Saturday, July 11, 2009

Minneapolis: The Guthrie

Prior to visiting the new Guthrie theater in Minneapolis by Jean Nouvel, I had criticized the building for looking too dark and scary. That is typically my critique of Nouvel buildings. Theaters are supposed to be dark...but on the outside? My recent trip to Minneapolis gave me an opportunity to see the theater first hand. I'd have to say picking Nouvel makes sense to me now. Nouvel's architecture has always been well represented in night renderings (Think the Torre Agbar in Barcelona, or the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris). Considering that most theater events are after sunset Nouvel seems an appropriate choice. I unfortunately didn't have my camera with me at night. So my exterior photos will probably leave you with my initial impression. (Here is a photo which best tells the story) My interior photos however will give you a feel of the night club type of atmosphere that exists in the other public spaces. Architectural Record has a pretty good history and slideshow and ArcSpace has a nice writeup which will explain the spaces much better than I have.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Los Angeles: High School # 9

The latest addition to downtown Los Angeles' Grand Avenue Arts District, High School #9 by Coop Himmelbau (or is it Himmelblau?), is bizarre. This was my second visit to the project, I visited this past summer thinking that they had a long way to go before completion. In fact, the project was nearly done. The official name of the school is The Central Los Angeles High School for the Visual and Performing Arts. It is located only a few blocks from the Disney Concert hall and seems to be a companion piece to the recently completed Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels; the two sit across the 101 Freeway from each other. With construction fence still surrounding the entire site, I was unable to wander around the campus, so can't yet really judge the building...but I will say the place looks scary. Nothing about this building says "school" to me, and it just looks cold. You can read more about the project at World Architecture News. I suppose we'll have to wait until it opens to give it a fair assessment.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stuttgart: The New Porsche Museum

Technically in Zuffenhausen, the New Porsche Museum has been a few years in the making. I visited it under construction back in March of 2007 and figured it would have been done by this visit but a security guard told me it won't open until mid February. I don't think the Mercedes Museum took this long but I guess they aren't competing for fastest museum.

The museum is designed by Delugan Meissl Associated Architects out of Vienna, Austria. There are some cool renderings of the scheme at Automoto Portal.

One of my photos was hosted over at A Daily Dose of Architecture. This is a great architecture website updated daily for those who haven't heard of it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Buenos Aires: Los Eucaliptos Edificio

Well after a long hiatus, I've decided to get some more posts going on this blog. My lack of posts doesn't mean I've stopped traveling but more that I haven't really taken the time to compile it all. Since this past January, I've done two more design studios that were both really interesting, one in Brooklyn and another in Tijuana. I spent a week in Finland and then three wonderful weeks in Germany. I've got good stuff from all of these places but my first post back will come from South America. This is a paper I wrote on a not very well known but important project in Buenos Aires. A little lengthy, but I'll hope you find it interesting.

A Manifesto of the City of the Future

In 1947 Sigfried Gideon edited a book published by CIAM celebrating modern design called A Decade of New Architecture. In this book were 13 examples of apartment houses. The book was organized such that each project was usually allotted half a page. Some special projects were given a full page, and two projects were given two full pages of coverage. One of the projects was the Unite d’Habitation in Marseille, France by the modern movement’s champion and master Le Corbusier. The other project is the Virrey del Pino Apartments in Buenos Aires, now considered fairly obscure and designed by architects more known for the design of a chair. Corbusier’s Marsaille project was a massive 337 apartments in 12 stories. The Virrey del Pino has 9 stories but less than 40 apartments. The question this paper proposes to explore is, why did this little building receive so much attention?

To answer this question we must illustrate how radically different the Virrey del Pino Apartments were. We will do this by introducing another project that represents the local trends in Buenos Aires: this project is Jorge Sabate’s Casa de Renta. At first sight the layman would group these buildings into the same categories. They fit the same speculative apartment typology, both refer to the modern architectural language of Le Corbusier, and both were built at approximately the same time. As this paper develops however, we will point out how very different these two schemes are by exploring each buildings history, conditions and the designers’ backgrounds.

Casa de rentas is the Spanish name for a speculative apartment building. Casa de rentas were in very high demand in Buenos Aires during the 1930s and 40s. At this time, European immigrants had already flooded the country by the millions and were settling into Buenos Aires. During the time these two buildings were built, a law forbade the horizontal subdivision of property ownership; therefore rented accommodations were the driving force behind housing development. The Portenos had money to invest due to the Great Depression and World War II. These events disrupted traditional trading between Argentina and its principal European trading partners, causing few agricultural goods to be exported and even fewer manufactured goods imported. This stimulated Argentine industry as entrepreneurs established factories to manufacture those goods that they could no longer readily import. As industrial employment boomed in the metropolitan area, the middle class boomed proportionally. Housing was considered an outlet for private speculative funds and became the prime focus for experimentation. But this new wealth and development was a mixed blessing. Buenos Aires was growing at an extraordinary rate. New neighborhoods were being developed more rapidly than planners could keep up with.

To understand the similarities between Sabate’s Casa de Renta (from this point referred to simply as Casa de Renta) and the Virrey del Pino Apartments designed by Jorge Ferrari Hardoy and Juan Kurchan, we must go back a decade before these structures were built. In 1929 Le Corbusier was invited by a Buenos Aires intellectual group Amigos del Arte to lecture on the subjects of architecture and urbanism in the modern era. This visit was important for two reasons. For one, this invitation was Corbusier’s first visit to South America and was a sign that his theories were reaching if not influencing many Argentine architects and intellectuals. Secondly, Corbusier’s visit allowed him to further his study on the modern city in the context of Latin America’s largest city, Buenos Aires. Both of these reasons are important to our story. Most simply because evidence of the Corbusian five point system is visible in both the Casa de Renta and the Virrey del Pino. But more importantly because the story of Virrey del Pino is really a story of a plan for an entire city.
Beyond the five point system, the two buildings also had similar functional divisions, separating public (red), private (purple), and service areas (orange). From the entrance hall of the Casa de Renta, the public circulation space moves up the center of the building to the entrances of each of the apartment’s living spaces. The service areas, comprising of the kitchen, laundry and servants’ quarters, were laid out around the two ventilation shafts and usually had a separate entrance stemming from the shared circulation space. Similarly to the Casa de Renta, the Virrey del Pino has the same division of space: public circulation entering into living areas and service spaces surrounding the ventilation shaft. However, the difference in the Virrey del Pino is that the service space is not accessible by the public. This difference, while seemingly slight, is evidence of a trait not shared by the designers of each building.

South America still looked to Europe for many things, education being one of them. Young South American artists and architects moved to Europe to apprentice under the great masters. Chilean Painter Roberto Matta studied under Salvadore Dali. Likewise, the young argentine architects Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy went to Paris to apprentice for their great master Le Corbusier. While in Paris, they were influenced by more than just Corbusier. Highpoint II, by Russian immigrant Bernard Lupekin, was influential to these Argentine architects. They became interested in the implementation of the buildings shared service corridor; a feature which we already mentioned was incorporated into the Virrey del Pino plan.

Back home in Argentina, both Alberto Prebisch and Antonio Vilar were responsible for the spread of the Rationalist style in Argentina. Most of the important buildings of the time were built by the government and the country’s leading citizens, but modern building production stood out especially for the large number of “well-designed and well-constructed” apartment blocks. “Rationalism,” says architectural historian Ernesto Katzenstein “satisfied the search for homogeneity of taste by adopting a neutral language, that of the reiteration of unembellished forms and a deep adhesion to function and, more precisely, to objective conditions.” If rationalism could be called the mainstream architecture of the 1930s, Jorge Sabate can be seen as a fairly conservative mainstream architect. He graduated from University of Buenos Aires in 1921 as president of the student architects association and a member of the SCA. His previous experience, before he designed the Casa de Renta was the design for a military prison and he worked as an architect for a local railway company. The Casa de Renta emulated the Rationalist forms that Prebisch and Vilar were making popular. The façade of apartment building consists of plastered calcarea stone and white cement, with railings, jambs and thresholds of polished marble, pure and simple volumes with nautical details. By contrast, the Virrey del Pino Apartments were clad in colorful ceramic tiles while the windows were obscured with wooden vertical louvers.

But material choices and plan organization was not the major difference between these buildings. Again we must go back a decade. In 1931 noted urban planner and theorist Werner Hegemann visited Buenos Aires to study the city. He wrote, “As far as I know the capital cities of the five continents, there exists today nowhere a greater wasteland of buildings with such a miniscule quantity of green oases as in the capital of Buenos Aires.” Le Corbusier had similar sentiments during his visit 2 years earlier. The Athens Charter, signed in 1933, was perhaps CIAMs most significant and controversial work and was influenced heavily by Corbusier’s views on city planning and possibly his visit to Buenos Aires. The charter declared that CIAM was in favor of “rigid functional cities, with citizens to be housed in high, widely-spaced apartment blocs. Green belts would separate each zone of the city.” This charter took the modernist from merely architect to planner of new ways of living.

When Kurchan and Hardoy arrived in Corbusier’s office, he utilized the young Argentines to begin developing that which The Athens Charter tasked: they set in motion Le Corbusier’s vision of a master plan for Buenos Aires. When the young Corbusian protégés returned from Paris, they found that Rationalism had gone mainstream in Argentina. This frustrated them because they believed that architecture should do more than strip buildings of ornament, but instead apply a new way of living. At this time Kurchan and Hardoy helped to form the Austral group. Austral was a group of young architects who were reacting against the rationalist architecture that had become popular. They wrote a manifesto, published it in one of the leading Argentine architectural journals, and went about the task of implementing the ideas they learned in Paris. Kurchan and Hardoy’s first significant construction project was the design of the Virrey del Pino Apartments.

The Virrey del Pino was to be more than just a simple speculative housing venture. In this apartment building, the two architects aimed to change the way the urban landscape was developed. The apartments were located on a tapered site 25 meters wide by 40 meters long in the sparsely developed Belgrano district. What made this building unique is that it was aligned to the extreme rear of the lot. From 1928 to 1944 building regulations were strict about facades and encouraged that they collectively join up to form the street. In order to achieve this placement with such building regulations, the architects argued that if the lot was occupied using this standard, a group of three eucalyptus trees would have to be sacrificed. It is for this reason the project is referred to as Los Eucalyptos. In contrast to the Virrey del Pino, the Casa de Renta is situated directly on the street in accordance to these building regulations. The building spanned from party wall to party wall in order to accommodate a garden space behind the building, creating the traditional pulmon de manzana.While the eucalyptus trees allowed for the variance from the city codes, it was not the sole reason for the buildings placement on the lot. The scheme was actually an attempt to implement Le Corbusier’s city plan for Buenos Aires, one building at a time in hopes that other architects would follow. “Its realization was to serve as a proof of the possibilities for the gradual change of the traditional shape of the city thanks to the renewal of urban legislation and the power of the architect’s imagination.” Unfortunately the effort to sell the Corbusier city plan of Buenos Aires was largely unsuccessful. Today the Virrey del Pino Apartments stands as an artifact of the city that Corbusier dreamed of in Buenos Aires, Kurchan and Hardoy’s effort to implement the theories of this city plan in only a single building.
But could Kurchan and Hardoy’s noble attempt to change the urban condition in Buenos Aires to fit the task put forth by The Athen’s Charter be the single reason that is was so heavily featured in CIAM’s book? Possibly, but it probably helped that Hardoy was also the head of the South American branch of CIAM.

- My thanks goes to Megan White for contributing to this post.

Friday, November 23, 2007

São Paulo

São Paulo is immense. The scale of the city is breathtaking. It is not only the largest city in Brazil, but all of South America and even the Southern Hemisphere. I figured that with a population of 12 million, surely there would be some great buildings to see...and the city did not disappoint.

Lina bo Bardi's SESC Pompei was my favorite. Bo Bardi converted an old drum factory in the city into a cultural center. It is a great example of adaptive reuse. The project houses multiple gym spaces for the neighborhood children to play, a pool, a modern art museum, a small theater, public art studios, a cafe and small restaurant, and public spaces to congregate and contemplate. Beyond the pictures in my slide show below, there is a good slide show that shows architectural details on here.

Another Bo Bardi project that we visited was the MASP (Museo de Arte de São Paulo). A much earlier work by Bo Bardi and equally interesting. This building while not my favorite aesthetically, solves an interesting urban problem. The site is located at the head of a park which has a wonderful view down a hill in very dense part of the city. Most of the schemes submitted for this project ruined both the visual and physical connection to this space. Bo Bardi's scheme elevated part of the building to span the site and the remainder was built into the hill below. This maintained the visual connection down the hill and the space beneath her suspended volume became an extension of the public park space. The covered area is used to have outdoor concerts in the rainy season. A former professor of mine, Zeuler Lima is currently working on a book about Lina Bo Bardi. He is a noted Bo Bardi scholar and recently won the Bruno Zevi Prize for a paper he authored on her. Keep an eye out for the book if you are interested in learning more of this under appreciated figure of Brazilian modernism.

One of the most impressive buildings in São Paulo is certainly the architecture school FAU USP or Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo. Designed by Vilanova Artigas this building is a pinnacle of Brazilian modernism. An gargantuan open air concrete building circulates the students with large ramps and houses them under a seemingly endless ceiling. The space, while impressive seems like a terrible place to study. The large open areas with drafting tables in rows for hundreds of meters makes me one think of the Orwell's 1984. That being said the space is a sight to see.

We saw a few projects by Paulo Mendes da Rocha. His MUBE (Museu Brasileiro da Esultura) is an interesting sculpture museum which reminded my of Bo Bardi's MASP. The buildings share Brasilian architects love of large spans. Mendes da Rocha's work is all over São Paulo. We saw a renovation he did to the Pinacoteca do Estado. This is arguably Brazil's most important art museum. Mendes da Rocha converted the building from an old art school into its current state. The building, like Bo Bardi's SESC shows once again that wonderful architecture can be created from old buildings.

I've left him last, but one can't speak about Brazilian architecture without talking of Oscar Niemeyer; he turns 100 on December 12th by the way. He has many important projects in São Paulo including Ibirapuera Park and the Copan Building. We visited both, but I'll leave some explanation for future posts. Well, that's it for my summary of São Paulo. We'll complete our Brazilian tour in Rio de Janeiro next time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Niemeyer Briefly

It has been a long week here in Buenos Aires. A presentation on Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy's 'Los Eucalyptos' apartment building kept me very busy. I hope to turn it into a post sometime in the near future. But continuing with the Brasilian theme, I found some interesting and very funny stuff on Niemeyer that really must be passed on.

First off, this article by David Underwood. Popular Culture and High Art in the Work of Oscar Niemeyer is a must read for every architect. It is a sobering reminder to good intentioned architects and Niemeyer fans alike. My favorite quote from the article is:

"Workers housing and popular housing are terms that indicate capitalist discrimination. They represent demagogic and paternalistic objectives that don't attend to the scale of the misery. In fact they aim to prolong the existing situation, to peripheralize the faveldos from the most valuable areas, to bury them in these horrible ghettos called conjuntos proletarios, or under pretext of security and ecology, to turn the shanty areas to real estate profit."

Next I'd like to share two videos on Niemeyer. I found these on the Architectural Videos Blog which occasionally has some interesting stuff on it. The first video is brilliantly produced, the music really adds a whole new dimension to his architecture. The other is unfortunately in Portuguese but still worth a watch. It shows the elderly master at work.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Brasilia was the first stop on our three city tour of Brazil. A tour which provided us with material for months of posts. We'd like in our next couple posts to do an overview of each city (Brasilia, Sao Paulo, and Rio de Janiero) we visited and then we'll come back in the coming months to do some more in depth coverage on specific subjects. This post will mark the first of what we hope will be many with some photos contributed by photographer Lloyd Paul. Thanks for the contribution Lloyd.

Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer created something here. Something....
I have to say that had I not spent the last two years in Architecture school, I'd have a very different opinion of this place. I think this change of opinion is a bad thing. I'll spare you the philosophical dribble and just say that Brasilia is an architectural Disneyland. That being said, it makes a perfect subject for this Blog. While visiting Brazil's capital city, I couldn't help thinking how we would present this place. The quantity of buildings to cover is vast. Many of them however serve a singular simple purpose and don't require much explanation, others are much more intricate. So the challenge, a single blog post, and an entire city.

This is arguably the first complete 'modern' city fully planned and executed. 2006 marked the 50th anniversary of Brasilia's birth. It was the vision of one man and executed primarily by only three designers. The visionary was Brazil's President Juscelino Kubitschek who hired Lúcio Costa as the Urban Planner. Costa in turn brought on Oscar Niemeyer as chief architect and Roberto Burle Marx as landscape architect. At the satellite image scale, the city appears like a bird with it's wings spread bordered by the huge artificial Paranoá Lake. At this scale it is hard not to compare Brasilia with its sister city to the North, Washington D.C. Monumentality is the name of the game when designing capital cities. Down at the human scale, one tends to feel like an ant walking exposed in a world of giants ready to stamp their feet down. Walkability is not a term that one would associate with this city. But I guess that wasn't really the point.

Oscar Niemeyer must have really had fun designing this city. His buildings are often very well executed, but one can't help but think he was like a kid in the sandbox when coming up for a strategy to design all the commissions on his plate. There are some circle buildings, some rectangle buildings, some pyramids, and sometimes a combination of the list. All buildings of course had lots of really cool spiral ramps or stairs. It's hard not to sound like a kid when describing these structures. But beyond their simple classifications, Niemeyer's work is much more elegant and sophisticated. His understanding of the limits of reinforced concrete are tested in each building. Stay posted in coming weeks for more specific coverage on Niemeyer buildings in Brasilia and beyond. In the mean time here is a Flickr slideshow from the Oscar Niemeyer Group.