Archive for October, 2009

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.

In the Heat of the Sun

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

HeatoftheSun

In the Heat of the Sun

1994, 134 minutes
directed by:  Wen Jiang

As the first half of “The Future is Asian” theme drew heavily from the genre of “Asian Extreme” films, the rest of the films I will write about explore what could be called a more poetic sensibility about place, history, and landscape. These are films more concerned with la poetique de la situation, to borrow the phrase that Jean Nouvel, who was awarded the 2008 Pritzker Prize, uses to describes the focus of his architectural ambition. Last time I wrote about the brilliant film by Zhang Yimou, To Live, and this week is an equally well regarded film by Wen Jiang; even though it didn’t receive wide distribution in America, Time magazine called it the best film of 1995.

Huangbaiyu Village--a controversial model sustainable city by William McDonough

Huangbaiyu Village--a controversial model sustainable city by William McDonough

The very nature of China is an interrogation of the concept of scale. In China we are confronted with the reality that contemporary technology has allowed fewer and fewer individuals to affect greater and greater environmental change. Entire cities are designed by single architects due to the policies of a small ruling class in unchecked control of the world’s most populous nation. The issue of scale may be the most important lesson an architect can learn—it is no less than a sense of space itself and an understanding of our power and limitations as agents of change.

Rem Koolhaas w/ Madelon Vriesendorp, City of the Captive Globe, 1972

Rem Koolhaas w/ Madelon Vriesendorp, City of the Captive Globe, 1972

It is fairly surprising to realize that Rem Koolhaas’s 1978 book Delirious New York, and his following S,M,L,XL, was the first time that the issue of technology and scale in the relation to the contemporary metropolis was theorized. He called it “bigness,” but it essentially gave us a way to understand cities, and thereby buildings, as they have become manifest due to the influence of elevators and mechanization. However, developments since those books have left us with a new theoretical hole. If Rem’s “Captive Globe” project and Met Life diagram talked about the stacking and layering of discrete, autonomous spaces, then the internet, wi-fi, mobile com, and satellites have further reshaped space. What is the model or diagram of space under those technologies? Where is the XXL chapter?

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (Le Corbusier), Plan Voisin, 1925

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (Le Corbusier), Plan Voisin, 1925

It’s a simple question, but it has no simple answer. Le Corbusier, at the beginning of the 20th century, looked at the emerging technology of automobiles and airplanes and thought that cities must necessarily change. He shopped his ideas around to car companies to sponsor his research. After being rejected everywhere else, one French automobile company named Voisin bought it, and funded his design. He produced what we now study as the Plan Voisin for Paris. However, his ideas that the automobile eradicated the need for adjacency and proximity proved false, and cities like New Haven are formed in part by the ideological bastard children of that initial idea. He was right that the car, plane, and cinema would change the way we experience space, but not in the ways that he initially imagined.

Howeler Yoon's Eco-Pods, project for a tower in Boston using an "algae bioreactor," 2009

Howeler Yoon's Eco-Pods, project for a tower in Boston using an "algae bioreactor," 2009

For instance, it has been argued before that electronic communication and cell phones reduce the need for traditional, mechanical transportation such as cars and jets. People can stay at home and telecommute. However, if that were the case, and e-mail is becoming more and more ubiquitous, then wouldn’t that lead one to believe that we would need fewer airplanes and fewer airports? We know that is not the case, so the question remains: how does this new technology shape our space? Does it at all?

Collapsed building, Shanghai, 2009

Collapsed building, Shanghai, 2009

No contemporary urban theory even begins to know how to address China. Nobody offers either a position or a guide to base critical thinking, and thus cities and buildings are being changed without us. Asia is where these architectural challenges are being presented and where our future lies. It is in this way that the future is Asian.

-    quang truong (originally written April, 2008)

Bao Empire

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009
shakingbeef

photo by Michael Falco for the New York Times

I’d written before about the odd-seeming relationship between food and architects, and mentioned Michael “Bao” Huynh, a restaurateur here in New York City who trained as an architect before opening an ever-expanding empire of restaurants. The New York Time recently published this profile of him, found here. Below is a photo of one of Michael Huynh’s restaurants, Bia Garden.

photo by Phil Kline for nycgo.com

photo by Phil Kline for nycgo.com