Friday, December 23, 2011

Ontology of the American City

Aleksandar Hemon
Aleksandar Hemon, "Mapping Home"  
The New Yorker, Dec 5, 2011. p. 40 - 49
"In the Sarajevo I knew, you possessed a personal infrastructure: your kafama [café], your barber, your butcher; the landmarks of your life (the spot where you fell and broke your arm playing soccer, the corner where you waited to meet the first of the many loves of your life, the bench where you first kissed her); the streets where people would forever know and recognize you, the space that identified you. Because anonymity was well nigh impossible and privacy literally incomprehensible (there is no word for "privacy" in Bosnian), your fellow-Sarajevans knew you as well as you knew them. If you somehow vanished, your fellow citizens could have reconstructed you from their collective memory and the gossip that had accrued over years. Your sense of who you were, your deepest identity, was determined by your position in a human network, whose physical corollary was the architecture of the city."
"Chicago, on the other hand, was built not for people to come together but for them to be safely apart. Size, power and the need for privacy seemed to be the dominant elements. Vast as it was, Chicago ignored the distinctions between freedom and isolation, between independence and selfishness, between privacy and loneliness. In this city, I had no human network within which to place myself. My displacement was metaphysical to precisely the same extend to which it was physical. But I couldn't live nowhere. I wanted from Chicago what I had got from Sarajevo, a geography of the soul."

Photo from The Guardian, Sept. 27, 2009, by Murdo Macleod

Friday, December 16, 2011

Spain Sweeps Young Architects Awards

Rowing Center by J.M. Sánchez García. © Roland Halbe

Britain's The Architectural Review also dedicates its December issue to emerging architects, and this year six Spanish firms make the cut out of a total of 16 prizes (many of the remaining prizes went to Japanese firms).

The magazine also turned to Luis Fernández-Galiano for a first-hand look at the tough situation young architects face in Spain: Survival Tactics for Spain's Harsh New Reality (free registration required).

Here are the winning Spanish firms:

Juan Creus, Covadonga Carrasco
Harbor remodelling, Malpica, Galicia
(Also joint winner of the Urbanism Prize in the 
XI Biennial of Spanish Architecture this year)

Enrique Krahe Marina
Municipal Theater, Zarfra

Zigzag Arquitectura
Social Housing, Mieres
(Also winner of the XI Biennial of Spanish Architecture)

Iñaqui Carnicero
Slaughterhouse Restoration, Madrid
(Also featured in the December Design Vanguard in Architectural Record)

José María Sánchez García
Rowing Center, Alange, Badajoz
(Photo top)

Tómas García Piriz
Biodiviversity Center, Loja

Photo Top. Rowing Center by J. M. Sánchez García.  
© Roland Halbe, Used with permission.

Foster Competition Win: Business as Usual?

News brief
Foster & Partners has won a limited competition to build a high speed train station in Ourense, a provincial capital in Galicia, located in northwest Spain.

The adjudication is one of the last made by the Ministry of Development under the Socialist government in Madrid, and is likely to be reviewed by the incoming government. While the Socialist Mayor of Ourense supports the project, Galicia's regional government, headed by the Popular Party, opposes it, calling for the future high speed train line to be buried in its course through the city. The incoming central government, also controlled by the Popular Party, has asked for other adjudications  on the Galician high speed train line to be suspended for review. 

The other six finalists were not mentioned in press reports on the competition. Financing for the 67 million euro project is to come in part from European union development funds.

Note on the news 
I wish I could see something in these renderings that would make the project seem worth the trouble. Foster's name on a blueprint these days simply isn't enough. How much longer is it going to take for politicians to catch on?

See the story in the following newspapers (selection):
El País 
Faro de Vigo
El Mundo

Renderings from the blog

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ambasz Exhibit and the Return of the 70s

News brief
Emilio Ambasz returns as the subject of a show at Madrid's Reina Sofía Museum of Contemporary Art (Emilio Ambasz. Inventions: architecture and design, through Jan. 16th).

I am sure Ambasz is charming, and he did have his moment in the 1970's at the Museum of Modern Art. He's even built something outside Seville (photo above). But frankly, I'd forgotten all about him.

The Reina's Director, Manuel Borja-Villel, has returned to the 70s as one of the last great unclaimed virgin territories of the contemporary, as are many these days. He specializing in sprawling shows full of archival documents, another burgeoning fad. All those manifestos, pamphlets, posters and other ephemera. Original documents are great in a book or on a screen, but on the wall they are sheer tedium. Is this the reaction to digital media kicking in?

But back to Ambasz: I'm judging before seeing the show, but speaking from past experience, my sense is that Borja-Villel is not quite clued-in on the subject of architecture, and takes the broad view that makes innocents fall for someone like Calatrava.

Ambasz reminds me of all those artists financed by "1% for Art" who worked on public spaces with architects in the 1980s and who fell so far short of the multidimensional seriousness of the task  (I interviewed several of them in New York at the time). Ambasz' work strikes me as flat and undernourished. Like so much art today, at best it's a one-liner, a clever ocurrencia. See for example the project above, featured in news stories on the show.

If one must return to the 70s, what about, say, Ant Farm, or mid-career Charles Moore, or James Wines, or....  On second thought, forget it.

Stay tuned for a live report from the scene pronto....

Photo:  Emilio Ambasz, Casa de Retiro Espiritual, designed in 1975.

Live report from the scene, Jan.12, 2012:
Nothing to add.
Except that the work is very James Wines (remember SITE?), or James Wines was very Emilio Ambasz. The projects still read to me as cliched self-parody, up there with the most cynical PoMo stuff, and most are for rich know-nothing clients in Texas and Mexico. Supposedly all very natural but with a lot of abstract green lawns and earth-moving. A spectacular opera under a sloping artificial park in Japan (2000), actually built it seems (though photos throughout the show are scarce, I guess to hide the fact that almost all his ideas went nowhere with the clients) is straight out of Rem Koolhaas' 1978 classic Delirious New York, and only "reads" in one direction. Most of the projects only read from above, as models.

The Reina spent a lot of money on the installation, and someone spent a lot on the models and framed drawings. Too bad they don't give the same attention to deserving local talent -- a show on Francisco "Patxi" Mangado at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid last year featured a hodgepodge of models carelessly crammed into a dark undersized basement showroom, like a fire sale.

Note: If you are confused by the model photo above, it is a view of the inside of the virtual cube, not the outside. The fact that reading it is so ambiguous shows just how boringly conceptual the conceit actually is.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Souto de Moura, Architect of the Year

Could it have been anyone else? My selection for Architect of the Year in the Ladies and Gentlemen section of the December Gentleman (Spanish edition) is Eduardo Souto de Moura, winner of this year's Pritzker Prize. (Sorry, no web version available).
"...en la última década ha encontrado su propia voz, caracterizada por rotondas formas geométricas y una contención formal que envuelve sus obras en un silencio altamente expresivo. Frente a la demanda por una austeridad más pragmática y funcional, la obra de Souto de Moura revindica valores esenciales de la arquitectura para un futuro incierto."

Runners up: Oscar Niemeyer, José María Sánchez García and
Jürgen Mayer H.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Introducing Iñaqui Carnicero

In this month's Design Vanguard issue of Architectural Record (a US publication, by the way, for those who may confuse it with the British Architectural Review), I write on the Madrid architect Iñaqui Carnicero. See the article here.
"Despite Carnicero's declarations of formal modesty, his work is by no means without a strong architectonic character. Though he has returned to the basic principles of Modernism, he discovers rich new territories to explore using the familiar formulas of structural logic and functional form.
Also in the issue is the Barcelona-based studio Arquitecturia (Olga Felip and Josep Camps), which is reviewed by my good friend Jim Russell. See it here.

Design Vanguard is an annual roundup of 10 emerging studios from around the world. Anyone can submit portfolios, converting the issue into an open competition judged by the New York editors. For prospective candidates, my own observation over the years is that the luck of the draw favors architects with solid (not to say stolid) formal and professional skills, rather than some of the supposedly wilder stuff out there. I always try to send them a couple of troublemakers anyway.

Currently Record is open to submissions for the April Record Houses issue (deadline December 15th) and the Good Design is Good Business Awards (deadline January 15th). For more information and entries, the link is here.  

Design Vanguard: Iñaqui Carnicero Architecture
Architectural Record, December 2011, pages 60 - 63.

Top photo:
Iñaqui Carnicero, 1+1=1 House, Madrid. © Roland Halbe, Used with permission.

See the Design Vanguard tag below for previous years' selections from Spain.