S K Y L I N E | Occupational Anxiety
And other discontents
Issue 108. Come work with us! Deadline is April 3 — next Monday — to apply to be our engagement coordinator.
In late 2020, I interviewed literary critic Walter Benn Michaels for PLAT Journal’s ninth issue, “Commit.” When our editorial team began planning a roundtable based around the theme, we returned to Benn Michaels for guidance. We told him how, amid the cataclysmic upheavals of that year, the prevailing impetus seemed to be an almost frantic assertion that architecture was an agent and initiator of meaningful societal realignment. Benn Michaels wasn’t having it, telling us that “a butcher can’t cut meat politically.” In other words, designers should be wary of the delusion that their political energies are best spent on design projects.
That architects would need an English professor to tell them this suggests an anxiety we seem to feel about our occupation. This week’s dispatches register a similar fraught uncertainty about the presumed ground of architecture, its tools and expertise, even its audience.
—Sebastián López Cardozo
3/16 & 3/17: Theory in the Round
CHICAGO — The conference This is Not Contemporary held last week at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture, was the first one organized by director FLORENCIA RODRIGUEZ. The two-day event—structured in three discussions encompassing pedagogy, practice, and criticism (viewable here)—centered around Giorgio Agamben’s 2009 essay, “What Is the Contemporary?” For the most part, the roundtable discussions readily acknowledged the ambiguity and fluidity inherent in the keyword, which, apropos of Agamben’s original definition (“a way of being in the present”), is caught between the uncertainty of the future and the reality of the past. But another competing theme emerged over the course of the event—that of the “audience,” or the entity for whom the work of the architect or historian is ultimately meant to serve. The subject was litigated by many of the participants—six resident faculty and six external theorists, educators, and practitioners—with some contrasting terms such as “the audience” and “the public.” Rodriguez later attempted to clarify matters: “We’ve mentioned this [distinction] many times, and sometimes [the terms are] overlapping. Maybe, with the ‘contemporary,’ that’s a productive misunderstanding.”
—Cody Tyler Schueller
3/23: Reflecting On Ginzburg
PRINCETON — Potlatch editor YEHUDA SAFRAN and frequent contributor to the infrequently published journal DANIEL SHERER convened a panel at Princeton University’s Betts Auditorium to discuss an interview they conducted with Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg in the spring of 2022. The proceedings, oftentimes mired in abstruse language, delved into Ginzburg’s career and his role in the development of microhistory, a novel historical method pioneered in the 1970s that emphasizes the margins over the center, the role of individuals in events, and the multiplicity of historical contexts. Safran and Sherer shared the stage with fellow historians EVA DEL SOLDATO, FRANCESCA TRIVELLATO, and SPYROS PAPAPETROS, who further elaborated on the genre’s analytical recalibrations. The conversation then shifted to reflections on architecture and methods: “More than any other art form, architecture has many constraints, many contexts and inquisitors—the building code, planners, clients,” said Sherer. “Architecture requires a multi-contextual approach. It must have a polycentric message.”
3/24: Tempting Tools of the Trade
AUSTIN — TYLER SWINGLE, Emerging Scholar in Design fellow at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, opened his Friday talk with an image of Giacinto Brandi’s Figura Allegorica Femminile. The composite subject of the seventeenth-century painting wears a sly smile that, in Swingle’s interpretation, alludes to the potential for misuse of the divider she holds. “All tools contain inherent biases,” he said, just as “influences come in the form of standards.”
In his research and teaching, Swingle explores how to misuse architectural tools to produce novel spatial and material effects. His penchant for such deviation, he noted to the intimate audience gathered in the dean’s meeting room, can be seen in his studies of “variable laminated” wood. By changing the moisture content and grain direction of wood, he is able to produce predictable-enough curving (what he calls “self-curving”). Only at this point does he introduce BIM tools, which would typically be used a priori to determine lines of curvature but which he uses for purposes of analysis. The typical process is thus reversed or, as Swingle noted, inverted. “It’s the cart before the horse,” he added. “It’s counterintuitive and therefore I like it.”
3/24: Non-Drivers Are in the Right
ITHACA (ZOOM) — At Cornell University’s Milstein Hall, Disability Mobility Initiative director ANNA ZIVARTS gave a talk addressed to “those of us waiting for the bus [who] are tomorrow’s transportation and climate leaders.” Zivarts shed light on the inequities perpetuated by transportation policy, which throws up all manner of barriers to non-drivers, including those living with disabilities. She cautioned against solutions that pass responsibility onto the individual who, for lack of ready access to public transit, is forced to use ride-hailing services such as Lyft or Uber. Then, she highlighted the inadequate supply of good jobs, without which people’s access to such services is severely curtailed. These problems being interconnected, a financial roadblock quickly takes on a spatial dimension; Zivarts warned that in our current economic context, what affordable housing exists is typically concentrated in areas “further and further out” from centers of employment. And “moving further out means more limited transportation.”
Following the lecture, ABBY GRIFFITH, a member of the Disability Mobile Initiative, shared her experiences as an outspoken advocate for transportation equity. Griffith, who is blind, has testified before the Washington Senate and House Transportation committees and penned op-eds about the need for infrastructure improvements. “It was thanks to the Disability Mobility Initiative that I got involved in transportation advocacy—and now I work with Anna [Zivarts]. I get to work with people, and to advocate for people,” said Griffith.
3/25: Architecture’s Ecological Restructuring
PITTSBURGH — “A quest regarding practice cannot be about overindulgent exercises that constantly try to go beyond architecture and avoid it altogether,” said NEMESTUDIO co-founder NEYRAN TURAN at an all-day workshop-style symposium at Carnegie Mellon University, convened by visiting professor ZAID KASHEF ALGHATA. Nor, Turan added, would it do to continue “seeing architecture as heroic problem-solving.”
Similarly probing provocations abounded in each of the three sessions, which paired off presenters in intense dialogues that were then opened up to other participants and audience members. By experimenting with the symposium structure, Kashef Alghata hoped to achieve something like an “open workshop,” in which an object of study—a piece of writing, a physical object—could be used as a point of departure for speculation. For Turan (in conversation with Design Earth co-founder RANIA GHOSN), that object was Richard Barnes’s Man with Buffalo (2007), a photograph of a diorama which depicts a man vacuuming fake snow around a taxidermied buffalo. “When you see a maintenance worker inside a diorama, the seemingly unspoiled garden of nature [becomes] vulnerable” and consequently, “the neutral story of a buffalo in the wilderness no longer holds,” Turan explained.
In his role as moderator, Kashef Alghata prompted participants to delve into architecture’s entanglement with ecology, which has long carried with it social, environmental, and political implications. All the while, he underscored the localized nature of every design intervention, saying, “No matter how good your land reclamation project might be, the same techniques and technologies that were used before are still being used.”
Princeton historian SYLVIA LAVIN, speaking in the third and final session, observed that over the course of the event “we felt and heard the consequences of [the abundance of ecological literature produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s] on the enormously expansive and continuously expanding definition of architecture.” “At the same time,” Lavin continued, “we didn’t hear so much about the impact of that kind of thinking on architecture in the conventional sense” of buildings, drawings, and those “things very close to the field.”
When faced with entrenched methods of learning about, and working within, architecture, many of the speakers demonstrated a resolve for big change. Perhaps, then, the first step to any restructuring of how architecture is taught and practiced is to pull apart at the seams and start anew.
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In Skyline 107, readers were most interested in reading Oliver Wainwright’s takedown of Eric Owen Moss’s new building in Los Angeles.
IN THE NEWS
…in a review of Reinier De Graaf’s latest book, our very own Marianela D’Aprile pillories architects’ pretenses to power…
…there is a strike on at the University of Michigan’s Taubman School of Architecture…
…coincidentally they are also accepting applications for their next architecture chair…
…New York City pickleballers to get a dedicated pickleball court at Central Park…
…Taller | Mauricio Rocha picks up the 2023 Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize for its addition to Mexico City’s Anahuacalli Museum…
…to ease New York City’s housing shortage, Mayor Eric Adams suggests, among other things, modifying the building code to allow for windowless bedrooms…
…Places Journal is awarded a $500,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to support a new editorial initiative…
…with the aim of increasing Indigenous enrollment, University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape launches its Indigenous Pathways program…
…to ensure safety and accountability, New York City sees push to legalize and regulate basement apartments…
…conspiracy theorists target the architect of the polemical “fifteen-minute city”…
…and in an interview with the Guardian, 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale director Lesley Lokko reflects on the significance of this year’s event: “There is a sense in Africa that it is our time.”
The week ahead…
Finishing: The Ends of Architecture with Paul Emmons, Marcia Feuerstein, Negar Goljan, Billie Tsien, & David Leatherbarrow
12:00 AM EDT | Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design
Unwalling Citizenship with Teddy Cruz & Fonna Forman
12:00 PM EDT | The New School Graduate Center for Design, Ethnography & Social Thought
A Bicycle Is Not an Ideology (And Neither Is a Building) with Kate Wagner
12:30 PM CDT | University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture
City Forum with Eric Tang
1:00 PM CDT | University of Texas Austin School of Architecture
Cocktails & Conversation with Nader Tehrani and Nima Javidi
6:30 PM EDT | AIA New York | Center for Architecture
Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture 111th Annual Meeting with Francis Kéré
9:00 AM CDT | Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture
Order!: The Spatial Ideologies of Carbon Modernity
11:00 AM EDT | Cooper Union Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
Sing, Goddess with Karel Klein
12:30 PM CDT | University of Texas Austin School of Architecture
Building Practice Book Launch
6:00 PM EDT | Syracuse University School of Architecture, NYC
Five Footnotes Toward an Architecture with Mark Lee
6:30 PM EDT | Harvard University Graduate School of Design
An Integrated Approach to Material Health in Affordable Housing with Hillary Knoll, Taylor Tessmer-Mogan, Tammy Lee, and Annie Rummelhoff
12:00 PM EDT | Parsons School of Design & Parsons Healthy Materials Lab
Beyond The Façade: A Story of Ceramics in Architecture with Tom Verebes and Maximiliano Arrocet
12:30 PM EDT | New York Institute of Technology School of Architecture & Design
For Whites: Contextualizing Race and Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin Exhibition Talk with Tara Dudley
5:30 PM EDT | University of Texas Austin School of Architecture
Broken Earth & Built Earths: Architecture at an Inhuman Impasse with Kathryn Yusoff
6:30 PM EDT | Yale University School of Architecture
Person Place Thing with Randy Cohen & Sreoshy Banerjea
6:30 PM EDT | Van Alen Institute
Our listings are constantly being updated. Check the events page for up-to-date listings and to submit events.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
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New York Review of Architecture is a team effort. Our editor is Samuel Medina. Our deputy editor is Marianela D’Aprile. Our editors-at-large are Carolyn Bailey, Phillip Denny, and Alex Klimoski, and our publisher is Nicolas Kemper.
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