My recent posts at World-Architects


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Book Review: Thirtyfour Campgrounds

Thirtyfour Campgrounds by Martin Hogue
MIT Press, 2016
Hardcover, 266 pages

It's summer, which means – deer ticks be damned – it's time to get outdoors. For many, getting outside equates with camping, which in the United States most likely means heading to one of the thousands of campgrounds run by KOA (Kampgrounds of America) or some other private or government operator. Catered to people with as little as a car and a tent or as much as an RV with all its trimmings, campgrounds are places that most people take for granted; they provide a number of home-like amenities but also act as starting points for venturing into more untamed nature via hiking, fishing, and other activities. As depicted in Martin Hogue's clinically artistic Thirtyfour Campgrounds, they are places of potential, of "civilization" interfacing with "nature" so people can get away from the former and explore the latter.

One of the most telling photographs in the introduction to Hogue's book is Bruce Davidson's "The Trip West. Camp Ground no. 4.", taken in Yosemite National Park in 1966. Eight people (a family? four couples?) sit in lawn chairs facing the camera, with a backdrop of cars and campers extending their conveniences (grill, scooter, high chair, Ritz crackers, televisions) deep into the rest of the campground. It's evident that nature is not a setting for new activities; it is merely a backdrop for the same old domesticated activities. Considering how much our lives – now fifty years later – are spent indoors, part of me likes this idea, that being outdoors in any guise is healthier for us than being indoors. But the rest of me sees the obvious philosophical quandary here: Shouldn't nature be a place to escape from our commodified existence? Or have our lives become so intertwined with our belongings that our belongings must extend into nature as far as possible via campgrounds and other settings?

[Bruce Davidson, USA. 1966. The Trip West. Camp Ground no.4. Yosemite National Park. © Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos]

Most of Hogue's book resembles the cover, which depicts Duck Creek (Utah), one of the 34 campgrounds documented through photographs of individual campsites from and In the case of Duck Creek there are 58 campsites, while other campgrounds have more – as many as 501 campsites, at Cheney State Park in Kansas. Given that the nearly 6,500 photos in the book are culled from online resources that serve to give campers a sense of what each campsite offers, there is a consistency – mind-numbing at times – within each campground. Branched Oak State Recreational Area (Nebraska), for instance, just shows one patch of asphalt driveway after another, while Seawall in Maine's Acadia National Park is littered with colorful tents and some RVs – but, oddly, no humans. Although I can't imagine anybody outside of the author examining each photo in Thirtyfour Campgrounds one by one, the differences between one campground and the next are obvious from just a quick scan of the book.

Before delving into the presentation of the campgrounds, which recalls Ed Ruscha's Thirtyfour Parking Lots in name and the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher in format, Hogue lays out his analysis through diagrams, photographs, and texts that touch upon the history of the campground and the geography of camping. These give the campground photographs that follow a strong theoretical footing, while the admitted influence of Ruscha and the Bechers lend the project its artistic bent. Ruscha's documentation of parking lots is particularly relevant, considering that campsites are basically parking spaces that campers use for a few days. That Walmart opened up its parking lots to RVs in 2001 (a fact mentioned by Hogue more than once), it's clear that campgrounds are the story of automobiles colliding with the American landscape. With wireless access standard at most campsites, we're now witnessing the collision of communications technology with campgrounds. While this might mean campers don't need to haul as much stuff as in decades past, it also means we leave even less of our daily lives behind when we get out into nature – or what's left of it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Today's archidose #970

Here are some photos of Studio Gang's Hive at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. The installation is on display until September 4, 2017. (Photographs: Mark Andre)

The Hive
Hive DC
The Hive
Hive DC
Hive DC
The Hive
The Hive
Hive DC
Hive DC

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool
To contribute your Instagram images for consideration, just:
:: Tag your photos #archidose

Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review: The American Idea of Home

The American Idea of Home: Conversations About Architecture and Design by Bernard Friedman
University of Texas Press, 2017
Hardcover, 228 pages

In 2012 Bernard Friedman put out American Homes, billed as "1800 years of American residential architecture in 11 minutes." Started in 2006, the short film owed much to the work of Lester Walker, particularly his book American Homes: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Domestic Architecture, as well as a bevy of architects that he interviewed "to give the audience a glimpse into the many decisions that go into designing a home," per the introduction to his new book on the subject. I was not familiar with the documentary (its trailer is below), but the interview transcripts assembled in The American Idea of Home make clear that Friedman's film had to leave out much of what he learned from Walker, Richard Meier, Kenneth Frampton, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Tracy Kidder, Paul Goldberger, Thom Mayne, and other familiar names in architecture, residential and otherwise.

The new book includes thirty of Friedman's interviews in five sections: the Functions and Meanings of Home; History, Tradition, Change; Activism, Sustainability, Environment; Cities, Suburbs, Region; and Technology, Innovation, Materials. Like any book that goes this route, there is plenty of overlap in these sections, be it in the themes, the voices fitted into this or that section, or their responses to Friedman's questions. As an entrepreneur and filmmaker (read: not an architect), Friedman's questions are not overly academic, which is refreshing and makes the book an enjoyable read overall. That said, it's clear Friedman knows his stuff, in terms of both architecture and the architects he spoke with.

Highlights are many, but some of them include Lester Walker, whose great books and drawings influenced Friedman; Kenneth Frampton, an outspoken proponent of collective housing over single-family housing; Douglas Garofalo, the Chicago architect who died in 2011, not long after their interview; Andrew Freear, the head of Rural Studio, which is now focused on low-cost ($20K) houses; and David Salmela, the great Minnesota architect who's not afraid of pitched roofs. Those hoping to see examples of the architects' work will be disappointed, though, since each interview is accompanied by only one photo each, their subjects drawn from something said in the interview. This is a statement of fact rather than a criticism, since it makes sense that words are given priority in a book of interviews, here giving readers plenty to think about relative to the broad topic of how people live in the United States.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book Review: Welcome to Your World

Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives by Sarah Williams Goldhagen
Harper, 2017
Hardcover, 348 pages

Welcome to Your World is critic and educator Sarah William Goldhagen's attempt to succinctly and clearly distill voluminous research on neuroscience and architecture toward the improvement of buildings and cities. It's a welcome book that makes an otherwise impenetrable topic accessible to a wider audience.

But before diving into this book review, a personal aside: Although I didn't know it so well at the time (the first half of the 1990s), the school I attended for undergraduate architecture was particularly strong in environment-behavior studies. Thing is, Deconstructivist architecture was all the rage at the time, and like anywhere, striving to create something new and personal in architecture studio trumped the learning taking place in other classes, be it history, structures, or MEP.

Kansas State University was, and still is, home to David Seamon, a prolific author on phenomenology, as well as Dick Hoag, whose Environment & Behavior classes were some of my favorites, and Robert Condia, who has delved recently into neuroscience. Although searches for novel forms in studio often took priority, the teachings of these three (and others) have stayed with me over the years, and these days they tend to enter my psyche more frequently. Perhaps this is due to the cyclical nature of architectural practice, which veers back and forth between social and formal considerations; or maybe it's the increasing relevance of (neuro)scientific studies related to architecture, which haven't been as well considered since the 1970s and the short-lived influence of environmental psychology (all of the E&B textbooks seemed to come from that period). Whatever the case, this aside stems from the numerous overlaps found between my undergraduate education and the ideas Goldhagen explores in her book.

One reason I bring up my architectural background is because Goldhagen argues that, among other things, the design professionals shaping our homes, places of work and play, and so on should "be thoroughly schooled in the evolving body of knowledge in environmental aesthetics and experiential design." Her argument is predicated, first and foremost, on breaking down the barriers between building and architecture (and with it the belief, I presume, that only people paying A LOT of money get the latter, the experientially richer part of the built environment), but then calling on the whole built environment to be designed by people with this "evolving body of knowledge." Like the book, which presents the good and bad of design and argues skillfully why everybody should care, this point reaches for the stars. As I type it here, though, it also comes off as a bit naive; reorienting architectural education seems to be an insurmountable task, especially when considering my education, which had some of that learning already but didn't incorporate it directly (enough, at least) into architectural studio, where so much effort is expended by students.

That said, many schools are heading in the right direction anyways, particularly through the flowering of design-build programs that expose students not only to construction but also actual clients. Although Goldhagen does not broach this aspect of architectural education (her book is more about arguments for making better environments than dealing with how that actually happens), it's hard to deny the impact of such projects as (to toot KSU's horn again) Design Make Studio's affordable housing at 7509 Pennsylvania Avenue in Kansas City, which capably balances architectural expression and experiential richness like so many other design-build projects around the country.

Of course, education does not stop at graduation, so there is no reason registered architects, like myself, cannot learn the necessary lessons about "environmental aesthetics and experiential design" in order to apply principles culled from neuroscience and other related fields to practice. Heck, why not make relevant information in this area a subset of the learning units architects need to maintain licensure? Architects need the depth of well-researched studies to better shape our lives, but clients need only pick up Goldhagen's book to be convinced the efforts are worthwhile.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Today's archidose #969

Here are some of my photos of The Connective Project (2017) by Reddymade Architecture and Design with AREA4 at Brooklyn's Prospect Park, July 7 to July 17, 2017. See also my post at World-Architects for more information on the installation.

The Connective Project
The Connective Project
The Connective Project
The Connective Project
The Connective Project
The Connective Project

To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool
To contribute your Instagram images for consideration, just:
:: Tag your photos #archidose

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Hidden Gem in a Westport Forest

Over the weekend, with the help of a friend's car, I decided to take my wife and daughter to Grace Farms, the SANAA building in New Canaan, Connecticut, that I was able to visit (and write about) when it opened in 2015. But on the way there we first stopped to see Victor Lundy's First Unitarian Church in Westport, which I learned about the day before when a quick Google search for "modern Connecticut architecture" brought me to the Westport Historical Society. The image of the church on that page – like a viking ship moored in a forest – was enough to convince me to visit.
First Unitarian Church

In reality the building does not disappoint. But before reaching the peak of the roof nestled amongst the trees, as in the photo above, we had to walk from the parking lot past two classroom wings that extend in a "V" formation from the sanctuary space. From here, the building felt much like a resort, with its low-slung roof, stone walls, subtly curved glulam beams, and deep overhangs protecting the glass walls.
First Unitarian Church

The triangular outdoor space – combined with the peak of the roof rising in the distance – made it pretty clear where we needed to go.
First Unitarian Church

Once inside, the logic of the architecture is laid out clearly: the curved glulam beams progressively rising toward the peak; the glass walls framing the trees outside, and the gap between the two sides of the wooden roof bringing in light from above. This is, without a doubt, a sacred space, but one rooted in its place.
First Unitarian Church

Looking away from the pulpit, back toward the entrance, the gradual rise of the beams is more pronounced, as is the (lower) illuminated gap between the roofs.
First Unitarian Church

The roofs continue outside, beyond the vertical "zipper" of glass behind the pulpit. From here, looking up, the wooden underside changes to metal past the most upright of the glulam beams.
First Unitarian Church

On top of the roof are shingles – simple yet entirely suitable given the roof's parabolic form.
First Unitarian Church

Stepping stones set into the moss-covered ground lead from the walkways around the sanctuary to small burial plots (for cremated remains, I presume) that are set among the trees. Occasionally there is a bench – such as one for victims of September 11 – that is oriented back to the church to frame a view of its impressive roof.
First Unitarian Church

Heading back to the car we decided to walk along one of the walkways outside of the building, rather than back through the sanctuary. Glass doors that give views into the sanctuary, like the one below, must serve to greater connect the congregation to its beautiful surroundings during services.
First Unitarian Church

This last view is looking along that walkway toward the peak of the roof.
First Unitarian Church

Lundy designed the church in 1959, won a P/A Award for it in 1960, and wrapped up construction on it in 1965. Perhaps because his output was so varied (witness this "inflatable" for the 1964 World's Fair), Lundy is not as well known as many of his contemporaries. As Mimi Zeiger put it in her 2008 Dwell story on Lundy, "Victor Victorious," "What makes [his] low profile surprising, is that Lundy, as much as his distinguished colleagues, experimented with and redefined modernism in the sixties and seventies." The First Unitarian Church is but one example of this, and one worth visiting as much as Grace Farms, Philip Johnson's Glass House, and other better known works of modern architecture in Southwestern Connecticut.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Did YOU Do on My Summer Break?

This blog is going on a mini summer vacation for a couple weeks, so I'm highlighting a handful of architectural events taking place in New York City in that time – with one a nice scenic drive up north. If you don't see anything of interest, head over to New York Architecture Diary for more comprehensive listings.

From June 22
Kaneji Domoto at Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonia
Center for Architecture, Manhattan
Unlike such exhibitions as Frank Lloyd Wright at 150, which celebrate Wright's output on his sesquicentennial, this exhibition curated by Lynnette Widder focuses on the contribution of one of his apprentices, Kaneji Domoto, who designed a handful of the 47 houses at Usonia in Westchester County.

June 27
Sarah Williams Goldhagen Book Talk: Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives
Skyscraper Museum, Manhattan

I've been slowly making my way through this enjoyable and thought-provoking book about how new discoveries in cognitive psychology and neuroscience could positively shape the built environment – if architects and clients were willing to take them seriously. I'll have a review of Welcome to Your World soon after this blog's summer break.

From June 29
Young Architects Program 2017: Lumen by Jenny Sabin Studio
MoMA PS1, Long Island City

The annual installation covering the PS1 courtyard with shade and some water returns with a digitally knitted canopy and misting stalactites. The installation will serve as the setting for the museum's Warm Up series, when the glowing fabric should add a layer of interest to those dance parties.

July 11
Van Alen Book Club: The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
Van Alen Institute, Manhattan
What better way to beat the heat than head indoors and talk about climate change through the lens of the ever-prescient J.G. Ballard. Tickets are required, though the event is free, and dinner and drinks will be provided.

July 15
Garden Dialogue 2017: Vermont
South Londonderry, Vermont

In this TCLF program, landscape architect Robin Key (RKLA) and stone artist Dan Snow host a "garden dialogue" on Key's Vermont property. Together with Snow over the course of some decades, Key "has seamlessly woven a contemporary aesthetic into the historic fabric of [Winhall] Hollow." For those in search of learning units, 2.0 LA CES™ Professional development hours will be available to attendees.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: Allan Wexler: Absurd Thinking

Allan Wexler: Absurd Thinking-Between Art and Design edited by Ashley Simone "with the close collaboration of Ellen Wexler"
Lars Miller Publishers, 2017
Hardcover, 296 pages

I first became acquainted with the architectural art of Allan Wexler in 2009 – well, maybe it was earlier, but that was the first time I wrote about it on this blog. It seems that since then I come across his work, unawares, in a number of places I go. There's the Overlook in the LIRR Terminal in Brooklyn, which became part of my G Train walking tour upon discovering it while scouting the route. There are the easy-to-miss but hard-to-forget Two Too Large Tables in Hudson River Park at 29th Street. And how could I forget my first encounter with the Parsons Kitchen, which was pulled out for drinks following a crit some years ago. These are just a few of the many Wexler artworks found in the new monograph published by Lars Müller Publishers.

Wexler, who collaborates with his wife, Ellen, describes himself as "an architect in an artist's body." I'd buy that, given the qualities of the artworks I've been subjected to, such as the ones mentioned above and those on display at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in 2014. What he/they produce can certainly be called art, though there is a clear predilection of architectural subjects: houses, stairs, fences, landscapes, and furniture, to name a few. Even when a chair, one of the most functional objects around, is a subject, it is maligned beyond function or sculpted in an unexpected manner, thereby pushing it into the realm of art. Of course, works like the Crate House (above) or the Parsons Kitchen confuse matters; they are compact yet highly functional pieces of equipment whose artistic merits are layered over their curious means of storage and use.

This isn't to say the Wexlers produce only architectural art. The Hat for Bottled Rainwater (above) is but one of many artworks that show their diversity of interests. Appearing to unite everything is the book's title, "absurd thinking." The hat is certainly absurd, though in many cases the absurdity is found in the process, not the end result. To put it another way, their absurd thinking is a way of considering the conditions for making art, conditions that for them are always contingent on place or space. This means that even the hat is arguably an architectural artwork, since it takes the human body as its site. Likewise, the Parsons Kitchen was made to fit into an awkward unused space next to an elevator, not just hold wine glasses and potato chips.

Covering 45 years of Allan's career – from his days as an architecture student at RISD and Pratt to the present – Absurd Thinking presents many, many projects in four thematic chapters: abstraction, landscape, private space, and public places. I would have assumed that works of interest to architects would be found in the last two chapters, but given Wexler's approach to each commission there is something architecturally appealing throughout. Take the tree branch pictured on the book's cover. Titled Reframing Nature, it started as a curved tree branch that he photographed, cut up, and then reconfigured into a straight branch; he then sawed and straightened the real thing with wood wedges. These wedges, or shims, are an integral part of any building project, and Wexler uses them in many of his pieces, all in surprising ways. The result may not look like architecture, but the thinking behind it and the means of its straightening get pretty close to the core of architecture: the fashioning of nature's raw materials into something organized for human use and pleasure.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Listening to Wright

With all of the Frank Lloyd Wright 150th anniversary brouhaha, there's plenty of Wright to read and to look at. But what about listening? To fill that apparent void, head over to 99% Invisible and check out a couple episodes from February about one aspect of Wright's career: Usonia.

Episode 256: Usonia 1 focuses on the first Usonian house: the Jacobs House built in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1937. The show intersperses audio clips from Wright and Jacobs with a visit to the house by Avery Trufelman.

Appropriately, Episode 247: Usonia the Beautiful picks up on the Usonian theme and heads to the Usonia community in Pleasantville, a 50-minute train ride north of New York City. Trufelman speaks with Rolald Reisley, who still lives in the house Wright designed for him in the early 1950s, about his experience with Wright and how the community has changed over time. The episode also ventures outside of Pleasantville to see what happened with Wright's dream of mass-produced Usonian homes.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Diane Lewis Memorial

A memorial for architect and educator Diane Lewis, who died on May 2 at the age of 65, will be held on Monday, June 26, in the Guggenheim Museum's Lewis Theater. A reception will follow at the Burden Mansion.

An RSVP is necessary, so email to confirm attendance and receive further details.