TV Series Fringe Displaces Daniel Libeskind

[screenshot of Fringe via fringepedia (already? really?)]

Last night saw the official premiere of J.J. Abrams’ new series, Fringe (which was completely awesome by the way), but any architectural savvy television viewers who saw a “sneak peak” —authorized or otherwise—may have been surprised to see the work of a very familiar architect displaced from Toronto to New York City. The mysterious uber-corporation in Fringe, Massive Dynamic, had apparently built their headquarters right down the street from the Empire State Building in a structure that, as originally included in the pilot episode, can’t be mistaken for anything other than a Daniel Libeskind-inspired design. But it’s more than just inspired! It’s an exact replica of Libeskind’s Royal Ontario Museum.

The fake-company has also used the building in their fake-website logo. Life Without Buildings fully endorses the fictional use of unbuilt architecture but come on Mr. Abrams! The pilot for your new TV show cost $10,000,000. Did you really need to copy an existing building? We know how well that worked out for Terry Gilliam. There are no unbuilt projects in the annals of Contemporary Architecture (assuming Contemporary Architecture has annals) that could have been used? Although it was probably a wise move to replace the recognizable structure with a more generic building in the final cut, for that kind of money maybe Fringe could’ve hired someone to…oh, I don’t know…come up with an original design! An aspiring young architecture firm, perhaps?

Television shows and movies should start holding architecture competitions inviting young firms to design fictional buildings. Can someone in LA start working on that please?

&#183 Unbuilt Works Find Life in Art [Life Without Buildings]
&#183 The Elephant Man of Museums [Life Without Buildings]
&#183 Read more SciFi posts on Life Without Buildings


David Byrne, Daniel Libeskind, and the Audio Perception of Space


[image via Creative Time]

David Byrne’s Playing The Building will come to a close this weekend. The art installation—a repeat performance of a 2005 installation in Stockholm—transforms an abandoned Manhattan warehouse into a fully playable, fully immersive musical instrument. Byrne describes the resulting cacophony as “authorless” but “strongly directed” music, with sounds created by air hoses snaking through rusty plumbing pipes to blow out tones that evoke broken flutes or lonesome bagpipes, while motors vibrate against structural steel to create ominous disharmonic rumblings that can be felt as much as heard and solenoids peck at old columns and like industrial, robotic woodpeckers. This diverse orchestra of architecture is all controlled via a simple vintage pump organ — an organ that quite literally gives a voice to the space.

Music and architecture have been conceptually linked since Goethe famously uttered, “I call architecture frozen music.” Architects have long struggled with integrating the two ideas — sometimes successfully, often not. David Byrne’s installation introduces we get an entirely new, quite literal, integration of the two. In contrast with Playing The Building, music has a much more subtle influence on a small part of a new San Francisco museum.

[The Yud Space in the San Francisco CJM]

Within the new Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, there’s a room known as the Yud space. It’s a large performance space—faceted in a way that unmistakably marks the building as a Daniel Libeskind design—that’s planned to accomodate everything from string quartets to avant-garde music recordings. Currently, a John Zorn piece interpreting various letters of the Hebrew alphabet is reverberating through the fractured room. Some interpreations included minimal beats or soothing strings while others sound like a Jimmy Hendrix – John Cage duet dubbed over a Sonic Youth B-side. I loved it. Each “movement” felt as if it was actually enhanced by the space. Finally! A Libeskind design that complements the exhibited work! However, it was impossible not to notice that the 60-something-year-old couple who were also in the room during my visit clearly didn’t share my enthusiasm. They left quickly, making their opinions known with a few disparaging comments concerning both the Yud and the music. It occurred to me then that Libeskind has possibly created a room where, depending on the temperament of the visitor, one’s appreciation of the space might very well rely on the piece of music experienced while standing within it. Would that same 60-something-year-old couple have a similar reaction if they were listening to a string quartet perform Schubert’s “Rosamunde?”

In Playing The Building, music is a representation of the space, while in the Yud, the space becomes— at least potentially—a representation of the music. Through Byrne’s project, we come to understand the building in a new way, through a new interpretation of our sense of sound as it applies to space and architecture. But it’s an understanding that is unlikely to change one’s opinion of the Manhattan warehouse. But in an arguably more controversial space, like Libeskind’s museum, it seems like audio output has the power to actually shape one’s perception of the space. An impressive feat for an architect whose work is often written-off as heavy-handed and repetitive.

&#183 Playing the Building [Creative Time]
&#183 David Byrne’s New Band, With Architectural Solos [New York Times]
&#183 Home is Where The Harp Is [Life Without Buildings]


The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

Some photos I’ve been meaning to post from last week’s press opening of the new CJM in San Francisco. More thoughts on this later, but in general, I have to say I was surprisingly impressed. Click through for the full gallery, and also check out my post over at Curbed SF for a little more info.


The ‘Oh…’ in Ohio and the ‘Damn’ in DAM

In more Ohio news, this week saw the opening of the Akron Museum of Art expansion, designed by Vienna-based firm Coop Himmelb(l)au. (Where have those guys been, by the way?) The museum addition has opened to mixed reviews from both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, with the most common criticism being directed towards the interior gallery spaces – an elegantly versatile, yet ultimately banal space. Since the opening of the Bilbao Guggenheim, the gallery interior has been an especially contentious issue among architects, curators, and critics. In hopes of pulling in more visitors and revitalizing a museum, architects are often encouraged to create visually striking temples to art. However, those striking formal gestures all-too-often create interior curatorial nightmares.

Image from The New York Times

Coincidentally, I was in Denver this past weekend and I had a chance to visit the new addition to the Denver Art Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, an architect whose museums are maligned as often as praised. The exact opposite criticisms can be and have been made of the Libeskind-helmed addition. Angles jutted in inappropriate places, oddly-shaped spaces collected dust and distracted from the art – in some cases making in impossible to display – and the poorly placed windows and low light did nothing to complement the work. There was a tension in the space that, although arguably appropriate in a space like that of the Jewish Museum Berlin, is entirely inappropriate and off-putting in the Denver Museum.

Sitting awkwardly in the middle of downtown Denver, the new DAM is an intimidating presence, clad in dull and tired-looking titanium panels with a surrounding landscape that was apparently treated as an afterthought. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I find myself agreeing with James Howard Kunstler’s statement that the building is “designed like an instrument for proctological surgery,” looking at either makes one incredibly uncomfortable.

Interior water damage

Then there was the water damage. Yes, the DENVER Art Museum didn’t make it unscathed through its first winter. Ceilings were being fixed, floors and walls repaired, and the exterior cladding replaced. Tarps and temporary walls guarded the repair areas, at times making the museum interior a veritable labyrinth.

Instead of a minotaur at the center, I was please to find an amazing piece by British Sculptor Antony Gormley. Quantum Cloud XXXIII is the rare piece that actually seemed appropriate in the fractured space. Maybe that’s because I couldn’t help but see a darkly humorous parallel between my experience in the DAM and Gormley’s figure, struggling against a space formed by jagged lines and broken segments.

Quantum Cloud XXXIII

As usual, more photos can be found on the Life Without Buildings flickr page.