of the most interesting installments so far was published in the March issue, where Buchanan introduces the concept of Integral Theory to his argument (I will be catching up with the April installment in the next few days).

To put it very simply, Integral Theory offers a framework for assuring that architecture, like other areas of thought, includes both objective and subjective fields, and both collective and individual viewpoints.

This is something I have long argued for, although never so systematically (see my essay After Functionalism from 1993, among other writings).

I met a student at the Madrid School of Architecture recently who forms part of a group of students working on the TGA -- Teoría General de la Arquitectura or General Theory of Architecture -- so something is definitely in the air (see their web page here). As always, bad times can be great times for architectural thought.

Here is a heavily-edited excerpt from Buchanan's article:
"[Integral Theory] is concerned with integrating, or at least bringing into relationship, all the rapidly expanding knowledge now available yet fragmented between specialisms."

"Significantly, ... Integral Theory .... attends not only to objective matters but gives equal weight to the subjective realms. Also, in developing Integral Theory, [Ken] Wilber sought to bring together the teachings of West and East, and so science and spirituality. Besides being an intellectual system, Wilber intends Integral theory to guide personal and spiritual development, another cause of academic resistance...."

"The core determinant of the character of an era is its underlying notion of reality − and the mostly unquestioned assumptions it results in that condition people’s understanding of and experience of the world. For modernity this notion is that there is an objective reality, external to and independent of us."

"Baldly stated, this might seem relatively banal and inconsequential. But the consequences of adopting this historically unprecedented sense of reality were vast and still continue, explaining much about both modernity and modern architecture. Prior to modernity, the notion of an objective, independent reality was inconceivable: you were an engaged participant in reality to which you were responsible because it was, in small part at least, shaped by your actions and thoughts. Rituals were needed to ensure rains and harvest, even in some cultures to ensure the sun rose."

"....the problem is less with the idea of an objective reality ... but rather that this reductive ... view became modernity’s dominant and often exclusive view of reality."

"Immeasurably compounding this problem is the idea that the reality of things can be fully understood by reductive analysis of them abstracted from context. Here it is the newer sciences of ecology and New Biology, of systems and chaos theory, and complex adaptive systems that challenge this view by insisting that things can only be fully known in their wider webs of relationships."

"Modern science and scientific materialism, the concomitant mode of thought virtually synonymous with modernity, study this objective reality through detached observation, measurement and reductive analysis − as has proved hugely effective. But detached observation also suppresses our emotional and empathic connections with the object observed and the world at large."

"...the result is Flatland, a narrow and desiccated reality that excludes the sensual joys of embodied experience, along with psychological depths and spiritual heights. Also excluded are all the dimensions of meaning invested by the left [subjective] quadrants, so intensifying the loss of meaning arising from living in Newton’s dead, mechanical universe where even evolution is the blind product of chance mutations and natural selection."

"Objective reality explored by reductive analysis dissolved the sense of intellectual and experiential connections and relationships between things, and even between people. This led inevitably to the fragmentation of the world into isolated objects, as evidenced by the buildings in the modern city, to social atomization, the rise of individualism and erosion of community − and again to the reduction of the natural world and other people to resources to be exploited. Compounding this, detached observation privileges the distancing sense of sight, further eroding emotional and empathic engagement."

"...we are left lonely and isolated, rootless and restless, and prey to the addictive and destructive behavior that is much in evidence all around us. Once again this reasserts that sustainability cannot be achieved without confronting the exciting, collective challenge of applying visionary imagination to cultural transformation....." 


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stirling in Stuttgart

Snapshots from a recent whirl through Stuttgart.
Atmospheres: New Palace from the park in the center of the city
Stirling's Staatsgalerie stands on a plinth above a highway-like avenue.

James Stirling's Neue Staatsgalerie (1984) is probably the best work of Post Modernism, period. It holds its attraction over time, and rewards visits with many fascinating quirks. It also enters in multiple dialogues with the city's other monuments, including the 1922 train station by Paul Bonatz -- an important reference for conservative Madrid modernists in the 1920's and 30's -- and the various Neoclassical and Romantic-Classical piles scattered around the palace park.

The continuation of the ramp in the rotunda out the back

And the back of the building

Paul Bonatz, Stuttgart Main Train Station, 1922

Not too many of my pictures came out well, which is why there are so few. Sorry for the poor quality -- I guess it's time to invest in a better camera.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Out of the Shoebox

After Functionalism
I dusted off another old essay from 1993, never before published, but which has helped me in countless other articles since then. It's called After Functionalism  and I've filled it under the original date that I first signed it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Help Save a Rudolph Building

© New York Times- Tony Cenicola

Paul Rudolph's 1971 Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York is threatened with demolition, as reported by James S. Russell on the Bloomberg web site (link here).

Please sign this petition to help try to save it:

Paraphrasing a note I wrote to Jim, we’ve got to fight harder for things like this. If they don’t like it, they should turn it into a library or a bed and breakfast or a luxury condo (quite a bit better than some of the latest in NY  by Nouvel, etc.). Take it apart and ship it to someplace that appreciates it, and give the county the cowshed they are pining for. Or let it alone; it would make a magnificent ruin. If we let things like this go we might as well pack up and give up.

Addendum April 8, 2012:
The debate reaches The New York Times, see article here.

One of the points made is that Victorian architecture was once just as unpopular. Here's how I explained it to a Facebook friend:  
"Brutalism is actually an architectural style, Lord Help Us. From the 1960s and 70s. It's all the rage among students now, just as the buildings are deteriorating and find few fans amid the general public. It's like what happened to Victorian architecture in the 1960s [and probably already in the 1930s] -- a lot of great things were torn down before people learned to appreciated their kinks and caprices. Now love for the Victorian is a mighty cliché. "

Images from a handsome report on the building in Archdaily Classics from various sources. Last two photos by James S. Russell for Bloomberg,

© "U Mass Dartmouth"

James S. Russell
James S, Russell

China: 30 Story Prefab Hotel Up in 15 Days

Video of the Week

From the following article:

China's high-speed building boom
"A 30-story hotel in Changsha went up in two weeks"
By Jonathan Kaiman
The Los Angeles Times
March 7, 2012
(Story picked up from Architectural Record)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Let's Twist

Architectural Record's annual Record Houses issue this month features my article on a house outside Stuttgart by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos of UNStudio.

My take on the work is as an update on the New York Five with digital warping added to the play of line, plane and curve of mechanical drafting.
"There's a swirl at the center of UNStudio's House Beside a Vineyard outside Stuttgart, or what principal Ben van Berkel calls “the twist.” Two flights of stairs run diagonally across the square floor plan, crossing over each other in a single, fluid motion as they rise from the ground-floor entry to the living area and up to the gallery and master bedroom. The dynamic energy they impart sets the open living spaces into motion and directs visitors toward the cozy, glazed corners with views.... "
Full text, pictures and plans available here.
Photo from the article by Iwan Baan