30 March 2008

nouvel nabs the pritzker

Looks like it goes to Nouvel this year. Yawn.

Update: Looks like the Times was, as they say, in on the fix... they've already linked to a profile on Nouvel by Arthur Lubow, which will appear in next week's Magazine. Double yawn.

26 March 2008

home delivery @ moma

Just got word that MoMA has launched their website for this summer's exhibition on prefabrication titled Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling. Looks like it will be an online journal recording the progress of the five mega-prototypes that will be constructed in the empty lot next to the museum in time for the exhibition opening. As reported by RoPog in the Times back in January, MoMA has commissioned these projects to accompany the exhibition upstairs as a way to showcase contemporary approaches to prefab. It's Barry Bergdoll's debut as his new position as chief curator of architecture & design... so expectations are high.

List of the outdoor prototypes:

  • "Cellophane House" by prefab vets Kieran Timberlake
  • BURST*008 by Douglas Gauthier and Jeremy Edmiston, the duo formerly known as System Architects
  • System3 by Austrians Oskar Leo Kaufmann and Albert Rüf
  • Housing for New Orleans by MIT's Lawrence Sass
  • Micro-Compact Home by Richard Horden of Horden Cherry Lee in London
There's also word that the museum has commissioned a few smaller-scale prototypes to be located within the main exhibition inside the museum...

25 March 2008

a welcome mess

[Gehry's Serpentine Pavilion 2008. Image: Serpentine Gallery]

Via Archinect... The Serpentine Gallery has released images of its newest pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry and scheduled to be installed in Kensington Gardens this summer. A jumble of wood and glass, the pavilion is most striking for its departure from the Gehry aesthetic that has been popularized and globalized over the last fifteen years or so. There's no wavy, shiny metal panels here, folks. No fish scales, no ship sails, not a hint of Bilbao, not even a dash of Disney. Indeed, the only resemblance to concurrent work coming out of Gehry's office that I can recognize is the haphazard (and trademark) method by which the presentation model seems to be thrown together.

Upon inspecting the handful of model photographs, I can deduce the following: The pavilion consists of an armature of four oversized posts—echoes of Gehry's early postmodern scalar awkwardness—supporting a trellis of what looks to be oversized railroad ties. This entire assemblage floats precariously over what is described in the Serpentine's accompanying text as an amphitheater space, surrounded by some sort of criss-crossed glass fence.

The whole thing is a mess, really. There's just no two ways about it. But it's a welcome mess, and I daresay I am not the only one who appreciates something new and different from Frank Gehry, something other than the standard panelized, gestural blobs that are multiplying across the globe.

Judging by initial reactions across the blogosphere, there seems to be a general consensus that the Gehry Serpentine blows. The Archinect discussion is particularly entertaining, as well as this morning's posting on Curbed this morning titled "Gehry Finally Loses It." All respect to my comrades out there, but this Progressive Reactionary disagrees. I would venture so far as to say that this project has the potential to be Gehry's finest work in almost two decades.

[Gehry House in Santa Monica. Image: progressive reactionary]

Why? Because it represents a return to the excitement, verve, and ad-hoc-ness of Gehry's earliest projects. The Serpentine model immediately brings to mind Gehry's own self-designed house in Santa Monica, which is, in my book, a masterpiece that validates his entire career. The jumble of everyday materials might look like a mess, but it's a mess with a lot of thought and consideration behind it. It's a mastery not only of such traditional architectural notions as composition, structure, transparency, and scale, but also of how to subvert and creatively reposition these notions. It's playful. Maybe Uncle Frank, in his 79th year and jaded with the expectations of all his conventional clients for his brand of iconography, feels like he wants to stir things up a bit have some fun?

Two footnotes to this commentary: First, many will say that the Serpentine represents a return not only to Gehry's roots, but also to the "Deconstructivist" oeuvre in which he solidified his st.architect status. Bull. I always found the connections between 1980s avant-garde architecture and Decon theory to be tenuous at best, especially in Gehry's case. Say what you will, but the man has always worked more in the mode of a conceptual artist than that of an architect-theorist.

Second, some might say that this project represents a retreat from Gehry's digital-centric practice of recent years. But I would argue that the "digital" was never central to Gehry's modus operandi. Digital fabrication for Gehry was, and continues to be, simply a means to an end—a technique certainly necessary in order to realize his extravagant forms, but completely irrelevant to the production of those forms. In other words, digital fabrication serves a post-design role in the Gehry processl; it comes into play after the fact. (Although, one could argue that the IAC project in New York is an exception—but that's a discussion for another time.) To me, it was always a matter of the right guy being in the right place at the right time (with the right clients and the right projects and the right employees and the right software). So the fact that the Serpentine design seems to have no connection to any kind of digital process really has little bearing on how it should be judged in the context of Gehry's career.

* * *

On another note: I just read recently that Barack Obama, when asked if he had to choose a different career, responded that he always wanted to be an architect. Yet another reason to bring this circus to an end...

21 March 2008

good news for brooklyn

If there's any silver lining to the credit crunch and the ensuing tumult in the markets, I suppose this would qualify.
According to today's Times, the slowing economy threatens to stall the infamous Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. As far as I'm concerned, as upsetting as this must be for the Ratner-Gehry contingent behind the mega-project, this is fantastic news. As an architect partial to the Mega as a means of enacting major urban and, potentially, social changes (that ever-elusive Progress), I must admit some measure of excitement about such the opportunities afforded by such a large project. And as a realist, I can't deny that something must, will -- and should! -- happen on this site, at this bustling yet oddly vacant junction of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. The real-estate is just too valuable to let it sit unused, and the City and the Borough desperately need the housing (if not the sports arena...). But as a resident of a neighborhood directly adjacent to the Atlantic Yards site, I can't help but rejoice at this particular side-effect of the market's downward spiral. Yes, something will happen at Atlantic Yards. But it doesn't have to be that. If nothing else, it looks as if the credit crunch has bought us all a little more time.

link: "Slow Economy Likely to Stall Atlantic Yards" by Charles V. Bagli, in the New York Times

Update: Nicolai voices his thoughts on the matter. It's difficult to understand exactly what point he is trying to get across.