Sunday, April 25, 2010

A lot of things happen when you take on the government. You don't sleep very much. You have no time to update your blog. And worse, you stop paying attention to the outside world, and hence you have little to share on your blog after said taking on the government is complete.

But what is all this talk about taking on the government? Think less conspiracies and angry militias and more along the lines of competing to win an architectural contract for a major federal building - which, now that I think of it, sort of involved conspiracies and angry militias, otherwise known as a 'team strategy'. This being the first federal competition I've ever taken on was not very easy. It required long work days, coordination of a huge consultant team, the production of enormous books and presentations, traveling, hotels and far too many scotches on the rocks. And now, I find myself with a body that only wants to sleep and a brain that refuses to work. Not for architecture, nor for this blog - except for this post, which is meant to fill the gap of inactivity. These are the government doldrums.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Congratulations are in order for two fantastic people. First and foremost, a big high-five to Chris Shusta, a member of Studio Office and this year's winner of the 2010 Rotch Traveling Scholarship.

The Rotch contest winner was Christopher Shusta, who sought to soften the building’s imposing presence while also adding attractions to bring more visitors to the site. He would build the museum in a horizontal stretch along Congress Street, adding above it an outdoor terrace that faces the area of the plaza where concerts and other public events are currently held. Then Shusta would extend City Hall’s interior courtyard, a dark, disused space, out through the side of the building, connecting to the terraced area. The interior glass walls would look onto a newly brightened courtyard, which would be draped with geometrically shaped wooden shutters in natural finish. “The thought is to bring some human scale to the building that people see as missing now,’’ said Shusta, a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design who lives in Princeton, N.J. He received a $37,000 scholarship to travel the world studying architecture for a minimum of eight months. Boston Globe

Way to go, Shusta! I want a postcard from each of your destinations!

The second congratulations goes to Fabian Cancellara, who solo'ed to victory today in the spring classics race, Ronde von Flanderen (Tour of Flanders). Only the second Swiss rider to ever win the Ronde (and the first since 1923), Cancellara pulled away from Tom Boonen on the race's final climb, riding the final 15km alone until the finish line. Next week, the spring classics hits its crescendo with the so called "queen stage," Paris-Roubaix.

The worlds of design and cycling are alive with celebration. Kudos!


Sunday, March 28, 2010

It was a busy fall, so I’m catching up on some old reading a bit late. But in Log 17, I came upon an interesting article by David Ruy, “Lessons from Molecular Gastronomy,” which I found oddly pertinent to some of the issues and questions recently addressed here, in some of my own writing. In his article, Ruy gives a vivid and in-depth account of the famous Spanish restaurant elBulli, the most consistently top-ranked restaurant in the world, where a 36-course meal will take you six hours to complete, where your senses will be engaged beyond saturation, and where you will only have access if you are one of the few selected out of the 2-million-plus that apply every year. Its popularity is a result of its extremely unique method of food-preparation - including the use of molecularly-generated ingredients, chemical reactions and scientific devices used as cooking utensils - and the food’s capacity to expand our comprehension of both its physical capability and as our own sensorial range.

By describing the elBulli experience, Ruy establishes a captivating parallel in the way we consume architecture – a process that engages the basic senses (sight, smell, taste, etc.), plus, as Ruy points out, our cognitive sensibility, including both the magic or mechanics of that process, terms that are ostensibly spectral opposites but necessary complements in the gastronomic or architectural experience. For Ruy, the key term is technique (a synonym for mechanics), and the key question is how to position technique within the more generalized goals of food or architecture. We might see this question as basic, but within its simplicity it challenges our assessment of the components of design, most notably the qualitative weight we attribute to generative technique versus consumption. Ruy’s position on this issue is clear:

At elBulli, the technology that goes into producing the work is often extremely complex. However, the staff prefers to keep all of that hidden during presentation at the dinner table. They sublimate the technology and the burden of its implications to allow the diner to focus on the sensations alone. The sublimation of technology brings about a magical effect – “how is this done? It seems impossible!” In the sciences, technology is never sublimated within the hypothesis. To do so would obviously obscure the validity of an investigation’s results. In the arts, the problems are different. As the material world continues to lose its magic through the knowledge of its causes, it becomes the burden of artistic practices to reintroduce magic into the world by obscuring material causes once again.

Ruy’s valuation of sensorial magic over mechanics is reflective of his generation's rising practitioners (whose leaders form the bulk of Log 17’s contributors), a group that conquered the introduction of digital technique in architectural practice and are currently seeking its maturation into something new. The natural reaction, after so many years of technique-based research and subsequent critique, is to return to the more fundamental agenda of sensation, which in this case is well served (albeit discretely) by the collective application of complex techniques and digital mechanics. The sublimation of technique and the emphasis on sensation is a refreshing perspective beyond an obsession with process and into the matter that engages our sincere and emotional capacities. It has nuances of the expressive modernism of Saarinen and Utzon to the transporting environments of disco. What’s missing, however, is a vision for its endgame – an agenda for the morning after, when the sensations have worn away, gotten old or grown tired. The same could be said of a meal at elBulli. After we leave the restaurant and return to our own kitchens, what role would an elite evening of sensational molecular gastronomy play in our daily lives, other than to know food’s ultimate capacity beyond the mundane? Is there a “trickle-down” effect of sensations in food or architecture, perhaps even towards an ethical design agenda? Perhaps Log 18 has all the answers, and at this rate I might get to that by the fall. We shall have to wait and see.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

It isn't quite springtime yet (temperatures in France are still below freezing), but already the European peleton is charging out of its gates, racing from the French capital to the Mediterranean in what has become known as the annual "race to the sea." Paris-Nice. A picturesque slog of 1,288 frigid kilometres. Completed in 8 days. While wearing spandex. Such is the devotion of the springtime racer to his or her sport.

And then, things can get a little hot, as in the 1984 edition of Paris-Nice, when a large group of protesting French shipyard workers blocked the race route. As the peloton collided with the protestors, several riders either dismounted from their bikes or fell onto the road. However, Bernard Hinault (aka "The Badger"), a 5-time winner of the Tour de France, took things one step further, throwing punches at the closest shipyard worker within reach. And of course, someone caught it all on film.

Fights in cycling are incredibly rare, as they should be, but when they do happen, whether it's because of the riders' wiry physiques or the lack of protection in their spandex, they are awkward and off-balance little episodes that prove why professional boxers do not wear cycling cleats.

Still, whether it's the sight of a cyclist charging into the cold with whatever protection he can find, or the image of Hinault delivering the full emotion of his off-season anxiety to someone's face, I can't help but feel the excitement of spring's impeding arrival. In the coming weeks and months, layer by layer, the winter gear will come off exposing my pasty legs to the light of day, and soon it will be summer.


Friday, March 12, 2010

With regards to ideology, is there any way to differentiate our attitude towards a mathematically-driven architecture versus that of automatic art? In particular, consider the wall paintings of Sol LeWitt or the Drawing Restraints of Mathew Barney (especially 1-6, 10). Does either example establish a stronger connection between the idea and the idea-made-manifest? The rule and the drawing, the code and the building. Of course, the pivotal and unavoidable question is why we would circumvent the will of the creator and his or her direct connection to the consumer. But in return, we should also question whether or not the rule constitutes a will, and whether or not it is intelligent enough to generate something valuable for the consumer.


Monday, March 1, 2010

It's fitting (to me at least) that in the midst of (my) recent events the GSD will be hosting a conference this Friday, March 5th, titled "The Mathematics of Sensible Things." Organized by Georges Legendre of IJP, the conference will also include Ben Aranda, Dennis Shelden, Antoine Picon and keynote speaker Bernard Cache. Incidentally, Antoine's talk is called "Architecture and Mathematics: Between Intuition and the Quest for Operative Techniques." I find Antoine's interest in digital architecture surprising, and his insight refreshing, so it will be interesting to hear his comments on the relationship between mathematics and intuition. Perhaps his view will shed light on the supposed opposition between automation and ideology (still not sure about the effectiveness of those terms, but will go with it for now).

No word on whether the conference will be web-cast, but keep an eye on the GSD's events website for any updates.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's been brought to my attention that the Eisenman debacle, which I described in a previous post, is a bit more extensive than I expected*. In addition to his lecture at the AA, he has apparently made reference to GreyMatters on several other occasions. In an introduction to Anthony Vidler's Histories of the Immediate Present, Eisenman writes the following:

Of all the terms in the architectural lexicon, or, for that matter, those of painting and sculpture, the one most laden with social and political opprobrium is formalism. To be a formalist is to be a target for everyone who feels that architecture is a social project full of rhetorical symbolism. Yet I was struck, while on a recent jury at a prestigious East Coast architecture school, by the pervasive influence of a new, perhaps more virulent breed of formalism, more virulent because it was posed under the banner of a neo-avant-garde technological determinism. The nexus of this formalism lay in advanced computer modeling techniques generated out of complex algorithms that produced parametric processes of enormous complexity and consistency, replete with their own variability and distortion. The range, variety and energy of this work should have appealed to me personally, not only because of my memories of that particular institution as a bastion of intellectual conservatism, but also because this cutting-edge-process work was close to an idea of autonomy inherent in such authorless processes. Instead, I felt that something was radically wrong, something that speaks to a more general problem of architecture today. It was an autonomy freed from any passionate or firm ideological commitment.

He goes on to describe a more satisfactory definition of autonomy, which can be categorized under the rubric of the word "formal," and which he differentiates from a passionless and voided sense of "formalism." "Any internally generated forms," he writes, "that are part of a critical system in one sense could be considered as autonomous, independent of social or market forces, while still offering a critique of these forces." In other words, Eisenman clearly sees the value of autonomous systems within architecture, and respects them as a formal device with the capacity to react and respond to non-formal issues surrounding the discipline. Perhaps he is imagining these systems as a kind of grammar or visual language that indexes these non-formal issues and changes according to a predetermined set of controls. I might be misinterpreting his definition of autonomy as such, but oddly enough if it in fact has anything to do with indexicality, it seems that he has incorporated a more recent line of architectural research into a line of thinking that he established as far back as the beginning of his academic and professional career.

To stay on the topic of autonomy, I cannot contradict Eisenman's definition, especially with regard to a critical formal autonomy. But I would like to argue against the notion that the present line of digital research in architecture lacks an ideological commitment, or that it is laden with a technological determinism. In the right hands, this kind of autonomy can be tied to a true architectural criticality and a passionate intuition. The only impediment to accomplishing this ideology is the author's experience and fluency with digital technique, similar to any architect gaining fluency with the generative tools and intellectual media of his or her time. A clear ideology can only be expressed with control over those tools and an experience with those media. More importantly, a recognition of this ideology requires one to be able to discern between those with this ability and those without it. These two skills, experience and recognition, are inseparably tied to each other, both requiring curiosity, passion, ideology and, of course, practice, practice, practice.

* If anyone has access to a video archive of Princeton's lecture series, apparently there is another reference in a recent lecture he gave there. Thanks to EG for sharing her colorful memory of that event.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Photos have recently surfaced showing the present condition of the Ordos Project. What was originally conceived as an urban development, including residences, municipal facilities and cultural institutions, now seems to be hanging indefinitely in the balance, while all things political and economic sort themselves out. The experience of seeing these images is two-fold. On the one hand, the natural reclamation of architecture by sand and wind is alluring. While the decay and open parcels is simultaneously disappointing, especially as we have so much to look forward to in the designs from many young offices, including residences by I|K Studio, Studio Rocker, MOS and Scott Cohen. Let's hope the trade winds reverse their direction.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Excerpted from Peter Eisenman's lecture at the Architectural Association, February 5th, entitled "Lateness and the Crisis of Modernity":
What you find at least with students in America, and that’s why State of the Union, basically, the people that I deal with, the younger generation, is they’re beginning to behave like computers and they begin to believe that they are a computer. They have lost a capacity to intuit and to intelligently respond to conditions in a way to develop grammars. And the grammars that they have come out of the computer. So, we’re now tied to computer programs which weren’t designed for space-time architectural environments. The algorithms were for animation, for other kinds of issues, for media, and not for producing space and time in an architectural sense. And we now have something which is a disease, the parametric process disease, which, you know, has taken over in all leading institutions.

And, I was at a review at Harvard last spring and I met a very bright student, I was on his review. And it’s a year-long project at Harvard. And I said, “what did you do?” He said, “I wrote an algorithm that could produce any x-amount of variation.” I said, “oh my god, x-amount of variation. How do you choose?” He said, “choice is no longer the issue.” Right? I said, “oh, ok”. “Any one will do.” And of course, all of these things looked like weird chicken coops, when you see parametrics operating, right? And they all look the same. And so I thought, well, here I go, I’m going to be Mr. Genius Loci, I’m going to ask, you know, “what’s the function?” Or, “what’s the site?” And so I said, “so, there’s this great parametric process.” And then he showed all of the variations, all of them chicken coop, you know, punch surfaces, Alejandro. Right? Since you’re one of the problems in this area. Well, he’s going to be teaching with me, so I’m happy that I have somebody to play with - the source of the problem. In any case, I said to this young student, “well, what was the site?” He said, “oh, it was a wonderful site in Hong Kong Harbor.” I said, “oh, that’s nice, on an island in Hong Kong Harbor.” And I said, “because it’s in this island, you can choose any one of these chicken coops, since there’s no place, in a sense, but there is.” And I said, “well, what’s the program?” I couldn’t believe it, you have to understand, a year at Harvard, right? $50k for this. And he said, “my project,” hear this, “is a golf driving range.” I said, “a golf driving range?” I said, “what kind of social program is this?” He said, “well in the east, in Hong Kong, golf driving ranges are really important, there’s no place for people to play golf, so they go to golf driving ranges.” And he said, “you know what’s amazing about these chicken coops,” sorry, he didn’t use the term, “is that you can drive the golf balls out into the bay, because there’s no limit to how far you can hit the golf balls. You can hit them through different holes. You can have different size holes. You know one makes 100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards, etc. depending on the surface.”

And I just, I gave up. I said, “I can’t deal with this. This, to me, isn’t what architecture is about.”

Maybe none of you have that problem yet, but the State of the Union in America, we call it the University of the North, where I live, but anyway it is a disease that is certainly spreading. And students today, for example, some of the students that I know at Yale, are afraid to take courses with people like Greg Lynn and others because they don’t have the computer skills. And they say, “well if we don’t have the computer skills, how can we do a Greg Lynn studio?” So I think one should be aware of this kind of thing.

I'm flattered that somehow my work made him question the discipline's limits. The only thing I ask is that he not give up. Keep up the good fight!

NB: Excerpt taken from the mid-point of the lecture. Thanks to Volkan for bringing it to my attention.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Prora, an architecture of walls, not too dissimilar from Le Corbusier's plan for Algiers. According to Wikipedia's entry on Prora:

The massive building complex was built between 1936 and 1939 as a Kraft durch Freude (KdF) project. Designed to provide affordable holidays for the average worker, Prora was designed to house 20,000 holidaymakers, under the ideal that every worker deserved a holiday at the beach. All rooms were planned to overlook the sea. Each room of 5 by 2.5 metres (16'5" x 8'3") was to have two beds, an armoire (wardrobe) and a sink. There were communal toilets and showers. Hitler's plans for Prora were ambitious. He wanted a gigantic sea resort, the "most mighty and large one to ever have existed", holding 20,000 beds. In the middle, a massive building was to be erected, able to accommodate all 20,000 guests at the same time, plus two wave-swimming pools and a theatre.

As with any residential mega-project, such as Corviale outside Rome or Karl-Marx-Hof in Vienna, the images of Prora are sublime. Just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Hamburg, and you can be on the walls and beaches of Prora in no time.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal
Pier Luigi Nervi
New York City, 1963

I would like to think that the root of problem solving in architecture is in some way tied to the notion of a structural module. The reason for this is that the structural module, if it is carefully designed as such, implies an understanding of depth, from perimeter to the center, and from space to space. And by this it potentially mediates a transition between conditions, which is itself the root meaning of problem solving. To allow the transition to occur is not necessarily a solved problem, yet if the transition puts forward a productive exchange between the two conditions, as in the problems solved by mathematics or biological species, this is the point at which architecture achieves a productive interaction with its context and discipline.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

The new Studio Office site is up and running. A temporary placeholder for an even newer site (currently being developed), this one has some new media content and an interface that serves to link the network of the other Studio Office identities scattered about the web - including the blog, JD homepage, contact info, etc.

Enjoy, and please send feedback!


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Vornoi study by TheVeryMany/Marc Fornes

Is architecture capable of problem-solving, or simply a symbolic representation of problems being solved? In other words, do the formal systems we deploy today - in both the digital or physical world - go beyond spatial and material organization, and into the realm of productive problem-solving?


Saturday, January 30, 2010

When visiting the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, VA (home of Pierre Luigi Nervi's only domed building in the US, the Scope), I stumbled upon a great collection of Art Nouveau furniture and prints. The highlight of the collection was an elegant daybed by the Thonet Brothers - who were most likely the pre-incarnations of Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, either in practice or spirit.

Designboom's "rocking chair and "daybed" timelines situate their work into a chronology of those pieces, featuring several other well known pieces as well. Of course, these chronologies leave me wanting them all, but given the humble dimensions of my abode, this could be the thing that officially gets me on the tv show Hoarders.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writing about the early Twentieth-century transition from mechanical energy systems to electrical ones, Manuel De Landa writes:

Transforming power would not depend as much on its role in communications or illumination as in the creation of a new breed of motors that, unlike steam engines, could be miniaturized, which permitted a new degree of control over the flow of mechanical energy. The miniaturization of motors allowed the gradual replacement of a centralized engine by a multitude of decentralized ones (even individual tools could be motorized). Motors began disappearing from view, weaving themselves into the very fabric of reality.

The time period to which De Landa refers is roughly the same as when Le Corbusier wrote about turbines, silos, airplanes and automobiles - all objects that fall within De Landa's category of the centralized motor. However, very soon after Le Corbusier initial observations, the centralized motor is replaced by the miniature motor, making these objects technologically obsolete. This potentially impacts the notion that the motor itself is the principle driver of visible form and material, or that machines for living in be equated to finely-tuned mechanical contraptions. The problem with extending this metaphor of the motor is that a miniaturized motor - which requires a housing to adapt it to the human body - implies an irreducibly small and unoccupiable contraption disassociated with its cladding. All this time and the machine for living, it can be said, is effectively impossible to live in.

But what if we reconsider the scale of the metaphor's application, by zooming out so that the motor is not an isolated object but a module within a field? At the urban scale, the decentralized motor has more potential, regardless of the issue of cladding. Within a networked system of miniature machines, we have a variety of applications - interrelated spatial systems, coordinations across space.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Much has been made about the difference between the experience of ascending or descending through a museum's collection. This is typically an urban phenomenon, where vertical movement is one of the only means for an architect or curator to control circulation. Such is true for the Guggenheim, pictured here (from the top and the bottom), the Whitney, the Pompidou and, more recently, the New Museum. For each of these examples, the technology of the conveyance - the escalator or the elevator - becomes a key component of the attraction, an odd mechanical complement to the elegance of the works on display. At the new MoMA, for example, our experience of its collection of 'masterpieces' is veiled by the odor of the escalator's grease, the thump of its treads, the humming of its motor and the general awareness of how many it has herded there before us.

If the diagram of up or down is what we accept as the compelling generator of the museum experience, as dictated by the city and its constraints, and the conveyance is the feature that results as a critical urban necessity - it's curious that there are few equally compelling diagrammatic alternatives. The subtleties of moving up or down certainly evoke an interesting counterpoint, and the Guggenheim is its key proponent. But since when did we stop at this point, and since when the city demand anything so subtle?


Thursday, January 14, 2010

From the "Murmur" series. By Richard Barnes.

JD // V2.2

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Concert hall head gear

Protesting Utzon's removal

I recently picked up two issues of the "Architecture in Detail" series at the Phaidon store (good warehouse sale going on now), one of which covers the Sydney Opera House. Like all good buildings, the back-story is just as juicy, including political tensions, Utzon being forced to leave the job, protests, ridiculous cost overruns and geometric analysis well ahead of it's time.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

After a nice hiatus from the blog, I'm back. Refreshed, relaxed, well-rested and fully recharged for tackling the massive and hyperlinked network of the internet.

So, where have I been of late? Here, mostly. At my desk. At work. Finishing a very large competition at Asymptote for a project in Zurich. Teaching a studio at Princeton. Reading. Writing. Traveling to see family. And otherwise biking, a lot of biking.

Where will I be as of the future? A few items are in the works. Two articles (on antiseptics and power). Asymptote monographs (with AADCU and another TBD). Major domestic overhaul of seating technology (ie, buying a sofa). Indoor biking. Outdoor biking - this depends on a temperature threshold and the availability of hot coffee.

Where should we be, in the land of hyperlink, until we meet again? I leave you with this, a nice video on how soccer balls are made. I love how the air valve is such a critical part of the production process, and is one of the first parts to be made. It's like a belly-button, and yet it remains functional after it's complete. Unlike my belly-button which just collects a bit of lint.