Archive for the ‘urbanism’ Category

Harness Your Hopes

Friday, March 4th, 2011

I’d almost been avoiding the PS1 Young Architects Award over the past several years because, without exception, its invited proposals were pretty uniformly disappointing, disheartening, and increasingly irrelevant.  It’s hard to remember a time when I felt a proposal was architecturally challenging, didn’t pander to low-level social or spacial thinking, and was beautiful as well. Well, this year there was a proposal that actually made me pause, look hard, and think. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. The proposal was called “Bag Pile” by formless finder, based in NYC, essentially two young recent architectural grads from Princeton, Garrett Ricciardi and Julian Rose. I’m reposting some images here via Bustler. I’d reprint the mission statement from the formless finder website, as provoking as I think it is, but it’s probably better if you visit their site and just take a look at it.

It’s a bit weird, and almost jarring at first. It has a slightly apocalyptic feel to it, or at least suggestive of disorder and disarray. But that is exactly the point, really–it’s unlike anything that’s ever been proposed for what had become a tired, poor excuse for an event that was supposed to be a showcase of young architectural ideas.

Their approach was fairly radical, yet upon reflection, completely logical. The principal ideas were to use something heavy instead of light. To explore analog, instead of digital. To use found versus fabricated. Formless versus form.

I’m happy to see such divergent and intelligent thinking about this space and its program. The images, which are eerie yet captivating, embody their proposed ideas perfectly. Unfortunately, this proposal won’t be built, but the fact that its ideas have been published and presented well, bode well enough.

OMG WTF, IMHO

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Everybody must take a look at this slideshow just published on the New York Times from photographer Christoph Gielen. . . frightening, stunning, beautiful.

US Embassy in London Competition

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

A collection of images from the recently closed competition for the United States Embassy in London:

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Richard Meier’s (New York) entry above.morphosis_embassy

The design from Morphosis (Santa Monica).

23piecobb_cap-popupThe Pei Cobb Freed entry (New York).

1267025314-kt-03-528x376Sadly, the image above is from the winning entry from Kieran Timberlake (Philadelphia).

Selected reading regarding the competition:

ArchDaily

A/N Blog

The New York Times

The Guardian.co.uk (in which Sir Richard Rogers decrees that the winning entry is “unfit to represent the US in Britain.”)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/23/us-ambassador-spoiling-view-embassyT

In the Mood for Love

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

in_the_mood_for_love_0015-711382

In the Mood for Love
2000, 98 minutes
directed by:  Wong Kar-wai

Well, this was the last film I  screened at Yale before I graduated with my M.Arch, and I suppose it was fitting that I showed the film that got me interested about the exploration between film and architecture in the first place. Several years ago, a good friend of mine who was working on a PhD on “atmosphere” at the GSD showed this film to me, and seeing it was a small revelation. First of all, the film is a profoundly beautiful film (it remains one of my favorite films of all time from one of my favorite directors). Secondly, I had no idea that there was scholarship on something as seemingly disparate as cinema and architecture. In the Mood for Love is a beautiful document of love, urbanism, and cultural identity. It’s about space, atmosphere, and time; the beautiful actors Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are the players. For more on Wong Kar-Wai, read my post about his other movie, Chungking Express.

itmfl_07

When I first started the film society at Yale, it was mainly as a means for creating a debate about the relationship between architecture and media within the school. Specifically, the focus would be films, but broadly, about all of technology in general. Film is technology, and both architecture and technology share the same etymological root (tech: from Gk. tekhne-, “art, skill, craft, method, system”). The moving picture, invented at the beginning of the 20th century, contemporaneously accompanied a sequence and succession of technological changes that have fundamentally altered the world around us and architecture to no lesser degree. Le Corbusier changed the way we put buildings together at the same time, but he changed it in part because he was inspired by the technology of film. To understand these changes is to understand why our built environment is the way it is. In short, architecture is, like film, an expression of humanity.

mood-yellow

On this topic of cultural technologies, humanities, and digital media, there is nobody more eloquent and erudite as Mario Carpo. Having initially come across him in the first semester while writing a paper for Alan Plattus’ urbanism class, it was incredible to have him come and teach a graduate seminar in my final year. Much of what had only begun to approximate in thinking I found had already been expounded upon at length by the world’s most prominent architectural media theorist. In terms of thinking about media and architecture, Mario Carpo is, so far, the last word. His lecture at Yale in the spring of ’08 was an exciting reminder of how contentious the fields of history, historiography, philosophy, media and technology are when they come together in the study of architecture. Earlier in that same day, Steven Holl, Peter Eisenman, Mario Carpo, and Bob Stern sat and debated the changing paradigms of architecture, urbanism, and landscape, and reminisced about their shared background as young architects in New York. They were seated next to about twenty students. In one room. Such is the power of the place of Yale and its community of individuals. I miss it dearly.

moodforlove2

The format of the Yale Architecture Film Society wasn’t really well thought out; it was simply a matter of cobbling together something that I thought was sufficiently time manageable—screen a movie once a week or so and argue a position about the movie and its relation to architecture in a distributable format for the Yale community. However, at the time, I was simply printing out sheets of paper and posting them around the school. Looking back, it was a laughably low-tech way of going about it. I should have created a website or blog, posted links, film clips, and the written portions as well. This blog is an attempt to redistribute that information and reanimate those discussions. All the struggling I did each week over the years with how much to write, what images to include, or different ways to advertise the screenings and communicate with those who were interested would have been elegantly solved by the Web 2.0. It would have been an exploration of a modern medium using the new forms of media that are starting to influence architecture irreversibly. This blog is a continuation of that goal.

in-the-mood-for-loveThis marks the end of the series of films I began discussing under the theme of “The Future is Asian.” The next theme I will blog about will be “American Landscapes.”

-    quang truong

New York I Love You But. . .

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Anyone who’s lived here probably knows the following song’s sentiment exactly.

One day I’d like to make my own movie like this, with a great song by LCD Soundsystem. Sums it up quite nicely.

Dallas Arts District

Saturday, February 6th, 2010
Wyly Theatre - Rem

Rem sums up my feelings nicely

Buildings by REX/OMA. Renzo Piano. Norman Foster. I. M. Pei. Morphosis. Allied Works. All in one district; literally next door to each other and across the street from one another. Four Pritzker Prize winners’ buildings elbow to elbow. Should be great, no?

Wyly Theatre

The recent opening of REX/OMA’s Wyly Theatre (above) has brought a new spate of attention to this district within Dallas. David Dillon of the Dallas Morning News addressed this topic lightly in his article for Architectural Record, subtitled, “Does an impressive collection of buildings add up to a truly urban neighborhood for the arts?” The goal for the district, as stated in the original Carr Lynch report which spurred the civic project, was to “not to create memorable buildings or support real estate development, but to bring the arts into the lives of the people of Dallas, in an immediate and personal way, in the course of everyday life.”

Dallas Arts District

But I believe David Dillon was much to deferential in his final judgment, in which he stated that: “Architecture can do only so much. Without sensitively designed streets, plazas, and landscapes — a so-called “public realm” — even great buildings end up as solitary objects, wonderful to look at but lifeless and forbidding. . . Street life remains a fantasy, with no shops and cafés, only a handful of restaurants, and few public events outside the walls of the cultural institutions. Most nights and weekends, the ‘urban neighborhood’ is dead.”

Wyly Theatre - lobby

Lifeless and forbidding is probably the best thing I believe you can say about any of these buildings. Though some deserve it more than others, without a doubt. I bristle at Dillon’s statement that “Architecture can only do so much.” It only feels that way because of the limited scope of consciousness displayed by buildings such as the Wyly Theatre, which seems to have no regard for anything outside of the tight shirts of its designers. Architecture can do so much more–it just isn’t on display here.

Dallas Arts District 2

So I’m going to go out and say what Dillon is merely insinuating, which is that this Dallas Arts District is one of the most disturbing, anti-architectural, and plain wrong-headed urban developments currently going on in America (there is too much bad urbanism in other parts of the world to warrant competition with the world). It does the architectural profession, the city, and humanity in general no greater disservice than to see a bunch of cocksure blowhard “designers” strut around stages arguing for their technical monstrosities in this district while their buildings are completely bereft of any urban or humanistic (to say nothing of “architectural”) sensitivity. This is both the culmination of the planning of this district, a type which I thought we had learned was anti-urban half a century ago, but also because of the sad nature of the buildings within them, which do nothing to address this. At the very least, this district, and each of the buildings within them, fail at the stated goal, which is “to bring the arts into the lives of the people of Dallas, in an immediate and personal way, in the course of everyday life.”

Wyly Theatre 2

From the New Yorker: “the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which indicates that the number of people who venture out to classical music performances in a given year has been declining for almost three decades. Further, each new generation participates less than the one that came before it. Generation X, which is now entering middle age, shows no sign of chucking its Pixies records in favor of Prokofiev.” Sadly, Architecture isn’t going to change that–certainly not in Dallas. Not because it can’t, but because it isn’t even thinking about it.

Augmented Reality

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

As far as using digital media as an inquiry into space and experience, I think this video by Bartlett M.Arch candidate Keiichi Matsuda is right on the money. Many of you have probably heard of “augmented reality,” a name given to the convergence of wireless media and location-based technologies. In a way, this video reminds me of the work of Thomas Demand (see below), whose photographs of paper constructed environments speak to the uncanny connection between our constructed, physical worlds and the parallel world created by our visual technologies. More information on Matsuda can be found here. What do you think of the difference between this video and the one by SO-IL in the post before this one?

ThomasDemand

Visitor Q

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

visitor-q-04

Visitor Q
2001, 84 minutes
directed by: Takashi Miike

Visitor Q is a movie from the prolific, controversial, and successful Japanese director Takashi Miike. It promises to be, in a film series that has certainly already featured some weird films, to be even weirder. For Miike is known for two things: 1) making a lot of movies and, 2) sometimes making some unbelievably weird movies. A number of his films have been remade by American production companies, one of the most recent of which was The Eye, starring Jessica Alba. Time magazine called Visitor Q “meta-weird,” which, depending on how you look at it, is either slightly intriguing or mildly depressing. In either case, it makes me completely sick of the prefix ‘meta-.’

visitor-q-01

Now, a few of the films selected for this “Future is Asian” series were intended to emphasize the current spate of extremely shocking, disturbing, and taboo-breaking films that are coming out of some parts of Asia, primarily Japan, and to a lesser extent South Korea. The general idea was that these uninhibited explorations of the fringes of human behavior could possibly provide some otherwise unavailable humanistic ideas. Maybe these relatively nascent cinematic cultures could utilize the dominant medium of film in a new way that would make all else obsolescent. In short, maybe something new could come of it. Maybe, somewhere in all of this weirdness, is the shock of the new—the Future. And there are few intentionally, deliberately, and successfully weird films as Visitor Q.

visitor-q-02

But in a sense, these “extreme” Asian films may be a perfect manifestation of what Paul Virilio was talking about when he wrote about “the vulgarization of techno-scientific progress” as being the driving force of history since the age of Gutenberg’s printing press. To summarize: in an age where techno-scientific progress is the primary goal of the people, it naturally follows that the extremes are the points of interest. Thus, it is the hallmark of the Modern age that the mass media would reward any “revolutionary abnormality.” Some people have seized upon this train of logic to explain our cultural fascination with industrial tycoons, serial killers, pro athletes, celebrities, scientists, and terrorists. For when an idea of progress is the goal, the only thing worth talking about is that which is better/faster/stronger/more extreme than what came before it.

tokyo

Looking at these ‘Asian extreme’ films in the light of Paul Virilio, it becomes clear that these Japanese films, far from being the future, could be seen as stolidly Modern. Although any visit to Tokyo is likely to make you think you jumped into the future, if you think about it, maybe the reverse is true. You see, Japan, as savvy as it is with engineering and robotics, is still operating an industrial economy where manufactured cars and consumer electronics are keeping them afloat. The advances that are occurring that could possibly be post-Modern, in the realm of wireless communication, internet software, information technology, Web 2.0, and the like, are being made largely on the coasts of California. Tokyo, then, is the future as we imagined it 50 years ago.

web2-0

Of course, this is all assuming that the Modern age is bound to be over soon, if it isn’t already, as some writers and thinkers like Mario Carpo suggest. Carpo says that what ended the Modern age was a shift of dominant media, from mechanically reproducible identical images to digital variance. If we then take Virilio’s ideas of modernity into account, then it would seem to argue for a future that is based in something other than primarily military-industrial, techno-scientific progress, which in turn would then seem to imply a shift away from the fetishization of transgression.

In conclusion, if you are a country with a strong, conventional military, well-manufactured electro-mechanical products, and really weird movies, then maybe you are not the future.

-    quang truong (originally written February 19, 2008)

Chungking Express

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Chungking Express

Chungking Express
1994, 98 minutes
directed by:  Wong Kar-wai

Hong Kong is a small region that produces a disproportionately large share of movies. For the remaining two films of the The Future is Asian series, I’ve chosen to discuss two films by one Hong Kong director, Wong Kar-wai. This is a testament to either Wong Kar-wai’s importance and relevance as a director, or to my stubbornness and arrogance in selecting films that I believe are relevant.

Chungking Express

Wong Kar-wai is one of those consummate indie film auteurs: the kind black-skinny-pants-wearing hipster film majors love to love. Chungking Express was the first movie distributed by Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures movie company, and Wong has continued to produce highly anticipated and highly debated films—his latest, My Blueberry Nights, starring Norah Jones, Jude Law, and Rachel Weisz, made its American theatrical debut in 2007 (it received tepid reviews).

Faye Wong in Chungking Express

However, it’s not hard to see why Chungking Express made such a splash when it was first released in the US in 1994. It’s fast, stylishly oblique, cooly violent, and full of alienated beautiful people, the kind that have occupied hipster films since Antonioni. Though infused with a distinctively Asian vibe, it nonetheless effuses a thoroughly international sensibility. Wong Kar-Wai layered and mixed the music to compete with (and at times drown out) the dialogue–this was a fairly radical idea, and his use of music throughout his later films seems to have been a result of the success of that experiment in this film. As the theme song (in this case, “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and the Papas–see the clip below) weaves in and out or abruptly starts and stops throughout the film, it sets up a rhythm that organizes the narrative structure and establishes a spatial atmosphere.

But a funny thing happens when after you finish watching Chungking Express, or for that matter, other Wong Kar-Wai films: afterwards, you don’t necessarily remember the plot, or what happened, at least not in the traditional sense of who did what to whom, which then precipitated certain events, and so on and so on. In other words, you don’t exactly remember the chain of causal events that normally propel stories from beginning, middle, to end. This is not to say that Wong Kar-Wai’s films are forgettable—in fact, just the opposite. You distinctly remember the neon rush of the cosmopolitan streets of Hong Kong, the worn and tired texture of the old-city walls in that cramped, dark alley where two old friends said goodbye, the tight space of the lovers’ apartment, or the rhythm of the music that weaves its way through the images. Some images, like the food stall girl (the adorable Chinese pop-star Faye Wong) absent-mindedly bopping along to “California Dreaming” by the Mamas & the Papas (see the clip above), or the woman gently leaning her head on her lover in the back of a taxi, never leave you. Indeed, you are left with something else. We could try and call this something else visual impressions, or moods, or atmosphere, but I think it may be something which is the culmination of all of those things, yet somehow more: you are left with a sense of urbanity.

in-the-mood-for-love

Chungking Express takes its name from a bewildering, crowded mess of stores, shops, and eateries in one building in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong–it is essentially a vertical souq populated and staffed predominantly by immigrants and foreigners. To anyone who has ever been to this building/place/phenomenon, it is in and of itself an urban idea.

chungking-express1

Urbanity, as a broad concept, is inseparable from a conception of time. As our understanding and perception of time has changes, so does our understanding of cities. The most important urban theorists and architects all have differentiated themselves with a specific temporal conceptualization: from Alberti and Nolli all the way through Le Corbusier, Rossi, and Koolhaas. Wong Kar-Wai presents an essential understanding and documentation of contemporary urbanity due to his subtle, sophisticated, and irreducibly contemporary ability to play with time—most predominantly through his phrasing of visual sequences, his unique use of music, and to a lesser extent, his working method and the interconnectedness of his filmic oeuvre. Wong Kar-wai’s subject is exactly the relation between two things, time and urbanity, and in this way, proves that there are no more analogous artistic endeavors than film and architecture.

-    quang truong (originally written April 2008)

Lebbeus on Rem

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Rem Koolhaas Parc de la Villette

One of the blogs I love getting a chance to read is Lebbeus Woods‘s. Today he posted a wonderful piece about Rem Koolhaas’s  Parc de la Villette competition entry, accompanied by some wonderful photos, some of which I’ve re-posted here. He also goes into the ideas behind the project and the history of probably the most famous of the grands projets initiated by the French government.

Rem Koolhaas Parc de la Villette

It’s a bit embarrassing at this point to mention that Rem Koolhaas may be the reason I became interested in architecture. As Woods writes, “there was once a Rem Koolhaas quite different from the corporate starchitect we see today. His work in the 70s and early 80s was radical and innovative, but did not get built. Often he didn’t seem to care—it was the ideas that mattered.” This was the Rem that made architecture seem something different from the stuffy domain of t-squares and protractors, and his seminal books S,M,L,XL and Content were as radical to the idea of an architectural monograph as his architectural projects were to architecture. Now, of course, it seems almost every young firm has a S,M,L,XL style book out, with saddeningly-predictable and impotent “unexpected” graphics and visual juxtapositions, and Rem himself is building buildings and master plans are that are almost frighteningly indefensible. Young Koolhaas was just so punk, and that was something that I wanted to be a part of (I wrote about the idea of punk a little bit in this review of the Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s film, Memories of Murder). Rem’s Parc de la Villette entry was one of those early projects that still feels fresh and revolutionary today, and it’s great to read Lebbeus Woods’s revisitation of his idea for a public park outside the heart of Paris.

Rem Koolhaas Parc de la Villette

Speaking of which, it’s amazing getting a chance to read Lebbeus Woods in a blog format–Mr. Woods is someone who every student of architecture knows about, drafting missives on a contemporary medium that we assume most people of his generation remain obstinately opposed to (or willfully ignorant). But he’s been working ceaselessly on architectural ideas for decades, and his blog is rare gem.

Rem Koolhaas Parc de la Villette

http://lebbeuswoods.wordpress.com/there was once a Rem Koolhaas quite different from the corporate starchitect we see today. His work in the 70s and early 80s was radical and innovative, but did not get built. Often he didn’t seem to care—it was the ideas that mattered.