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Modern Architecture

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Art Architecture and Activism

Outspoken, provocative, and prolific, the artist Ai Weiwei is an international phenomenon. In recent years, he has produced an astonishingly varied body of work while continuing his role as activist, provocateur, and conscience of a nation. Ai Weiwei is under “city arrest" in Beijing after an 81-day imprisonment; he is accused of tax evasion, but many suspect he is being punished for his political activism, including his exposure of shoddy school building practices that led to the deaths of thousands of children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2009, he was badly beaten by the police during his earthquake investigations.

Ai Weiwei’s work reflects his multiple artistic identities as conceptual artist, architect, filmmaker, designer, curator, writer, and publisher. This monumental volume, developed in association with the artist, draws on the full breadth of Ai Weiwei’s architectural, installation, and activist work, with a focus on his use of space. It documents a huge range of international projects with drawings, plans, and photographs of finished work. It also includes excerpts from Ai Weiwei’s famous blog (shut down by Chinese authorities in 2009), in which he offers pithy and scathing commentary on the world around him. Essays by leading critics and art historians and interviews with the artist, drawing out his central concerns, accompany the 450 beautifully reproduced color illustrations of his work.

The Case for Improvisation

When this book first appeared in 1972, it was part of the spirit that would define a new architecture and design era--a new way of thinking ready to move beyond the purist doctrines and formal models of modernism. Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver’s book was a manifesto for a generation that took pleasure in doing things ad hoc, using materials at hand to solve real-world problems. The implications were subversive. Turned-off citizens of the 1970s immediately adopted the book as a DIY guide. The word “adhocism” entered the vocabulary, the concept of adhocism became part of the designer’s toolkit, and Adhocism became a cult classic. Now Adhocism is available again, with new texts by Jencks and Silver reflecting on the past forty years of adhocism and new illustrations demonstrating adhocism’s continuing relevance.

Adhocism has always been around. (Think Robinson Crusoe, making a raft and then a shelter from the wreck of his ship.) As a design principle, adhocism starts with everyday improvisations: a bottle as a candleholder, a dictionary as a doorstop, a tractor seat on wheels as a dining room chair. But it is also an undeveloped force within the way we approach almost every activity, from play to architecture to city planning to political revolution.

Engagingly written, filled with pictures and examples from areas as diverse as auto mechanics and biology, Adhocism urges us to pay less attention to the rulebook and more to the real principle of how we actually do things. It declares that problems are not necessarily solved in a genius’s “eureka!” moment but by trial and error, adjustment and readjustment.

Today, spaces no longer represent a bourgeois haven; nor are they the sites of a classical harmony between work and leisure, private and public, the local and the global. The house is not merely a home but a position for negotiations with multiple spheres—the technological as well as the physical and the psychological. In A Topology of Everyday Constellations, Georges Teyssot considers the intrusion of the public sphere into private space, and the blurring of notions of interior, privacy, and intimacy in our societies. He proposes that we rethink design in terms of a new definition of the practices of everyday life.

Teyssot considers the door, the window, the mirror, and the screen as thresholds or interstitial spaces that divide the world in two: the outside and the inside. Thresholds, he suggests, work both as markers of boundaries and as bridges to the exterior. The stark choice between boundary and bridge creates a middle space, an in-between that holds the possibility of exchanges and encounters.

If the threshold no longer separates public from private, and if we can no longer think of the house as a bastion of privacy, Teyssot asks, does the body still inhabit the house—or does the house, evolving into a series of microdevices, inhabit the body?

The word "architect" is a noun, but Doug Patt uses it as a verb--coining a term and making a point about using parts of speech and parts of buildings in new ways. Changing the function of a word, or a room, can produce surprise and meaning. In How to Architect, Patt--an architect and the creator of a series of wildly popular online videos about architecture--presents the basics of architecture in A-Z form, starting with "A is for Asymmetry" (as seen in Chartres Cathedral and Frank Gehry), detouring through "N is for Narrative," and ending with "Z is for Zeal" (a quality that successful architects tend to have, even in fiction--see The Fountainhead's architect-hero Howard Roark.)

How to Architect is a book to guide you on the road to architecture. If you are just starting on that journey or thinking about becoming an architect, it is a place to begin. If you are already an architect and want to remind yourself of what drew you to the profession, it is a book of affirmation. And if you are just curious about what goes into the design and construction of buildings, this book tells you how architects think. Patt introduces each entry with a hand-drawn letter, and accompanies the text with illustrations that illuminate the concept discussed: a fallen Humpty Dumpty illustrates the perils of fragile egos; photographs of an X-Acto knife and other hand tools remind us of architecture’s nondigital origins.

How to Architect offers encouragement to aspiring architects but also mounts a defense of architecture as a profession--by calling out a defiant verb: architect!

Concept-Form

Event-Cities 4 is the latest in the Event-Cities series from Bernard Tschumi, documenting recent built and theoretical projects in the context of his evolving views on architecture, urbanism, and design. Event-Cities 4 follows directly from the work of Event-Cities 3, which examined the interaction of architectural content, concept, and context. This volume takes the interaction a step further, looking at a series of projects for which program or context are insufficient as a generative conceptual strategy, hence requiring a different approach. Tschumi has said, "Over the past years, there is one word I have almost never used, except in order to attack it: 'form.'" In Event-Cities 4, Tschumi introduces the "concept-form": a concept generating a form, or a form generating a concept, so that one reinforces the other. The concept may be programmatic, technological, or social. The form may be singular or multiple, regular or irregular. Concept-forms act as organizing devices or common denominators for the multiple dimensions of programs and their evolution over time, and drive the projects featured in this book.

Highlights include master plans for a pair of media-based work spaces and cultural campuses in Singapore and Abu Dhabi; a major master plan for a financial center with 40,000 projected inhabitants in the Dominican Republic; the innovative Blue Residential Tower in New York City; a group of museums and cultural buildings in France, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and South Korea; a pedestrian bridge in France; and a "multi-programmatic" furniture piece, the TypoLounger. The book contains more than twenty of the Tschumi firm's recent projects, showcasing the most current and forward-looking designs of one of the world's leading architectural practices.

A Guide to 21st-Century Space

What is a camp? In August 2005, television news showed viewers an estimated 20,000 Katrina evacuees camped out in the Superdome, Cindy Sheehan protesting the Iraq War on President Bush's doorstep in "Camp Casey," Texas, and Israeli and Palestinian young people at the Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine discussing the evacuation of settlement camps in the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, off camera, summer campers all over America packed up their gear, preparing to depart Scout camps, computer camps, and sports camps, and millions of recreational vehicles owners were on the road, permanent itinerant campers. In Camps, Charlie Hailey examines the space and idea of camp as a defining dimension of 21st-century life.

The ubiquity and diversity of camps calls for a guidebook. This is what Hailey offers, but it is no ordinary one. Not only does he establish a typology of camps, but he also embeds within his narrative a key to camp ideology. Thus we see how camp spaces are informed by politics and transform the ways we think about and make built environments. Hailey describes camps of diverse regions, purposes, and forms, and navigates the inherent paradoxes of zones that are neither temporary nor permanent: camps of choice, including summer camps, protest camps, drift camps (research stations on Arctic ice floes), and LTVA (Long-Term Visitor Area) Camps; strategic camps regulated by power—boot camps, GTMO (the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay), immigrant camps, and others;—and transient spaces of relief and assistance, among them refugee camps, FEMA City, work camps, and Gypsy camps. More than 150 diagrams, sketches, building and site plans, photographs, political cartoons, video game screenshots, aerial and satellite images, and maps illustrate camp space in unprecedented complexity and variety.

Today camps are at the center of emerging questions of identity, residency, safety, and mobility. Camp spaces register the struggles, emergencies, and possibilities of global existence as no other space does.

Inventing Architectural Modernism

Architecture, at least since the beginning of the twentieth century, has suspended historical references in favor of universalized abstraction. In the decades after the Second World War, when architectural historians began to assess the legacy of the avant-gardes in order to construct a coherent narrative of modernism’s development, they were inevitably influenced by contemporary concerns. In Histories of the Immediate Present, Anthony Vidler examines the work of four historians of architectural modernism and the ways in which their histories were constructed as more or less overt programs for the theory and practice of design in a contemporary context. Vidler looks at the historical approaches of Emil Kaufmann, Colin Rowe, Reyner Banham, and Manfredo Tafuri, and the specific versions of modernism advanced by their historical narratives. Vidler shows that the modernism conceived by Kaufmann was, like the late Enlightenment projects he revered, one of pure, geometrical forms and elemental composition; that of Rowe saw mannerist ambiguity and complexity in contemporary design; Banham’s modernism took its cue from the aspirations of the futurists; and the “Renaissance modernism” of Tafuri found its source in the division between the technical experimentation of Brunelleschi and the cultural nostalgia of Alberti. Vidler’s investigation demonstrates the inevitable collusion between history and design that pervades all modern architectural discourse--and has given rise to some of the most interesting architectual experiments of the postwar period. Anthony Vidler is Dean and Professor of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union, New York. He is the author of Warped Space: Art, Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture (2000), The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely (1992), both published by The MIT Press, and other books.

1001 Building Forms

Some may call it the first manifesto of the twenty-first century, for it lays down a new way to think about architecture. Others may think of it as the last architectural treatise, for it provides a discursive container for ideas that would otherwise be lost. Whatever genre it belongs to, SITELESS is a new kind of architecture book that seems to have come out of nowhere. Its author, a young French architect practicing in Tokyo, admits he "didn't do this out of reverence toward architecture, but rather out of a profound boredom with the discipline, as a sort of compulsive reaction." What would happen, he asks, if architects liberated their minds from the constraints of site, program, and budget? The result is a book that is saturated with forms, and as free of words as any architecture book the MIT Press has ever published.

The 1001 building forms in SITELESS include structural parasites, chain-link towers, ball-bearing floors, corrugated corners, exponential balconies, radial facades, crawling frames, forensic housing—and other architectural ideas that may require construction techniques not yet developed and a relation to gravity not yet achieved. SITELESS presents an open-ended compendium of visual ideas for the architectural imagination to draw from.

The forms, drawn freehand (to avoid software-specific shapes) but from a constant viewing angle, are presented twelve to a page, with no scale, order, or end to the series. After setting down 1001 forms in siteless conditions and embryonic stages, Blanciak takes one of the forms and performs a "scale test," showing what happens when one of these fantastic ideas is subjected to the actual constraints of a site in central Tokyo. The book ends by illustrating the potential of these shapes to morph into actual building proportions.

This is a book that students of architecture will want to keep in the studio and in their backpacks. It is also a book they may want to keep out of view of their professors, for it expresses in clear and simple language things that tend to be murky and abstruse in the classroom. These 101 concise lessons in design, drawing, the creative process, and presentation—from the basics of "How to Draw a Line" to the complexities of color theory—provide a much-needed primer in architectural literacy, making concrete what too often is left nebulous or open-ended in the architecture curriculum. Each lesson utilizes a two-page format, with a brief explanation and an illustration that can range from diagrammatic to whimsical. The lesson on "How to Draw a Line" is illustrated by examples of good and bad lines; a lesson on the dangers of awkward floor level changes shows the television actor Dick Van Dyke in the midst of a pratfall; a discussion of the proportional differences between traditional and modern buildings features a drawing of a building split neatly in half between the two. Written by an architect and instructor who remembers well the fog of his own student days, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School provides valuable guideposts for navigating the design studio and other classes in the architecture curriculum. Architecture graduates—from young designers to experienced practitioners—will turn to the book as well, for inspiration and a guide back to basics when solving a complex design problem.

Architecture after Minimalism

In Nothing Less than Literal, Mark Linder shows how minimalist art of the 1960s was infiltrated by architecture, resulting in a reconfiguration of the disciplines of both art and architecture. Linder traces the exchange of concepts and techniques between architecture and art through a reading of the work of critics Clement Greenberg, Colin Rowe, Michael Fried, and the artist-writer Robert Smithson, and then locates a recuperation of "the architecture of minimalism" in the contemporary work of John Hejduk and Frank Gehry.

"Literal" was not only a term used by Fried to attack minimalism; it was a key term for Greenberg as well, and in both cases their use of that term coincides with discussions of the architectural qualities of art. Linder gives us the first thorough examination of the role that architectural concepts, techniques of representation, and practices played in the emergence of minimalism. Beginning with a comparison of the "postcubist" writings of Clement Greenberg and Colin Rowe, he reveals surprising affinities in their critical formulations of pictorialism—including the use by both of an analogy between cubist collage and architectural space. This is followed by an account of the sharp differences between Michael Fried and Robert Smithson; Linder contrasts the sublimation of space and refusal of architecture in Fried's concept of the "radically abstract" with Smithson's explicit embrace of architectural thinking and his complex concepts of space. Finally, Linder looks at particular instances in the work of two architects who, through collaboration with artists, engaged the legacy of literalism—John Hejduk's Wall House and Frank Gehry's decade-long fascination with the figure of the fish. Linder shows how the "productive impropriety" of transdisciplinary borrowing in the discourses surrounding minimalism serves as a counterexample to the prevalent perception of "disciplines" as conservative and institutionalizing.

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