Tag Archives: MORPHOSIS

“IT ALL SOUNDS THE SAME TO ME”

March 3, 2017

The Beatles (photo by Rolling Stone)

I often hear, “Yeah, that song is okay I guess. I think all the songs of [insert band name] sound the same to me.” In architecture, similar criticism is imposed on our most famous creators.

Ludwig van Beethoven (from ralphmag.org)
Ludwig van Beethoven (from ralphmag.org)

Is sameness a bad thing? Most of The Beatles songs sound similar, with those peppy lyrics and obvious chord progressions, as do much of Beethoven’s music, with his mishmash of beauty and rage.

All of Mamet’s work reads the same with that staccato rhythm, as does Poe’s chilling tone. Warhol, Picasso and Rembrandt—each pursued his lifelong personal expression, resulting in what one might wrongly dismiss as being all the same.

Cows, by Andy Warhol, 1966
Cows, by Andy Warhol, 1966

If the work is genius, as generally agreed upon for the names above, is it so bad that it is all the same? Should we complain about Apple products being all the same? Oh, that predictable minimal simplicity, the beautiful Zen-like posture.

Products by Apple (photo by Librestock)
Products by Apple (photo by Librestock)

I do think many of Franks’ architecture looks like variations-on-a-theme, but I like all the projects. Here, I speak of both Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry (here and here).

I see no problem. But I do find it hilarious when critics look at similar appearing projects and assign reasons for how each one is different. Different metaphors for the same building—for example, Gehry was exploring how a fallen city rises from the ashes. Or, Gehry was expressing the blossoming of a flower. Or, Gehry was fascinated with sun rays beaming outward. And so on.

Projects by Gehry Partners upper left: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (photo by John Finn); upper right: DZ Bank, Berlin, Germany (photo from cnn.com); lower left: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California (photo from inspiringhomeideas.net); lower right: Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle, Washington (photo from pinterest.com)
Projects by Gehry Partners
upper left: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (photo by John Finn); upper right: DZ Bank, Berlin, Germany (photo from cnn.com); lower left: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California (photo from inspiringhomeideas.net); lower right: Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle, Washington (photo from pinterest.com)

When interviewing an architect, you will often hear him profess, “I do not have a singular style.” The word “style” (here and here) is considered a dirty word, as if architecture is a superficial thing and not the evolving amalgamation of intensive client research, the balance of program, building codes and science, and the careful consideration of budget and schedule.

Many architect’s say that they don’t have a singular style because they don’t want to be typecast, like Jim Carrey doing slapstick. Architects also fear the word “style,” particularly when used in trite reference to something like Picasso’s “Blue Period.” In this phase between 1901 and 1904, Picasso mainly painted monochromatically in either shades of blue or blue-green. And it was all spectacular.

Projects by Richard Meier and Partners Architects upper left: Douglas House, Harbor Springs, Michigan (photo by Mark Jongman-Sereno); upper right: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut (photo from richardmeier.com); lower left: Luxembourg Residence, Luxembourg (photo from richardmeier.com); lower right: Giovannitti House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (photo from richardmeier.com)
Projects by Richard Meier and Partners Architects
upper left: Douglas House, Harbor Springs, Michigan (photo by Mark Jongman-Sereno); upper right: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut (photo from richardmeier.com); lower left: Luxembourg Residence, Luxembourg (photo from richardmeier.com); lower right: Giovannitti House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (photo from richardmeier.com)

But here’s the thing. All architects, world famous or quietly practicing in her neighborhood, have a certain look to their work, specific aspects of exploration that are individual to each and every architect. In fact, most good architects have that singular style, and I argue that there is nothing wrong with it.

Obvious celebrated examples are Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Morphosis, and Tadao Ando. For each of these designers, one can suggest that all their work is uninteresting because it all looks the same—that they only subscribe to a certain style. Is this so wrong? No.

Projects by Morphosis upper left: Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Los Angeles, California (photo by Liao Yusheng); upper right: San Francisco Federal Building, San Francisco, California (photo from sf.curbed.com); lower left: Student Recreation Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Mark Tepe); lower right: Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, Klagenfurt, Austria (photo by Christian Richters)
Projects by Morphosis
upper left: Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Los Angeles, California (photo by Liao Yusheng); upper right: San Francisco Federal Building, San Francisco, California (photo from sf.curbed.com); lower left: Student Recreation Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Mark Tepe); lower right: Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, Klagenfurt, Austria (photo by Christian Richters)

Even for the lesser known local architects working under the radar, he too has a style where their designs look the same, possibly because this architect loves designing homes with wood siding and metal roofs, or offices that are modern with stainless steel trim. It’s not a compromising position for an architect to have areas of interest, be responsive to local materials and construction methods, and to possess a personal vision of the world. In fact, you want an architect to have a strong viewpoint on the environment around him. If not, what are you hiring, just a drafting service?

Projects by Tadao Ando upper left: Church of Light, Osaka, Japan (photo from tadaoando.wikia.com); upper right: Setouchi Aonagi, Shikoku, Japan (photo from minimalissima.com); lower left: Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Tucker Bair); lower right: Pringers House, Mirissa, Sri Lanka (photo by Edmund Sumner)
Projects by Tadao Ando
upper left: Church of Light, Osaka, Japan (photo from tadaoando.wikia.com); upper right: Setouchi Aonagi, Shikoku, Japan (photo from minimalissima.com); lower left: Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Tucker Bair); lower right: Pringers House, Mirissa, Sri Lanka (photo by Edmund Sumner)

HALLOWEEN AND ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

October 28, 2016

Kids in costume, (photo from whitewaydelivers.socialtuna.com)

Halloween costumes are typically representational, not abstract. Costumes are always something—like a princess, pirate or witch. On Halloween, Harry Potters, President Obamas and Katniss Everdeens roam the streets.

But. What about costumes based on abstract concepts? Can one dress up as wonder, rigor or overtime?

As with the Post World War II art movement known as Abstract Expressionism, can Halloween costumes be non-representational? Can costumes be non-thematic, non-literal and non-figurative?

Untitled, by Mark Rothko, 1949
Untitled, by Mark Rothko, 1949

Whereas traditional artists painted water lilies, ballerinas and the crucifixion, Abstract artists painted subjects like color and emotional output or the action of paint drippings. Abstract artists rejected portraying objectified and recognizable classical content.

Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, by Edgar Degas, 1874
Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, by Edgar Degas, 1874

So I ask: Can trick-n-treaters attempt a similar philosophical position? This could offer entertaining debate when responding to the prerequisite question at a costume party, “Who are you supposed to be?”

Convergence, by Jackson Pollock, 1952
Convergence, by Jackson Pollock, 1952

Rather than answering Darth Vader, the sexy nurse or Donald Trump, the answer would be complex, because the question is actually “What are you supposed to be?”

Illustration from The First & Chief Groundes of Architecture, by Marco Vitruvius, 1563
Illustration from The First & Chief Groundes of Architecture, by Marco Vitruvius, 1563

Or maybe, “How are you supposed to be?”

The Halloween tradition known as “guising” or going out in public with a disguise, started as early as the 16th century in Scotland, and was first documented in America as 1911. Guising is a design topic as well.

Classical architecture used figurative themes so as to establish rapport with the visitor. For example, the Greek column comprises three components: 1) base, 2) shaft and 3) capital. This composition was intended to reference the human form: 1) feet, 2) body and 3) head.

Modernist architects, many stemming from the seminal Bauhaus period of 1919 to 1932, discarded this idea of representation. Akin to Abstract painters, these architects designed buildings of abstraction and lack of traditional adornment.

The Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (photo from aoaonline.ir)
The Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (photo from aoaonline.ir)
Cedars Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Charles Daniels)
Cedars Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Charles Daniels)

As a contemporary example, Pritzker-winner Thom Mayne turned away from Old School theories, such as the 1st century BC Vitruvian rule that architecture must be “firmatas” (strong), “utilitas” (functional) and “venustas” (beautiful).

For Mayne’s 1987 design of the Cedars Cancer Center, he offered a complex vision that was intentionally unsettling. The design is a “tough” building, so as “to instill confidence in patients’ ability to fight the disease,” according to Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New York Times.

Besides being a ninja, the Batman, or a zombie from The Walking Dead, I suggest exploring new ideas during the Halloween frenzy. How about going as: the sky or appetite, or maybe frequency or generosity? Hmmm, food for thought.

Sunrise Death Valley, by Ansel Adams, circa 1950
Sunrise Death Valley, by Ansel Adams, circa 1950

SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE ARCHITECTS

June 24, 2016

1940’s architects (public domain, photo from wikipedia.com)

Why do some people like having architects around as conversation pieces, while simultaneously accuse us of unbearable pretentiousness?

Arguably impressive and both cultured and irksome, architects have the ability to speak about almost anything, to pontificate, to provide diatribes on nearly any topic—from why Apple will fail or succeed, to the specs of a car vs. the specs of an espresso machine, to the latest documentary on documentaries.

Rem Koolhaas looking fashionable on the cover of Vogue
Rem Koolhaas looking fashionable on the cover of Vogue

Though most architects can provide “constructive criticism” on many topics, ask an architect about the last three Super Bowl championships. Or ask for a review of a Tom Cruise blockbuster. Rather than being a casual conversationalist, the architect might deliver a righteous discourse on the downfall of Western Civilization.

At times, there is the better-than kind of reaction to a situation that would typically draw an authentic human response, such as laughter to a good joke, or complacency at a family gathering. Many architects are skilled at displaying boredom as they try to appear as though their creative minds are preoccupied with the next big idea that will deliver world peace.

Architects try to be cool, want to be cool—and yes, some are. But many are just trying too hard. They are no better or worse than anyone else. The problem is that only architects seem unaware of this fact.

We possess our own absurd lexicon. (See, I just used the word “lexicon.”) A sentence almost makes sense as the architect speaks it, particularly when the client witnesses the conviction in an architect’s voice along with the poetic glaze in the eyes.

The sometimes impenetrable text of the Harvard Design Magazine (photo from vazio.com)
The sometimes impenetrable text of the Harvard Design Magazine (photo from vazio.com)

In a review of a new building, the Harvard Design Magazine actually spewed, “Unlike architecture that seeks to articulate understandings about the nature of things through expressive or metaphoric mimings, this remarkable building yields us actionable space.” Or, “Digital design finds its certainty in a parametric computation of infinite, noncritical formal variability, with its simultaneous assurance of all possibility and no particularity.”

Huh?

Architect Barbie (photo from bldgdreams.tumblr.com)
Architect Barbie (photo from bldgdreams.tumblr.com)

Maybe this convoluted speaking is pseudo-intellectualism, but in truth, it is ridiculous when you hear an architect (me included) present in full egomaniacal glory. Do we really need to use words like tectonic, datum, aperture, and gestalt all in one sentence? Do architects need to use the common tags “-ality,” “-ology,” and “-ity” to make words sound fancy? Words that gush out of the architect’s mouth too easily: actuality, phenomenology, specificity, and homogeneity.

How about the name of an architect’s company? There are the invented names that might sound like words you know, Morphosis and Architectonica, for example. There are abbreviations that are sort of the founder’s name, SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates), or MAD architects (Ma and Dang). And there is the use of the generic—such as OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), or FOA (Foreign Office Architects).

Also, my favorites are company names with unique spellings, punctuations, capitalizations, such as Office dA, SHoP, SPF:a, wHY, No.mad, or Coop Himmelb(l)au. How does the receptionist answer the phone? How does she spell the name when asked? “Capital this then that, no, lower case, now get rid of the space, yes, add an open parenthesis, no, it is actually spelled wrong, I mean, that is correct . . .”

Starchitects, generally in black, all with stylish flair: upper left: Jean Nouvel (photo by Tom Dyckhoff); upper right: Jeanne Gang (photo from architecturaldigest.com); lower left: Frank Gehry (photo by Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images); lower right: Daniel Libeskind (photo by Matt Thomas)
Starchitects, generally in black, all with stylish flair: upper left: Jean Nouvel (photo by Tom Dyckhoff); upper right: Jeanne Gang (photo from architecturaldigest.com); lower left: Frank Gehry (photo by Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images); lower right: Daniel Libeskind (photo by Matt Thomas)

Then there’s our appearance. Most architects are well-groomed, decently dressed (predictably black), and generally put together in some conscious way. When I say, ‘decently dressed,’ I don’t mean an overdressed fashionista. We do have a very conscious sense of our day-to-day uniform. The way we wrap an old scarf to appear blasé—this apparent indifference is rehearsed. When I say “well groomed,” architects may not broadcast their attention to personal hygiene, but you will not find too many architect’s looking like the absent minded professor/engineer with three-day unwashed hair and an overlooked belt loop.

Zaha Hadid looking stylish on the cover of DAC & Life
Zaha Hadid looking stylish on the cover of DAC & Life

For female architects, traditional conceptions of pretty femininity are ignored. I believe most female architects prefer to leave the cute outfits, glittery clanging jewelry, obvious make up, and high heels to fellow interior decorators. For male architects, impressions of metrosexuality are common: the neatness, a decent haircut, and clothes that just seem to work together, even if it is a simple crisp shirt and artfully distressed jeans.

Accessories are rare for any architect, but the carefully considered accent item might be present, such as the locally created wristband, a French fountain pen, or a custom designed wedding band. This approach to the personalized feature item might come from some famous predecessors. Le Corbusier (1887-1965) had his famous black shell, round rimmed glasses, of which Philip Johnson had Cartier make a replica in 1934—a trend which I.M. Pei continues today. Fortunately, Frank Lloyd Wright’s cape never caught on.

left to right : Le Corbusier (photo by Girard-Perregaud Vintage) ; Philip Johnson (photo by Getty Images) ; I.M. Pei (photo from architizer.com)
left to right : Le Corbusier (photo by Girard-Perregaud Vintage) ; Philip Johnson (photo by Getty Images) ; I.M. Pei (photo from architizer.com)

EPILOGUE: I confess that these characterizations are not all architects. But where is the fun if I can’t generalize, if we take ourselves too seriously?

Popular TV actor Josh Radnor playing ten seasons of the beloved architect Ted Mosby, from How I Met Your Mother
Popular TV actor Josh Radnor playing ten seasons of the beloved architect Ted Mosby, from How I Met Your Mother
© Poon Design Inc.