The following post was originally written as an entry to McSweeney’s 2011 Column Contest. It didn’t win. But I had a lot of fun writing it so I thought I’d post it here. As proposed, it was an architectural criticism column written from the perspective of a somewhat emotionally dysfunctional critic who sees his own failures in the monumental structures that obsess him. In the resulting reviews, personal narratives converge with professional critique. Descriptions and opinions of the buildings emerge through seemingly inadvertent revelations of his personal crises and social conflicts. Over the course of the columns, a larger narrative is revealed in which the reader learns more about the critic – his failures, fears, aspirations, and his romantic and professional pursuits. In this introductory column, your critic experiences the five stages of grief –denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance– in his critique of the Lower Manhattan skyscraper New York by Gehry.
Standing in front of the concrete blocks on a warm June morning, I found myself wondering if they were the ruins of a forgotten city – or maybe a fragment of this city’s forgotten history. The fractured masonry corner before me couldn’t truly be a ruin, though. It was perfectly crafted – too perfectly crafted. Its edges were precisely stepped and though it stood in the middle of City Hall Park, no vines or weeds had broken through the flawless mortar. What kind of ruin doesn’t age or weather? Yet there it was, as if it had always been there. In fact, when I looked at it, it seemed as if I couldn’t not remember it being there. But beyond that there was another feeling; something tugging at the edges of my consciousness, challenging me to look closer, to remember something else.
[Shigeru Ban MIR house]
Can you guess who designed this rather clumsy looking Make it Right house? While it almost looks like some sort of elevated, mundane prefab structure, it is in fact designed by one of our most innovative contemporary architects. You’re looking at a Shigeru Ban design – and one of the problems with the well-meaning Make it Right program.
Over at the SF Appeal, I’ve written a brief review of the new sculpture garden at SFMOMA. Here, an excerpt from that post.
Afters three years of competition, construction, and even a little controversy, the new sculpture garden at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art made its public debut on May 10th, Mother’s Day. Designed by Jensen Architects with CMG Landscape Architecture, the new rooftop addition is almost Miesian in its elegant simplicity: glass and steel boxes surrounding an artfully composed open-air courtyard. In fact, the design specifically recalls Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. There too, a glass facade opens out onto a walled sculpture garden; a respite from the sparseness and propriety of the formal Modern Art Gallery. But here, instead of natural growth poking out above the surrounding walls as it does in Berlin, it’s the urban landscape of San Francisco high-rise towers. As has been noted by many a critic and visitor, the emotional effect of the garden is that of an urban oasis.
Indeed, from the new sculpture garden, the sounds of traffic merge with the whirrs and hums of nearby HVAC units into an almost ocean-like white noise. The occasional police siren rings through the air like a proxy gull call. Grab a latte from the Bay Area’s own Blue Bottle Coffee, provided by the kiosk prominently installed at the head of the museum’s addition (the high-design, local equivalent of a Starbucks inside Barnes & Noble?), and sit at one of the well-designed benches or cafe tables and forget your concerns and obligations to the surrounding city. What better way to spend an afternoon or a lunch hour than admiring work by noted sculptors like Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Barnett Newman, and Ellsworth Kelly?
Read the entire review at the SF Appeal.
[image via The Living. Click to expand.]
“In the future, buildings will talk to one another.” So say The Living. Founded by David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang, New York based The Living have a practice that could perhaps best be described as techno-utopian open-sourced design. Seriously. That’s the best way to describe it. Their recent project in Seoul proves that, yes, it is possible to create forward-thinking architecture that is more useful and much more elegant than the multi-formal Prada Transformer in the same city. Living Light is a public pavilion that merges architecture with media and the graphic representation of data. In this case, the specific data relates to air quality in the South Korean Capital.