Sunday, May 18, 2014

Albert Viaplana, 1933 - 2014

Plaza at Sants (1983). Source:
 Albert Viaplana, the Barcelona architect who designed, with his partner Helio Piñón, the Plaza dels Països Catalans at the Sants Railroad Station (1981-83), an emblematic work of Barcelona's urban renaissance, has died at the age of 81, reports José María Montaner in El País this Saturday (link). Montaner writes:
"...the work of the Viaplana-Piñón studio, which emerged in the context of the so-called School of Barcelona, with its roots in realism and contextualism, marked at the end of the 1970s a point of rupture in favor of a conceptual, essentialist and abstract search...."
As Montaner points out, one of the duo's most influential projects was an unrealized competition design for the College of Architects of Valencia in 1977:
"Using a stepped and repetitive form, they achieved an unforgettable, timeless, minimal proposal, rendered in lines that could not be more simple, abstract, and anonymous..."
Montaner goes on to note that Viaplana was somewhat eclipsed by the meteoric success of his disciple Enric Miralles, who worked on projects such as Sants, and he expresses the hope that his work will be better appreciated in its own right in the future.

Other projects with Piñón, all in Barcelona:
  • Besós Park, Sant Adrià, Barcelona (1984)
  • Santa Mónica Art Center, Las Ramblas (1985-1992)
  • Hilton Hotel, Avenida Diagonal (1987-1990)
  • CCCB, Centre de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona, El Raval (1990-1993)

José María Montaner
Albert Viaplana, imprescindible arquitecto vanguardista
El País
May 17, 2014 

Translation, quotes: DC

Friday, May 16, 2014

Destination: Sant Just Desvern

To visit Walden 7, the work that put Ricardo Bofill on the map (1970-75), and his adjoining studio and house in a former cement plant (1973). It turned out to be surprisingly easy to get there, on the tram line that runs on the upper part of the Diagonal. I made the trip last March.

I was accompanied by Elisabeth Cuspinera, who took this picture - update on Nadar's portraits on the towers of Nôtre Dame, but without the gargoyles.

I was under-impressed by the interior courtyards, which like most of the building have been restored.

Great formal play on the outside, but aren't those windows tiny?

The labyrinth effect up at the top

From where you can peer down at Bofill's next-door spread.

The Taller de Arquitectura from the grounds

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spanish Architects Recognized Abroad

Architects Maria Hurtado of estudio entresitio, Iñaqui Carnicero and Carmen Espegel of espegel-fisac will participate in an AIA conference on Spanish public housing.

Social Housing in Spain
Thursday, May 29th
6:00 - 8:00 PM
The Center for Architecture
536 LaGuardia Place NY, NY 10012
(212) 683-0023

Factoria Jóven, Merida. Photo © Roland Halbe

José Selgas & Lucía Cano of SELGASCANO have bee recognized as Architects of the Year by the Iconic Awards 2013 of the German Design Council.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Vidler's Challenge

Anthony Vilder on the pending revistion of the history of Modernism in architecture, from  his book Histories of the Immediate Present, quoted in an upcoming paper I reviewd by Macarena de la Vega, doctoral student in architectural history at the University of Canberra, Australia: 
"We would need to reassess disruptive moments and figures, not as curiosities or embarrassments, nor as washed-up utopias, ...but as openings into the process, rather than the appearance, of modernity."

"We would also need to seriously reevaluate the sacred cows of modernity, whose work has become, too quickly, canonical, in order to detect the internal inconsistencies, the still-open questions lurking behind their monographical facades."
"Finally, we would need to open those ideas of "modernism" so prevalent after the Second World War that were proposed in order to tidy up the erratic field of the early avant-gardes and to provide rules for being modern in the era of reconstruction."
Histories of the Immediate Present:
Inventing Architectural Modernism
The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2011, p 201

Notes from All Over

Josep Lluís Sert's Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul de Vence, France is 50 years old, and celebrating the event with an exhibition. Another of my favorite places.

Miguel Mora
El Paraíso del Arquitecto y los Artistas
El País, April 5, 2014
Photo DC

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles
My friend Jorge Sainz, Professor of History and Theory at Madrid's School of Architecture (the famous ETSAM), sent me this YouTube link to a 1972 BBC documentary on Los Angeles prepared by Reyner Banham. It includes a science-fiction proto-GPS sexy car guide as a jokey part of the commentary. Above, hanging out with Ed Ruscha and friends. A little faded, but priceless.

The Architectural Review covers a new, updated book by photographers Ian Lambot and Greg Girard documenting Kowloon's Walled City, in the former British colony of Hong Kong, which was reportedly the densest human settlement on earth before it was finally torn down in 1993. I am sorry I missed it on my stay in Kowloon in 1984:
"On a site measuring just over 220 x 110 metres were crammed some 200 individual tower blocks, rising on average to 14 storeys in height.... At the Walled City’s height in the early 1980s, it is thought that well over 40,000 people lived there, and over 33,000 were officially registered as part of the clearance in 1987."
City of Darkness: Surreal photographs of day-to-day life inside Kowloon Walled City
The Architectural Review
April 9, 2014

Greg Girard & Ian Lambot
City of Darkness Revisited
Watermark Publications, London
Upcoming, July, 2014
Preview on Kickstarter

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Covering the New Celestial Jerusalem

Yours truly (the tall guy) and Jordi Fauli, head architect of the Sagrada Familia, with one of the lighting fixtures

 In this month's Architectural Record, I return to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, this time to take a look at the lighting:
"The level of detail that the design team has found for these lighting elements amid the fragments of Gaudí's studio is astounding, though they haven't hesitated to use the most advanced technical means to realize them."
 It was fun to put critical aloofness aside and share with the architects and lighting designers their delight in technical invention, and to groove in their weirdness, with mystical references to the "Celestial Jerusalem" and other ocult symbology that didn't make it into the text.

Thankfully, no one seemed to remember my critical article on the temple in The Architectural Review from 2012  (see blog entry here). Or they were nice enough not to mention it. We all gave each other a sporting chance.

As a special treat, head architect Jordi Faulí invited me back after the temple had closed, to see how the lighting worked at night. As we stood in the middle of the nave, Jordi's former boss and former head architect Jordi Bonet, who I had interviewed in 2012 for the Review, emerged from the shadows, an ancient, gnomic figure among gnomes, and captivated our little group with stories of Catalan greatness, rendered, with great deference to his foreign guest, in the hated Castillian tongue. The one story I sort of recall was about Catalan anti-Imperialist imperialism -- a noble Catalan general fending off a Russian incursion into California, in the days when Alaska was still Russian and California still Spanish, and converting the Indians instead of killing them off. Then Madrid spoiled it all somehow. Or whatever.

Another stellar moment was when Faulí described for me the exterior lighting for the towers, which he is building now (also didn't make the cut). Here's the section from my notes:
 JF: central tower w/a 4-armed cross, Jesus Cristo, 172 meters. Gaudi didn't want to rise above height Montjuic hill. "out of respect for the Creation"
4 towers of Evangelists around it: 135 m ea.
Apse: Virgin: 130 m
Towers of transepts: 100 m

JF: "un prodigio" all supported by interior columns of nave
JF: from 4-armed cross spot lights in each arm. "The light of Cristo to the pueblo. And this light reaches the people, how? The light doesn't pass to the street directly, but through the towers of the facades that represent the Apostles and Bishops. And from these Evangelists the Cross is lit. Because they are the ones who transmit the Word of Jesus. The Word of Cristo illumniates the world. Illuminates and is illuminated."
To give you an idea of what he's talking about, the tallest tower in Barcelona pushes 150 meters or so, if I'm not mistaken. All were designed deferring to the up-and-coming central tower of Gaudí, according to my new friends.

Tweety Bird lights on the columns Aren't they adorable? Photo by DC, up in the rafters
La Sagrada Familia
Lighting Gaudí's eccentric, posthumous masterpiece
Architectural Record, May 2014, p 166 - 169