Architecture, Art, Books September 26, 2010 By Nalina Moses

filler165 Maxxi   zaha hadids art museum in rome

Exterior view of Suite V from the plaza.  All photography by Iwan Baan. Click images to enlarge)

Exterior view of Suite V from the plaza. All photography by Iwan Baan.
(Click images to enlarge)

filler165 Maxxi   zaha hadids art museum in romemaxxi title Maxxi   zaha hadids art museum in rome
No other contemporary architect has a formal language as seductive and expressive as Zaha Hadid’s. Her work has sidestepped the conventional forms of modern architecture (rigid boxes and planes) for something altogether different (warped and tilted vectors) with complete assurance.
     Hadid’s new museum for contemporary art in Rome, MAXXI: Zaha Hadid Architects. In addition to a portfolio of masterful photographs by Iwan Baan, the volume contains insightful essays about the building’s design and development, architectural plans, detail drawings, and construction photos. It’s eye-opening to understand the immense coordination efforts, and also the vast grid of steel reinforcing, that were required to get this building up.
     Since the project spanned from 1999, when Hadid’s office first won a design competition, to 2009, when construction was completed, MAXXI is a powerful summation of the ideas the architect explored during these fruitful years. Chief among them is the notion that buildings aren’t static constructions but complex, mutable entities that emerge from fields of energy and activity at a site. That idea is given full, clear expression at MAXXI. The building’s long curved walls follow the outline of the L-shaped site and retract and expand in response to adjacent street grids. The compressed, overlapping forms recreate the density of traditional Roman city blocks, and echo adjacent military barracks, train tracks, and the curve of the Tiber River. The structure looks strikingly contemporary and still sits comfortably within this very old city.

Architecture September 23, 2010 By Nalina Moses

Building exterior (Night).  Sperone Westwater, 257 Bowery, New York. All Photograph courtesy of Nigel Young/Foster + Partners.

Building exterior (Night). Sperone Westwater, 257 Bowery, New York. All Photograph courtesy of Nigel Young/Foster + Partners.

bowerbelle title Bowery Belle : Norman Foster
Stunning new buildings are popping up all around the Bowery. First there was SANAA’s tower for the New Museum, which was followed by Morphosis’ building at 41 Cooper Square for Cooper Union. Now, on the Bowery just south of Houston Street, they’re joined by a building for Sperone Westwater Gallery designed by the great English architect Norman Foster.
     The slender, eight-story building is incredibly elegant. It’s a simple, stepped volume with a poured concrete frame, a front facade of laminated glass, and side and back facades of corrugated metal panels. The whole building feels dressed up. Even the metal panels, which are standard industrial panels painted matte black, have a refined look. This formality is striking amid the surrounding rough-and-tumble Bowery storefronts, but it also muffles some of the building’s power.
     The most anticipated feature of the new building is the Moving Gallery, a room at the front clad in bright red panels that slides up and down from floor to floor just behind the glass facade. It’s an interesting gimmick and, when lit up at night, a striking effect.

Architecture, Books September 20, 2010 By Rafael Schimidt

Juscelino Kubitschek Memorial, Brasilia, Brazil.  Oscar Niemeyer, 1980. Photography courtesy of Rizzoli USA (Click image to enlarge)

Juscelino Kubitschek Memorial, Brasilia, Brazil. Oscar Niemeyer, 1980. Photography courtesy of Rizzoli USA (Click image to enlarge)

brasilia title Brasilia
To honor the fiftieth anniversary of Brasilia, Brazil’s modern capital city, we asked Rafael Schimidt, architect and Director of the Instituto de Arquitetos do Brasil, Departamento de Sao Paulo, to share his thoughts. We’re also presenting photographs by Alan Weintraub from the impressive new monograph “Oscar Niemeyer: Buildings“.
     For a Brazilian, Brasilia brings to mind Oscar Niemeyer. Lucio Costa and his role in planning the city remain practically unknown. The confusion comes from the fact that when someone visits or sees pictures of the place, what’s instantly perceived are the famous buildings created by Niemeyer, such as the Three Powers Plaza, the Ministries Offices, the Cathedral, or the Jucelino Kubitsheck Memorial, even though other great architects also designed fine buildings for the city.
     Brasilia is a postcard city that every Brazilian wants to visit at least once, and also an administrative capital, but not a place where anyone would specifically choose to live, spend free time, or work. And as the majority of Brazilian politicians seem to serve their own interests, Brasilia is seen by the population as a center of political corruption.

Architecture September 2, 2010 By Nika Knight

Photography courtesy of Terrain:Loenhart&Mayr (Click images to enlarge)

Photography courtesy of Terrain:Loenhart&Mayr (Click images to enlarge)

towerontheriver title Tower on the River Mur
Marking the border between Austria and Slovenia — once “a public-excluded security zone along the former Iron Curtain” — rises a new observation tower along the winding path of the river Mur. Murtum, by the Munich-based architectural firm terrain:loenhart&mayr, is sequestered amidst what is today a quiet, lush nature preserve. Supported by Naturschutzbund Styria (Styrian Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union), the tower was originally intended as a simple marker for the European Green Belt (a conservation project run by the World Conservation Union). Ultimately, however, this tower is an architectural achievement and testament to the potential for modern design to engage in elegant, equal dialogue with the wild forms of nature.
     The tower’s design mimics a tree: the lower part is thick and sturdy like a trunk, and the thinner steel tubes that support the pinnacle represent a tree’s delicate uppermost branches. A structural challenge for its engineers, the massive form sways softly as people climb to the top. Clad with aluminum, the shiny structure reflects both the changing colors of the sky above and the gray riverbed that flows beneath it. Altogether, despite (or perhaps because of) its sharp, metallic form and material, the subtle geometry and reflective quality of Murtum proves that manmade structures can, in fact, enhance our experience of the natural world.

Architecture August 30, 2010 By Virginia Smith

filler139 Villa Nyberg

Photography by Kjellgren Kaminsky

Photography by Kjellgren Kaminsky

filler139 Villa Nybergnyberg title Villa Nyberg
With the recently opened Treehotel and now Villa Nyberg, Sweden seems to be making a case for itself as the world’s hub of cutting-edge green architecture. In collaboration with Emrahus and commissioned by the Nyberg family, all-star architecture firm Kjellgren Kaminsky has just unveiled Villa Nyberg, setting a new standard for the concept of the “passive” house.
     Still a budding art form in the world of green architecture, passive houses are designed to draw on the energy — and there’s always quite a bit of it — created by the house’s residents and their appliances, thus wasting as little energy as possible for basics like heating. The houses are extremely well insulated, and tests have recently found that the Villa Nyberg will only consume kWh/m2 per year for heating and has set a new airtightness record for Sweden.
     Views from the Villa of the adjacent lake in Borlänge, Sweden are an instant reminder that Kjellgren Kaminsky has given as much attention to form as to function with this house, which has been given its circular shape for purposes of airflow efficiency. As one of the world’s leading firms for passive houses, Kjellgren Kaminsky is now aiming to make eco-friendly architecture, normally the territory of elite home buyers, a more accessible option, meaning we may live to see the day when the word “passive” can be applied to the world of New York real estate.

Architecture August 24, 2010 By Nalina Moses

filler140 Citizen Architect

Citizen Architect film still courtesy of PBS and Rural Studio

Citizen Architect film still courtesy of PBS and Rural Studio

filler140 Citizen Architectcitizenarchitect title Citizen Architect
The image we have of the modern American architect is of a charismatic conjurer like Frank Lloyd Wright, wandering about with his cape and cane, or a narcissistic obsessive like Howard Rourke in The Fountainhead, deeply immersed in the details of his work. So the late Samuel Mockbee, the well-regarded architect and professor at Auburn University, cut a welcome figure. Stout, bearded, wily, and garrulous, he seemed more like Santa Claus than an architect.
     That comparison might not be so ridiculous. Mockbee’s greatest accomplishment was to establish the university’s Rural Studio, a program that instructs students by leading them to design and then literally construct buildings for the needy in Hale County, Alabama. Sam Mainwright Douglas’ new documentary, Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio, which premieres nationwide on PBS Monday, August 23 and will be released for rental afterward, is an excellent introduction to the Studio and its work.
     Since its inception in 1993, the Rural Studio has completed several small houses and public buildings each year. In Citizen Architect we see a class of sophomores working together to build a house for a local man who had been living in a rusting trailer. We also see some of the handsome buildings that the Studio has already completed, including an animal shelter, a fire station, and a church. And we hear interviews with architects throughout the country who are carrying on Mockbee’s vision by practicing “social architecture,” doing work that’s pragmatic and community-centered.

Architecture, Books August 11, 2010 By Nalina Moses

filler134 Julius Shulman

All photographs are by Julius Schulman and Juergen Nogai, copyright 2010 (Click images to enlarge)

All photographs are by Julius Shulman and Juergen Nogai, copyright 2010

filler134 Julius Shulman


Architectural photographer Julius Shulman documented so many truly great buildings — canonical works by Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler, and Charles and Rae Eames — that it’s easy to take his skills for granted. We see the technical assurance in his pictures but credit much of their beauty to the architecture itself. A new book, Julius Shulman: Chicago Mid-Century Modernism, which documents houses by lesser known architects, puts that notion to rest. These more modest houses are burnished by Schulman’s lens so that they too emerge as masterpieces.
     This entire generation of Chicago architects was working under the immense shadows of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, modern masters who had built in and around the city. They all adapted common building technologies, like brick walls and wood framing, to achieve the deep cantilevers, full-height windows, and open plans of a modernist vocabulary. And they all adapted the long, low, interlocking volumes of Wright’s prairie style to suit simpler, smaller houses.
     The houses documented in the book are warmer and more welcoming than the Case Study Houses that Shulman shot in the 1950s, whose pristine geometries exuded high style. For one thing the Chicago houses were photographed decades after their completion, after they’d been lived in and roughed up a bit. And the houses possess a richer, darker palette. They’re finished with oak panels, rough stone facing, and colored ceramic tiles, and filled with shaggy rugs and hand-thrown pottery.

Architecture, Books July 23, 2010 By Nalina Moses

Azkoitia Municipal Library, Gipuzcoa, Spain, 2007.  Estudio Beldarrain.  Facade built from railroad ties. All images courtesy of W.W. Norton. (Click images to enlarge)

Azkoitia Municipal Library, Gipuzcoa, Spain, 2007. Estudio Beldarrain.
Facade built from railroad ties.
All images courtesy of W.W. Norton. (Click images to enlarge)

rematerial title Rematerial
Short of building nothing new at all, the most environmentally-conscious strategy toward construction is to build with what materials are at hand. This reduces the extent of mining and foresting, the energy required for fabrication, and the emissions associated with shipping.
     One powerful and increasingly popular approach is to build with waste materials. This can be implemented at different scales, by powdering demolished concrete blocks to use in a new mix, building a house on an old foundation, or reinvigorating an abandoned site like Governor’s Island. Alejandro Bahamon and Maria Camila Sanjines have compiled some of the more promising waste-capturing projects in an inspiring new book, Rematerial: From Waste to Architecture.
     The projects have a distinct aesthetic, one that values the patina of weathered and marred materials over refined geometries and gleaming surfaces.  A small library in Spain, whose walls are constructed from stacked railroad ties, has a rough, mottled appearance. A house addition in The Hague, with a facade of tread-worn tires, has a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max look.

filler116 Architecture of the Sun

Images courtesy of Rizzoli USA (Click images to enlarge)

©Thomas S. Hines, Architecture of the Sun, Rizzoli, 2010. All images courtesy of Rizzoli. (Click images to enlarge)

architecturesun title Architecture of the SunCalifornia modernism, which gave rise to stunning works by Rudolf Schindler, Richard Neutra, and Charles and Rae Eames, is often overshadowed by its better-celebrated East Coast and European counterparts. So Thomas S. Hines’ new compendium of modern buildings in Los Angeles, Architecture of the Sun, is a welcome corrective.
     Hines is a well-known architectural historian who tracks design developments thoughtfully, but his real achievement here is the astounding collection of photographs and drawings he’s assembled. Unlike in other cities, in Los Angeles many influential modern structures were small houses and stores that were particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of the market, and also fires and earthquakes. The book brings some of those long-gone buildings back to life, and brings works by less celebrated architects such as Irving Gill and Raphael Soriano to the forefront.
     In many ways Los Angeles was the perfect ground for modern building. Its open, undeveloped landscape, temperate weather, and dry climate lent itself to a spacious, inside-outside architecture that was less concerned with planning and weatherproofing than with sculptural expression.

filler97 Red Hook Green

Photography courtesy of Garrison Architects.

Photography courtesy of Garrison Architects. (Click images to enlarge)

filler97 Red Hook Greenredhookgreen title Red Hook GreenWhile “sustainability” is possibly the hottest buzzword in the world of contemporary design, the term “net zero-energy” is comparatively unknown. Red Hook Green, the newest project by the Brooklyn-based Garrison Architects, is likely to change that. The project is poised to be New York’s first net zero-energy live/work building — it will sustain itself through natural means, and contribute no pollution to our beleagured city air.
     The US Department of Energy defines a zero-energy building, or ZEB, as “a residential or commercial building with greatly reduced energy needs through efficiency gains such that the balance of energy needs can be supplied with renewable technologies”. What’s most revolutionary about the concept of a ZEB is that it asserts that city structures can meet all their energy needs from such low-cost, locally available, and renewable resources as solar and wind power.
     Red Hook Green is approximately 4,000 square feet and includes space for a studio/workshop, corporate offices, garages and a residential apartment — as well as an outdoor green space. Inspired by shipping containers (whose creative potential we covered earlier), the building’s form pays homage to the its Red Hook location, which has long been defined by its active shipping port. Composed of stacked, modular units, the design also takes advantage of the area’s incomparable harbor views. Here’s hoping that this initial effort allows the most greenest of design concepts to take root in the most urban of settings.
     Red Hook Green is to be completed by December 2010. Until that time, those interested can follow its progress through its blog.