Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Fragments from an autumnal Vienna: the sentinel figures atop the cornice of the Museum of Natural History, near our hotel; figure of a saint at a local church; Fischer von Erlach's baroque library, embedded in the Hapsburg palace complex; apples in a market, for a bit of color.

Schloss Belvedere, Vienna and its tricky garden axis. Looks complete from above, but it is broken into three parterres at different levels, with fountains interrupting movement down its center. Realized by Dominique Girard, a pupil of Le Nôtre.

Otto Wager's Church at Steinhof.

Finally, red velvet and leopard-print rugs: the bar at the old Bristol Hotel, still purporting to be a 5-star establishment, located across the street from the Opera on the Ringstrasse.

I was surprised that so many of the classic Viennese cafés are tucked into hotels. They reminded me of mid-town Manhattan, circa 1950, with the tripartite wall sconces with little lampshades and the rugged floors and upholstered walls, cozy places for a cold winter night after the opera (Café Sacher, in the Hotel Sacher). Though I suppose the influence goes the other way. Admittedly I missed some other famous ones. But I'll stick with the grand old cafes of Italy, Spain and Portugal. Except for the pastries. (Below, Mary's picture of the café in the Hotel Sacher).

See my related post on the Karl Marx Hof.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Karl Marx Hof, Vienna

Karl Marx Hof, Vienna
Karl Ehn, 1927-30
Visited November 8, 2017

Beside the rhetorical arches, which seem a bit over-exposed at this point, the interior courtyards are impressive in their own right.

We did housing block studies like this at Columbia under Kenneth Frampton. His models were mainly Dutch, but the corner turns here bring it all back.

The complex is about a kilometer long and includes baths, a laundry, a kindergarten and a medical clinic, all inside the blocks facing intermediate streets that cross through them. The multi-arched section is only a single volume deep, with a large park on one side and rail and metro connections on the other. It is flanked by two long courtyard blocks, each spanning intermediate streets. The lot is irregular, so the volumes taper as the extend outwards in each direction. and the volumetric massing becomes simpler, less original but still very fine. Brick is used sparingly as accents in the window strips and around the openings into the blocks. The complex has been beautifully restored.

I imagined the setting to be much more gritty, but it is leafy and suburban, near the end of a streetcar line in a prosperous-looking neighborhood. I guess I was too much influenced by  "Night Porter" - it's where Dick Bogart's character supposedly lives, in a cramped flat. (The flats reportedly range from 30 to 60 square meters).

Photos: DC and Mary Dreyer

Source: Hilary French: Key Urban Housing of the Twentieth Century, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, London, 2008

Far reaches of block, exterior view

Laundry and baths
Additional images and data can be found at the link below. Photos include pre-restoration views:
Tamás Perényi, Tamás Niczki, Zsófia Dankó, Boglárka Szentirmai
Multi-Apartment buildings
Department of Residential Buildings
Budapest University of Technology and Economics

 For more on my visit to Vienna, click here.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Bot Slave


 After posting images of the Karl Marx Hof housing project in Vienna on Facebook, around November 10, today I received the following email from my dormant Pinterest account:

"New ideas for you in Karl marx"
"We found some Pins we think might be right up your alley"
With of course images of the venerable.

I couldn't help myself, I answered the email. And it answered back. The conversation went like this:
Me: "Stupid bot."
Bot: "Thanks for reaching out! A little robot is sending you this auto-reply since we don't check this account. For how-to information, our Help Center is a good place to start."

If you have a conversation with a bot, is it a conversation? I guess it depends on how many other bots are listening in, and what they do about it: NSA, FBI, Facebook thought police, etc. etc. Hello, everyone.

I spent the day filling out forms, official documents required every year for the Foundation Amelia Moreno. I'm feeling somewhat like a bot myself.

Have you noticed how much time you spend filling out forms under the supervision of a bot? The truth is, we are at the service of the bots. We are at their beck and call, we are their humble, obedient wait staff, and no indiscipline will be tolerated. Talk back to a bot and you will be hauled into line: fill out the form, stupid. Stick to the program.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Carme Pinós' Massana Arts School, Barcelona

La Massana Fine Arts School
Photo © Iñigo Bujedo Aguirre

For Architecture Record's issue on college and university buildings this month, I cover Carme Pinós' Massana School of the Arts and Design in Barcelona, located behind the Boqueria Market in the Raval, on a plaza Pinós also has designed.

"Pinós’s compositional technique involves syncopated openings, overlapping angles, large cantilevers, and fragmented, dynamic massing. For the school, she used these strategies to lighten the impact of the 120,000-square-foot building on the neighborhood, tailoring it to the narrow streets on three sides."

La Massana Fine Arts School
© Duccio Malagamba

"The atrium is an architectural tour-de force at the heart of the building. Sky bridges at various levels, staggered in position and rippling upward in groups of steps from the classroom wing to the workshops, crisscross it–spanning a 5-foot rise in grade from the back of the site to the plaza, which Pinós has carried up through every floor."

"Up on the sky bridges, view corridors pierce through the entire building, ending at the large balconies on the main facade, an idea that Pinós says was inspired by the building cuttings of artist Gordon Matta-Clark."

Cathleen McGuigan calls the building "elegantly tough" in her editorial for the issue.

I managed to call it, "powerful, though hardly solemn". I wish I could find a better way to talk about Pinós' uncompromising dedication combined with her capacity to surprise and delight. Her star turns are, in all seriousness, for the fun of it, a sign perhaps of true mastery.

Catalonian Catalyst
Massana School for the Arts and Design, Barcelona, by Carme Pinós
Architectural Record, November 2017, pages 80 - 85.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vázquez Consuegra's CaixaForum Sevilla

Photo courtesy Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra
The theme of my latest article in architektur.aktuell is "the limits of  even the best architecture in the face of an inappropriate site." Excerpts from the text:

"The story of how the CaixaForum ... ended up in a basement is a tortuous one. In 2009, Vázquez Consuegra won a limited competition to install the Forum in the dramatically-vaulted medieval ship-building halls of the Atarazanas Reales. The proposal provoked concerns for the historic integrity of the building, a dispute abetted by political infighting among local administrations. Apparently unhappy with the controversy and the lack of progress, La Caixa pulled out of the deal in 2012, and announced instead a plan to install the center in the Pelli tower. (The Atarazanas is currently being converted into a city-run cultural center, also designed by Vázquez Consuegra, and with a 10 million euro donation from the Caixa Foundation)."

"The Pelli tower had fallen into the hands of La Caixa in the same year, when it took over Cajasol, a local savings bank that had initiated the project in the boom years of the 2000s and had collapsed with the crash."

The existing buildings are clad in glass and terra-cotta-colored metallic elements, and the plaza between them is finished with rather vulgar cement pavers. Vázquez Consuegra responds with his characteristically cool, silvery surfaces. He clads the entry canopy in panels of  Stabilized Aluminum Foam (SAF), spongy and lightweight in appearance. For his addition to the finger, he uses elements of galvanized aluminum, breaking the horizontal lines of the Pelli building with vertical shading fins.

"The canopy's forms are redolent of all the qualities that neither it nor the spaces below it possess: an excavated, carved solid, vaulted and heavy, references that may also remind us of the vaults of the Atarazanas Reales. And yet the canopy is clearly nothing of the sort. It is a ghostly evocation of tectonic muscle, rendered in a space-age material for a junkspace setting: a true architectonic poetics for our time."

In Search of Place
CaixaForum Sevilla by Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra
architektur.aktuell 449, July - August 2017, pages 66 - 77

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Restoration Degree Zero

All photos © JesúsGranada
In the July 14th issue of Bauwelt I write about a minimalist restoration job in Sevilla, the consolidation of the ruined 16th century Convent of Santa María de los Reyes.

"Rem Koolhaas has contemplated the concept of the restoration project as a semi-ruin in an exhibit at the 2005 Venice Biennial, in relation to his work at the Hermitage Museum. He asks, "Can a certain amount of  inaction, a certain resistance to change, actually be instrumental in maintaining a degree of  the authenticity so frequently erased during the process of  modernization?" (1) "

"At another extreme, the artist Gordon Matta-Clark, chain saw in hand, appropriated abandoned New York buildings in the 1970s as a free field of transgressive action. For him, a ruined building was an inert corpse that he could redeem and transform, like a pioneer in a wasteland, forging a new utopian community of fellow artists in action."

"With their intervention at Santa Maria de los Reyes, Morales and De Giles fall somewhere between these approaches. The building's long abandon has resulted in a degree of deterioration that, one senses, has become a state in its own right, as far from an "authentic" window into the past as it is from a false resurrection. In their intervention in the garden, the architects assume some of the liberty of Matta-Clark – in this sense, their reference to his contemporary Michael Heizer is no coincidence. In the building itself, however, they allow the "bare bones" of the structure to speak for themselves: the traditional sequence of spaces, seen in similar historic structures in Seville, from the narrow confines of the medieval street to the private realm of the

Restaurieren am Nullpunkt
"Restoration Degree Zero"
Consolidation of the Convent of Santa María de los Reyes, Sevilla, by José Morales and Sara de Giles of MGM
Bauwelt 17.2017, July 14, 2017, pages 40 - 45

(Sorry, article not available on the web)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

AEG-Stadt, Berlin

Photos by DC unless noted

This past May, we went with our friends Emily Pütter and Michael Neil to the industrial district of Schöneweide, along the Spree, in the far east of Berlin. Emily and Michael had studios here and lived here for several years, until they were forced out by gentrification (among the players now is Eric Olafsson).

This was the heart of the AEG industrial empire, much of which I had thought was designed by Peter Behrens. But I searched in vain for his famous Turbine Hall (1909) – it turns out to be located in the neighborhood of Moabit, in the west (Huttenstraße 12-16, for next time).

Museum of Technology, Berlin

I didn't see anything as architecturally smashing as the Turbine Hall, but the overall impact of the two-kilometer stretch of massive factory complexes along the river is very powerful: block after block of multi-story, substantially-built yellow-brick buildings, with high floors, tall windows and multiple courtyards, many with a myriad of small businesses, studios, artists lofts and so on inside.

One block, now called the "Rathenau Halle", features a large vaulted space with a double-angled gable like the Turbine Hall. It is the Neue Montagehalle, built a few years later (1915–16) by the industrial designer Paul Tropp.
Neu Montague Halle. From Wikipedia

One of the buildings is still functioning as a cable factory, and several others belong to the
University of Applied Sciences for Engineering and Economics.

It turns out that Behrens' only major building there, and not one of his best I would say, is the factory and administrative offices for the AEG automobile plant, the Nationale Automobil-Gesellschaft (NAG, 1913-17).

Peter Behrensm NAG Administrative offices. From Wikipedia

A Wikipedia page listing the architecture of the area brings up another surprise: this "Bootshaus Elektra" or "Electric Boathouse" (1910-12) by Behrens "with Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris", aka Le Corbusier . It can be found a bit downriver at An der Wuhlheide 236/23.

Behrens with Le Corbusier, Boathouse, from Wikipedia

For the full Wikipedia listing of architecture in the area:

Meanwhile, the AEG had factories and other buildings designed by Behrens all over Berlin. See: "PeterBehrens - AEG Electricity Company Buildings":


AEG Small Motors Factory, Berlin-Wedding (1910-13); photo: Emil Leitner, ca. 1925

AEG Workers’ Housing, Hennigsdorf (1918-19)

AEG Locomotive Factory, Hennigsdorf (1913)
Here is the edited Google translation of a webpage about the Schöneweide district:

"The industrial estate in Oberschöneweide is one of the most important monuments of Berlin industry and is regarded as the largest connected industrial monument in Europe. The rise began around 1895, when the AEG under Emil Rathenau moved to the still-undeveloped Spreeufer in the southeast of the city in search for a suitable location for their constantly expanding production sites. Within a few years Schöneweide became one of the largest sites of the Berlin electrical industry and, at the same time, the world's largest location for AEG."

"Since the beginning of the twentieth century, no industrial branch has shaped the economy and everyday life as decisively as the electro-technical industry. The unique concentration of this innovative industry helped the German capital rise to become the "Elektropolis" of Germany, and made Berlin an industrial city of the first rank in the following decades."

"The "General Electricity Society" … was a modern company that shaped the structure and the cityscape of Oberschöneweide. Schöneweide is therefore also called "AEG-Stadt" or "AEG City". "

Ernst Ziesel, Building A 8 (AEG Telecommunication Cable Factory), 1927-28, demolished 2006. Wikipedia
"In the Wilhelminenhofstraße, AEG erected a long corridor of factory plants, which with their yellow brick façades still characterize the almost two-kilometer-long industrial area between the Spree and Wilhelminenhofstraße today. AEG commissioned the most famous architects of the time, such as Franz Schwechten and later Peter Behrens, as well as the industrial building specialists Paul Tropp and Ernst Ziesel. This unique ensemble of factories, production halls, administrative buildings and residential buildings embodies the beginnings of architectural modernism."

The AEG empire was built by Emil Rathenau and his son, Walther. The original family estate in Schöneweide still stands; in Walther's time the family moved to the wealthy suburb of Grunemwald in the west. For a quick portrait of Walther and the AEG, see the following, quoted below:

Nigel Jones
"The Assasination of Walther Ratenau"
History Today

"(Walther) Rathenau was one of the most formidable figures in early 20th century Germany. A Jewish industrialist, thinker and diplomat, he built the enormous AEG electronics and engineering conglomerate into a powerhouse of the German economy. During the First World War, when Britain’s naval blockade was starving Germany of vital raw material imports, Rathenau became his nation’s economic overlord."

"Playing a role similar to Albert Speer in the Second World War, Rathenau husbanded Germany’s dwindling resources and directed its industrial production, brilliantly improvising to give a lease of life to its failing war effort. His work, according to some historians, prolonged German resistance by months or even years. It also sowed the seeds of hatred in the minds of Germany’s anti-semitic nationalists, who saw in Rathenau, not a great patriot brilliantly managing scarcity, but a rich Jew cornering markets."

"After the war the infant Weimar Republic sought out the talented Rathenau, making him foreign minister. ... Rathenau duly stoked the Right’s rage in 1922 by negotiating the Treaty of Rapallo with the nascent Soviet Union, while insisting that Germany had to fulfill the provisions of the deeply unpopular Treaty of Versailles."

The crane now houses a riverside cafe

Photo: Eniily Püetter and Michael Neil

Mary Dreyer took some terrific pictures too:

Same view as my first shot, better exposed. Michael, myself and Emily are otherwise engaged...

Moments later....
Moments later still...
A courtyard

More broken gables

Behrens' NAG offices

Back to the bar...

Solid! Tectonic! Shadow-molding!

Finally, my friend, the artist Angela Bonanni, offers the following video work with images of the district in 2000-2001, when she had a studio there, and when it was far more deteriorated:

Liste der Kulturdenkmale in Berlin-Oberschöneweide 

Peter Behrens - AEG Electricity Company Buildings 

Startseite Schöneweide Historie Die AEG-Stadt    

Nigel Jones  
"The Assasination of Walther Ratenau" 
History Today
Vol. 63, Issue 7, July 2003