Monday, June 30, 2014

The Unsustainable Monarchy
 Presenting Royal Face as a Representation of State, in the tradition of portraits from the times of Velázquez and Goya.
Source: El Periódico del Golfo

Following up on my recent post, The Other Face of the Spanish Monarchy, about the tensions during the recent ceremonies proclaiming Felipe VI the new King of Spain, I translate almost in its entirety an analysis by Javier Pérez Royo of the fatal historic vulnerabilities of the Spanish monarchy. The opinion piece, titled Monarquía insostenible, appeared in El País on June 27. 2014:
The problem of the Monarchy is not the Republic. It comes from the Monarchy itself and from the political system derived from the Founding Laws of General Franco that made the Restoration possible.

The Spanish Monarchy lacks any legitimacy of its own. Its store of legitimacy was exhausted by Carlos IV, Fernando VII, Isabel II and Alfonso XIII [monarchs from the 17th - 20th centuries, three of whom were deposed]. As a result, it is a species threatened with extinction that, if it is to survive, must not make any mistakes. As long as members of the royal family did not commit any visible errors, the institution was not put into question. But when errors could not be hidden, all the alarms went off. And hence the abdication. The first threat to the Monarchy has not come from the Republic, but from within the royal household.

What throws the survival of the Monarchy into doubt is not so much its errors as tbe exhaustion of the political system used to carry out the Transition, which was designed to guarantee the Restoration. Its objective was the Restoration. The instrument for this was the transition from dictatorship to democracy. At the end of the 20th century, it couldn't have been done any other way. But the objective was the Restoration, to which end an instrument was designed: the type of democracy that would permit a Restoration without risk.

There is a continuity between the Spanish constitutions of 1845, 1876 and 1978. All three, which cover almost the entire history of constitutional government in Spain, were guided by a distrust in the protagonism of common citizens in the political management of the country. In all of them, the Monarchy was the expression of this lack of confidence....

This is the reason why Spain has not reformed its Constitution. In order to reform the Constitution, the principle of democratic legitimacy cannot be held back. If it is, the link between the legitimacy of the Monarchy's origins and the legitimacy of its exercise will erode to the point of disappearing, and the political system will collapse. That is what has happened here in the past and I'm afraid it will occur again.

And I don't think the new King can prevent it.... A parliamentary monarchy cannot survive if the political system over which its is erected is rotten and, as a consequence, loses its legitimacy. Juan Carlos I and Felipe VI don't have the same responsibility that Alfonso XIII had for the decomposition of the First Restoration, but their position is almost as unsustainable.
But in reply to this, it should be pointed out that there are no major revolutionary movements taking violent action in the streets as in the time of Alfonso XIII, and none of the massive popular demonstrations that pushed along the democratic process during the Transition. The Monarchy can coast on a great deal of inertia for a good while yet, as can the political system with its endemic corruption scandals. People complain, but the government has not served up cadavers and violent repression as during the time of Alfonso XIII. Police have started charging demonstrations and swinging clubs. I hear they are preparing water cannon. Rubber bullets are infrequent and I haven't seen any tear gas. And demonstrations are still tiny.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Day in Turin

On assignment in Turin , I spent a few hours having a good look at the city, this time with my new cell phone camera, lightweight and capable, though many photos came out rather gloomy or muddy.

It is a city of lovely 19th century arcades. Seems very French, but you find them too in the old Palazzo Reale.

They are very civilized, especially with a nice pastry shop and cafe. Nothing like the lifeless arcades of the Federal Triangle in Washington. Or the Mussolin-era arcades on the Via Roma in Turin.

(How I miss the rich desserts you don't find in Spain).

And I love the neon. But I also felt a bit hemmed in.

The overall effect is like the perfect postmodern city of the Tendenza. Surprising how few stories are on top of the arcades. And how much space they consume in the buildings (my hotel was in one). Inside, the buildings have large patios, often with rich gardens.

I found a couple of these monumental covered galleries as well. So grand!

Even the famous Fiat plant in Lingotto is like a long gallery, especially as it now houses an enormous shopping concourse on its main level, together with a hotel, congress center, and the Pinoteca Agnelli (closed, it was Monday). (Here is where my new little camera started to disappoint me.)

The ramps at each end. Cars were driven up to the rooftop test track for a spin after assembly and then back down again. Couldn't figure out how to get up there.


Someone told me that this was Agelli's heliport. Don't know. The Pinoteca building on the roof is by Renzo Piano.

I walked around the neighborhood between Fiat at the River Po and found some surprisingly well-crafted working class housing, from the 1950s and 60s, I would guess. What happened to Italian architecture? My latest theory: too much Marxism, sociology and massification destroyed the schools, and architects lost their sense of building craft. The only figure that this system produced was Tafuri.

 I made it to the center of the old city the next morning, to the Piazza Castello, with this little chapel by Guarini. The urban complex of the square, in the middle of the Roman and Baroque city, and especially the Palazzo Reale, was fantastic, but I didn't manage to document it with decent photos.

The palace is composed of endless wings that bend about to form urban spaces, a miniature, labyrinthine city in themselves. On one side they enfold the Cathedral and its chapel of the Holy Shroud. On the other they wrap around two sides of the Piazza Castello, old brick constructions with early examples of those double-height arcades, from the 17th century. Behind them, the royal gardens, now in restoration. And on the far side of the plaza, behind the regular brick arcade and facade, an opera hall built after the Second World War (maybe 1970s?). The newer main palace, in stone, steps back from the north side of the plaza with an entry court and wrought iron fence of its own, but it turns out to be permeable to the gardens behind it and to the streets around the cathedral. So you have this snaking line of wings and arcades, and all this stuff happening behind and around them.

Source: The Map Shop

It was delightful to see how seedy and rather skin-deep the palace actually was on its garden side.

Are the origins of the plaza in a fortified castle with walls and moat? In the middle of the plaza is the medieval Palazzo Madama, with what looks like a late Baroque facade stuck on the end looking back to the Via Garibaldi.

The Baroque city - ignore the red lines. Source: La Torino Barroco
View of Guarini's San Lorenzo (1668-80) from the arcade of one of the Royal Palace's old brick wings.

Together with the new opera, another stranger intruding on this square is a Mussolini-era tower towards the Via Roma. I did rather like it:

Source: Antiestetica: La torre arraogante

Neither did I manage to photograph well Guarini's fabulous red brick Palazzo Carignano, where the first parliament of a unified Italy met. Here are views of the interior and details of the brick courtyard, and a facade shot I found on the web. The swelling main facade manages to include an oval rotunda open to the patio on the ground floor and sweeps of curving staircases on each side. He really was the Frank Furness of his day:

Source:Townhouse 70 Torino
Update August 3, 2014
Here's the project that brought me to Turin, the new Porta Susa High-Speed Train Station.
See my blog report on the station here. It's very much at home with the arcaded streets of the city, the long boulevards and Lingotto.

Photo: DC

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Other Face of the Spanish Monarchy

On the Proclamation of Felipe VI as the new King of Spain: reading under the surface, the untold story behind the media coverage: along the parade route and in front of the royal palace, few people actually showed up. Even less than on a normal shopping day on the Gran Via, according to the newspaper Público.

Note also the strong military and security presence during the event. And the fact that among the titles of the king is that of head of the Spanish military - he is still Franco's heir after all. 

The only thing significantly missing was a Mass, thank God. 

Not only were pro-republic demonstrations prohibited, so was the display of republican flags and even badges and T-shirts. There were several arrests on these grounds.

Missing from the ceremony was Cristina, one of the new king's sisters, whose husband is on trial for corruption, and who may be up for indictment herself. Just to play it safe, both sisters have been removed from the webpage of the royal family and have lost their titles as Infantas.  "Everything is perfectly normal," said through clenched teeth. 

So the monarchy -and the political system it awkwardly supports- still gives an impression of vulnerability and insecurity, And reacts badly, with little tact, grace or generosity. Every day it looks less like a consensus and more like an imposition.

Together with the silencing of moves for Catalan and Basque independence. Lip-service to democracy, while the imperatives of state rule, with the cooperation of the mainstream press.

I heard live the ruling Catalan party's leader in Madrid,
Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida,  explain in Congress why they were abstaining from the vote for the abdication. He said that, unlike in the negotiations to create the post-Franco government 40 years ago, they had been shut out of the democratic process and silenced in their efforts to bring the democratic consensus up to date. 

Meanwhile, as the conservative government of Madrid avidly looks for the bones of Cervantes in an old convent, the bones of thousands shot at roadsides and cemetery walls during the Civil War and buried in ditches remain unattended by the government of that same party, despite survivors' calls for justice, dignity, remembrance. Who can then yet speak of forgiveness or normalcy? It is a time for struggle and confrontation. 

See my update: The Unsustainable Monarchy

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Venice and the Biennale, 36 Years Later

I went to the preview of the Venice Biennale of Architecture as a personal adventure, but was able to cover the Spanish Pavilion for Bauwelt and a "collateral exhibition" called "Time, Space, Existence" for Architectural Record (link).

On the main show organized by Rem Koolhaas in the Guardini, with its rooms given over to different building elements --windows, doors, walls, ceilings, elevators, and so on-- amid a conversation this week on what it might all be about, my best summary, I think, is that it is an autopsy or anatomy lesson, an examination of the vital parts of a lifeless corpse. It turns out that Peter Eisenman thinks much the same, declaring it "la fine dell'architecttura" (Dezeen 06.09.14).

More simply, it's just not metaphysical. No talk of abstracts, space, light, axis, as
Sarah Williams Goldhagen points out in Architectural Record. Not even the metaphysics of the window or door or fire. So what does that mean?

On my experience in Venice and at the show, I wrote to a friend:
"I was curious to see the Biennale, but I am really beyond those things I found out."

"I was also curious to see Venice again. I was thrilled the first 24 hours, but then the heat and crowds and work, and even the pungency of the jasmine and some other lethal perfumed flower, put me out completely, and I spent the rest of the time limping around with a cold, half myself. It really is a rat maze, I don’t see how anyone can live there unless in one of those palaces with a garden well away from the Grand Canal and its traffic. What a historic curiosity, what a strange experiment in organizing a city."

"There were still wonderful moments, mostly wandering around in the morning, trying to get lost (never quite managing it) before the heat and the crowds. But the picturesque wonderment of the little canals and bridges and plazas and surprises just didn't do it for me as it did when I was a student."

"Of course I live in one of these wonderful European cities now, much more sensibly organized than Venice. But it was all fun really, I shouldn’t complain."

Boys playing with a ball in a schoolyard

In my Bauwelt article, I previewed the Spanish pavilion in an interview with curator Iñaki Ábalos, the new Dean of Architecture at Harvard's GSD, who seems to be everywhere -- I just wrote the introduction to an upcoming AV monograph on his work, with partner Renata Sentkiewicz, which comes out soon.

On the exhibition, which featured oversize photos of the interiors of 12 works by Spanish architects, he told me, among other things:
"In Spain, and in the entire Mediterranean –as well as in many similar climates– the relation between the exterior building envelope and an interior void is completely different from that in cold climates, where normally this interior contains a nucleus emitting heat. In the Mediterranean, the interior dissipates heat. Thus a typological, thermodynamic vision is implicit in the theme of the interior." 
For Record, I did my best to review projects and installations by over 100 architects in two labyrinthine Venetian palaces, on the opening night, thronging with people, filing my story the next morning. I met some wonderful people doing the story, but it was, all-in-all, a nerve-wracking experience that colored the rest of my Venice stay:
"Are there any advantages to leaving a major show of this kind in untrained hands? It certainly opens the door to the unexpected, and it would be wonderful if it gives unknown creative talents the break they need. For the visitor, the experience is something like a visit to a flea market, looking for hidden treasures amid the random offerings on display." 

Preview of Spanish Pavilion, Venice Bienale, Curated by Iñaki Ábalos
Bauwelt 21.14, May 10, 2014, pages 42 - 43

Exhibition Review: Time Space Existence
"A scattershot architecture show sprawls through two grand Venetian palaces during the Biennale"
Architectural Record webpage, June 7, 2014

 Photos: DC

While I am on the subject of Venice, Koolhaas comments in an interview with Charles Jencks in The Architectural Review, otherwise unremarkable (Jencks as always, tiresomely obvious and oblivious), that Venice is largely an invention of the 19th century. Much like Madrid:
"RK: Well, by the way, one outcome of the whole effort here is an incredible book by Giulia Foscari [of the Villa Malcontenta] called Elements of Architecture where she applies the logic to Venice.... It’s truly amazing because one of the things she shows is that more than half of Venice was constructed in the 19th century. 
CJ: It may have been reconstructed in the 19th century …
RK: No, constructed!

CJ: Well, it looks much the same … The 13th-century Doge would have recognised the urban patterns …
RK: No, I don’t think so because she shows the whole pedestrian infrastructure of Venice was an invention of the 19th century … imposed in the 19th century."
Other interesting bits from the interview:
"RK: My initial inspiration as an architect is with Modernism, and the most ideological version of it, and it revealed a huge inhibition as an architect, because Modernism was over – and there was a nostalgia in the pursuit of it. So I used the abstraction of modernisation against the limitations of Modernism.
CJ: Like Jim Stirling and many architects you were aware that Modernism was in crisis and so like a radical conservative you went back to it – like Leon Krier in crisis went back to a radical traditionalism – to bring forward a new synthesis.
RK: I was attracted to this but able to escape from the gravity fields of Modernism, so going back is not accurate."
"RK: The apparent need of architecture to see itself in terms of continuities, and therefore be in denial about discontinuities and real revolution rather than evolution.
CJ: You are asking us to take evolution as the paradigm, but to what end?
RK: By architects thinking the way they do now, they have declared themselves incapable of taking part in the vast majority of operations that take place now. You cannot do a good shopping centre, good skyscraper, an intelligent house - on every scale it degenerates into incompetence."
 Selection of articles on the Biennale with a range of information and opinion:

Valentina Ciuffi
Rem Koolhaas is stating "the end" of his career, says Peter Eisenman
June 9, 2014

Oliver Wainwright
Rem Koolhaas blows the ceiling off the Venice Architecture Biennale
Includes revealing video interview/walk-through with Koolhaas of the "Elements" show
The Guadian
June 5, 2014

Rowan Moore
2014 Venice Architecture Biennale review: put yourself in their space…
"Rem Koolhaas's excellent Biennale sets new sensibilities against old, and maps out Italy's history of grandeur and brutality"
The Guardian
June 8, 2014

Oliver Wainwright
Hovership Holidays:
North Korean Architects Shake Up Tourism
Abundantly illustrated
The Guardian
June 10, 2014

Charles Jencks
The Flying Dutchman: Charles Jencks Interviews Rem Koolhaas on his Biennale
The Architectural Review
June 12, 2014

Sarah Williams Goldhagen
Critique: Rem's Rules
Counterposes conventional "fundamentals" of space, light, axis, boundary and views to Koolhaas' " anachronistic, contemptuous agenda"
Architectural Record
June 18, 2014

Julie Iovine
Just the "Fundamentals"
The Wall Street Journal
June 16, 2014

Roger Salas
Andrés Jaque obtiene el León de Plata en la Bienal de Arquitectura de Venecia
El País
June 7, 2014

Norman Kietzmann
Venice Blog 
The Dark Side Club 
What architects really talk about when they are alone
June 27, 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

Record Design Award for Camper Stores

Camper Together
Camper Soho, New York by Shigeru Ban. Photo: Camper
 The June issue of Architectural Record features its Good Design is Good Business Awards, including one to the Camper Together stores of the Spanish shoe manufacturer and retailer, for which I wrote the text (link).
"The general tone of the interiors is playful—often colorful and wry... “Our products are high-quality, but with a relaxed attitude that is very Mediterranean,”says Philippe Salva, Camper's head of Communications."
"This laid-back approach emerged in the company's first shop in Barcelona in 1981, planned by Fernando Amat with the collaboration of Oleguer Armengol and Javier Mariscal, a graphic designer known for happy Pop-Cubist cartoon imagery, like his famous Cobi mascot for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics."

Architects/Designers: Fernando Amat, Tomás Alonso, Oleguer Armengol, Shigeru Ban Architects, Studio Makkink & Bey, Marko Brajovic, Bouroullec Brothers, Campana Brothers, Juli Capella, Doshi Levien, Konstantin Grcic, Martí Guixé, Alfredo Häberli, Hayon Studio, Kengo Kuma, Isabel Lopez, Michele de Lucchi (Memphis), Javier Mariscal, Miralles/Tagliabue EMBT, Nendo, Neri & Hu Design and Research Office, Gaetano Pesce, Jordi Tió, Tokujin Yoshioka

Camper Together
Good Design is Good Business Awards
Architectural Record, June 2014

Monday, June 9, 2014

At the Uni: critic|all conference in madrid

This Thursday morning, June 12th, I will head one of the "working tables" for critic|all, the I International Conference on Architectural Design and Criticism at the Madrid School of Architecture (ETSAM), thanks to an invitation by Federico Soriano, who heads the Department of Design at the school.

Researchers will present 4 papers on the theme of Utopias and Manifestos, followed by a moderated discussion. For more information, visit the critic|all website.

After the working table and a coffee break, Joan Ockman will deliver the keynote address, "Conjuring with Ghosts (Geists)", which should be interesting.

The papers to be presented:

10:00 “Transferencias desde los manifiestos a la teoría arquitectónica contemporánea”
            Beatriz Villanueva Cajide
            Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid

10:25 “Yona Friedman: utopías realizadas desde la Ville Spatiale”
            Ramón Durántez Fernández
            Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid

10:50 “Revisiting the encounters of the social concern with the utopian aspirations:
           Is pragmatist imagination or utopian realism the way to follow?”
           Marianna Charitonidou
           National Technical University of Athens, School of Architecture

11:15 “Utopías de reconstrucción”
            Enrique Fernández-Vivancos
            CEU-UCH, ESET

Wish me luck!