Monday, January 28, 2013

Winter Art Shows in Madrid

The ARCO Art Fair is coming up this month (February 13-17th), and with it there are some interesting shows in town, particularly at the Reina Sofía Museum of Contemporary Art.

Highlights so far:

imagen de Robert Adams
Robert Adams, The Place We Live
Photographer of the American West
Reina Sofia Museum
January 16 - May 20

Print and web images can little convey the engraving-like detail and printing of these intimate, classic photos, with ideas from oriental art and Robert Frank but forged into something strong and personal.

image of Concrete Invention: Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
Mira Schendel. Untitled, from the series Objetos gráficos.
1973. Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection

Concrete Invention: Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
Geometric abstraction from South America
Reina Sofia Museum
January 23 - September 16

Follows closely on the 2011 show on the same subject at the Juan March Foundation, Cold America, but this is a different private collection. Museum Director Manuel Borja-Villel told me he is forging new strategic alliances with international private patrons, especially in South America, and this is one of the results.

image of Cristina Iglesias: Metonymy
Cristina Iglesias: Metonymy
Reina Sofia Museum
February 6- March 13

Link: Fietta Jarque interviews Cristina Iglesias in Babelia, El Pais. January 26, 2012

Miguel Barceló
Galería Elvira González
January 26 - March 27

Link: Barceló interviewed in El País, January 27, 2013

Fracking North Dakota

A night-time satellite photo of the United States shows an unknown galaxy of lights in North Dakota, which turns out to be physical evidence of the new North American Oil Rush: it's the light from 100s of well heads flaring off gas. Here's the story by Robert Krulwich from National Public Radio, posted January 16, 2013 (edited by me):

"It's a little to the left, high up near the Canadian border. Just run your eye up that line of lights at the center of the country, look over to the upper left: There's a patch that looks like a big city — but there is no big city in that part of North Dakota. There's mostly grass. So what are those lights doing there? What is that?"

"What we have here is an immense and startlingly new oil and gas field — nighttime evidence of an oil boom created by fracking. Those lights are rigs, hundreds of them, lit at night, or fiery flares of natural gas. One hundred fifty oil companies, big ones, little ones, wildcatters, have flooded this region, drilling up to eight new wells every day on what is called the Bakken formation. Altogether, they are now producing 660,000 barrels a day — double the output two years ago — so that in no time at all, North Dakota is now the second-largest oil producing state in America. Only Texas produces more, and those lights are a sign that this region is now on fire ... to a disturbing degree. Literally."

"Only seven years ago, the U.S. was importing 60 percent of its oil. Now imports are down to 42 percent. The Bakken fields are helping to improve energy security."

"On the other hand, says Peter Lehner, blogger for the Natural Resources Defense Council, every day drillers in North Dakota 'burn off enough gas to heat half a million homes.....' "  

See the full story here.
Thanks to Craig Hankin for the link.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gehry's Strata Building and the Aesthetic Gaze

All fotos by DC
Last summer I visited Frank Gehry's Strata Center at MIT. I wanted to compare it to the original structure on the site, known as Building 20, and famous for the pioneering science that had been produced there, which was the subject of my blog entry The Urban Shipwreck (Feb. 13, 2012).

On a hot day in August, my only day in Boston, I spent a couple of hours wandering through the building.  Despite the rippling collage of its endless exterior facades, it is basically an interior building, a work that makes sense only from inside. And of those interiors, the amorphous open ground-floor, full of noisy event, makes the biggest impression. But it comes into focus, I think, only at one point, where natural lights comes down into a kind of clearing in the woods, and people can open their laptops at a couple of tables, their faces illuminated in the shadows of the projecting, angled planes of stuff all around.  That was the only real photo I got out of the whole place.

The cafeteria is another moment, well-positioned close to the flow of people and the outdoors. It was interesting to see how students and teachers, either alone, in couples or in groups, colonized the space. I especially noted a solitary student plugged into his notebook in an over-scaled skylit nook flooded in blue.
Later, and elsewhere in the sprawling space, tables were set up and coffee and brownies appeared for some sort of reception. And climbing the stair to the second floor of the central atrium, I found a student lounging in an window nook, reading.
I went upstairs to a random floor and wandered around. Without realizing it, I passed through a couple of doors and found myself in a standard corridor, straight, with doors on both sides, and all of a sudden I began to get interested. I later realized I had passed into another building –everything at MIT is interconnected– and that I was in something much closer to Building 20. It worked: I was fascinated, I fell in love with every specialty, I wanted to know what was going on behind every door.

Next to that experience, Gehry's gymnastics seem superfluous. Exercises in overspending to coddle precocious adolescents – the phenomenon that William Hanley calls the "Corporate Kindergarten" (Architectural Record, September 2012).

Which stands in such stark contrast to the general misery of the Boston inner suburbs near and around the campus. Whereas Building 20, part of that misery, was a Gordon Matta-Clark kind of place, a place conceived for work and transformation and not for the freeze-frame of the aesthetic gaze. However dynamic that gaze may be, it is deadening in comparison to a gritty reality at the service of work and transformation. 

Or is this observation just post-industrial nostalgia, romanticizing the ruins?

Notes on Writing: Juan Gelman

"Poetry is charred speech. Its words rise from those ashes that some call silence, but that twist and even crackle nonetheless."

Juan Gelman, the Argentinian poet, in a 1999 interview, quoted December 30, 2012 in  El País (not on their web).

Maspalomas Oasis: Noticia en Español

Photo: Francisco Rojas Fariña, circa 1971 From the blog of COAC
Architectural Record has published my news article on the fight to save the Maspalomas Oasis Hotel in the Canary Islands, a masterwork of the 1960s by Madrid architects José Antonio Corrales and Ramón Vázquez Molezún.

The announcement of the demolition plans was the subject of my last blog on January 12th. It includes photos, plans and descriptions of the project.

Here is a translation of the Record article into Spanish by Federico García Barba:

Los defensores de la arquitectura moderna luchan para salvar un modelo turístico en las Islas Canarias

En la isla de Gran Canaria, una última iniciativa a favor del patrimonio arquitectónico contemporáneo trata de salvar el Maspalomas Oasis Hotel, diseñado por los arquitectos madrileños José Antonio Corrales y Ramón Vázquez Molezún y terminado en 1971. Considerado un modelo de intervención armoniosa sobre el paisaje volcánico único de las Islas Canarias, el proyecto entreteja sus pabellones con jardines y patios, y preserva un oasis virgen de palmeras autóctonas. 
Los propietarios, la cadena hotelera RIU, planean cerrar el hotel en abril y comenzar la demolición, para sustituir el edificio por otro que incrementa su número de habitaciones de 633 a 950. Las autoridades locales han alentado la iniciativa como parte de un plan de renovación de la zona que trata de paliar el envejecimiento de los equipamientos turísticos, otorgando un incentivo consistente en un aumento de la superficie construida permitida de cuatro a cinco plantas. 

El hotel carece actualmente de protección frente a esa posible desaparición, a pesar de que está incluido en el catálogo patrimonial propuesto para la protección de la arquitectura del siglo 20, preparado para el Ministerio de Cultura de España por la Fundación Docomomo Ibérico (Documentación y Conservación de Edificios, Sitios y Barrios del Movimiento Moderno). El hotel data de los inicios del turismo en las islas. Sus autores, Corrales (1921-2010) y Vázquez Molezún (1922-1993), los diseñadores del pabellón español premiado en la Exposición Universal de 1958 en Bruselas, estaban en la cima de sus carreras. Trabajando en el proyecto con el arquitecto local Manuel de la Peña, agruparon pabellones y patios interconectados para crear una red porosa, mezclando espacios interiores y exteriores, que José Antonio Sosa, el historiador de arquitectura local, compara con los contemporáneos "mat-buildings" descritos por Alison Smithson, miembro del Team X. Revistaron el edificio con paneles prefabricados cubiertos con fragmentos de piedra volcánica roja, produciendo una textura "como el corcho", en las palabras de Corrales. 

Pero Sosa señala que el edificio ha sido poco a poco "desfigurado" por muchas renovaciones en el curso del tiempo; lo más grave, sus patios han quedado cubiertos. Quedan solo unas pocas de las ventanas primitivas enmarcadas en madera, mientras los muebles originales, incluyendo sillas diseñadas para el proyecto por los arquitectos, así como pinturas destacables de Manuel Millares, han sido reemplazados. Sosa cree que la cadena hotelera RIU, que compró la propiedad en 1996, "no conocía el estado original del edificio, y ha sido la primera sorprendida por la reacción que la noticia de su demolición ha provocado." 
Diversas organizaciones locales, entre las cuales están el Colegio de Arquitectos y la Academia de Bellas Artes, han enviado un manifiesto conjunto al gobierno regional pidiendo la conservación del Hotel Oasis. También lo ha hecho Docomomo Ibérico. El presidente de una cadena competidora ha solicitado al gobierno canario la declaración del hotel como "Bien de Interés Cultural", para que legalmente se exija su estricta conservación. Al mismo tiempo, un periódico local ha montado una campaña en favor de su conservación.

El manifiesto conjunto, que ha sido preparado por Sosa, argumenta a favor de un acuerdo negociado entre los propietarios y el gobierno. Propone que el hotel sea restaurado en su esplendor original. A cambio, los propietarios podrían realizar una ampliación del edificio horizontalmente, ocupando parte de sus extensos terrenos, o agregar edificabilidad a otro de sus propiedades turísticas en la isla. Sosa señala que el valor arquitectónico del diseño debe ser considerado como un elemento positivo en el atractivo del conjunto como destino turístico. Ni RIU ni las autoridades pertenecientes de los gobiernos locales han respondido públicamente a estas peticiones.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Save Corrales & Molezún's Oasis!

During Spain's tourist boom in the 1960's, the Hotel Maspalomas Oasis on the island of Gran Canaria, built by Madrid architects Ramón Vázquez Molezón and José Antonio Corrales, set a model for what resort architecture could have been but rarely was, preserving its spectacular natural setting instead of consuming it.

Now over 40 years old, the complex has been slated for demolition by its owners this spring, as preservationists scramble to try to save it. The hotel is one of 160 works cataloged by the Docomomo Iberia Foundation as part of the Spain's 20th Century Architectural Heritage.
From J.A. Sosa

Here is José Antonio Sosa's description of the project in a guide to modern architecture in the Canary Islands:
"The hotel is located in one of the most beautiful landscapes of the Canary Island's coastline, a natural oasis not far from the Maspalomas Pond that takes advantage of a splendid forest of Phoenix Canariensis....
The architectonic organization of the building takes the privileged situation of this extraordinary natural setting into account. It extends across the site like a network or a carpet (particularly in the first phase), provoking the surprising effect of a porous and varied architectonic space, where patios and gardens (inserted in the building mass) blend into one another, blurring the limits of the operation. As a result, when we arrive at the entry, for example  --markedly horizontal in its proportions-- parts of the building already lie behind us.  And when we think we have finally reached the end of the hotel, in the area of the swimming pool and solarium, much of the building still lies before us. The hotel extends across the site in a continuous play of open and closed, light and shadow, the porous and the solid, colonizing the former palm grove with care and attention,  and thus transforming it into the essential protagonist of the architectonic operation.
The network structure, very much of its time  (Y. Friedmann, Candilis, Josic and Woods, the Smithsons or even Le Corbusier in Venice), is given consistency over its large extension by the brilliant treatment of the facades using prefabricated panels of reddish volcanic stone, very large in size, which find their perfect complement in the large openings of the terraces, the built-in window shades, and the glazed access galleries to the rooms."
Source:  José Antonio Sosa Díaz-Saaverdra, Editor, Arquitectura Moderna en Canarias. 1925 - 1965, Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Canarias, Islas Canarias, 2002

And here are José Antonio Corrales' remarks on the project in a lecture he gave in Pamplona in 2000
"We received this commission, like many others, through a colleague, in this case Manuel de la Peña, an architect from Las Palmas, who was in contact with the Count of Vegagrande, an important landowner. The name comes from the site behind the Maspalomas Lighthouse, where there was a palm grove and some dunes, like an oasis. The layout is based on linear pavilions of rooms facing the sea and the beach. The most important suites are on the ground floor. The entry is located on a plaza, with the vestibule, the cafeteria and arrival court, and all the living areas are located in this area, on terraced levels around the palm grove, and with stepped ceilings as well to allow natural light to enter; the dining rooms are located on the second floor. There is a kind of park in the palm grove, with a swimming pool, graded seating, and a clubhouse under the seating with a dance floor....
The volcanic rock of the island always surprised us, with its purples, reds and deep blues. For the facades, we decided to make cement panels with volcanic rock set into them. The material is volcanic but broken into small pieces, and they make the hotel look like it is made of cork. The material is fundamental, because it gives the project personality. We used African wood for the carpentry, mixed with some areas in white. One of the features of the rooms looking out to sea is that the ceiling of the terrace is a little higher than the room, and the roll-up shade is not between the terrace and the room, but in front of the terrace, so that when it is lowered the room extends into the terrace. The shade doesn't cut off the room. The ground floor suites have their own terraces.... 
We put abstract paintings by Manuel Millares in the living areas."
Source:José Antonio Corrales, Obra construida, Lecciones / Documentos de Arquitectura 5, Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura, Universidad de Navarra, T6 Ediciones, Pamplona, 2000, p 31 -33. Web version available here.
Photos and plans:

Obra construida
Blog, COAC (Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Canaria)
Photos by Lluís Casals:  Docomomo web page

Photos by Francisco Rojas Fariña (below):
María Isabel Navarro, Canarias: Arquitecturas desde el siglo XXI. Vol IX, Historia Cultural del Arte en Canarias, 2011. Lent by José Antonio Sosa.

Last two pictures:
Vázquez Molezú Bequest, Historic Archive of the COAM (Official College of Architects of Madrid). Author, unknown; date, circa 1967 - 71.

 Texts translated by DC

From Obra construida

From Obra construida

Photo: Francisco Rojas Fariña, circa 1971 From the blog of COAC.
Photo: Francisco Rojas Fariña

Photo: Francisco Rojas Fariña

Photo: Francisco Rojas Fariña

Source: J. A. Sosa

COAM Archive
COAM Archive