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architecture

Biennale Bling: Rem Koolhaas and Swarovski Sparkle in Venice

(Gilbert McCarragher)
(Photo: Gilbert McCarragher)

The long-awaited Rem Koolhaas-curated Venice Architecture Biennale is upon us. Along with a newly cohesive approach to the national pavilions, in which the 65 participating nations each address a “key moment from a century of modernization,” and the central “Elements of Architecture” exhibition (spoiler alert: “It is nothing to do with design,” Koolhaas explained yesterday), there is “Monditalia,” a multidisciplinary portrait of Italy in the form of 82 films, 41 architectural projects, and a merger of architecture with the Biennale’s dance, music, theater, and film sections. Mamma mia!

Visitors enter Monditalia through a dramatic illuminated archway, which is saved from smacking of Vegas or Disney by its setting in the augustly industrial Arsenale. Dubbed Luminaire, the sparkling facade—spanning nearly 66 feet in length—was created in collaboration with Swarovski using thousands of colored light bulbs and a generous dusting (read: 33 pounds worth) of Swarovski crystals, all encrusting an elaborate wooden frame. Koolhaas describes what lies beyond the gate as dealing with “the current state of Italy, between treasure and crisis, knowledge and controversies, history and politics.”

Guggenheim Kicks Off Open Competition for Design of Future Helsinki Museum

helsinki

Pull up an Alvar Aalto-designed Stool 60, cue up your Sibelius playlist, and put on your Marimekko-patterned thinking cap, design fans, because Guggenheim Helsinki is coming. Today marks the launch of the Guggenheim Foundation’s open, international architectural competition—a first for an institution that has had a good run simply by commissioning architects named Frank when the need for a new building arises—for the design of the proposed art and design museum, which is to be located on city-owned land in the southwestern part of Helsinki’s South Harbor (you know, betwixt Eteläranta and Laivasillankatu).

Guggenheim Helsinki is to be a museum that “would organize and present internationally significant exhibitions of artworks from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries while also specializing in Nordic art and architecture. The museum would feature programs organized by the Guggenheim Foundation that might not otherwise be seen in Finland and would also generate exhibitions to be presented at other Guggenheim museums and at institutions around the world,” according to the proposal presented by the foundation last fall. A permanent collection would be developed over time. The construction budget is estimated at €130 million (approximately $177 million at current exchange).
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Quote of Note | Elizabeth Diller

White iphone 4s using siri“Whenever I ask Siri for directions or a recommendation, I also ask her a trick question. Her answers are usually wacky. She scolds me for cursing, which I love, but she has no problem with ethics. If I say, ‘Remind me to rob a bank at 3 p.m.,’ she responds, ‘Here’s your reminder for today at 3 p.m.: Rob a bank. Shall I create it?’ She takes orders without imposing judgments, unlike some of my staff.”

-Architect Elizabeth Diller, partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in the Wall Street Journal

Quote of Note | Steven Holl

vanke center

“In China, if I say, ‘This has never been done before,’ they get very excited. When we did a hybrid of a cable stay and a rigid concrete frame for the Shenzhen ‘horizontal skyscraper’ [Vanke Center, 2006-09, pictured]—spanning 50 meters between eight cores—they were very excited to do it. This would never happen in America. When I propose something here, they usually say, ‘Have you ever done this before? We’re worried about this. Can you show us some examples?’ The mindset here is conservative, provincial. Look at this tower outside my window. What kind of a mindset builds a tower that’s trying to look like a row house? It’s gross. I think that China is a very interesting place. Japan was the same way until their economic bubble burst, and it never came back.”

-Architect Steven Holl in an interview at his NYC studio with Pierre Alexandre de Looz that appears in PIN-UP

National Building Museum Explores ‘Designing for Disaster’

johnstown PA 1889The Washington Monument reopens to the public today—nearly three years after sustaining severe damage from the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that shook the East Coast in August 2011. Total cost of repairs to the towering obelisk? Approximately $15 million. Amidst rising costs associated with natural disasters, the National Building Museum is exploring new approaches to disaster resilience in “Designing for Disaster,” an exhibition that runs through August 2 of next year at the Washington, D.C. institution.

Organized by the destructive forces associated with each of the elements—earth, air, fire, and water, the show is a mix of case studies, artifacts (including singed opera glasses from the Waldo Canyon wildfire, and stone fragments from the earthquake-damaged National Cathedral), and immersive experiences (DIY disasters?) such as a “wall of wind” against which visitors can compare how various roof shapes perform in hurricane-force gales. Those that find even simulated disasters overwhelming can take refuge in the FEMA-specified tornado safe room.

Introducing Archigrams: Famous Buildings for Your Walls

archigrams

Having been refused subscriptions to the likes of Wildlife Treasury and Sweet Pickles during our formative years, we’re suckers for flash cards. Combine their didactic delights with posters and architecture and you’ve got Archigrams: minimal, informative prints of famous buildings ranging from Gerrit Rietveld‘s Schroeder House to the Gherkin (a.k.a. 30 St. Mary Axe by Norman Foster, no relation to Sweet Pickles). “The idea came to me years ago when I was an architecture student at UCLA, studying for my architecture history exams,” says Michie Cao, now a graduate student in interaction design at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She returned to the idea as part of a project for her SVA course in Entrepreneurial Design.

“As designers, we tend to be perfectionists and want to hide our ideas from the world until it’s one-hundred-percent developed and perfect. Unfortunately, that often prevents us from actually building it and getting the objective feedback we need to take the next step,” Cao explains. “The goal of this class was therefore to teach us how to use our networks, build a community base, and to learn how to test ideas out in the real world.” Her Archigrams Kickstarter campaign of last month raised $11,258, nearly four times the original goal, and production is now underway. Cao took time to tell us more about the concept, her sentimental favorite building, and how you can get in on the architectural fun.

michie caoHow would you characterize the initial response to your concept?
Mixed! My initial concept of Archigrams was essentially a set of visual flashcards for modern architecture, and the first people I showed this to were classmates, friends, and Reddit. Many people, especially designers and architecture people, told me they loved the prints. Others told me they were turned off by the idea of flashcards, because it invoked bad memories of high school. From there, I iterated and played with all the ways I could frame my concept—first, by completely eliminating the informational aspect of it and then, incrementally bringing it back. Finally, I arrived at the concept I have now, which is that they are beautiful prints, supplemented by tidbits of important information every architect knows. My Kickstarter campaign took a while to catch on in social media, but after getting featured on various blogs and websites and as [a Kickstarter] Project of the Day, it finally got the exposure it needed and took off.
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Noguchi Museum to Honor Norman Foster, Hiroshi Sugimoto

noguchiThe Noguchi Museum in NYC’s Long Island City will honor architect Norman Foster and artist Hiroshi Sugimoto with the Isamu Noguchi award. The new honor was created to recognize “like-minded spirits who share Noguchi’s commitment to innovation, global consciousness, and Japanese/American exchange,” according to the museum. Motohide Yoshikawa, ambassador of Japan to the United Nations, will present the awards at the museum’s annual spring benefit on Tuesday, May 13. Helping to clinch the win for Foster? His Hearst building uses the tensegrity systems beloved and developed by Noguchi and Buckminster Fuller.

Quote of Note | Snøhetta’s Craig Dykers

dykers“As architects, we often talk about the concept for something, and that’s interesting because I’ve never heard anyone walk into a building, drop to their knees, and say, ‘Whoa, what a fucking great concept.’ It just doesn’t happen. For us, the concept takes the form of a question. The question can be kind of mysterious or funny. The question can be dangerous. But the best questions, as any child will tell you, are questions that lead to other questions. And so what does that mean in terms of architecture? One of the questions we ask ourselves is, who are making things for? Obviously we’re making them for people. People are not abstractions. We can’t always predict what people do. Do as we design we’re asking, what range of reactions can we expect? The open nature of the design allows people to connect with each other in a civilized manner, even if they seek challenges.”

-Craig Dykers, a founding partner of Snøhetta, in an interview that appears in the March 24 “design issue” of Bloomberg Businessweek. Dykers will be lecturing this evening at Cooper Union’s Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture.

Shigeru Ban Wins Pritzker Prize

shigeru ban

“Firmness, commodity, and delight.” These are the three words—cribbed from Vitruvius, who considered “firmitas, utilitas, venustas” to be the fundamental principles of architecture—that appear on the Louis Sullivan-inspired bronze medallion that is awarded to each laureate of the Pritzker architecture prize. This year the coveted hardware goes to Shigeru Ban, who’ll receive it along with $100,000 at a ceremony at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam on June 13.

Ban is the seventh Japanese architect to receive the prize, which has previously been awarded to Toyo Ito, Kenzo Tange, Fumihiko Maki, Tadao Ando, and SANAA’s Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. “Receiving this prize is a great honor, and with it, I must be careful,’ said Ban upon learning that he had been selected as the 2014 laureate. “I must continue to listen to the people I work for, in my private residential commissions and in my disaster relief work. I see this prize as encouragement for me to keep doing what I am doing—not to change what I am doing, but to grow.“ Ban’s latest stateside project, a new building for the Aspen Art Museum, will be unveiled this summer.

New U.S. Embassy in London to Showcase 007-Level Security and Style

Having outgrown its home in the Eero Saarinen-designed London Chancery Building, the Embassy of the United States in London is getting a new home. Nancy Lazarus sizes up the project, a transparent, crystalline cube now taking shape on London’s South Bank.

View from northeast
(Renderings courtesy of KieranTimberlake/Studio amd.)

“The U.S. government is taking their design seriously again,” said David Sprouls, president of the New York School of Interior Design. His proof? Under the State Department’s Excellence in Diplomatic Facilities program, the American government is commissioning noted architects and designers to build embassies and consulates worldwide. He spoke briefly at NYSID’s “Design Diplomacy” event last week, where plans for the new London embassy were previewed.

Currently 31 international projects are in the design or construction phase, and these facilities have evolved beyond the purpose-built or modern compounds of earlier U.S. embassies, according to Jerry Withers, project manager at the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations that manages the program. They’re part of the 2010 Embassy Design and Security Act, whose flexible design standards encourages more local influences and cultures.

“Showcasing and representing America well abroad while still being functional, sustainable and safe”: those are the tall tasks of the embassy design program, Withers said. One of the toughest design challenges is to convey U.S. openness since security requirements have tightened in the wake of overseas incidents.

The new U.S. embassy in London is the most high-profile project, and it began about six years ago, when Kieran Timberlake was awarded the architectural design after an international competition. November 2013 marked the groundbreaking and the opening is slated for 2017.
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