18 November 2009

preserving entropy

From the New York Times, the Dia Foundation's oxymoronic, futile, and yet nonetheless commendable effort to preserve Smithson's Spiral Jetty. Gotta love it.

28 June 2009

afterparty @ p.s.1

Stopped by the opening of MOS's outdoor installation Afterparty at P.S.1 this afternoon. I must admit my expectations are not typically stratospheric for these things, since the limited budget for the annual Young Architects Program really precludes anything too ambitious. And, frankly, the projects of the last few years have been kind of redundant in the sense that there are only so many ways to skin a cat—or, in the case of P.S.1, provide shade and seating for the throngs of dancing hipsters who show up to the weekly Warm Up parties.

So, with that said, I was content today to enjoy the nice weather and check out a few of the new shows up at the museum. When I arrived at P.S.1, however, I was pleasantly surprised by MOS's towering, furry cones rising above the concrete wall perimeter. The aesthetic of the dark brown thatched structures, which from afar resemble hairy beasts and up close look dirty and unfinished, is a kind of raw ugliness that is refreshing both in the context of the P.S.1 summer pavilions and in the broader contemporary architecture scene. At a time when the architectural ideal always seems to be some combination of uber-smoothness, total transparency, and formal acrobatics, here is a project that, with its gauche, shaggy towers, chews up those qualities and spits them out right back at you. The project's title, Afterparty, is presumably intended to somehow set up a dialog between the design and the post-boom climate that architecture, and the city at large, finds itself in. I'm not sure how exactly this rhetoric pans out, but one way of interpreting the project is as an aesthetic critique of boom era architecture. And in that respect, it's remarkable.

There are plenty of flaws—particularly a weak attempt to tap into some kind of primitive imaginary with the architects' reference to Bedouin tents, as well as the passive cooling effect rhetoric, which this patron did not experience—but overall MOS, led by Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample, can be forgiven for over-reaching here and there. It's a successful project, and even more so for pulling off such a feat in such an off year. I suppose there were unemployed students aplenty, though, available to help build the thing.

A postscript: It was also entertaining to eavesdrop on people's reactions to the piece. Overheard phrases included: "Snuffleupagus," "Planet of the Apes," "Flintstones," "hairy chests."

07 May 2009

the architecture of the credit crunch

Another day of bizarre weather here in New York... as the thunderstorms cleared for a second time, I just snapped this photo looking down Barclay Street at the new Goldman Sachs building that's almost done. It is, to put it mildly, unimpressive. Did the credit crunch render the storied investment bank unable to procure a decent curtain wall? Particularly in comparison to the unexpectedly gorgeous 7 World Trade (visible to the left) the bank's new building looks especially shoddy.

21 April 2009

the twits

progressive reactionary can now be found on twitter. better late than never. let's see how long this lasts...

15 April 2009

strange times

[image: China Radio International, via NY Times]

Just when you think things could not get more surreal—with Republicans staging "teabagging" parties across the nation and pirates once again ruling the high seas—you come across a news story like this.

Dolphins? Saving a Chinese freighter from pirates?

11 April 2009

creatures on the beach

[image: Strandbeest.com]

I came across this TED talk by Dutch artist Theo Jansen, who makes these fantastic, kinetic sculptures called Strandbeests. They are stunning and (apparently) analog computing systems that exhibit behaviors that we would normally associate with living organisms, not handmade assemblages of plastic piping. Jansen's simple manifesto as expressed on his website imagines a kind of future utopia of these creatures in perpetual motion along the coastline—a curious amalgam of futuristic and pre-modern ideas of life and culture:
Since 1990 I have been occupied creating new forms of life.

Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic material of this new nature. I make skeletons that are able to walk on the wind, so they don’t have to eat.

Over time, these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storms and water and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.

- Theo Jansen, Strandbeest.com
Well worth a look:
TED Talk - "Theo Jansen: The Art of Creating Creatures"

09 February 2009


Orhan Ayyuce calls this "the day the iconic building died." Should be interesting to see how Koolhaas spins this one.

UPDATE 11:20pm EST: From surreal to the sublime, and back again. More photos, courtesy of fuzheado's flickr site. One wonders if this won't go down as a Pruitt-Igoe moment for the excesses of contemporary architecture.

03 January 2009

towards a critique of sustainability

From the latest issue of Volume: a decent critique of that ever-elusive term "sustainability." The very word, emptied of meaning through overuse, increasingly dominates architectural design and discourse, and—frankly—it drives me crazy. People use it all the time without really knowing what they are talking about. I always ask: sustainable of what? Too often the word becomes appropriated as a band-aid, cure-all additive that can be applied as environmental/ecological veneer to an architectural project, like icing on a cake. But the word has become such a all-encompassing buzzword, a signifier onto which so many different aspirations and agendas have been projected, that it doesn't really mean anything anymore.

Panayiota Pyla's article in Volume starts to address these concerns and formulate a real critique of sustainability. Pyla focuses on the the historical underpinnings of the contemporary sustainability movement—from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring to the UN environmental conferences of the 1970's—and how these precedents can inform the potential pitfalls that we face by investing such uncritical faith in the S-word.

The crux of Pyla's argument: "Perhaps the key issue here is to be vigilantly aware that as a concept and as a practice sustainability is constantly running the danger of turning into a totalizing doctrine that subsumes critical thinking."

And another key section:

Maybe it is good that sustainability does not have a fixed or coherent definition. Maybe it should never have one! Because if the technical questions of energy efficiency or the technocratic questions of efficient resource use or even the questions of socioeconomic management end up constituting THE definition of sustainability in architecture, this will threaten to reduce design to a series of small decisions (on materials, energy or feasibility) that will ultimately have less to do with design and more with management or with political correctness.
Apropos of the flawed LEED rating system, which constitutes the mainstream standard of sustainable design in this country, these are some wise words.

Worth a read.

[via Archinect]

02 January 2009

a new year

It's a difficult thing—in the midst of two wars, a burgeoning economic disaster, an escalating conflict in Gaza, and countless other calamities worldwide—to identify things to look forward to in 2009. But if there's one thing that 2008 taught us, it's that hopes are not always left unfulfilled, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity. We forget this lesson at our peril as this new year unfolds.

At some point over the holidays, in between reading about the Rick Warren nonsense and the impossibly delusional phenomenon that is Rod Blagojevich, I was hit by a simple yet profound realization that the status quo in this country has shifted.

Let me be clear: I do not intend to enter the fray of meaningless arguments over whether we live in a "center-left" or "center-right" country; the center is and remains the center. I dare not speak of a political realignment, for I know how fleeting these moments can truly be (see: Karl Rove, 2004). What I'm talking about is a deeper shift in the cultural psyche of a nation, a shift in people's expectations, tolerances, aspirations, and ambitions for what is possible.

Sure, Obama and the incoming administration—as do all governments, by definition—represent the status quo. But, to put it simply: it's a different—and better—status quo than that which governed us a year ago. And that alone merits quiet celebration, even in these uncertain times.

Here's to a hopeful 2009. And stay tuned to this Progressive Reactionary, as we persist in questioning, challenging, and continuously re-imagining our new status quo.

21 December 2008

ground zero from above

At a party on the top floor of 7 World Trade Center a few weeks back, I managed to snap a photo of the massive construction site below. Seeing the state of affairs laid out before my eyes some fifty stories below, I thought to myself: Wow, we've come a long way; but boy, do we have a lot of work yet to do.

I'll leave you with that, as I escape to the dark woods of the the northern wilderness for the holidays. See you all in 2009. Here's hoping it's a good one.