Saturday, February 22, 2014

William S. Burroughs II
"You are not paid off to be quiet about what you know. You are paid not to find it out." 
William S. Burroughs

Quoted in:
Barry Miles
Call Me Burroughs
Twelve (Hachette Book Group), New York, 2014

Reviewed in:
Ann Douglas
King of Cool 
The New York Times Book Review
February 23, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

What is Wrong with this Picture?

Ai Weiwei vases

The headlines in The Guardian:

Miami painter thought $1m Ai Weiwei vase was Home Depot-style pot
• Maximo Caminero smashed Chinese artist’s vase at museum
• Act was ‘spontaneous protest’ in support of local Miami artists

The facts: 
Ai Weiwei shows, in the new Pérez Art Museum in Miami, a group of Han Dynasty vases, over 2000 years old, that he has painted in bright colors, i.e. defaced. They stand in front of a series of photographs showing him dropping another Han Dynasty vase and smashing it to bits. This is art.

Local artist Maximo Caminero sees the installation, picks up one of the vases, and smashes it. This is a crime. He goes to jail.

And Weiwei condemns him, because the vase "was not his property".

Richard Luscombe  
The Guardian
February 18, 2014 

Nick Madigan Ai Weiwei Vase Is Destroyed by a Protester at Miami Museum 
The New York Times 
February 18, 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pier Vittorio Aureli: Less is Enough

Reading List
I cannot resist reproducing in full Luis Fernández-Galiano's review of three books by the young Italian theorist Pier Vittorio Aureli, published in Arquitectura Viva 158.  

Pier Vittorio Aureli ‘Less is Enough’

Luis Fernández-Galiano
he architect and professor Pier Vittorio Aureli has just published an electronic book, Less is Enough, with Strelka Press, the editorial branch of the research institute promoted by Rem Koolhaas in Moscow, and the launching of this lucid and timely tract on austerity and asceticism gives a good excuse to look at his two previous works, The Project of Autonomy (2008) and The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture (2011). Co-founder of the collective DOGMA, Aureli has taught extensively outside Italy – at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam, the Architectural Association in London, and Yale University –, which explains why texts strongly rooted in the political and architectural debates of his country appear first in English. The two being reviewed here are meticulously edited by Joan Ockman (The Project...) and Cynthia Davidson (The Possibility...), who have managed to present the author’s ideas in limpid, pedagogical English prose.

The Project of Autonomy is a convincing description of the ideological debates in Italian architecture of the 1960s, a stimulating intellectual panorama that Aureli analyzes under the prism of the Rome-born philosopher Mario Tronti, whose political thinking he relates both to the architectural proposals of the Tendenza gathered around the Milanese Aldo Rossi, and to the utopian designs of Archizoom and Superstudio in Florence. The current senator Tronti was half a century ago the driving force and theorist of ‘operaism’, a radical Communist movement that would also involve the young Toni Negri, and which in time would bring about Autonomia Operaia. Aureli links the autonomy of the political, as defended by Tronti – who strove to reconcile the ideas of Karl Marx with those of the jurist of Nazism Carl Schmitt – with the autonomy of the architectural, as advocated by Rossi through the categories of type and place; and also connects the view of the philosopher of ‘society as factory’ with the No-Stop City of Andrea Branzi and his Archizoom companions, who proposed a zero degree of architecture that owed much to the urban ideas of Ludwig Hilberseimer, rediscovered at the time by a colleague of Rossi, Giorgio Grassi. This political and poetic landscape of Messianic effervescence – set against liberal democracy and the old guard represented by Bruno Zevi, Giulio Carlo Argan, and Ernesto Nathan Rogers – culminated and ironically also came to an end with two exhibitions, the one curated by Emilio Ambasz at the MoMA in 1972, and the Triennale di Milano directed by Rossi in 1973, a melancholy epilogue that Aureli duly records, while showing his dismay at the de-politicization of postmodern society.

Similar sentiments and anxieties inspired The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, an effort to define the political and the formal in architecture through the opposition between the city with limits and urbanization without them, polemicizing with the urban theories of Cerdá, Hilberseimer, Archizoom, and Koolhaas, and finding in the late work of Mies the best expression of an ‘absolute architecture’: an archipelago of well-defined forms rising on clear-cut plinths in the amorphous, unlimited sea of urbanization. Aureli finds the origins of this strategy in the work of four architects – Palladio, Piranesi, Boullée, and Ungers – who confronted the city project from the angle of architectural form, and combs through their work from a viewpoint closer to theory than to history. Defending the Greek polis against the Roman urbs, and thus nomos against lex, Aureli, like Tronti, resorts to Carl Schmitt to explain limits from the optic of political differentiation between friend and enemy, and to support well-delimited places and forms in the city over the systems and indefinite flows of urbanization, which has imposed its economic logic everywhere.

In his latest work, Aureli questions the current clamor for austerity, pointing out the ambiguity of its ascetic component, which can be both a tool of oppression and a form of resistance. Going through the history of monastery life, from the hermits and the abbeys governed by the Rule of Saint Benedict to the altissima paupertas of the Franciscan reform, and stretching the story to include the bohemian poverty of Baudelaire, the precarious life of Walter Benjamin, or the simple room proposed by Hannes Meyer as an alternative to the Existenzminimum, Aureli censures the monastic minimalism of Pawson, the pastoral humility of Zumthor, and even the asceticism of Steve Jobs for its pseudo-religious spiritual aura, and encourages us to replace the Miesian ‘less is more’ with ‘less is enough’, making the shedding of material things the basis of a life freed of the anxiety of production and possession. With his determination to bring into the current debate the political dimension of more ideologized times, Pier Vittorio Aureli has acquired a voice of his own, a voice that deserves to be heard.

Arquitectura Viva 158

From the introduction to Less Is Enough
"Asceticism ... allows subjects to focus on their life as the core of their own practice, by structuring it according to a self-chosen form made of specific habits and rules. This process often involves architecture and design as a device for self-enactment. Because asceticism allows subjects to focus on the self as the core of their activity, the architecture that has developed within this practice is an architecture focused not on representation but on life itself – on bios, as the most generic substratum of human existence." 
 Pier Vittorio Aureli
Go to Strelka Press, publishers of Less is Enough

Becoming Political
Markus Miessen in conversation with Pier Vittorio Aureli
Build, 06/2008

Quote from the interview above:

"How can knowledge be transferred and produced in a meaningful way today?"
"By learning to not be hyperactive. This is a criticism that I address first to myself, every day. To not produce too much, to not design too much, to not travel too much, to not promote too much, to not network too much, to not be everywhere all the time. In short: to learn again to be sedentary and laconic. To learn that refusal, omission and inaction are also positive ways to do something." 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Manuel de las Casas 1940-2014

The architect Manuel de las Casas (Talavera de la Reina, 1940) died last Saturday, February 8 in Madrid, after a relatively short illness. A charismatic teacher at the Madrid School of Architecture for over four decades, and founder of the School of Architecture at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Toledo, he designed works that were pioneering in the fields of social housing, the revitalization of the traditional city, and the integration of contemporary architecture in historic contexts. He received Spain's National Architecture Prize in 1999 for his University Health Sciences Center in La Coruña, and the Gold Medal in the Fine Arts from the Ministry of Culture in 1995.

I first met Manuel in the 1980s, soon after my arrival in Spain, as the author, together with his brother Ignacio, of the social housing developments of Palomeras, Orcasur and Albufera Avenue, projects launched by the central government to mitigate the inhuman conditions of the numerous shantytowns that still surrounded Madrid in those years. With his abundant beard, deep voice and steady gaze, Manuel was for me the personification of a new generation of Spaniards dedicated to the task of building a modern, democratic and socially-equitable country during the exciting years of transition following the end of the Franco regime. The idealism and high aims of the moment are reflected in the sobriety and dignity of these projects: the buildings of Palomeras, with their grand interior halls lined with galleries, like traditional Madrid corralas, creating community; Orcasur, a miniature city of regular blocks; or the square volumes of Albufera, spread out across the hilltop of the Altos de Vallecas, not without a certain monumentality – all today in excellent condition. Later, Manuel's daughter Iciar, also an architect, took me to see the housing block of Cabeza del Moro in Talavera, organized like a traditional Plaza Mayor surrounded by galleries, an early –and truly urban– formulation of the "patio-block" housing type that has come to dominate the dense new planned developments of Madrid.

Another memorable encounter with Manuel was our trip together to Zamora to see his King Alfonso Enriques Institute of Spanish-Portuguese Studies (1997), where he had introduced, among the ruins of a medieval convent, a series of new elements, clad in oxidized steel, of a startling contemporaneity. This work, together with his Agriculture Department Building in Toledo of 1992, still constitute a model of how to integrate new and old without resorting to a superficial mimetism.

On this same trip, I was witness to Manuel's pride and generosity as a teacher, as he took me to see works by up-and-coming young architects that he followed with great interest. He showed me Luis Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón's Museum of Fine Arts in Zamora, their first built work, then still under construction, and the Fair Pavilion by Javier Revillo and María Fraile. We also stopped at the Labor University, a 1950s work in an eclectic historicist style by Luis Moya, for whom his father had worked as technical architect before working for Manuel on his first built work, the Pedro Mora House en Talavera (1964-71).

Last December, the Toledo School of Architecture inaugurated the Manuel de las Casas Chair in Architecture, a ceremony in which Manuel, in his last public appearance, presented this first project to the audience, returning to his roots as a student in the organicist architecture of the early 1960s – and offering us a master class in the human values of architecture, in contrast to the frivolities we find in so much supposedly ambitious architecture today.

David Cohn
Manuel de las Casas, una arquitectura con rostro humano
El País, February 10, 2014, page 41.
 Translated by DC

See also:
Antón Capitel
Manuel de las Casas, arquitecto de referencia
El País, February 8, 2014

Articles on Manuel de las Casas by DC 

King Alfonso Henriques Institute in Zamora
Architectural Record, July 2000, pages 106 - 113 

El anexo como abordaje 
Centro Universitario de Ciencias de la Salud, A Coruña 
Pasajes de Arquitectura y Critica 14, Feburary 2000, pages 20 - 28 

Building as Landscape 
Lérez Cultural Center, Pontevedra, Spain 
World Architecture 73, February 1999, pages 80 - 83 

Acero Rojo, Pizarra Verde, Vidrio Luminoso 
"Red Steel, Green Slate, Luminous Glass" 
Congress hall an Auditorium, Pontevedra 
Pazo de Congresos e Exposicións de Pontevedra 
Exhibition catalog 
Xunta de Galicia, September 20, 1997 

Block en Form einer gespreizten Hand 
Public Housing, Alcobendas 
Bauwelt 17/18, May 9, 1997, pages 926 - 931 

Public Housing, Alcobendas, Spain 
World Architecture, October 1996, pages 134 - 135 

Entwerfen für die Peripherie: Der Realismus des Manuel de las Casas 
Designing for the Periphery: The Realism of Manuel de las Casas 
Bauwelt 28/29, July 29, 1994, pages 1596 - 1599 

Büros in der Akropolis 
Consejeria of Agriculture, Toledo, Spain 
db - deutsche bauzeitung, October 1993, pages 25 - 29 

The Poetics of Place: Three Projects by Manuel de las Casas 
Geometría 14, December 1992, pages 101 - 112

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Short Life of Another Little NY Masterpiece

Source: Wikimedia Commons
 Update on MoMA Steamrolls down 53rd Street

The fate of William & Tsien's American Folk Art Museum at the hands of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (see my blog entry of Jan. 15th) echoes that of McKim Mead & White's sumptuous Madison Square Presbyterian Church, built for the outrageous sum of $500,000 in 1909 and demolished in 1919 for an annex to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company tower across the street. Just one of many New York stories that I took a look at in a 1997 article, New York Lost and Found.

According to Wikipedia  (I know, but it's handy), it was an AIA Gold Medal winner and one of Stanford White's best works:
"To hold its own with the towering commercial blocks surrounding it, both built and to come, its entrance was through a portico supported by six pale green granite columns, fully 30 feet tall. The building was raised on a marble plinth and built of specially molded bricks in two slightly varied tonalities in a diaper pattern and white and colored architectural terracotta details. It featured a low saucer dome covered in yellow and green tiling, with a prominent gilded lantern. The pediment sculptures by the German-born Adolph Alexander Weinman were tinted by the painter Henry Siddons Mowbray, giving the building a polychromy unusual in American Beaux-Arts architecture. Extensive mosaics and Guastavino tile gave the interior a Byzantine aspect."
You know, All that is solid melts into air and all that.

For a more detailed account, see:
Leland M. Roth, McKim, Mead & White, Architects, Harper & Row, New York, 1983, pp. 275-279.

Article on the demolition from the New York Times archive, May 6, 1919: