S K Y L I N E | Is it time to put that dome over New York?
Architecture enters the Fumoscene
Issue 116. Like freshly minted words? Subscribe here.
My feeds are awash in Martian skylines—or is that the New York sun caught in the plumes of Canadian wildfires? Either way, it’s climate change made visceral. “Weather can be experienced; we need media to understand climate,” DANIEL BARBER reminds us in Modern Architecture and Climate. “New York’s clear skies and shiny buildings are the delusional effort to deny climate crisis,” ANDRÉS JAQUE opined on Instagram. “This non-breathable sky is a bit of what colonialism, racialization, and extractivism feel like.” With no fixed holidays to serve as ritual reminders of our rapidly changing world, let’s take this aleatory atmospheric event as a moment of reflection.
Feelings about interiors and exteriors have shifted kaleidoscopically in the past few years. Should classrooms move outdoors to escape airborne pathogens, or should schools invest in HEPA filters? Can public life thrive inside, in shopping malls and the like? Can it survive outdoors as temperatures climb? Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from cities such as Singapore and speculative fiction about life on Mars. Maybe we’ll see another wave of projects for domes over Manhattan (to complement the sea walls around it), à la Buckminster Fuller’s 1959 proposal. In the meantime, be sure to check the hostility of the air before venturing outside.
You could also put your stockpiled masks to use at the big-crowd events that continue this week, following the opening of the Venice Biennale—there’s the AIA Conference in San Francisco and the unveiling of this year’s Serpentine Pavilion in London. Read on for quick takes on the latter as well as recaps of events on housing, spatial justice, and more.
— Matthew Allen
5/31: Matters of Form
Those of us who packed into the subterranean auditorium of the Center for Architecture on the most ultimate of May days seemed to affirm the noble invocation with which THOMAS DE MONCHAUX began his dialogue with ERIC HÖWELER: “the power of people and the power of place.” Höweler, who runs a design studio with MEEJIN YOON out of Boston, was on hand to discuss Verify in Field (University of Chicago Press), a book he argued was about praxis, one that prints construction details, one that advocates for a method: “Measure twice, cut once.” In describing the statics of the Collier Memorial at MIT—a five-way granite vault constructed inversely to an arch (i.e., keystones first)—he spelled out the principle of arches: “the rock tries to fall; it can’t fall because there’s other rocks holding it together.” To this material politics of interdependency, de Monchaux rejoined with an au courant theory about Stonehenge. If it was previously believed that Stonehenge must have in and of itself presented a tenable reason for fetching stones all the way from Wales, the causality is now reversed, where its builders are believed to have asked themselves “wouldn’t it be great if we got stones all the way from Wales?” Evidently, the underlying motive was a camaraderie borne of the ambition to achieve something great.
As the talk progressed from form to matter—which it inevitably would in the current consciousness of labor and extraction—de Monchaux pointed to the conservatism of Winston Churchill’s famous dictum “We shape buildings and thereafter they shape us,” which assumes that our munificent surrounds are proudly obstinate, perhaps even eternal. This prompted Höweler to cite the research of his students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and its attentiveness to adaptive reuse. When the Q&A became bogged down by questions of plasticity, Höweler offered some wisdom he and Yoon accrued from their experiences working on the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia. “One thing we learned,” he said, “is [that] meaning is not something you put in, meaning is something you take out.”
— Samantha Vasseur
6/1: Memory and World Building
CHELSEA — “What we think produces what we make and do.… We are less comfortable thinking about our thoughts and the forms and shapes they take,” said J. YOLANDE DANIELS in her conversation with TOSHIKO MORI at the National Academy of Design. Daniels has helped to change the way we think about architecture and urbanism, primarily through gallery installations that thematize the lost settlements of people of color. For example, The Black City: Los Angeles, her contribution to the Museum of Modern Art’s 2021 exhibition Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America, wrestled with the urban vandalism carried out by LA officials in the 1960s, including the burial of a prosperous Black neighborhood under a train station. Subsumed, the area simply “became Los Angeles,” she said. Mori praised the room-sized astrolabe Daniels created for the Venice Architecture Biennale as the exhibition’s only future-oriented project. (The giant maquette, which uses time zones to structure a spatiality of diaspora, is on display inside the Arsenale.) Daniels demurred: “This is about the past.”
— Patrick Rutan
6/1: Wrap it Up
MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — “People should modify, and will modify," RACHAPORN CHOOCHUEY said of life in the airy, adaptable structures her firm (all(zone)) seems to specialize in. Kicking off Columbia GSAPP’s summer Argument series, the alum encouraged current students to build fluidly for an ever-changing world, as with her work on fabric roofs, built to distribute the perfect amount of shade, or with “lighthouses,” which resemble decorated cages able to be housed in empty buildings. (In between, there were concrete dwellings.) And while Choochuey wistfully noted during the Q&A that “I would wrap everything in fabric if I could,” the philosophy of the structures proved more pressing to the audience than the physicality of it all. Where, one person asked, does the agency of the architect end and the agency of the person inside their work begin? While enthralled by the idea of building for every aspect of a stranger’s life, she said it doesn’t work out well: “If you plan for everything, people will feel like an observer.”
— Lily Puckett
LOS ANGELES — Always zigging where other historians zag, DANA CUFF emceed a fun-forward book launch for Spatial Justice—her latest publication and one committed to “ethically driven architectural efforts,” according to an introduction from UCLA architecture chair MARIANA IBAÑES—in the courtyard of Perloff Hall. Taco-wielding attendees mingled against a backdrop of protest banners and DIY “Catholic prayer candles for architecture” made by MARLENÉ NANCY LOPEZ, an activist-in-residence at cityLAB, which Cuff directs.
Spatial Justice contextualizes case studies from the likes of Chilean firm Elemental against global resistance movements. “This book is a reminder that we need to be anti-spatial injustice in the same way that we must commit to anti-racism,” Cuff said. Her husband, the architect KEVIN DALY, lamented the majority of building codes that “are only about protecting wealth” to contrast them with those made possible by cityLAB, including AB2299, which streamlined the “densification of California suburbs” via ADU construction.
The festivities concluded with a lively set from architecture PhD student ANIRUDH GURUMOORTHY, AKA DJ Class Struggle.
— Shane Reiner-Roth
6/5: Public Futures
LOWER EAST SIDE — Last Monday, the AIA’s Right-to-Housing group convened its third iteration of an ongoing panel series that asks architects (and architecture) to respond to the premise that housing is a fundamental right. Group lead KAREN KUBEY moderated the latest conversation, between NATHAN RICH, principal of Peterson Rich Office (PRO), and FELICIA GORDON, president of the Hernandez Houses Resident Association.
PRO began working with NYCHA eight years ago, notably authoring a 2020 report outlining scalable, replicable strategies for the restoration of the agency’s aging properties. Deferred maintenance currently sits at $32 billion, and Rich cited leaking roofs, poor thermal performance, and failing plumbing systems as common problems among the city’s 326 public housing blocks. “Some estimates say that within the next four years or so, the cost to repair these buildings will exceed the cost to rebuild them, and so we are coming up to a critical point in that process,” he said. (PRO’s visioning for NYCHA, plus earlier, related work conducted during a fellowship from the Institute for Public Architecture, is currently on view at Architecture Now: New York, New Publics at the Museum of Modern Art.)
“It needs to be sustainable,” added Gordon. “There are billions of dollars to be invested into the conversion, but if the materials are subpar and cheaper on purpose, then how sustainable will it be moving forward? Isn’t that the whole purpose of sustainability? We need to make sure that whatever we do today is going to be there far into the future.”
The next phase of PRO’s work with NYCHA comprises extensive community engagement consultation, made possible through the organization’s PACT program. “Architects can do more than just build,” Rich told NYRA following the event, “we can also galvanize people around good ideas, mediate, and help visualize concepts to build momentum.”
— Sebastián López Cardozo
6/6: Reading, Reading, and More Reading
CLINTON HILL— KELLER EASTERLING opened and closed her lecture at e-flux’s new event space with a pair of colorful US maps. The meaning of this gesture was only slightly elucidated by her concluding assertion that “there’s not one registration of value but rather multiple economies and communities. To create an overabundance of value in registers beyond the financial—in this way an incalculable value begins to address an incalculable debt.”
But one incalculable debt was clear—that amassed by the Jim Crow South, whose oppressive regime terrorized communities and purloined wages for generations. Easterling shared her gatherings on how territories of resistance formed in response to this sustained threat, hopscotching between towns and farms in southern Georgia, for example. It was here that Slater King, Charles Sherrod, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other organizers built robust institutions like the Albany Movement for desegregation, Koinonia Farm, and Habitat for Humanity.
Easterling explicated concurrent systems of resistance while flipping through matrices of book covers, in which abolitionist and Black studies literature was juxtaposed with works by anarchist bestie and Darwinist truther Pyotr Kropotkin and performance studies scholar and fugitive planner Fred Moten.
When an audience member asked Easterling about her reasons for embarking on the project, she responded by saying something like, it seemed like an interesting extension of the infrastructural mappings she has done in the past—which felt unsatisfying given the stakes involved. There is a lot of careful reading to be done as Easterling’s project unfolds—especially accounting for the motives and aims of research beyond the ivory tower.
— Angie Door
NYRA ON THE OTHER TOWN
LONDON — LINA GHOTMEH’s deliberately modest Serpentine Pavilion is a modern, timber roundhouse that invites people to find common ground within leafy Kensington Gardens. The lightweight wooden structure with its distinctive pleated plywood roof, radiating glulam rafters, and glowing oculus creates an ineluctable draw to its center.
À table, the project’s formal name, was chosen for its association to convivial family dinners; Ghotmeh, a Lebanese-French architect who maintains a studio in Paris, even developed the cafe menu. But another important inspiration for the “celebratory space” comes from the toguna structures of the Dogon people in central Mali, West Africa. In her telling, toguna are designed “for community gatherings to discuss current issues,” with roofs so low that occupants must squat to enter and remain sitting inside.
The comparison of her lightweight, airy, temporary pavilion with a traditional Dogon thick-timbered, stone-columned, heavily thatched toguna is a head scratcher, especially since Dogon toguna are men-only meeting houses. The horse-free carousel is, perhaps, a more logical precedent.
In this vein, Ghotmeh’s pavilion has already inspired appreciative flights of linguistic fancy from early reviewers. Aerial photos from a press pack reminded one critic of a “giant cocktail umbrella” but also a “giant portobello mushroom.” To jump aboard the metaphor bandwagon: it’s a Big Tent. With a Big Table. Where we should all try to sit.
— Louise Harpman
EYES ON SKYLINE
Last week, readers tuned in to Dank Lloyd Wright.
IN THE NEWS
This week, Apple unveiled a “revolutionary spatial computer” (or is it just another VR headset?)…
…Arizona moved to limit construction around Phoenix as water dries up…
…postmodernist Paolo Portoghesi passed away…
…and Beyoncé and Jay Z reportedly bought a Malibu mansion designed by Tadao Ando for $200 million.
In the week ahead, there are blockbusters at The New School (Eyal Weizman) and Columbia (Junya Ishigami), and don’t miss the Museum Mile Festival on Tuesday.
The Pyramid of Sahura at Abusir: New Perspectives with Mohamed Ismael Khaled
1:00 PM EDT | Toronto Society of Architects
'Rumble 2023' Exhibition Opening
9:00 AM PDT | University of California Los Angeles Architecture and Urban Design
Investigative Aesthetics with Eyal Weizman
5:00 PM EDT | The New School
Designing for Coastal Resiliency in Lower Manhattan: Why, What, How?
6:00 PM EDT | AIANY Center for Architecture
Arguments Lecture Series: My Works with Junya Ishigami
6:30 PM EDT | Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Museum Mile Festival
6:00 PM EDT
Restoring Yale with Ann Beha & Kurt Glauber
10:30 AM EDT | Institute of Classical Architecture & Art
New Loops Capstone
6:00 PM EDT | Urban Design Forum
League Prize 2023 Night 1: Miles Gertler, Sarah Aziz & Lindsey Krug
6:30 PM EDT | The Architectural League of New Yor
Our listings are constantly being updated. Check the events page regularly for up-to-date listings and submit events through this link.
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