S K Y L I N E | Plan It Out
Let’s not wait for the new normal.
Issue 68. We printed 1,000 copies of our April issue, #28, and now there are only 12 left. Make a plan! To claim one as your own, subscribe.
Architecture involves a lot of waiting. If you were a painter, you'd just apply the paint to the canvas (easy, right?), but it's common for buildings to take years from design to completion. Architects don't spend all this time sitting around doing nothing, of course, and persistent problems of labor exploitation can be linked to demands for hyper-productivity. Meanwhile, out in the world, as the war in Ukraine drags on and the long tail of Covid keeps getting longer, the feeling of waiting for “normal” to return may have become a cultural mainstay. Responses to this perceived limbo state range from working harder (and perhaps burning out) to "lying flat" and doing nothing.
With summer almost upon us, now's a good time to reflect on life's moments of pause. If you're considering doing something more than nothing, here are some ideas:
Plan! A spate of events last week offered insight into something we could use more of: planning. In a lecture at Cornell, Sergio Montero reminded us that learning is key to planning. He suggested brushing up on how the judicial system operates to anticipate legal maneuvers meant to thwart popular city planning initiatives. Read all the event dispatches below.
Organize! In other words, get together to plan. Join a virtual discussion tomorrow on safer spaces or drive to Bethlehem, PA this afternoon for a one-weekend-only exhibition and discussion on housing futures (it's only an hour-and-a-half from NYC). You are also cordially invited to join NYRA on Saturday at 6pm for a discussion at the Clemente Center’s Flamboyan Theater on the future of affordable housing and 5 WTC.
Stop and smell the roses! Or visit the museum. Scroll down and you’ll find a review of the Pipilotti Rist show in LA. For something more strenuous but not altogether productive, consider the Great Saunter this Saturday, an "epic urban hike" around Manhattan. I also wouldn't blame you for taking it truly easy and tuning in to an online presentation of Houses & Gardens of the Gilded Age next Thursday. You’d also have plenty of time to wait until then.
— Matthew Allen
You immediately feel that you are being watched. In fact, you are: the building has eyes. A mid-career retrospective of Swiss media artist Pipilotti Rist titled Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor has temporarily transformed the cavernous Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Los Angeles into a psychedelic fantasy-land full of lively things and shifting landscapes of light and sound. Organized by curator Anna Katz, the show is both a smart survey of Rist’s prodigious output and a testament to the critical potency of installation. Several dozen pieces in formats spanning single-channel video, sculpture, and environments have been staged in a sequence of nineteen spaces that by turns surprise, delight, and unsettle.
A doorway in the entry hall leads you through a dim, curtain-lined corridor (think of the “Red Lodge” in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks), to Room 7, “The Apartment.” (Many of the spaces are prefaced by similar transitional corridors, which act as both light-locks and sound breaks. As a result, each space is a world unto itself.) Here is a familiar, if odd, domestic environment fitted out with a bed, desk, sofas, and dinner table (set for five). The wallpaper is a technicolor pattern of microscope blow-ups, the table is awash in a riot of vivid projected light, and there is a stuffed emu standing in one corner next to a vintage floor lamp—and that’s just what you can see from the doorway.
Destabilizing the status of things and spaces with a Surrealist flourish is one of Rist’s signature gestures. By sleight of hand, tricks of scale, subterfuge, and superimposition, she turns objects from background to foreground, subject to object, scenography to substrate. (A wall is a wall is a screen is a canvas is a mirror is you and vice versa; you get the idea). On one wall (to the left) the projected sky of a would-be Venetian veduta painting melts into a primordial ooze (the work is titled Prisma, a single-channel video made in 2011). In the center of the room a boulder becomes an ocean as projected images of crashing waves wash over it. Nothing stays one thing for long.
You are invited to sit down where you like and take it all in at your own pace. “Set a good example for your parents,” reads one exhibition label alongside the gentle command, “Take your shoes off.” The synth-instrumental track “Toyota City” by The Human League is playing and the vibe is equal parts Bohemian loft and Dalían fever-dream. “Stay awhile.”
Rist is a star in the firmament of contemporary art. She has been active since the 1980s, when she hit her stride producing video works during the heyday of MTV. Her early films were often shot on Super 8 or other low-fi, mass-market formats. These low-key media turned the focus away from the device and reflected it back onto the performance and its exhibition. Today, her works remain perfectly attuned to the image economy of the moment. In one piece from 1997 titled Ever Is Over All, we watch as Rist walks down a street with a sledgehammer in hand. She gleefully smashes the windows of cars while a uniformed police officer looks on with smiling approval. (The film inspired Beyoncé’s 2016 music video for “Hold Up,” from the album Lemonade.) Here, the video is projected into the corner of a large, carpeted room scattered with fluffy poufs. You are comfortable watching the mayhem unfold.
An architect is likely to find installation art appealing for many reasons, some of them obvious, others less so. That the genre has been subjected to some of the most ruthless art criticism in recent history has more to do with the obvious side of things: installation simply is architectural. It has rightfully been described as literal—even theatrical, that dramatic bugaboo scared up by Michael Fried in his early critique of minimalism. But the virtues of installation art have generally garnered less attention in discourse, and its status as a minor form or so-called mongrel medium is a stubborn holdover from an outmoded pecking order among allegedly pure artforms that is long past due for reconsideration. (See Sylvia Lavin, Kissing Architecture 2011). It’s a tired critique that Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor effectively vaporizes. Every visitor leaves Rist’s show with their own conviction; mine is that architects are the audience with the most to learn from her.
Rist is a kind of architect. She puts up buildings and makes rooms. Bread-and-butter concerns such as scale rank among her top preoccupations. She virtuosically plays both ends of the spectrum from the infinitely small to the infinitely large. In one moment in the exhibition, a drama of love found and love lost is played out from the inside of a gin bottle sitting on top of a bar cart, beamed there by a projector carefully hidden in an antique book (The Loretta Bottle, 2019). In another space, Room 17, “Das Zimmer (The Room),” you are invited to climb onto a giant’s sofa set and watch a television screening a selection of Rist’s films. You can channel surf (as I did) by making use of a remote control the size of a tennis racquet. These are the exhibition’s Through the Looking Glass moments.
Rist is a kind of anti-architect. Architecture serves double-duty as the irreducible foundations and impetus for a practice laser-focused on deconstructing and reconstructing the politics of space. For the artist, the house is not just a home, the museum is closed even when it’s open, and to borrow a phrase from Barbara Kruger, “Your body is a battleground.” (Kruger’s 1990 mural “Questions” was installed on the Geffen Contemporary’s west façade in 2018.) The artist never leaves these spaces untouched, but rather always rebuilds them. The museum’s conventions are dispelled with Dionysian abandon. There is no white cube. It is dark and loud. You can sit on the art. You can take a nap.
Rist is often described as a postfeminist artist, a flat designation that both appears accurate in principle and feels inadequate in practice. To be sure, Rist’s work embodies some hallmarks of feminist art. In spaces like “The Apartment,” for instance, Rist inhabits the role of decorator and homemaker in order to short-circuit the logics of feminized labor. She assembles environments that are not merely comforting but also disruptive and thought-provoking. These operations of recuperation and detournement sprang from a not-so-distant generational ethos that transcended fields. In 1993, for example, the architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio exhibited their project “Bad Press,” in which the domestic chore of ironing shirts was remade into “an exercise in dissident housework” that yielded nothing less than great art. The starched and sculpted shirts that issued from that series—all folds and pleats—foreshadowed the paradigm-shifting buildings that came years later.
There is not an ounce of the didactic in Rist’s art, but if there is a lesson for architects, it’s this: the available repertoire of techniques for making environments is much larger and more varied than the limited means architects typically employ. Rist’s spaces combine sound, light, surfaces, and time in multimedia architectures that, to date, have no equivalent in the field. But her work is not an admonishment, it is an invitation. What is at stake is an infinite variety of unprecedented spaces that brush against the grain of our politics. Pipilotti Rist is building utopia. I could stay there forever.
Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
September 12, 2021–June 6, 2022
— Phillip Denny
4/28: A Model of Care
Palestine is not a Garden with Nida Sinnokrot
CAMBRIDGE (ZOOM)—Speaking to an audience at MIT, NIDA SINNOKROT defined success as the threshold at which art “is not art, it's just life." The artist and educator described his recent artworks through events, practices, and fables in Palestine. In the first piece, Ka, two backhoe arms symmetrically reach towards the sky, representing a refusal to dig. Soon after, he described how the Hula Valley’s marshlands were drained and, in fact, dug up to make way for Israeli settlements modeled after Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities. The settlements’ white buildings appear today as nested curves along the hillside like teeth, inspiring the piece Rawabi where Sinnokrot cast gold teeth for a camel skull. Collaborating with dentists-turned-craftsmen, it resurrected the dual practice of storing wealth in gold and in livestock. He showed billboard ads that advertise real estate and cell phones, developing a dream of dependency where commercial debts disappear but always return (perhaps a fable and a practice). In a video of Ya Ghanamati (Billboard no. 02), a metal billboard’s panels oscillated to show sheepskin on the other side, a nod to how this state of indebtedness did not always exist.
The last project was Sakiya, an art and agriculture initiative near Ramallah that hosts residencies and public programs around a rewilding pedagogy. He shared how the barriers to practicing local agrarian traditions knowledge are steep, with cheap imported food, no farming subsidies, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees placed on a terrorist watch list. Such difficulties reveal Sakiya’s resistance, and during the Q+A, Azra Akšamija brought up how the art collective COOKING SECTIONS recently dedicated their winnings from the UK’s renowned Turner Prize. Sakiya offers practices of care that could one day be not art, but simply life.
— Angie Door
4/29: NIMBYs in Bogota
Urban Experiments at the Legal Frontier with Sergio Montero
ITHACA (ZOOM)—While presenting a history of recent urban planning in Bogota to an audience at Cornell, professor of planning SERGIO MONTERO made the case for greater legal knowledge among planners. Since 1990, progressive ideals and participatory design methods have increasingly run up against NIMBYism and a growing middle class in Bogota. Montero’s suggested response to this peril was clear. Planners need to expand their knowledge of judicial systems to effectively enact popular initiatives when those initiatives run up against legal challenges. Legal knowledge helps planners operate at what Montero called the Legal Fronter, the space where neoliberal logics and democratic logics push up against each other. For example, a few individuals can block a popular public initiative with a strategic lawsuit, even if the lawsuit might not have been filed in good faith. “Progressive constitutions create these paradoxes,” Montero said. “They give powerful legal mandates for planners, and yet citizens are constantly frustrated with the participatory design process.”
— Charles Weak
4/29: Building Bridges to Cinema
IDEAS lecture by James Chinlund
LOS ANGELES (ZOOM)—On Friday, film-buffs filled the physical and virtual room at UCLA AUD to hear production designer JAMES CHINLUND speak on his work for household-name blockbusters like The Avengers (2012), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), The Lion King (2019), and, most recently, The Batman (2022).
With a feature-length runtime of almost two hours, the event itself took on cinematic qualities as production stills flashed across the screen, drawing together Chinlund’s work on individual films into a more general sketch of a production designer’s role. Chinlund portrayed production designers as bridge-builders—sometimes literally—between the different teams working on a film. They also assemble and guide their own team while balancing creative visions with practical constraints. “We’re just scrappers, we’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done,” said Chinlund, a sentiment many who’ve worked in an architecture studio can certainly identify with.
But providing a peek backstage wasn’t Chinlund’s only purpose, as his opening and closing comments made clear. “This is an amazing moment in the film industry. There’s a real tipping point happening in terms of technology shifts that are opening up a lot of amazing opportunities for people like you,” he said. “[T]here’s suddenly this big door that’s opening, and a lot of people in the room have the skillset to open that door.” Many will likely find it an attractive offer, as it’s possible to think of the creative work of a production designer as the apotheosis of a totalizing architectural imagination. “My ambition is to make a world that you accept… a world that is entirely consumed by the audience.”
— Nicholas Raap
4/30: Preserving the Gayborhood
Exploring LGBTQ+ Destinations in San Diego at the APA National Planning Conference
SAN DIEGO—At the American Planning Association’s national conference in San Diego, attendees joined planners SCOTT SANDEL and VICKI ESTRADA; representative from the Mayor’s Office BRITTNEY BAILEY; and famed community activist NICOLE MURRAY-RAMIREZ for a walking tour of Hillcrest, San Diego’s long-time gayborhood. Estrada and Bailey highlighted new placemaking efforts, including the Pride Plaza, which features preserved street trees, a newly pedestrianized thoroughfare, and an ample supply of pride flags. The plaza is located at the intersection of Normal Street and Harvey Milk Street, the first street anywhere named after the gay politician who was assassinated in 1978. The neighborhood’s focus plan amendment to the community plan emphasizes preserving LGBTQ+ history and supporting businesses while also addressing pressing housing needs. San Diego County, like most American metropolitan areas, is experiencing a housing affordability crisis: the median home price is nearly $1 million, well beyond what the median household (with an income of $78,980) can afford. Housing costs are rising especially fast in Hillcrest, causing many in the queer community to move to nearby neighborhoods or even further afield. It turns out that expanding housing supply may be the best shot for LGBTQ+ historic preservation. For what’s a gay bar without gay patrons? A building. Or worse yet, a straight bar.
— Kevin Ritter
5/4: Who will activate your street kit?
Streets for Culture with Hatuey Ramos-Fermín, Jennifer Nitzky, Elena Ketelsen Gonzalez
NEW YORK—It was a swanky scene: wine in stemware and cheese platters beyond cheddar at a seventeenth-floor WELL-platinum architecture office. Shortly after refilling, the MC of the Urban Design Forum announced that everyone should “speak freely” because the event was “closed to the press.” Laughs. (I had spent the 45-minute happy hour talking about being a member of the critical press.)
The request that people speak on their personal, rather than institutional, views was largely upheld. While conservative in their vocabulary (“placemaking” can be “activated,” etc.), there were striking ideas from speakers such as MoMA PS1’s ELENA KETELSEN GONZALEZ and Bronx-based artist HATUEY RAMOS-RERMIN, who criticized members of the municipal government and called for radical listening rather than pedagogy. And the discussion was animated. One community district organizer launched a critique of Open Streets “kits” that ignited a lively dialogue on the way such “platforms” further homogenization and gentrification.
Some questions remained on the tip of my tongue throughout the evening: Who is paying so-called “local activists'' to activate your street kit? Will institutions and big businesses step up with funding? We should not expect to create a new era of active pedestrian streets through the labor of artists and residents who have been sidelined or displaced by these very same entities.
— Emily Conklin
NYRA ON THE TOWN
SOHO—On Thursday evening an exhibit of the work of speculative architect Claude Parent opened in the gallery of a83. The drawings were displayed, fittingly, on the oblique.
— Nicolas Kemper
Five World Trade Center: What Next?
We released our presenter list for Saturday’s event - over twenty teams, including everyone above (plus Dank Lloyd Wright, participating remotely), will be joining us for rapid fire presentations and a lively conversation at 6pm on Saturday. Want to come? Register here.
The Architecture Lobby launched the Architecture Beyond Capitalism Summer School last year as a platform for interrogating the structures and systems of power that have made change difficult within design professions and institutions, as well as from a belief that architecture schools do not teach what and how they could.
This year, the Architecture Beyond Capitalism Summer School 2022 is set up as a workshop focused on rethinking studio educational practices. It will be offered the week of July 18-23. Check out the Open Call and registration form.
EYES ON SKYLINE
In Skyline 67, readers were equally intrigued by one article on exploitation in design work culture and another on Heatherwick Studio’s Buckingham Palace tree sculpture.
IN THE NEWS
On the eve of May Day, Portuguese practitioners found the Architectural Workers Union…
… Mayor Eric Adams is pushing a plan to convert hotels into affordable housing for the city's homeless population…
… architecture students at South Dakota State call for action in an open letter…
… more towns will be considered rural as the US Census Bureau changes its definition of ‘urban area’...
… Olson Kundig opens a New York Office…
… EYP files for bankruptcy, with potential sale to Bitcoin firm…
… Docomomo release a list of the 11 most threatened modern sites in the US…
… and Populous designs an esports arena.
— News contributed by Nicholas Raap
The week ahead…
The academic wind down to summer might have begun, but this coming week's events still offer a smörgåsbord of not only topics but also formats: a conversation about a book about conversations, a meditation, a reunion, a Tiki-Taka publication launch, and an architecture banter twitch stream, among others.
1:00 PM | Architectural League of New York
Southside Survey: Housing Futures for South Bethlehem with Wes Hiatt
7:00 PM | Lehigh University
The Great Saunter
8:00 AM | Shore Walkers
5 WTC: What Next?
6:00 PM | Coalition for a 100% Affordable 5 WTC, Citygroup, The Clemente Center, New York Review of Architecture
Dehumanist Nesting with Julietta Singh
7:00 PM | Cooper Union
Revisiting Just with Rachel G. Barnard, Jennifer Bonner, Virginia Black, Rosana Elkhatib, Gabrielle Printz, Mira Hasson Henry, Gregory Melitonov, Cyrus Peñarroyo, Isabel Abascal, Bryony Roberts, Anya Sirota
12:00 PM | Architectural League of New York
The Spirit of Shanshui City with Dang Qun
6:30 PM | Rensselaer School of Architecture
Hamptons: Houses & Gardens of the Gilded Age with Gary Lawrance
6:00 PM | National Arts Club
Guest Crit Season 2 Premiere: Apartments with Cea Weaver, Michael Nicholas, Kevin Rogan, Kate Wagner
6:00 PM | Failed Architecture
Glass House Presents: Escher Gunewardena Architecture with Frank Escher, Ravi GuneWardena
7:00 PM | Glass House and New Canaan Library
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Have a take, good, bad or otherwise? Write us a letter!
NYRA is a team effort. 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.
To pitch us an article or ask us a question, write to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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