Category:architecture

July 15, 2013

Kusakabe House, Takayama

Just got back from a 2-week trip to Japan. Though we spent a lot of time in familiar places in Tokyo and Kyoto, we also took a 2-day trip to Takayama, a small city in the mountains of Gifu-ken, an extraordinary 2.5-hr train ride north of Nagoya.

Takayama retains many Edo-era buildings and streetscapes, which were really great to visit. The Kusakabe Mingei-kan is a large minka, in this case a merchant house in town, originally built in the early 19th century, and then reconstructed after a fire in 1896, is one of the best in town.

While visiting Takayama and neighboring Hida and Shirakawa during a summer break from college, the late great architecture photographer Yukio Futagawa was inspired by the anonymous, vernacular architecture of minka. In the mid-50s, he set off on a multi-year, cross-country trip to study and document these Japanese homes which were rapidly disappearing in the postwar reconstruction boom.

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Kusakabe House was turned into a house museum in 1966. The large public area of the house [above] was for conducting business and receiving guests. Those beams are sick.

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The kitchen is in the rear of this public-facing area. A fire was constantly maintained in the sunken hearth, or irori; the heat and smoke helped preserve the wood from insects and moisture damage. That crazy, gnarled hook is called a jizaikagi.

kusakabe_table.jpg

Pivoting 180 degreess from the top photo are the more private rooms of the house, including this amazing block table and chair set.

kusakabe_table2.jpg

Do want. Or do want to make.

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There are a couple of small gardens and these corridors. I took this looking back toward the streetside of the house.

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Above the fusuma sliding doors, where I'd call it a transom, are these thick hinoki boards with flower and leaf motifs sawed out. They had to have been done by hand. Aha, they're called ranma, which means the space between columns. These turn out to be pretty simple designs, as far as ranma carvings go.

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The second floor and the 2-story storehouse in back have collections of mingei: lacquerware, basketry, tansu--and Sori Yanagi's Butterfly Stool.

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On the way out I noticed this panel, which I thought was blank, but which turns out to be the builder's blueprint for the house. It's also visible in the background of the irori picture, under the horse.

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From 2009, The Roof as nth Facade, about Google Maps-optimized architecture:

Maybe the next Bilbao Effect, sure to appeal to striving cities in these difficult budgetary times, will be to commission grand architectural designs purely for the benefit of the Google Maps audience. Like the rural streetscape camouflage which was applied to the roof of the Lockheed airplane factory in Burbank to thwart Japanese bombers during WWII, cheap, easy, flexible Potemkin roof structures could really put a town on the map, so to speak.
It seems so long ago, but in architecture terms, I guess four years is pretty quick. I just didn't think it'd be Mr Bilbao Effect himself, Frank Gehry doing the camouflaging. And of course, it's not the city, but a giant corporation, Facebook, the Lockheed of identity, that's doing the hiding.

gehry_facebook_hq_roofgarden.jpg

Here is a detail of a model of the Menlo Park building Facebook asked Gehry to design. From Dezeen in April:

Early proposals for the campus, which was given the go-ahead by Menlo Park City Council last week, envisioned a bold, curving facade reminiscent of well-known Gehry buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

"They felt some of those things were too flashy and not in keeping with the kind of the culture of Facebook, so they asked us to make it more anonymous," said Craig Webb, a partner at Gehry's practice.

"Frank was quite willing to tone down some of the expression of architecture in the building," he told the Mercury News, explaining that they plan to disguise the white stucco building with a rooftop garden: "Our intent is that it almost becomes like a hillside, with the landscape really taking the forefront."

Or at least the appearance of landscape, on the roof of your 400,000-sq ft. relationship processing facility.

nbbj_google_greenroof.jpg

It's worth noting that this green-roof-as-park approach is being used by NBBJ for their new office complex--for Google. Google is hiding from Google Maps, too. As Sam Jacob writes at Dezeen, "Though its appearance is closer to an average business park, it too has its roofs littered with green stuff."

There are obviously many environmental and energy-use-related benefits to a green roof. But they also serve to mitigate the appearance gap between the "average business park" and the powerful technology companies inhabiting them. Invisibility through greenery, melting into the landscape, these are time-tested tools for managing an architectural first impression, as in bucolic renderings designed to mollify local land use and governmental constituents, or the landscaped, sculpture-filled approaches to the corporate HQs of the 1960s. Now every visitor's first encounter with the buildings is when they look them up on Google Maps. And now they've got those covered.

lockheed_burbank_camo2.jpg

And though I didn't grasp it at the time, it's no surprise that these particular companies are the clients trying to become "more anonymous through these hillside camo roofs:

On the one hand, it seems obvious that this vast, global audience [on Google Maps] should be factored into the creation of architecture. But on the other, it seems absolutely insane to design a structure, a space, for people who won't be anywhere near it, but sitting in front of some screen on the other side of the world.
Because the target of their disappearing act is their own users. Just as malls hide acres of parking lots behind roadside shrubbery, Google and Facebook are hoping their park-like roof facades will keep us from noticing the extent of their corporate footprint, and their relentless sprawl across our online landscape.


Previously: Heads Up: Roof as nth Facade [greg.org]
images via Sam Jacob's Dezeen op-ed, 'Cities are being redrawn according to Google's world view,' which, right? you'd think, but ends up going in a completely different direction. [dezeen]

kawamata_police_basel_tw.jpg

How is Tadashi Kawamata's Art Basel Favela like a real favela? It's built on public land, gets inhabited by people who don't have legal permission to be there, who are tolerated or ignored for a while, and who then get attacked and dispersed by riot police when someone with power decides it's time for them to go.

The details are still not clear to me, but Tages Woche reports that on Friday night, Basel police raided an outlaw party that had occupied Kawamata's Favela cafe, firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the small crowd.

kawamata_police_raid_tw.jpg

It appears that an event organizer had erected a favela DJ booth of their own, and were presumably protesting Kawamata's use of favelas to serve luxury falafel [at "reassuringly exclusive prices"] to visitors at Art Basel last week.

The event, or happening, or protest, seems to have been low-key. According to Tages Woche, Kawamata's collaborating architect Christophe Scheidegger met with the protestors, and they were allowed to stay for a while. Police and Art Basel officials decided to clear them out at 10pm, declaring the noise levels illegal, and that continued occupation of the favela--in the public platz, which had been rented by Art Basel--would be considered trespassing.

kawamata_police_messe_tw.jpg

And that's when, holy shit, it looks like they sent an assault force straight to the DJ favela to end the music and scatter the crowds with pepper spray and rubber bullets. Police established a perimeter, ended the party, kicked a few people on the ground, and then retreated back into the new Herzog & deMeuron Messe [above].

Tages Woche has a video of the attack shot from the parking garage [The embed above is from LiveLeak, but it's on Vimeo, which won't embed, and on YouTube, which, honestly, someone put an age-related content warning on? Is this an anti-viral video tactic?], though it's edited in a way that does not make it so clear what exactly preceded, and may have precipitated, the use of violent crowd control tactics. [The editors and reporters wrote a followup post addressing the circumstances of shooting the video.]

But this unedited YouTube video posted by Gab Kae tracks around the entire platz, and captures the police raid from within Kawamata's own favela. [It comes at around 2:20.] If there's anything at all that justifies such an attack, I can't see it. For these people hanging out in front of Art Basel, abuse of power came as a baffling surprise.

UPDATE greg.org reader Arthur points to another Tages Woche video, uploaded yesterday, which was taken on the ground, right next to the police, and which shows preparations for their assault on the party/protest.

In addition to the donkey, which had been part of the initial protest, the video features this nice, white-haired lady drinking a tallboy who, upon consultation with the officers, decides it best to move her chair out of the way.

After literally receiving their marching orders the Basel police head straight for their target. Which, this video makes clear, is the thumping sound system. Just watch that amp skittering out across the platz at 1:40. Obviously, the music demanded a forceful response, and any human casualties, injuries, or abuses, must be considered collateral damage and entirely unintentional. You know how it can be when techno dirtbags crash your party and won't leave.

Video: Gewaltsame Polizeiräumung am Messeplatz [tageswoche.ch]
Basel Favela Occupation [artreview]

June 12, 2013

G8 Pop-Up Prison

g8_popup_prison.jpg

Here I am thinking that 12 years into this blogging thing, there's really no reason to keep shipping containers as their own category anymore, when BAM, up pops a sweet, containerized pop-up prison for G8 protestors in Ireland.

You may remember, or maybe you don't, that in 2002 Camp Delta, the prison annex to Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo, was quickly built from shipping containers to handle the influx of prisoners from the GWOT.

If there's a difference between the GTMO container cells and the Irish ones, it's that the G8 cells are reportedly highly temporary, and that the police are promising that protestors will be arrested, processed, charged, and properly incarcerated in record time, just "a matter of hours." Europe. It really is the little differences.

G8: Courts 'can deal with 260 protest arrests a day' [bbc]

cady_noland_wash_mon_sm.jpg

Here's a shot I took today of the scaffolding around the Washington Monument for its post-earthquake restoration.

Every time I go by I think how awesome it would be, and until I hear or see otherwise, I'll just keep hoping and assuming it's the case that, instead of Michael Graves' tired, pomo cartoon scrim, the National Park Service is actually encasing it Budweiser cans, installing a massive adaptation of the 1989 work, This Piece Has No Title Yet, by DC's own Cady Noland.

What? I'm sure Don and Mera could totally make it happen!

noland_piece_no_title.jpg

This Piece Has No Title Yet, 1989, Dimensions variable, you guys! [rfc.museum]


DAY AFTER UPDATE: Whoa, well, then. The Hirshhorn board split and Koshalek announced his resignation by year-end. What a way to go.

While designer Liz Diller made her politico-architectural case for The Hirshhorn Bubble in her 2012 TED talk, the Museum's own justification for the project has been unclear and uncompelling.

Explanations center on making the Hirshhorn "an agent for cultural diplomacy." In February director Richard Koshalek told Kriston Capps, "This institution should be the leader in terms of setting arts and cultural dialogue. Cultural policy is set in Washington, D.C." This is debatable enough, as both mission and content.

The programming that's always discussed, though, a "Center for Creative Dialogue," involves conferences and discussions created by the Council on Foreign Relations and outside staff, not the Hirshhorn itself, or even the Smithsonian. Critics of the Bubble vision like Tyler Green note this disconnect, and that the Museum doesn't need a bubble to host such policy-flavored forums and events; they could do it right now, in the existing auditorium. And in fact, they did just that last Fall, where a capacity crowd watched TV journalist Judy Woodruff moderate a panel on "Art and Social Change" during to the Ai Weiwei exhibition.

No, The Bubble is a thing apart, apparently, from the programming that would inhabit it. Its absurdist form on this symbolic site, and the transgressive gesture towards Gordon Bunshaft's concrete donut, are meant to be self-justifying. Capps calls it "a public art stunt," and the Washington Post suggests it could "break DC from stagnation." It's starchitecture as spectacle and a catalyst for attention and, eventually, one hopes, the holy grail of Washington existence: relevance.

Meanwhile, it's amazing that until Capps' reconsideration of the project last winter in the City Paper, there was no mention of what would be, for lack of a better term, the business model: The Bubble would be a for-hire event space.

Koshalek swears the Inflatable will engage the Hirshhorn's curators, too. When the Bubble is inflated, part of its programming will correspond with whatever's lining the gallery walls of the museum. The rest of the timeshare will go to whichever universities, think tanks, and corporations rent it out--a money-making proposition for the Hirshhorn which could lead to exclusive uses not quite in keeping with Diller's civic scheme. (And certainly not with the museum's artistic mission.)

May 20, 2013

Big Swingin' D[iller]

hirshhorn_dsr_balloon.jpg

The Hirshhorn's board is scheduled to vote on whether to proceed with The Bubble, the most prominent initiative of director Richard Koshalek since he arrived at the museum in 2009.

Even though The Bubble was the subject of one of my all-time favorite posts, I have not written much about it since. I have reservations about it, but I have only wished the museum's success, and so have been willing to give the current regime the benefit of the doubt as they pursue their vision.

But that has been a vague slog, and far from a sure thing. It's remarkable that the board which hired Koshalek is apparently reluctant to support his efforts to do what they presumably hired him for: raising the profile of the Hirshhorn, and raising money for the Hirshhorn and its exhibitions, acquisitions, and educational programs.

Maybe that is because there are persistent and unaddressed issues with The Bubble and its ostensible purpose. It is true that Koshalek's stated vision for The Bubble--to host some kind of cross-disciplinary cultural forum, with content generated not by the Museum, or even the Smithsonian, but by the Council on Foreign Relations--still comes across as squishy and alarmingly unconcerned with actual art and artists. That disconnect is even more inexplicable for being unnecessary.

About The Bubble itself, though: I didn't care much either way before, but after watching Liz Diller's TED talk from March 2012, I am really starting to sour on Diller Scofidio + Renfro's design and their entire approach. Titled "A Giant Bubble for Debate," Diller's speech is the rare, unmediated, extended discussion of The Bubble by a principal. As such, it's worth a closer read.

For Diller and her client, who wants to take advantage of the Museum's unique and symbolic site "at the seat of power in America," the National Mall, "the question is, 'Is it possible, ultimately, for art to insert itself into the dialogue of national and world affairs?' and 'Could the Museum be an agent of cultural diplomacy?'" Technically that's two questions, which not only are not answered, but which beg more questions--insert itself to what end, and agent for whom?

diller_bubble_TED.jpg

"I blush whenever I show this," says Diller of the slide above, to laughter. "It is yours to interpret." Wait, what? So I guess she interprets this insertion into the Hirshhorn's hole as a phallus? Or given the material, I guess it could be a sex toy, or a condom? Or at least some flavor of kink, given the "study of some bondage techniques" that went into the tension cable design on the next slide?

Diller continues: "We were asked by the bureaucracy at the Mall, 'How long would it take to install?' And we said, 'The first erection will take one week.'" And if it lasts longer than that, I guess, call your architect.

diller_panel_TED.jpg

Diller shows the interior space of The Bubble in use, with renderings of a panel discussion in the round; a spotlit performer; a movie screening; and a Barbara Kruger-style text projection. In every instance, the activity is the same: an audience sits and watches something happen. This "breath of democracy" turns out to be just more entertainment and spectacle. And this purportedly transgressive, iconoclastic structure does absolutely nothing to change or challenge the programs of the Mall's museums Diller just criticized, or by extension, the structures of power she pretends to subvert.

Diller's claim that her structure, built to house extravagantly ticketed events like TED, the WEF, and CFR fora, will somehow embody "the ideals of participatory democracy" is obviously nothing but hot air.

Which is still just part of the problem, seeing as how the ideals The Bubble is embodying are those of pay-to-play capitalism. More on that in the next post.

liston_rear_range_gsa_1.jpg

I know the US Government is selling off lighthouses all the time, but the Liston Range Rear Light in Delaware strikes me as exceptional.

It is a 120-ft tall, braced iron tube built in 1876 that sits, unusually for a light house, three miles inland from the mouth of the Delaware River. It stands on around half an acre of land. It's a few miles south of 95; I think that's the exit where the Denny's is. There's a 100sf building at the base that's included, but the adjacent keeper's house and assistant keeper's house were sold quite some time ago. The cylindrical tower is lined with wood, and the steel spiral staircase has five landings, in case you need to rest on the way up.

liston_rear_range_gsa_2.jpg

As a range light, it is twinned with a front light which is lower and closer to the water's edge. Ships navigate by aligning the two lights in a range light.

liston_fresnel_loc.jpg

The Liston Range Rear Light still contains its 2nd-order Fresnel lens, which is unusual.

It is now being sold by the US Coast Guard. The current bid is $10,000. I repeat, $10,000.

One catch, and it's a big one, is that the Coast Guard retains title to the Fresnel lens unless and until it decides it doesn't need to be in the range light aid to navigation business anymore. At which point, it may decide to give the lens to the lighthouse's owner. Who must agree "to display the Fresnel Lens if and when it is discontinued in accordance with the standards set forth in the Guidelines on the Care and Maintenance of Historic Classical Fresnel Lenses."

It's a bummer about the Fresnel Lens, but until I can get my hands on one of those late 19th century War Dept. Gettysburg observation towers, this range light might have to do.

Liston Light Tower [gsaauctions.gov]
Liston Rear Range, DE [lighthousefriends.com, bottom image of Fresnel Lens, LOC via LHF]
Liston Rear Range Light [wikipedia]

judd_constr_permits.jpg

I don't know how they knew, but I was asked to write about ARO's restoration of 101 Spring Street for Architect Magazine. I've been a huge fan of Donald Judd's architecture since I first visited his spaces almost 20 years ago, so I was somewhere between concerned, wary, and freaking out over what was going to happen to the artist's works.

So I attended the Judd Foundation's preview last week [EXCLUSIVE GREG.ORG IMAGES ABOVE, BELOW]. Basically what happened was, after 19 years of life-consuming effort and stress, a shit-ton of money, and a near-fanatical approach to conservation, 101 Spring Street is done and saved. [Well, technically, it's almost done. Like 99% done.]

judd_wifi.png

The second biggest surprise was ARO's absolutely amazing transformation of the subterranean levels at 101 Spring into the beautiful, light-filled offices of the Judd Foundation. I'd been in the basement once before, way back when, and it was a dingy, dark, leaky mess. Now the original 19th century sidewalk vaults and floorlights [below] work and look fantastic. Even as they go to extraordinary lengths to preserve their dad's spaces, Judd's kids also managed to create something for themselves as well.

juddfndn_floorlights_.jpg

Meanwhile, I tried to write about Judd in the empiricist style of Judd. It turned out to be very difficult. And if no one noticed or said anything about it, Ima guess that I was only partly successful at it. Still, a very nice thing to write about.

101 Spring Street by Donald Judd (and ARO) [architectmagazine]
The Judd Foundation will start guided visits of 101 Spring Street in June 2013. [juddfoundation.org]

domus_195_munari_frey.jpg

I've had this spread from Domus 195 on my desktop so long, I've forgotten who or where it came from, but the issue, from 1944, was designed by Bruno Munari.

domus_195_maggiore.jpg

"Case su Trampoli," or "Houses on Stilts" juxtaposes an awesome fisherman's shack on Lago Maggiore with early modernist designs by architects from Le Corbusier to Albert Frey. Who had worked for Le Corbusier, on the Villa Savoye, in fact.

But it's really the combination of the shack and Frey's Canvas Weekend House on the lower left which gets me. Frey built it for and/or with Lawrence Kocher in 1933-4 at Fort Salonga, in Northport, LI, which turned into a little modernist enclave.

kocher_frey_canvas_hse.jpg

Did I mention it was made of canvas? After the critical success of their Aluminaire House, Frey & Kocher experimented with designs with the backing of cotton and textile manufacturers, but the only one to actually get built was Kocher's own house.

Marine canvas was stretched horizontally over a redwood frame, insulated with aluminum foil, and nailed, painted & sealed. Joseph Rose's Frey monograph says it had to be resealed every three years, but I can't see how long the canvas house actually stood.

kocher_frey_canvas_hse_1.jpg

The most detail I've seen online comes from Tania Gonzales Gonzales' series of blog posts, an assignment to analyze the house's structure and propose an addition to it.

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Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
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Category: architecture

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Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
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Standard Operating Procedure
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CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
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YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
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HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
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Prince YES RASTA:
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