Tag Archives: Rem Koolhaas

SEATTLE HEROES AND ICONS

September 24, 2021

left to right: Seattle Century Library; Museum of Pop Culture; The Spheres, Amazon (photos by Anthony Poon)

Upon a visit to Seattle, I confronted three different buildings—all leaving a seductive imprint on the city and my memory.

– Seattle Central Library by Pritzker-laureate Rem Koolhaas,
– Musuem of Pop Culture by Pritzker-laureate Frank Gehry, and
– The Spheres at Amazon by corporate NBBJ.

The first two projects are by two of the most famous living architects on the planet. The third is by an anonymous company, one without the trappings of a sole Wright-ian genius which gives way to collaboration instead—for better or worse.

(Three disclaimers: Rem Koolhaas was my professor in grad school; I was employed by NBBJ in the 90s; and I did not have an opportunity to visit the interiors of The Spheres.)

THE SEATTLE CENTRAL LIBRARY

Seattle Central Library exterior (photo from hoffmancorp.com)
Library and its neighbor (photo by Anthony Poon)

The Seattle Central Library, designed by the Rem Koolhaas and shepherded by local Architect-of-Record, LMN, opened to the public in 2004—the winner of a lengthy design competition. The reviews of this 11-level, 363,000-square-foot building varied.

The international architectural scene claimed the design a heroic success. Others saw a design with a target on its back—and its front too. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer spewed adjectives: “decidedly unpleasant,” “relentlessly monotonous,” and “profoundly dreary.”

I side with the glorious praise hailed from the enlightened world. The library design comprises community spaces that engage the public on many levels, (literally) as well as a civic icon unlike anything seen before.

Conceptual model and section diagram (from archdaily.com)

As Professor Koolhaas taught us in school: Do not design simply in floor plan, meaning, not just one-dimensionally laying out an auditorium next to offices next to restrooms. Instead, design in section, meaning, three dimensionally as one places a library over a five-story high living room, then tucking parking under the auditorium.

Library interiors (photos by Anthony Poon)

The library’s innovative and challenging (yes!) urban form, the diamond-patterned skin of glass and steel, a four-level spiral of books, a complex layering of space and experience, and so on—all this together convinces me that I have walked into one of the most exciting works of contemporary architecture.

THE MUSEUM OF POP CULTURE

Museum of Pop Culture aerial (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Museum of Pop Culture, coined “MoPOP,” opened in 2000 under the former name, the Experience Music Project—coincidentally also included the participation of the same Architect-of-Record, LMN. Frank Gehry’s design, though predictable and yet another variation-on-a-theme (nearly a career-long theme) offers passerby’s a composition of great risk and resulting beauty.

Musuem exterior with monorail at right (photo from blog.360modern.com)

According to the client, “When Frank O. Gehry began designing the museum, he was inspired to create a structure that evoked the rock ‘n’ roll experience. He purchased several electric guitars, sliced them into pieces, and used them as building blocks for an early model design.”

Such tales subscribe to the mad artist genius syndrome. True or not, it makes Gehry sound like less of a thoughtful architect creating wonderful spaces for the public, and more like an awkward child who believes that the broken pieces of a guitar can represent a work of architecture.

Close of exterior stainless steel shingles (photo by Pygmalion Karatzas)

Five giant building masses sit at the base of the Space Needle, each mass clad in enigmatic surfaces, like fire-engine-red stainless steel or fuchsia-fluorocarbon-coated aluminum—comprising a total of 21,000 individually cut metal shingles. As an object, as architectural sculpture, the composition is stunning. Does not disappoint. Having the monorail pass through the building is yet another daring move that delivers a thrilling creation.

Interior view (photo by Pygmalion Karatzas)

But the 140,000 square feet of interior space underwhelms, fails to translate the exterior exhilaration to the indoors. Whereas the Seattle Central library sings with its visionary interior design, MoPOP falls out of tune. Aside from a few flourishes, like a dynamic staircase or a contorted lobby space, most of the museum’s inside is not much more than generic exhibit space. One might argue that a museum’s interiors should be flexible and so inherently boring, but I would then direct your attention to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, also by Gehry.

 

 

THE SPHERES, AMAZON

The Spheres, Amazon (photo by Sean Airhart)

You don’t need the singular vision of great artistic minds like Koolhaas and Gehry to deliver good architecture. Unlike the first two projects, NBBJ played the role of Design Architect and local Architect-of-Record, meaning both the creative lead as well as the development and production team.

Aptly named The Spheres, Amazon’s new workplace and quasi-visitor center is made of three giant glass and steel spheres, colliding like a kid’s exhaled soapy water bubbles. Recently completed in 2018, Amazon claims, “The Spheres are a place where employees can think and work differently surrounded by plants.”

Interiors (photo by Fran on Unsplash)

Is it just another glamorized office? Just more “creative office space” glorified by real estate agents? But the phrase “surrounded by plants” fascinates me.

The spherical structures, conservatories actually, house 40,000 plants from over 30 countries. Within a meticulously engineered structure of 2,600 pentagonal hexecontahedron panes of glass alongside 620 tons of steel, I see one of the finest examples of biophilia. For reference, a past article, “Biophilic Design refers to our instinctive association to nature and the resulting architecture that enhances our well-being.”

Floor plans and diagrams (from archdaily.com)

Aside from the obvious design reference to Buckminster Fuller’s utopian geodesic domes of the 60s, the Amazon Spheres offer a new narrative for office space, retail, café, and meeting places. NBBJ has shed the dogmatic aim of developers to maximize floor area. Similar to Koolhaas, NBBJ celebrates the magnificence of volume, as in cubic footage (or in this case, spherical footage) and the capture of air, light, and a more productive work culture.

Exterior at night (photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash)

The total result is impressive, likely to be a local fan favorite and on every city tour guide. The design is good, even great, but is it inspired? Will it change the world? Probably not.

But the Seattle Central Library has already influenced the way architecture students think, the way teachers teach, the way professional architects design. Most of Rem Koolhaas’ projects deliver new ideas beyond form-making, embracing social engagement and re-inventing the meaning of living, shopping, or learning.

Frank Gehry, on the other hand, seems to be playing the same note over and over again. But is that wrong, especially if this one note is sheer genius played with virtuosity?

THE MOST INTRIGUING BUILDINGS OF 2020

January 15, 2021

Phoenix Central Park, Chippendale, Australia (Right photo by Martin Mischkulnig; left photo by Julia Charles)

As I stated at the close of 2019, I avoid “The Best of” list, because I don’t know how to define “the best.” For the end of 2019, I instead listed ten worthy projects that fit my list of The Most Seductive Buildings. For the end of 2020, the operative adjective is intriguing.

To intrigue is an act of arousing one’s curiosity or interest—to fascinate. Being intriguing can be illicit or titillating. In no particular order, I list below ten projects from last year that intrigue, enthrall, and captivate.

(photo by Hong Sung Jun)

1: For this shopping center in Korea’s Gwangyo, OMA explores the Grotesque. Like Beethoven countering Mozart’s premise that music is supposed to be pretty and lyrical, architect Rem Koolhaas has created something ugly and even frightening, yet extraordinary—beautiful in its own unabashed way.

(photo by Cristobal Palma)

2: A single poetic gesture from architect Ryue Nishizawa graces this promontory in Los Vilos, Chile. The shaped concrete roof of a weekend house is as graceful as the Pacific Ocean waves. The glass walls embrace the limitless surroundings and deliver a small structure as a gift to Mother Nature.

(photo by Chong‐Art Photography)

3: 14,600 triangular panels, each 3 feet by 7 feet, recall flowing silk, as well as nod towards Guangzhou’s tattoo culture. The design of the Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre honors the district’s history as a trading port, the Silk Road on the Sea, through the wavy skin of tessellated red aluminum panels, by Steven Chilton Architects.

(photo by Richard Barnes)

4: At the D.C. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, with this project known simply as the Reach, Steven Holl Architects created building additions that blur the lines between architecture, art, sculpture, and landscape. As oddly shaped toy-like pieces, the new performance, rehearsal, and education components sprinkle themselves across a sculpted green lawn on the Potomac.

(photo by Dan Glasser)

5: Dedicated to the French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, the 40,000-square-foot museum presents over 20,000 items of couture clothing and accessories, including drawings and sketches. Elegant throughout, as are Laurent’s clothing designs, the building by Studio KO explores the patterning and texture of brick as if a woven fabric. Sophisticatedly and with understatement, architecture and fashion collide in Marrakesh, Morocco.

(photo by Nic Lehoux)

6: An unexpected addition to the housing market of Beverly Hills, MAD’s residential building speaks to us like a layered cake. With retail and commercial components on the bottom wrapped by a living wall in the middle, the structure is topped off with a rooftop village of eighteen houses, each expressing its own gable form. Conceptual strong, the resulting mixed-use project succeeds through the committed execution of a simple diagram.

(photo by Edmund Summer)

7: The Naila House in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, explores the iconic phrase, “less is more.” Architect BAAQ’ composed this house in a cross-shaped courtyard arrangement of four volumes, with airy facades facing the Pacific Ocean. Contrasting the weight of the concrete plinth, vernacular wood screens and walls allow the home to breathe and connect to the rocky landscape and nearby beach. Ignoring the typical comforts of home, the simplicity of the design challenges our architectural complacency.

(photo by Shengliang Su)

8: A captivating creation of wings and courtyards with more wings and courtyards within, the Shou County Culture and Art Center expresses the old square-ish town surrounded by city walls. Drastically different from the above courtyard project in Mexico, this project by Studio Zhu-Pei, handsomely composed and forcefully intimidating, contains within each courtyard the energy and diversity of the historic Ahui Province and Huai River.

(Top photo by Qingshan Wu; bottom photo by Archstudio)

9: By ARCHSTUDIO, my third courtyard project on this list is a renovation of a Beijing residence with seven pitched-roof buildings. Old meets new not seamlessly in aesthetic and structure, but seamlessly in experience, thoughtfulness, and Feng Shui. Modern materials and fabrication methods, such as curved glass and cantilevers, confront dilapidated wooden beams and arched doors.

(photo by Martin Mischkulnig

10: (See first image and above.) The unconventional sensuality of conventional materials define the Phoenix Central Park, by Durbach Block Jaggers Architects and John Wardle Architects. A 13,000-square-foot visual and performing arts center supports the ongoing transformation of an ignored inner-city suburb in the Chippendale neighborhood of Sydney. Billionaire client and art collector, Judith Neilson, demanded “a total work of art” from the two collaborating design studios.

(For the list of my all-time 15 favorite buildings, visit here.)

NEW MASTERS OF THE TRADE

December 4, 2020

Ashen Cabin, Ithaca, New York, by HANNAH (photos by Andy Chen, HANNAH)

Before the advent of technology, architects used tools that supported their Old School activities, like sketching and making physical models—all done by hand. Today, items such as a T-square, circle template, or X-acto blade have been replaced by tools of our digital age, for example, Revit and 3D printing. Yet, most of our leading designers—consider the practicing Pritzker Prize laureates—are only familiar with their old tools of the trade. Limited even.

Galleria Department Store, Gwanggyo, South Korea, by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo by Hong Jung Sun and OMA)

Though such famous individuals have a staff engaging current technology on a daily basis, I suspect these big name architects do not personally design with apps like 3ds Max and Maxwell. I doubt Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, and Peter Zumthor are writing parametric algorithms on their laptops, or creating virtual structures through Building Information Modeling. These architects probably still use pencil on paper.

Dr Chau Chak Wing facility for UTS Business School, Sydney, Australia, by Frank Gehry (photo by Chris Charles)

Meaning, if one person starts the process and others continue it, there is a disconnect between the original concept and its development. The principal architect maybe the creator at the start, but for the remainder of the process, he is but a critic, watching others create in his place, fleshing out ideas with the highest technology available.

Eventually, this disconnect will be gone, and the new processes will generate different results. The 30-something architect, who uses Grasshopper and Viz Render, will soon become the industry veteran. Then, the same mind and hands will work on the project from inception to completion. No disconnect. These future thought leaders will find no need to have others continue in lieu of an old-guy-boss lacking certain industry standard skills.

Villa in Devon, England, by Peter Zumthor (photo by Jack Hobhouse/Living Architecture)

What will the industry and the resulting architect look like when these younger architects, who are facile in all the current tools of today, become the world famous designers? When the disconnect is gone, structures will be designed differently, constructed differently, and look different in the end. There will be notions, materials, and methods not even thought of yet.

Ashen Cabin, Ithaca, New York, by HANNAH (photos by Andy Chen, HANNAH)

This recently completed house in Ithaca, New York, is a stellar work of sustainable thinking, digital design, and fabrication technologies. Using 3D scanning and robotics, the architects transformed a material typically wasted—infested Ash wood—into an exciting building material. Readily available, affordable, and green. Other innovations include the 3D-printed, concrete, feet-like base of the cabin.

Cork House, Berkshire, England, by Matthew Barnett Howland, Dido Milne, and Oliver Wilton (photos by Matthew Barnett Howland, Dido Milne, and Oliver Wilton)

Another example of new minds and methods is the Cork House in Berkshire, England. The architectural pioneers offered a design of 1,268 cork blocks sustainably harvested from the bark of a cork oak tree. The blocks are intended to be efficiently dismantled and reused—or recycled. Both walls and roof comprise this single bio-renewable material. With a structure of engineered timber, the cork modules require no glue or mortar, while providing insulation to the house.

Merriam-Webster defines “brave new world” as “a future world, situation, or development.”

PETER ZUMTHOR AND ELEMENTAL IDEAS

November 3, 2017

Zumthor’s original 2013 presentation model for LACMA. Though it looks like a conceptual diagram, this is actually the complete design for the project. (photo from inexhibit.com)

There are the usual suspects: Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, I.M. Pei, and so on. Call them celebrity architects or call them “Starchitects,” but one greater walks amongst these mere mortal rock stars. I speak of the one who is called an “architect’s architect.” He is Pritzker-winning, Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor.

Many non-architects may not even know the name of the enigmatic Zumthor, for his Haldenstein-based practice is small and artisanal, perhaps even cultish. But in a short time to come, Los Angeles will know Mr. Zumthor’s work.

LACMA’S campus building architects
upper left: William Pereira (photo by George Carrigues); upper right: Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Architects (photo by Alison Martino); middle left: Albert C. Martin Sr. (photo from thepowerplayermag.com); middle right: Bruce Goff (photo from thepowerplayermag.com); lower left: Rem Koolhaas (photo by Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times); lower right: Renzo Piano (photo by Museum Associates / LACMA)

He has proposed a courageous addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (“LACMA”). This museum campus has had a string of prominent designs of their time, from the 1965 concrete structures of William Pereira to the curious 1986 Post Post Modern addition of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Architects (my previous employer), from the 1994 purchase of the iconic Streamline Modern May Company department store by Albert C. Martin Sr. to the quirky yet poetic 1988 Pavilion for Japanese Art by Bruce Goff, and from the controversial 2004 unbuilt $300 million glass roof from Rem Koolhaas (my previous teacher, herehere and here) to the elegant but underwhelming 2008 and 2010 buildings of Renzo Piano.

Exterior view of Zumthor’s 2017 proposal for LACMA (photo from archdaily.com)
Interior view of Zumthor’s 2017 proposal for LACMA (photo from archdaily.com)

Contrasting all this noisy activity, Zumthor’s proposal is so elemental and simplistic that you have to wonder if this is pure genius, or is it a blob of ink that accidentally got turned into the $600 million dollar project?

However, this is how Zumthor excels. He generates ideas like we all did in architecture school or even as a child. Innocently.

Simple ideas come to us all, and if we stay true to our opening statement, then our architecture can result in greatness. But in the real world of client changes, limited budgets, unrealistic schedules, and construction shortcomings, our ideas of greatness are at best compromised. At worst, our ideas drown in a tidal wave of mediocre practicality and code compliance.

The Thermal Vals, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Zumthor (photo from arcspace.com)

Somehow, project after project, Zumthor keeps his conceptual visions alert and alive from the first day of the design process to the final day of construction. Take for example some of his concepts, such as this one for a hotel in Chile. The presentation appears to be no more than twigs, rocks and debris—literally. Yet , Zumthor addresses the mundane necessities of things like bathroom plumbing and air conditioning, or budget and constructability, and time after time, his final building parallels the essence of his first idea.

Presentation models for Zumthor’s Nomads of Atacama Hotel, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (photo Peter Zumthor, Buildings and Projects, Volume 5)

If we common architects delivered such a presentation as the hotel above, in what seems like no more than a teenager’s effort, we would be laughed out of our client’s conference room. The genius of Peter Zumthor is almost Warholian. Not only are the ideas of Zumthor artistic in nature, but he is able to artfully convince a Board of Directors that his ideas are artistic and worth pursuing at all costs. As often critiqued, Andy Warhol’s genius was most profound not in the work, but rather, in how he convinced everyone that he was a genius.

Peers would not take this kind of cynicism with Zumthor. As the media discouraging called Zumthor’s LACMA scheme the “ink blob,” reminiscent of the neighboring La Brea Tar Pits, we had faith in our hero. This architect of poetry and practicality will work in the fire escapes and exit signs,  the desert sun beating through the enormous panes of glass, and the structural engineering to bridge over six lanes of traffic on Wilshire Boulevard.

Proposed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (photo from dezeen.com)

With recent museums in Los Angeles, such as The Broad , the Petersen , the above mentioned Renzo Piano buildings at LACMA, and the in-construction Academy Museum of Motion Pictures also by Piano, each of these projects will look like what happens when talented architects try too hard, yelling like a child for attention. And then, Zumthor walks in the room with grace and calmness.

Saint Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Zumthor (photo by Felipe Camus)

MY FIFTEEN FAVE BUILDINGS

February 3, 2017

Dominus Winery, Yountville, Napa Valley, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

“Hey Anthony, what is your favorite building in the world?” I am often asked.

I might reply obnoxiously but with reason, “What is your favorite painting, favorite book or favorite ice cream?”

Just as there is no one favorite piece of music, there is no one favorite work of architecture. There are hundreds. But here I try. In this list of some of my favorites (in no particular order), I selected different building types and sizes—from a house to a parliament building, from a public plaza to a winery. I have also included a few of The Usual Suspects.

(photo from brownbook.tv)
(photo from brownbook.tv)

1: Can a design be both exquisitely silent and majestically heroic? Such is Louis Kahn’s 1982 National Parliament House in Dhaka.

(photo from urbansplatter.com)
(photo from urbansplatter.com)

2: In 1929, Mies van der Rohe contributed to the pioneering concept known as the Free Plan. Through a few carefully placed walls and columns, the Barcelona Pavilion gently and epically implies space and journey.

(photo from mimoa.eu)
(photo from mimoa.eu)

3: Before Ricard Bofill became fascinated with Postmodernism, he delved deep into his mind for fantastical dreamscapes. This 1975 apartment building known as Walden 7, in Sant Just Desvern, Spain, demonstrates what it means to be imaginative.

(photo from arquiscopio.com)
(photo from arquiscopio.com)

4. Situated over a station rail yard, Pinon and Vilaplana created a public square, transforming a blank space into one of Barcelona’s most powerful works of urban sculpture and place making, the Plaza de los Paises Catalanes.

(photo by Andrea de Poda)
(photo by Andrea de Poda)

5: Even in 1670, there were revolutionaries within a revolution. Baroque architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini twisted the classical world of pure geometry, and designed a chapel in the shape of an ellipse. Upon arriving inside Sant’Andrea al Quirinale in Rome, you are confronted by a twisted perspective.

(photo by Marketing Groningen)
(photo by Marketing Groningen)

6: The 2001 Wall House in The Netherlands was constructed three decades after the completed design, and a year after the death of architect John Hejduk. He juxtaposed Corbusian ideas with Cubism and Surrealism, offering one of the most formidable visions of a home.

(photo from archdaily.com)
(photo from archdaily.com)

7: During the design process for Maison Bordeaux in France, the client had a car accident that left him wheelchair bound. OMA quickly changed the 1998 design, transmuting the home office into a room size elevator, open on all four sides—where the three-story shaft is his library, art collection and office supplies.

(photo from nest-hostles.com)
(photo from nest-hostles.com)

8: In 1999, Rafael Moneo made two massive structures into leaning ethereal cubes of otherworldliness. For Spain’s Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium, Moneo explored prismatic volumes, glowing translucency, and double walls of rippled glass.

(photo by Sander Lukers)
(photo by Sander Lukers)

9: Some works, such as the Chapel Santa Maria degli Angeli, are pure poetry. Like the hand of God, architect Mario Botta placed this 1996 building gently in the Swiss mountains of Monte Tamaro.

(photo from azahner.com)
(photo from azahner.com)

10. It is not only astounding that Herzog & de Meuron wrapped an entire museum with dimpled, perforated, aging copper panels in 2005, but that these architects were able to convince the city of San Francisco that such a curious design idea would be the perfect addition to the beloved Golden Gate Park.

(photo by Bernard Gagnon)
(photo by Bernard Gagnon)

11: There is no limit to the extraordinary creativity of Catalan architect, Antonio Gaudi. Alongside studying the engineering of this ambitious cathedral by building an upside catenary model of stings and chains, Gaudi combined the Grotesque, Gothic and Art Nouveau, amongst many other influences. Since the start of construction of the Sagrada Familia church in 1882, the unfinished project is still underway in Barcelona.

(photo by IlGiozzi)
(photo by IlGiozzi)

12. Sometimes I think it is just fetishized retail design, but not at Rem Koolhaas’s 2001 Prada store in Manhattan. The street level floor wraps up then sweeps down to the lower level, bringing natural light to an otherwise dark space and creating the grand theater that is fashion.

(photo by Joao Morgado)
(photo by Joao Morgado)

13: At the early age of 26, Alvaro Siza created one of the most graceful compositions. More than a mere restaurant in Portugal, the Boa Nova Tea House of 1963 sits elegantly in its setting, as instinctively as the surrounding rock outcroppings.

(photo by Kevin Cole)
(photo by Kevin Cole)

14: Bernard Maybeck’s “temporary” monumental jewel of the 1915 World’s Fair still stands a century later, a romantic icon of San Francisco. With this Palace of Fine Arts, the “fictional ruin” expresses both an enduring melancholy of lost worlds and the ambition for new worlds to come.

(photo from architectural-review.com)
(photo from architectural-review.com)

15: Exploiting the elemental scenery in Napa Valley, California, Herzog & de Meuron formed the 1998 Dominus Winery with just some rocks placed in steel baskets. And that was the entire idea, the whole building.

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.