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S K Y L I N E | War and Architecture
Plus: Buddhism in the office, Queer ecologies, poetry, and lamps.
“The art of warfare aims at the constitution of an unhealthy, improper place for man just where he used to dwell.” — Paul Virilio, Bunker Archeology
Our primary focus is not on geopolitics, international relations, or war. We review architecture in New York. But we also talk about more than just buildings. In this issue, we have dispatches on topics ranging from an architecture firm run like a Buddhist monastery to poetry to queer futurity, as well as a review of lamps.
Unfortunately, however, architecture is intimately bound up with war. Buildings—like those around Kharkiv’s Freedom Square—are targets of bombs and missiles, whether to destroy significant political symbols and cultural heritage, or to devastate bodies and spirits. To say the least, this has been a disheartening week (we’re entering the 9th day of the invasion). Since we are an architecture publication, we’ve highlighted some relevant news items for the architecture community below, but the focus should remain on doing the most possible to support those on the ground right now. We hope to feature voices from those on the ground soon. For now, however, I’ll repeat what Jack said last week: Putin’s invasion is an act of aggression; we condemn this violence. We hope for limited loss of life and the tactic’s quick failure. Consider helping as you can in this moment of crisis.
…Russian and Ukrainian architects have condemned the invasion. Many firms and institutions have also released statements, and halted involvement in projects in Russia, though there are calls to do more…
…Russian ordnance struck Kyiv’s Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial, who we mentioned in the last two Skylines…
2/21: Meditating on the methods of VTN Architects
Architecture, we often complain, is hard. VÕ TRỌNG NGHĨA’s lecture at the UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN’s School of Architecture rebuked that notion with an unusual comfort and ease as he spoke to his work.
For those familiar with his prolific career, it came as a surprise to learn that Nghĩa spent two years away from his office, at a Buddhist monastery in Myanmar. Without the internet, and only able to speak to his office for short bursts by telephone, he attributes this time as a significant shift in the approach to practice. While the work remains remarkably beautiful and lushly planted as ever, with an emphasis on natural materials and structural expressivity, the office asks all employees to follow a handful of buddhist principles, including a daily hour-long meditation, which he believes has led to better concentration, creativity and problem solving.
Nghĩa admits that the office precepts have had adverse effects: fewer international interns apply, and laments that the demands resulted in losing nearly all of his staff and several projects. But even with the specter of bankruptcy, Nghĩa calmly remarks that he feels the office is in a better place and work is coming in, “We need to sacrifice something to get something.”
—Can Vu Bui
2/24 & 2/25: “June Jordan was an architect.” —Alexis Pauline Gumbs (2012 & 2022)
June Jordan: Pleasures of Perspectives situated architecture alongside world-builders and space-makers of performance and prose in the sixth Womxn in Design and Architecture (WDA) conference, a two-day event held at the PRINCETON SoA. JUNE JORDAN was a multi-hyphenate force known for her writing as an author and poet. Her work as an architect and urban planner, while significant, often goes unacknowledged. As one of the earliest advocates for calling Jordan an architect, ALEXIS PAULINE GUMBS remarked on the program directly, stating “this conference feels like a miracle.”
Weaving together Jordan’s poems alongside archival and contemporary reimaginings of Skyrise for Harlem—a project mistakenly credited solely to Buckminster Fuller—the assembly of designers, architectural historians, and literary scholars covered expanded definitions of space, site, and home. The more than sixteen participants stitched poetry readings together with performances and panel discussions to produce a conference format that fittingly reflected the transdisciplinary nature of Jordan’s own work.
Early on Friday, MECCA JAMILAH SULLIVAN shared that the poet’s role is to “deserve the trust of the people.” What happens when architects are tasked with this same charge?
— Shoshana Torn
2/25: Escaping ‘flexibility’ with Michael Maltzan
MICHAEL MALTZAN spoke at RICE UNIVERSITY on the fifth anniversary of the opening of The Moody Center for the Arts, a Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA) designed project located on the campus. Speaking in person from the Moody Center, the lecture fittingly focused on ‘Approaches to Interdisciplinary Art Spaces.’ Maltzan recounted and lightly stitched together common concepts in the art spaces which MMA has worked on over the last 30 years, beginning with Inter-City Arts and the Hammer Museum both in Los Angeles, MoMA Queens, multiple projects with Regen Projects in Los Angeles, and the Inuit Art Centre in Manitoba, before finally landing on the Moody Center at Rice. The key themes to emerge were planning for a wide variety of uses and moving away from a museum as a “store-house of a culture’s most important artifacts” (like The Met) to instead create more “accessible and immediate connections with the public.” Speaking on the often idealized modernist promise of ‘flexible’ space, Maltzan noted that “the way culture is continuing to move, it’s outstripped the projection of that flexibility before it's even happened. I think there’s something to be said about, not so much flexibility, but diversity, and creating a range of different types of spaces.” Additionally, Maltzan also noted a more mundane and ever-present constraint on planning for ‘flexible’ spaces; “Inevitably, in institutional settings, spaces have to be about something…they have to work on the Excel spreadsheet, but the future doesn’t really fit into the Excel spreadsheet.”
— Edward Palka
2/26: Lamps, lamps, everywhere: Head Hi’s third annual Lamp Show
Famously, I am a man who enjoys a nice lamp—from tasseled Victorian shades to lava lamps to the cringe color-changing LEDs I recently bought which feel very TikTok teen. So, with great joy, I attended the opening of the third annual Lamp Show by HEAD HI, featuring dozens of the best, and brightest, new lamps. This year’s lamp show has a diverse line-up of objects that light-up; from the reflective and angular neon lamp by Jessica Resler precariously leaning against the wall, to the box shaped lamp by Brian Nichols featuring a panel of reed caning warmly glowing from the incandescent bulb inside. Many designers created lamps using repurposed materials, often to humorous effect. Tony Blahd repurposed a paint bucket; Gabriella Feuillet, a toddler’s chair; Boden Taylor Holland, an air conditioner tube; Franc Palaia placed a white bulb into a kitchen blender. In these lamps, light bulbs seem to put on elaborate drag to look like other, less luminous, household objects. As my friend and I left, our stomachs full of mezcal-spiked cider, we remarked, “Wow, there are sure a lot of lamps, and they all look different from each other!”
— Kevin Ritter
3/2: Imagining and transforming queer ecologies
Visions of queer futurity were conjured this Wednesday during a discussion between artist-scientist NICOLAS BAIRD, art historian SALAR MAMENI, and moderator CHANDRA LABORDE, at UC Berkley. The panelists navigated topics like speculative historiography, inter-connectivity, transformation, and our constructed instantiation as humans, while making clear that understanding the power of storytelling to allow for imaginative thinking, and acknowledging the constructed essence of our contemporary forms of social relation, are necessary preconditions for this kind of thinking. “Queerness is inherently Utopic,” Baird postulated. “It’s a process of becoming and future thinking, on its own terms and in its own future moment.” Mameni concurred. “Humans are already transforming. Imagining and transforming to something foreign from where we exist right now. There’s this constructed notion that holds on to a human as something that’s bordered off, rather than what we are as humans, which is one-hundred percent porous.”
— Charles Weak
I scream, you scream, we all scream for touring cool buildings!
NYRA writers and editors had their first ever site visit, last Friday at 450 Warren Street by SO – IL. Want to write for us and go on neat tours? Consider joining our writer’s room.
EYES ON SKYLINE
In Skyline 58, readers understandably sought out ways to help Ukraine, proffered by historian and public intellectual Timothy Snyder.
IN THE NEWS
…the yet-to-be-finished supertall 111 W 57th is being investigated for injuring pedestrians with falling ice…
…the University of Texas at Austin honors its first Black graduate, Texas’s first Black architect and cofounder of NOMA, John S. Chase, with two permanent endowments…
…a 1952 Mies van der Rohe project was resurrected by Thomas Phifer at Indiana University…
…the University of Manchester fired its museum director over a statement supporting Palestine included in an exhibition of Forensic Architecture’s work…
…in Curbed, Justin Davidson reviews the cruise ship Scarlet Lady: “Le Corbusier wanted architects to see ships as examples of unadulterated engineering, beautiful in their bareness. Today’s architects might study Scarlet Lady for the opposite lesson”…
…Berlin moved to socialize 200,000 rental units across the city…
…inspirational and insightful artist, architect, and writer, Dan Graham passed away.
The (busy) week ahead…
FF – Distance Edition: Lake|Flato with David Lake, Ted Flato
12:00 PM, The Architectural League of New York
Planning and Designing Equitable Places for All with Mitchell Silver
12:25 PM, Cornell AAP
The 2022 Fitch Colloquium with Jorge Otero-Pailos
6:30 PM, Columbia University GSAPP
Beaux Arts Ball 2022: CHILL with New Affiliates
9:00 PM, Architectural League of New York
xLAB ArcDR3 Forum Vol.2: Learning from Tohoku with Multiple
7:00 PM, UCLA Architecture and Design
atelier masōmī: pedagogy, practice and (shifting) possibilities with Mariam Kamara
12:30 PM, Harvard GSD
A Conversation on Equitable Development and Inclusivity by Design with Marc Norman
6:30 PM, University of California Berkeley CED
Pluriversal, Bewildered, and Otherwise with Elias Anastas, Yousef Anastas
12:00 PM, Cooper Union
Designing Towards Justice with Jha D Amazi
4:00 PM, Morgan State University SA+P
Breaking Ground(s): Keynote with Timothy Ingold, Tao Dufour
5:15 PM, Cornell AAP
International Womxn's Week Keynote Address with Nitasha Dhillon
6:30 PM, Harvard GSD
Who is the Subject? (On Black Presence, Place, and Recognition) with Temi Odumosu
7:00 PM, Cooper Union
Race and the Culture of Design with Jerome Haferd, Lexi Tsien
7:00 PM, The New School
Mise-en-Scène: The Lives and Afterlives of Urban Landscapes with Chris Reed, Mike Belleme, Sara Zewde
11:30 AM, Harvard Frances Loeb Library
Beyond the Envelope: Coop Himmelb(l)au with Wolf D. Prix
12:30 PM, New York Institute of Technology
The Possibilities of Infrastructure with Mario Schjetnan
5:30 PM, Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture
Barclay + Crousse Architecture with Sandra Barclay, Jean Pierre Crousse
10:00 PM, University of California Berkeley CED, AIA East Bay
International Streets: Combatting Emissions in Medellín with Carlos Cadena-Gaitán, Louise Yeung
11:30 AM, Urban Design Forum
Towards Another Architecture with Marianela D'Aprile
12:30 PM, The Farrell Centre
There Is Always a Design Emergency with Paola Antonelli
12:30 PM, University of Texas at Austin SoA
Building and Bildung und Blackness: Some Architectural Questions for Fela with Frederick Moten
6:00 PM, MIT Architecture
[Un]commoning Architectural Language with Lonny Brooks, Nyame Brown, Bz Zhang, Ife Salema Vanable
6:00 PM, California College of the Arts
Emerging Voices: Borderless Studio and Felecia Davis with Paola Aguirre Serrano, Dennis Milam, Felecia Davis
6:30 PM, The Architectural League of New York
Building a Culture of Description with Felipe Correa
6:30 PM, Cooper Union
A Section of Now with Giovanna Borasi, Florian Idenburg, Hilary Sample
7:30 PM, Canadian Centre for Architecture
Forum on the Nature of Enclosure with Shawn Rickenbacker, Jeffrey S. Nesbit
8:00 PM, The Bernard & Anne Spitzer School of Architecture
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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For their support, we would like to thank the Graham Foundation and our issue sponsors, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Thomas Phifer.
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