Monday, April 15, 2013

Clorindo Testa, 1923 - 2013

Banco de Londres, Buenos Aires (1960). From Archdaily
 The Argentine artist and architect Clorindo Testa died in Buenos Aires on April 11 at the age of 89.

Alejandro Rebossio writes from Argentina in El País (April 13):

"Born near Naples on December 10, 1923, he came to South America with his family when he was one year old. Self-defined as an Argentinian, although without losing his ties to Italy. ... Also a painter, he ... practiced a modern Brutalism in the 1960s, although he later moved on to more personal, colorful works."
National Library

"Master of generations of Argentinian architects, winner of the Biennial of São Paulo, he also designed buildings in Uruguay, India and the Ivory Coast...  In 1962, together with Francisco Bullrich and Alicia Cazzaniga, he won the competition to design the National Library, which the Argentinian State took 30 years to build, due to economic crises and political priorities."

Santa Rosa Civic Center (1955). © Adrián Mallol i Moretti
Other works:
Santa Rosa Civic Center, La Pampa (1955) 
Banco de Londres (today Banco Hipotecario), 1960
 Naval Hospital of Buenos Aires, 1970
Recoleta Cultural Center, 1979, with Jacques Bedel and Luis Benedit
Peace Auditorium (Auditorio de la Paz), 1993
Museum of Books and Language (Museo del Libro y la Lengua), 2011

National Library. From El Plan B

Peter Schjeldahl on Richard Artschwager

A few lapidary phrases by art critic Peter Schjeldahl on the Richard Artschwager retrospective at the Whitney Museum last fall, in The New Yorker of November 26, 2012:

On the cynical, media-wise state of things:
" culture, successful hype is prophetic and fashion is destiny".

On Artschwager's late work:
"Like other boundary-breakers, Artschwager was reduced to seeking, in vain, rules not yet broken. The immense knowingness known as post-modernism erased the horizon of conceivable novelty."

On his early work:
"Artschwager's discovery of beauty in tacky industrial materials ratified the deep program of Pop art: reconciling Americans to American culture, as it happened to be."

Let's let that sink in a minute.

Now this:
"And his wizardly way with frames and framelike constructions distilled the minimalist vision of art works as internal framing devices for the space around them, displacing aesthetic experience from the object's glamor to the viewer's self-consciousness."

Few can burn things down to their pithy best better than Peter Schjeldahl.

Richard Artschwager
Melamine laminate on plywood
Steven Sloman/Richard Artschwager/Whitney Museum of American Art, New York via Bloomberg

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Internal Meltdown and Exile

Floating Structures by Antón García-Abril, Ensamble Studio
My two latest articles chronicle the golden exile of Antón García-Abril, who has found a refuge at MIT, where he is setting up the POP-LAB, a prefabrication research and development lab, and the story of yet another public building project in Spain's ravaged provinces that got built but lacks funds to open.

I interviewed García-Abril for the biannual Russian journal Speech, a more technical version of my interview published in El País last January (in English and Russian, no web version).

And for Bauwelt I reported on the unopened Cultural and Civic Center in the former State Prison of Palencia, in the northern region of Castilla-Leon, after the building was all but rebuilt by the young Madrid studio Exit Architects (German only, no web version) .

Here's García-Abril on his experiments with a Styrofoam house:
"What is the structural language of the Modern Movement? The slab, the column, the wall. I don't want any of that."
"Primitive mass had a predetermined volume. Stone, earth. Contemporary mass has been concentrated in a few highly defined elements, in steel, concrete or glass, that bear an enormous structural demand."

"But in our case, mass is expressed volumetrically, as in the Antique world. What disappears is weight. In the Antique world, mass and weight were very similar. But here weight disappears from a physical point of view, but not from a spatial point of view. It becomes an energy, something perceptive."
"What is our statement in building this? The mass of a body is irrelevant in the weight of space."

Cultural and Civic Center, Palencia. Exit Architects

  In my conclusions about the debacle in Palencia, I return to some of the themes I covered for another finished but unopened project, a creative arts center in Córdoba by Nieto + Sobejano that I wrote on in The Architectural Review this March.
"If new contemporary spaces were required, why not then demolish the prison and start from scratch? ... Another option would have been to carry out a much more modest intervention, simply consolidating the existing pavilions at minimum expense and preserving their raw character. This has been the approach in Madrid's abandoned 18th century tobacco factory, the Tabacalera, which the Ministry of Culture has ceded temporarily to non-hierarchical management by neighborhood associations, who fill its unrestored walls with the kind of social activities that the citizens of Palencia reclaimed for their center, and at a minimal operating cost. This is just one example of how, in the face of the inability of government bodies to supply basic civic services, citizens associations are stepping in to fill the vacuum. Why not do the same with the once and future ruin in Palencia?"
Original state of cell block

Problemfall Palencia: 
Wie aus: einem Gefängnis kein Kultuzrentrum wurde 
Problem in Palencia: The Prison That Didn't Become a Cultural Center
 Bauwelt 13.13, April 5, 2013, pages 14 - 19, cover

Making Gravity Irrelevant 
Interview with Antón García-Abril
Speech 10, January 2013, pages 208 - 228

Monday, April 1, 2013

Silvestre's Atrium House in Record Houses

© Juan Rodríguez
Architectural Record's long-awaited Record Houses issue comes out every April. With only 7 houses selected from around the world, it`s one of the most hard-to-get-into issues we do. All told, I think I've published only three houses in Record over the past 20 years, and only two in  Spain. So congratulations to Fran Silvestre, this young architect from Valencia, and his Atrium House. I may have been a little hard on him in places, but he's just getting started and has time to figure things out. Thanks to my Record editors too for the catchy title, The Box Stripped Bare (By her bachelors, even?).
"This is a work at ease in nature and the outdoors. With its 50-foot-long lap pool and elegant white marble, the Atrium House is the incarnation of an enduring Mediterranean ideal."

"The house can be taken in at a glance: a continuous wall of floor-to-ceiling glass reveals a 57-foot- long wing for the living area on one side and a bedroom wing on the other. 'My strategy was to free the largest possible area for a private outdoor space with limitless height and volume,' Silvestre explains. 'I see the house and its site as a continuum.'”
Look up everyone, this is another sign that architecture is really cooling down.....

 The Box Stripped Bare
Atrium House, Godella, Valencia, by Fran Silvestre
Architectural Record, Record Houses, April 2013