31 July 2006

on sustainability (briefly)

Inhabitat recently had an interesting interview with Paul Kephart (part 2 here), the executive director of Rana Creek Habitat Restoration and Living Architecture, the folks behind such green-roof icons of sustainable architecture as the Gap headquarters and the California Academy of Sciences. I must confess a certain anxiety over the term "sustainability," as it seems to have collapsed into a buzzword that too many architects and clients latch onto as some sort of empty badge of progressive merit, without truly understanding the larger issues at stake. Yet while I am certainly no expert on green architecture and sustainable technologies, I understand that sustainable practices must be integrated into the architectural status quo in order for the discipline to have any lasting relevance. It is in this respect -- the interesection of ecology and utopia -- that I value the work (and the comments) of Kephart and his firm.

The most informative aspect of the interview is Kephart's specificity with regard to sustainable methodology (again, in contrast to the mainstream, generic usage of the term). The integration of food production and waste treatment into the architecture of a building particularly seems like a no-brainer. I also appreciate the willingness to extend a building's ecological features didactically into the programmatic realm: the green roof of the California Academy of Sciences building becomes an actual exhibit, an occupiable, living habitat that functions both environmentally and educationally.

One tangential thought: Perhaps a crucial component of an ecologically utopian architecture would be to go beyond the technical details and processes that seem to preoccupy green architects, and to actually project into the future, imagining alternative uses (and abuses) of a building. Maybe designers should include such speculations as a way to grasp the full potential of these nascent practices. In a way, it reminds me of the contemporary architect's need to get over the excitement of flashy forms made possible with digital technologies and to figure out what this new technological wizardy can actually do for architecture and humanity as a whole.
And while I'm on the subject of sustainability, if you haven't seen Al Gore's documentary yet, do so.

link: "Interview: Paul Kephart of Rana Creek", from Inhabitat

25 July 2006

job well done

According to the Times, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has decided that its purpose is fulfilled, and its existence is no longer necessary. Brilliant. After such a fantastic job managing the master planning process at the WTC site, overseeing a stellar design selection for the Freedom Tower, supervising an incredibly smooth memorial design process, and seeing all these projects through to final completion, the LMDC indeed is no longer needed. Bravo!

link: "Downtown Rebuilding Agency Says It Is No Longer Needed" in the New York Times

14 July 2006

blog radar :: 14 july

Some quick finds I thought were worth mentioning:

  • eXtra-eXtra-Small House. Via Archinect and Arkinetia, I came across this tiny house by Slovenian office Dekleva Gregoric Arhitekti. It's an inventive solution to the challenges of a tiny urban site, smartly maximizing the quantity of indirect sunlight. Of even greater interest to me is the larger context of contemporary Slovenian architecture (a recent topic of personal fascination and research: the contemporary Balkan architecture culture explosion), about which I plan to post more in the future. In the meantime, check out (in addition to Dekleva Gregoric) Sadar Vuga Arhitekti, Bevk Perović arhitekti, and Maechtig Vrhunc Arhitekti for a taste of the vibrant architectural scene in Ljubljana (Slovenia's capital).
  • "Architectural Tetris". Geoff at BLDGBLOG has a post on a recently completed project by the Danish firm PLOT (which has now broken up into two separate firms: JDS Architects and Bjarke Ingels Group). I'm a long-time fan of PLOT's work, which generally reflects a Koolhaas influence (both partners are OMA alumni, I believe) infused with a strong playful, pop methodology that bravely shows no fear of simple diagrams (and heavy lineweights!). This particular housing complex outside of Copenhagen is remarkable less for its final image (which to me projects an unfortunate bland neomodernism, masking much of the plan's inventiveness) than for its generative strategy, which relies on a multitude of seemingly unique apartment typologies that interlock together to form the two buildings -- hence Geoff's Tetris analogy. Check out Ingels and De Smedt's websites; they produce an astonishing amount of work. Can't wait to see what comes next.
  • "Tourism Infrastructure." Via Pruned. Some cool and strangely ominous photos from John Brinton Hogan's "Vacation" series of national park info signs, scenic overlooks, and other oddities.

12 July 2006

nomadic border architecture

Bryan Finoki over at Subtopia has a good post on migrant housing and other assorted architectures, specifically on the U.S.-Mexico border. Some fascinating facts, as well as exciting insight into design work that addresses migrancy, nomadism, etc. I was especially interested in hearing about projects by Public Architecture and the Design Corps, two organizations who seem to be very committed to the promotion of progressive causes through architecture and design.... we should all learn a lesson or two from these folks.

11 July 2006

swiss bunkers

The July issue of Polar Inertia includes some gorgeous photos of alpine bunkers in Switzerland. Check it out.

blog radar :: 11 july

I've been traveling over on the left coast the past few weeks, enjoying the much more pleasant weather that seems to grace that side of the country during the summer months... hence my recent lack of posts. Some interesting tidbits that have come across my screen while on the road:
  • "A Heart of Darkness in the City of Light." Last Sunday's Times had a surprisingly scathing article (and much welcome relief from Nicolai's ridiculous, adulatory articles) by Michael Kimmelman on Jean Nouvel's new Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. The usual postcolonial critiques stand up remarkably well in the context of Chirac's France and the suburban uprisings last fall. I was especially impressed by Kimmelman's grasp of both the aesthetic and political implications of the architecture -- and how they operate hand-in-hand. On a simpler note: does anyone find this building just plain ugly?
  • Archizoo. I've been enjoying this relatively new blog for its thoughtful musings... most notable was a post on the contemporary aesthetic implications of classical of symmetry, in the context of the headquarters of SWIFT, the banking firm responsible for handing over personal information to the federal government. This raises several crucial questions (which are asked constantly on these pages) on the politics of form and the responsibility (culpability?) of the architect. [Also check out another cool post on "Tourist Meccas" that links to some incredible imagery on Polar Inertia . And another one on the architecture of space. Literally.]
  • Toyota Prefab. Via Inhabitat, some interesting facts about Toyota's recent ventures into housing production. Although it's only happening in Japan (so far) and although the design quality is medicore (so far), it's a promising step in the right direction...
  • Torture taxi mapping. From we make money not art, a provocative project of cognitively mapping the unbelievable practice of "rendition" that our government employs in order to escape accountability for human rights abuses in the "war on terror."
  • Bell Labs to go. Via Archinect, word of the impending doom for one of Eero Saarinen's landmark projects from the late '50s. It's interesting how this story hasn't received much coverage -- perhaps it's due to the poor state of affairs at the lab's parent Lucent (a spinoff of the old AT&T). Some may be upset about the destruction of such a productive hotbed of technological innovation (birthplace of cellular telephony, among other things), but what about the architecture itself? Maybe its demolition will give a much-needed jumpstart to the modern preservation movement (the preservation of Modernist buildings, that is). On an unrelated note, it would be interesting to see how the fate of this particular building fits into Kazys Varnelis's long and fascinating tale (as told at the Philip Johnson Yale conference in February) of AT&T's centrifugal disintegration as it relates to the corporation's architectural ventures. Another day...
  • New Orleans commentary . The latest from our friends at Architecture and Morality is a thoughtful reflection on two recent design initiatives regarding post-Katrina New Orleans: the Architectural Record housing competitions, and the superstar-packed exhibition in the Netherlands organized by Reed Kroloff. While I agree with the points about the neglect of community involvement and the tendency to fall back on less-than-successful historical models, I think Corbusier's critique fails to acknowledge the importance of imagination and -- indeed -- fantasy in the process of rebuilding New Orleans. The quick dismissal of the (what I assume to be) intentionally utopian schemes of UN Studio, MVRDV, and the "floating cube" citation-winner of the low-density housing competition represents a lack of commitment to the notion of imagining a different (and better) future for the city. Of course these schemes -- the artificial mountain, the monstrous ziggurat, the floating housing -- are not intended to be understood as literal remedies. They are provocative musings, meant to spark new ideas about how to address the survival of this impossible city. If we as architects can't even do that, then what hope is there?