January 13, 2012

Architecture Beyond Building, Cartoonish Architecture, and Working The System

I am happy to announce that I will be hosting 3 lectures as part of the D-Crit Spring Lecture Series. (Full Details here.) The first talk will take place on January 31, 2012 at 6 pm, at 136 W 21st St, New York. Drinks to follow.

Aaron Betsky: Architecture Beyond Building

"Architecture is not building. It is about building: it is experiencing, designing, or describing buildings. It is the theory or the essence of building. In a culture in which buildings are more and more restricted by building, life safety, and financial codes, the best architecture often appears in other media, from fiction, to film, to the visual arts. Betsky will show how we can find and present this architecture, and speculate on how such a re-presentation can itself be architecture."

The second will be on Feb 28, same place, same time.

Jimenez Lai: Cartoonish Architecture

Jimenez Lai speaks about the conflation of representation, design, theory and storytelling by working through comics and translating the alternate worlds into physical installations.

The third will be on April 17, same place, same time.

Damon Rich: Working the System

From designs for an experimental financial learning center in Queens to the first riverfront park in Newark, New Jersey, Damon Rich will share recent attempts to bring design and politics to productive crisis.

January 11, 2012

Columbus, Indiana B-Sides, Part 2

Welcome back. Another example of classic B-side design is the Cummins Occupational Health Center by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (1973).  The firm was notorious for its playful, purposeful rejection of the International Style.  All of the components can be seen in this building.  
Above, the use of diagonals and a whimsical extension of the reflective glass creates a canopy. The sloped covering resembles the diagonals used in residential construction of the period, and this pop architecture reference incorporates multiple styles in a collage.  The best part, however, is the structural joke being played here.  The tension elements tie the diagonal cross brace back, creating a point of support for the canopy above the circular driveway.  This entire sculptural structure is designed to eliminate a column which would otherwise be located in the drive.  Now there is a large column in the sidewalk.  It is a reminder that while the architecture is world-class in Columbus, the urbanity is not.  What it lacks in true urban space, it makes up for with a Dan Kiley lawn. Actually, the same could be said for all of Columbus. 
More dynamic Modernist elements, stylized.  Technology and building systems are exposed to express the building as a machine.  Each component is a different color.  These are Cummins' corporate colors, but the original structure was a vibrant-ish mix of green and blue. (A 2008 flood did significant damage to the COHA.) A nurse who gave us a tour did not understand the original color choices, nor the low slung furniture, which she described as "Something you would see in a 70s night club". But she astutely followed up with, "But thats the way they did things back then, I guess."
HHP often deconstructed the spaces, taking the free plan to new heights.  Here, a ramp connects open spaces, waiting areas, exam rooms, and peripheral hallways.  This deconstruction of layout is expressed with the proto-deconstructivist architecture. The plan is a shifted grid, and prefab industrial materials are reinterpreted, a simultaneous rejection and acceptance of Modernism, respectively. The sculptural air handling system reminds us that we did indeed land in the future, but it wasn't quite the kind of utopia we had expected.  Below, some beautiful precast concrete detailing, in the manner of High Modernism.

Below, Mount Healthy Elementary is another masterpiece by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (1972), located 20 minutes outside of Columbus returns to the nostalgic idea of the one room school house. Here the geometric purity of Warnecke's McDowell (1960) was remixed, shuffled about, and smushed together to create less formal, more varied spaces for learning. The exterior evokes all of the industrial charm of the ubiquitous Midwestern city in its deployment of repetitive sawtooth forms. Mt. Healthy's color coordinated systems and pod-like office appendages add a mysterious blend of '70s Japanese and Dutch to the place.  One of several pieces in Columbus, such as Paul Kennon's SBC Switching Station, to show an evolution of architecture in the late 60s and early 70s.  The exposed structure (shown here), bright colors, and formal pastiche contrasts nicely with Columbus' earlier elementary schools, such as Schmitt Elementary

Below is Becker's Root Beer, a drive-in which @mockitecture worked at in High School.  It is a very nice place to dine while perusing architecture on a spring or summer day. Beware, however, that it is only open from roughly March to October.  
A pagoda-like restaurant services the canopy, which is supported by beautiful googie columns.  It is a contemporary of Columbus' famous buildings, and it's LA style urbanity reminds us exactly what was going on during the 50's and 60's.  Cars, more specifically American cars, dominated pop culture.
I recommend the Coney with cheese and a root beer.  Or if you prefer pizza, below is Noble Romans, one of the greatest commercial buildings to ever be built.
It is in close proximity to Venturi's Fire House #4, and it employs a curious folly-building to create a covering for the drive thru and a sign for the restaurant.  The small shard building has a door (not shown) and is used for storage.  It is a (literal) shed, a sign, and a structural support.  Sublime.  Also note the different fonts used on each "pizza".
Above, diagonals create a light and nimble shard, but below, Greenbelt Golf Club is a blocky, simply constructed angular building dressed in diagonal cladding.
The bold move of splitting such an ordinary building, breaking the simple mass apart, is celebrated by the appliqué of a supergraphic along the center crease.
The supersuper logo graphic faces the street, which happens to the in the rear of the building. This causes a tension between the communication and utility: the messiness of contemporary life is celebrated by the collision of a golf ball tee into air conditioning units. A massive evergreen, curiously planted in front of the logo towers two-and-one-half-fold over the Club. This building is both heroic and ordinary at once.

Below an otherwise anonymous commercial strip is activated by an array of diagonal timber-trussed sheds for driving vehicles through. A spiraling diagonal pattern pressed into the concrete from sonotube forms reinforces the diagonality of the roofs.

Here a precursor to the 1990's game of wrapping websites on buildings, a stylized cartoon brick wrap on an unassuming shotgun house in the throes of Columbus. This could be read as DIY pop brick, but might be more usefuly thought of as an object of pixels and contemporary media. It's no Miller House, Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard's Mannerist High Modern masterpiece, but it's almost there.

January 6, 2012

Columbus, Indiana: B-Sides, Part 1

"Travels from nesting space will take you to a broader cultural horizon." 
Chinese Fortune Cookie

@N_O_R_T_O_N made the 1.5 hour drive over from Cincinnati to Columbus, Indiana to join @mockitecture for an architectural mystery tour.  Known for its strong High Modernist roots, Columbus is an architectural circus which provides plenty of entertainment for the cultural tourist.  It is "Different by Design",  and many great architects, designers and artists have made their marks on the small town of 44,000. J Irwin Miller, owner of Cummins Engine Company, was the benefactor who single-handedly turned Columbus into a museum of classic Mid-Century Modernism, exemplified by six National Historic Landmarks.

These are the B-sides...

An abandoned mall, architect unknown: Fair Oaks Mall is an early nineties masterpiece, an upscale shopping center with an edge.  When first erected, it contained many of the hottest stores, such as Foot Locker, and took business away from Cesar Pelli's downtown Commons Mall. Ironically, Fair Oaks is now nearly abandoned, with mainly local and seasonal shops struggling to fill the spaces (literally and metaphorically) vacated by the large chain stores. It is an abandoned late Post-modern mall, about a quarter mile from Robert Stern's Columbus Regional Hospital, which was built almost simultaneously.
Above, neon is used in two ways. There are small architectural shapes scattered, floating throughout the tile-clad mall.  Red, blue, and yellow neon is also masterfully tucked into reveals, creating a three-tiered architectural massing/ornament combo which pairs well with the large skylight above the Christmas and palm trees. It is the architecture of an electronic age.
Each store front is customized for the store.  This was a novelty/party store.  The signage was bright, and the store was full of all sorts of naughty sundries. Now all that is left is memories and a bit of tile which vaguely resembles a nightclub. Also note the tile patterns in the floor.
Above is one of the many strains of marble used in the mall to denote a jewelry store.  These small window displays were used to glorify their contents, but sadly all are empty.
Another tile pattern outside of a jewelry store.  In this example, the jeweler's cases are now used for NASCAR memorabilia (Tony Stewart is from Columbus, Indiana).  Below is the former food court, which is now completely empty.  The man sitting on the counter underneath the beautiful tiles is a construction worker.  This shot shows the neon dancing through the ghost mall.  Pretty amazing stuff.

On a more serious note, here is the story of Mannerist Brutalism...

Two notable elementary schools worth comparing are Southside and Smith, located on opposite sides of town.  They were both built in 1969 by separate members of the Harvard Five: Elliot Noyes and John Johansen respectively.

Below, Southside Elementary (Elliot Noyes, 1969) is classic American Campus High Modernist Brutalism, appropriately scaled for small children. Brutalism is one form of High Modernism. This school is on the nice side of town, and is where @mockitecture went for High School dances, though he went to elementary school at Southside's rival, Parkside Elementary. 
Noyes' building presents a no nonsense approach to geometrical and organizational purity (what one might expect from a high modernist) through a near perfect symmetry and an all encompassing, relentless repetition of concrete planes. We sense a monumental purity and definitive authority when in the presence of this building. Arguably, the only ornament on this school are the security cameras mounted noticeably about.  This is all comically inappropriate for an elementary school.

Across town, in the style of Mannerist Brutalism, L Frances Smith Elementary (1969) by John Johansen pulls off the seemingly impossible: undermining the absolute truths of Noyes' building.   Johansen's building feels more dynamic as its internal rooms are expressed individually rather than collectively, and scattered about the grounds of the school. 
The secret is that many of Columbus' buildings pioneer the idea of Mannerist High Modernism (in this case Mannerist Brutalism) in architecture. In Smith's case, Johansen sought a more human condition in his buildings, both in scale and form, breaking from the establishment Modernism of contemporaries like Noyes and I.M. Pei, who also studied under Gropius. Pei designed the Cleo Rogers Library in Columbus.
The origins of Johansen's eventual exuberant, colorful mashups, based on orthogonal reinforced concrete construction and systems theory, are evident above in this arrangement of quasi-brutalist solids joined by brightly colored steel tubes.

Johansen's reaction to the Noyes High Modernism camp is hugely significant as it situates the struggle to establish a well mannered Mannerism within the context of dying High Modernism by injecting brightly colored vitality into existing architecture trends. (see Johansen's 1970's Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City for a more radical version of this Mannerist High Modernism (MHM)). 
Above, a sidewalk in the sky, in the manner of Brutalism.  It is a painted steel tube and is also only about 15 feet in the sky.  Below, The 1997 expansion is exquisite and is one of many renovation/additions which has been carefully executed in Columbus.
A tunnel connects an entrance to the office.  Unfortunately Smith's signage is not obnoxiously big and on the floor below, thats a rug.

Our last stop of the day was the Holiday Inn.  It's everydayness - its hotel-ness - is hidden within an insanely intense fictional experience. All sense of reality and time is lost within the hotel's old-new indoor "public spaces". One might be tipped off at the collapsing of history and reality immediately upon entering. The brick facade and the Inn's latest 2000's addition is terrifyingly back-dated to 1884.

An undersized faux marble statue of Christopher Columbus greets visitors in the main lobby, with a strangely dangling cartoon bubble hanging over his head. He proclaims how wonderful he has found Columbus, Indiana to be. Nevermind that the town was settled only a mere 300+ years after his death. This mind-bending alternative history, expressed through an impossible object, is a perfect metaphor for Columbus Holiday Inn's hallucinatory atmosphere.
Mashing together history creates an escapist fantasy-land, while ideas of interior and exterior are also blurred.  Below, a man takes it all in on the "street", while a hotel guest gets information at the front desk.

These steampunk elevators incorporate carnival lighting, creating one of the strongest mashups of histories and environments.  The lights don't make sense, but they work well to celebrate the elevator doors.  This wood lattice is overused to perfection, taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. When contrasted with the lights, this space comes alive.  These fictional designs blur the line between imaginary and real by disintegrating genres and the lines of traditional building typologies.
A bit further down the brick lined street-hallway, past the barber shop and boutique candy shop, are two signs which continue the hybridized history theme.
Here, an American Western log cabin style sign, above, has been placed next to an Olde English Victorian themed sign, below.
Behind this is a miniature gothic church model holding a list showing the location of all churches in Columbus.  The ornate detailing found in the hotel brings a slice of Disneyland to Columbus, IN.  The dramatic lighting turns this hotel lobby into a stage set for... staying at a hotel. The building tells an epic about vacation, about getting away to another place. 
Passing through the dining room and its period furniture replicas from the victorian era, lies the main attraction - the famed Holidome. A Holidome is a special recreation area featured at select Holiday Inn's.  They typically are a souped up indoor pool area, with an arcade, sauna, hottub, etc. This is a particularly fantastic Holidome; the indoor-outdoor space features street lamps, brick lined walks, covered porches, shutters & siding, and a covered bridge. The only indication of being indoors is the potent smell of chlorine from the pool in the center of the 'dome. The feel of the Holidome is decidedly early nostalgic suburban village. It possibly exists as a model of Columbus (pre-1950s) in a box within the actual City of Columbus, but at times feels more like a romanticized collective view of a fantasized nostalgia for a utopian past. The Holidome offers visitors to Columbus a taste of their own imaginations about the quintissential small Midwestern town. 
One of the best things about Holidome is the deconstruction of interior and exterior, shown above by the indoor pool, and below by the interior window to the inside, complete with faux shutters.
The experience as a whole rapidly jumps from promoting American and English nostalgia. Upon exiting, a few other formal gestures hinted at the madness within. Mannerist, over-scaled elements found along the side of the Holidome.
Perhaps the romantiscism of the Holiday Inn from the 70s was a small, but heroic, attempt at reclaiming territory all but lost through Columbus' wave of modernism, offering - at a time of decorationless geometrical and functional rigor - an alternative future for Columbus. But it's more likely that this building is designed for a different set of people than the JI Miller-sponsored classics. 

To be continued....