Archive for the ‘landscape architecture’ Category

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 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.

Cloud Architecture

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Blur Building

Clouds have always held a certain fascination for architects. This may be understandably unremarkable, because I believe clouds hold a certain fascination for everybody. How many hours were spent as a youth staring at clouds, lying in the grass in a field, through the window of a car on a long drive, or simply through the bedroom windows on a lazy sunday? Diller & Scofidio created their Blur Building (see above) as a deliberate and stunningly literal interpretation of “cloud architecture,” and Wolf Prix’s firm’s name Coop Himmelb(l)au translates to “Blue Cloud Cooperative” in his native Austrian (he also designs slightly less literal physical approximations of clouds–see below).

BMW Welt

But cloud architecture has a slightly different meaning today, and this is what I want to draw attention to here. In Tom Vanderbilt’s article in the New York Times Magazine, titled “Datatecture,” he delves into the world of data centers that are silently and conspicuously popping up throughout the country (including many near Portland, OR, from where I’m posting today). Data centers such as these are “like Fight Club; the first rule of data centers is: Don’t talk about data centers.” Accompanying this article are some beautiful photographs by Simon Norfolk (see below). This is what cloud architecture looks like today. Very white, but not as fluffy.


The article begins with an anectdote about the online community of people playing a particular Xbox game (over 60,000 at his precise instant, a number which is equivalent to the size of a small suburb community), and a moment spent wondering about where exactly these people were. In no less reducible terms, they exist in these data centers–these warehouses of servers that worldwide consume more energy than the entire country of Sweden. This “cloud,” which represents nothing less than the future of information, media, and technology, uses 1-2% of all the energy produced in the world and has doubled in the past five years, according to the article.


In a way, what this points towards is a slightly changing idea of materiality (dare I say metaphysicality?). That was what was so brilliant about Diller & Scofidio’s Blur Building (top), which was as direct and confrontational a challenge to architecture as we’ve previously defined it, even though many contemporary practitioners, including by Rem Koolhaas or Lebbeus Woods have attempted to do so in other, various ways. The blunt numbers, facts and statistics about data centers are surprising only in that they begin to illuminate a changing realm of media (the internet) that is beginning to have very physical, material impacts upon our environment. At this point, I can’t help but bring up Keller Easterling, whose writings tangentially approach these non-national, extra-infrastructural, “ecology of interrelationships and linkages.” In many ways, these ideas are in pointed contrast to the awarding of this year’s Pritzker Prize to Peter Zumthor, who works with a very different idea of materiality. Are those ideas mutually exclusive?

Urban Palimpsest

Friday, April 24th, 2009
Photo: Matt Chaban

Photo: Matt Chaban

I’ve always thought the visual presence of disobediance was an indication of a functioning, healthy city. Too much is obviously bad, but too little is also disturbing. Graffiti, and other sorts of non-violent expression, indicates a certain amount of vibrant contrarian thinking and improvised, unauthorial artistic expression. This balance between authority (planner/designer) and improvisation (participant/user) was the driving force behind some of my earliest architectural projects.



So it is with a certain amount of disappointment, dismay, and resignation that I heard about the graffiti cleanup that is occuring right now along the new High Line in New York. I have mixed feelings about DS+R and Field Operations‘ design for the High Line, despite my high regard for both firms (I feel like there were better proposals from other firms), and I’ve written a little about the High Line before, but it is sad to me that there is still a lack of discussion in the public sphere about the merits of this sort of “street art,” despite the efforts of a few high-profile artists over a few generations now: Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat in the 70s and 80s, but more recently Banksy, Dash Snow, and other contemporary “graffiti artists.”

Photo: Matt Chaban

Photo: Matt Chaban

I guess the best we can hope for at this point is that somebody does document what is literally being painted over as we speak.

Via A/N Blog.

Dark City

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009


Dark City
1998, 100 minutes
directed by Alex Proyas

Well, this is the last film of the semester’s film series. And what a dark one it is. It even has “dark” in the title. It’s kind of sad, not to mention sort of incongruous, to end the series with a dystopia like this on a sunny, beautiful day like today. This feels more like a Will Ferrell movie sort of day. Actually, this feels like a go out and sit on the grass with a lady-friend sort of day. But nevertheless, the show must go on.

Many of you have commented to me before that these film notes bear, at best, a tangential relation to the films being screened. At worst, some of you have said they bear no relation to the films at all. Some of you have even recoiled in horror when you found out that I hadn’t even watched the movie before I wrote the film notes. As in, how could you write about a movie when you hadn’t even seen it?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say why: architecture is about built expression. To that extent, it is fixed in a non-abstract materiality. However, the effects, inspiration, and performance of architecture often exceeds the banality of the mere structured materiality. It may be argued, that in architecture, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This film series, which is about the intersection, interference, and/or engagement between film and architecture, thus must be explicit about the what, exactly, is the nature of the connection between the film being screened and our engagement with the built environment.

Here’s my bias: I’m less interested in what the film looks like than in what assumptions and ideas the filmmaker brought to bear in the film. Film has been able to express ideas through a conflation of moving images and aural experience. The relationship, ergo, is one of an irreducible combination of sight, sound, and time. The design of the set within a film offers no more insight into this relationship than the sketches or photos of the set design. Plot, also, is a mere triviality. You can read a breakdown of the plot of a film in any review you care to look up online, and it won’t necessarily have anything to do with architecture. In fact, I can’t think of a single movie in which the unfolding plot of a film bears any interesting insight into the nature of our creative profession.

In Dark City, which I have seen before, thankyouverymuch, the most striking idea is the way it treats urbanism and memory. In the city in which the movie takes place, certain characters have the ability to alter memories. From this ability to alter memories directly follows the ability to change cities. Buildings are erected and taken down instantaneously in this film. Without memory there is no time, and without time there can be no cities.

When I was an undergrad, majoring in painting, one of my friends at another university told me of her interest in landscape architecture. A professor had told her recently that landscape architecture was the most potent of all the arts because it involved all four dimensions: three dimensional space plus time (the seasons and plant growth). I scoffed at her and told her it was the reverse: the reason why landscape architects are often confused with landscapers, the people who blow leaves and trim hedges, is because of that dimensional promiscuity. Painting was the most pure because it only involved two dimensions, sculpture was compromised because it dealt with three, architecture was beholden to three dimensions plus the vagaries of sociology (I was apparently kind of Clement Greenberg-ian), and landscape architects were for “Anglo-Saxon sissies,” as Adrian Geuze put it last night. The same reasoning has been used to explain why TV, which is multimedia in the sense that it uses sight, sound, and text, has always been marginalized as an art form, unlike the relatively vaunted art form of cinema.


Of course, now landscape architecture is, like, the most cool thing in all of the whole planet, and the relation of time to the city is of utmost importance. How do you design for time? Did Aldo Rossi accomplish it? Did Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Field Operations accomplish it? Does Bob Stern do it? Does DiChirico paint it? What does design sensitive to time look like? Enjoy the last film of the semester.

(originally written April 24, 2007)