Tag Archives: PHILIP JOHNSON

THE MOST BREATHTAKING BUILDINGS OF 2022

December 30, 2022

(photo from Adam Mork)

In 2017, I listed my all-time favorites. In 2019, I presented ten projects I called the most seductive. In 2020, the adjective used was most intriguing. In 2021, my essay displayed buildings that were the most striking. For the end of 2022, I highlight what takes my breath away. Defining breath-taking typically involves words such as awe-inspiring, astonishing, wondrous, and even out-of-this-world.

(photo from Adam Mork)

1: The western coast of Greenland offers the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre, both a research center and eloquent sculpture. Focusing on the study of massive glaciers and climate change, Dorte Mandrup’s design expresses the human condition within the science of ice, such as archeological artifacts contained in prisms of glass.

(photo by MVRDV)

2: MVRDV’s “art depot” at the Museumpark, Rotterdam, comprises multiple exhibit halls, a rooftop garden, and restaurant. This Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen takes a behind-the-scenes approach by presenting all current works along with ones usually hidden in storage, both in full display. The architect sees the mirrored exterior as an innovative response to complementing the surroundings.

(photo by Iwan Baan)

3: Google Bay View aims to operate the 42-acre campus on carbon-free energy by 2030. For Silicon Valley in Mountain View, California, a collaboration between Denmark’s  BIG and England’s Heatherwick Studio created 1.1 million square feet of building, which includes an event center for 1,000, short-term accommodation for 240 employees, 20 acres of open space, and three main buildings covered in lightweight translucent canopy structures.

(photo by Office of Architecture in Barcelona)

4: The project’s title, Origami House, is apt as this Barcelona house folds, creases, and rises out of the land adjacent to a forest and golf course. Designed by Office of Architecture in Barcelona, the paper white crispness and hidden service facilities (where are the stairs?) delivery a surreal composition, part home, part arts and crafts, and part dreamscape.

(photo by CreatAR Images)

5: MAD Architects conceived the Quzhou Stadium in China as “a piece of land art.” Though with allusions to Bradbury’s science fantasy, this 30,000-seat stadium is no fiction. As an Earthwork, it links the worlds of art installation, landscape design, and architecture, while also straddling the visions of a mad man and artistic genius.

(photo by Leonardo Finotti)

6: Since the 18th century, coffee has been a mainstay of Brazil’s economy. For the city of Carmo de Minas, Gustavo Penna Arquiteto & Associados deliver an iconic headquarters for CarmoCoffees. Introverted and introspective, save for the concave skylight, this warehouse for processing, tasting, and selling coffee explores the colors found in coffee beans.

(photo by Iwan Baan)

7: Sou Fujimoto reinterprets nature at the Hungarian House of Music in Budapest’s City Park. Inspired by sound waves, the roof structure with its 100 Swiss cheese-like holes is both inspired by nature and “neo-nature.” The connection from inside to outside is exploited though a continuous translucent glass façade, like a candy wrapper.

(photo by W Workspace)

8: Tens of thousands of aluminum pieces make up the high-relief exterior of the Museum of Modern Aluminum. Bangkok possesses a deep history of aluminum production, and he city of Nonthaburi became home to this 4,300-square-foot, prickly composition by HAS Design and Research. Serving as both a public space and urban getaway, the museum is viewed as an extension of the natural landscape offering contemplation on this busy street.

(photo by Atelier FCJZ)

9: Different than the Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Johnson’s Glass house, both using glass in the vertical direction, Yung Ho Chang explores glass in the horizontal direction. Unlike the two renowned precedents which allow views out to the landscape, the Vertical Glass House focuses on viewing up to the sky and down to the earth. Located in Shanghai, China, the residence is poetic and ambitious, though with glass floors, perhaps impractical.

(photo by OMA, Chris Stowers)

10: OMA often explores new types and forms of architecture. With the Taipei Performing Arts Center in Taiwan, the exploration reveals powerful results if not clumsily beautiful. OMA reversed the typical floor plan where the audience and performance spaces are central within the overall structure. Instead, the technical support spaces are now in the middle, and the audience is dramatically cantilevered on the exterior, hovering over public spaces, greeting the city’s fabric.

(For my recent list of faves in Los Angeles, visit here.)

THOSE WERE THE DAYS: POST MODERNISM AND ROBERT A.M. STERN ARCHITECTS

October 12, 2018

Arata Isozaki’s iconic rendering that inspired an entire movement of architectural representation. Created for MOCA, Los Angeles, California

At the simple age of 24, I was employed by the world-famous Post Modern architect Robert A.M. Stern in New York City. Post Modernism, the architectural movement of the 1960s to the 1980s, may not be the most beloved style of design today and even many despise it. But Post Modernism does at times stutter a comeback in different forms.

Roy E. Disney Animation Building, Burbank, California, by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (photo by Xurble)

In my undergraduate years of the 1980’s at UC Berkeley, we enthusiastically studied and exhaustively examined Post Modernism. It was the significant philosophy of art and architecture. This style, in the most elemental explanation, posits the notion that good architecture should provide human scale, harmony and beauty. Sounds obvious? Not always so.

Provincial Capitol Building, Toulouse, France, by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc. (photo by Matt Wargo)

Post Modernism, often called “Po-Mo,” reacted strongly against the many buildings of Modernism that preceded Post Modernism. Cold white boxes lacking life and a sense of place–these minimal Modern buildings of steel and glass appeared inhumane to some architects and most day to day users.

Post Modern architects connected their designs to visitors by offering the sense of feeling grounded—offering a building that was simply warm and inviting. The iconography of classical architecture, such as a Greek column or a Renaissance arch, created this grounding. Such traditional features captured what people thought buildings should look like.

Denver Public Library, Michael Graves, (photo from michaelgraves.com)

Establishing the Po Mo movement as a 180-degree reversal from the evils of ice-y abstract Modernism, Post Modernists also added wit and charm. They did so through the use of vibrant colors, by making columns extra tall or extra fat, or by abstracting traditional forms into simple geometry, such as a triangle in lieu of a classical pediment. Though appearing to be merely a campy game of the visual arts, the movement added intellectual irony, rigorous research of historical precedence and proportions, and academic strategies of references.

A battle of history and precedence vs. looking forward to fresh ideas, currently occurring at the AT&T Corporate Headquarters, New York, New York, by Philip Johnson (photo by Kevin Lafontaine-durand); Inspired by a Chippendale highboy chest (photo from 1stdibs.com)
Perhaps taking the concepts of color, geometry and irony too far, the famous Memphis design room by Dennis Zanone (photo by Dennis Zanone)

In my early twenties, I was a smug, obnoxious young designer, which is a trait of plenty of new and naive architects. We believed even at our young age, that we had talents bestowed upon us that would certainly deliver world peace, or something idealistic and absurd like that.

Within Stern’s office of 100 of the best and brightest, I worked with defiance and sometimes too much confidence. Senior architects rolled their eyes in discomfort every time I made a statement of delusion and self-aggrandizing. I don’t know if it is our industry’s competitive style that causes this kind of behavior, or me just being an ill-advised juvenile architect. Maybe it was the Post Modern education that made me brash. After all, the Post Modernists boldly tossed aside the accomplishments of a previous generation, and replaced the old philosophies with new ideas that were forged through poking fun and having fun.

Collage illustrating some of the most well-known Post Modernist designs (photo from dezeen.com)
Robert A.M. Stern (photo by Witold Rybczynski)

On my last day at the office in 1988, Robert Stern gave me words of advice as I was leaving to Cambridge to start my graduate studies. Bob, as he liked to be called, wished me luck with a grin, “Harvard won’t teach you anything about architecture, but they will teach a Californian like you how to dress appropriately.”

(Other essays on Post Modernism: Humor, Tribute to Michael Graves and Lecture on Love. )

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.